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Coal, power supplies returning to normal
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The pressure on power and coal supplies strained by the recent snowstorms is easing even as reconstruction speeds up in disaster-hit regions, the country's top work safety agency said yesterday.

Coal reserves at power plants under the State Grid Corporation of China have reached 27.58 million tons, enough for more than 14 days, Huang Yi, spokesman for the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), said yesterday during an online interview with China.com.cn.

"During the Lunar New Year festival, 64 percent of the country's coal mines - with 96.7 percent of State-owned large mines in this group - had remained at production capacity. This helped boost national reserves to the current 36 million tons, the highest in recent years," Huang said.

"This is proof that State-owned large mines, instead of collieries, should be at the backbone of a stable and safe supply of coal in China."

Snow and bad weather in parts of south and central China killed 129 people since January and caused at least 111.1 billion yuan ($15.4 billion) of damage.

Huang reiterated the SAWS position that the coal shortage was not due to the closure of collieries, saying: "We simply cannot rely on illegal pits to guarantee coal supplies, no matter how tight supplies become."

The SAWS has shut down 11,155 illegal collieries over the past two years in an operation that made a positive impact on the country's coal production, Huang said.

At the same time, he said the total output of small coal mines reached 960 million tons last year - a 6 percent increase from 2006 - which accounted for more than a third of the country's total coal output.

Small collieries have been defined as mines with annual outputs of less than 300,000 tons each.

Up to 8,000 of the suspended collieries have merged with larger mines in the SAWS' initiatives since 2005. Small collieries accounted for one-third of all coal mines in China, but caused two-thirds of total fatalities in the industry every year, according to SAWS sources.

The agency has also made explicit that it "does not endorse" a few provinces' move to ensure safety by simply halting production.

"We see this as a temporary measure, not a permanent cure, which must rely on preventive action," Huang said.

(China Daily February 27, 2008)

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