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Safer Coal Mines
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China's streamlining efforts in the coal mining industry will have a far-reaching impact on the sector, making it more socially and ecologically friendly.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) released its outline for the sector through 2010, promising to encourage establishment of super-large conglomerates while reducing the number of small mines.

The sector has provided two-thirds of the energy China consumes, and the NDRC suggested a goal for total output by 2010. It will be easier for China's mining sector to meet the target with the formation of more super-large mining groups.

This will also help control energy consumption, which the government has vowed to reduce.

The mining industry does not only concern energy output.

It kills thousands of workers every year and poses an ecological danger. Its low efficiency has wasted resources and poor technology has led to mine cave-ins.

Last year, the overall mining death rate per million tons of coal was 2.04. But the difference in the death rates between the core mining enterprises and the shabby, loosely managed small mines is stunning.

Large mining enterprises generally have better management and longer-term development goals. Small mines are more likely to focus on short-term profits and ignore safety investments. Their goal is to keep production rolling.

The level of technology is also crucial for production safety, with the gap obvious between large and small mines. The NDRC's streamlining will lead to more large enterprises with higher technological levels, which can also be expected to reduce the number of accidents and deaths.

The use of advanced technology can also improve mining efficiency and reduce environmental damage. The reality in China is that the smaller the mining enterprise, the lower its efficiency and the poorer its environmental consciousness.

Admittedly, not all small mines are substandard. But it is better to encourage those which cannot meet safety standards as well as ecological and technical standards to merge with the qualified ones.

(China Daily January 24, 2007)

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