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Coal mine explosion in China kills at least 46
Published on: 2010-06-22
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At least 46 miners were killed yesterday when an explosion ripped through an illegally operated coal mine in central China in the latest disaster to strike the world’s deadliest coal industry. Many more miners remained trapped underground.

The blast hit a mine in Pingdingshan city in the province of Henan, China’s third largest coal producing province, the state administration of work safety told the Xinhua news agency. Seventy-two miners were trapped initially and 26 escaped.

A store of explosives blew up at the No 2 Xingdong mine, and six of the survivors were badly burned.

An explosion at Pingdingshan in September last year killed 35 people and production was halted at all 157 mines in the city.

The No 2 Xingdong mine had reportedly lost its licence to operate earlier this month but had illegally hooked up its electricity and begun operating again. The mine has an annual production capacity of 90,000 tons, Xinhua said.

Accidents killed 2,631 coal miners in China last year, about seven a day, down from 6,995 deaths in 2002, when the government set out to clean up the industry’s appalling safety record.

Coal accounts for 69 per cent of the primary energy in China – 42 per cent higher than the world’s average, and the country’s miners often end up as victims of the rush to provide the coal needed to fuel China’s factories.

The government has made significant progress in making the industry safer by shutting illegal mines and improving safety, and has introduced new measures, such as the requirement that experts be on hand to make sure that shafts are evacuated when gas reaches certain levels.

Many of the workers die in illegal unregulated mines dotted around the country, run by unscrupulous mine bosses who think only of meeting targets. While state mining authorities have been battling to wipe out corruption, enforcement is difficult and the demand for coal is enormous.

Despite the best efforts of the authorities, small illegal mines persist. Officials close local illegal mines, but it is common for them to spring up again just weeks after they are shut down.

Old abandoned tunnels are posing a new risk as the country digs deeper for the coal it needs to fuel its economic boom.

In March a flood at the Wangjialing mine in the northern province of Shanxi left 153 workers trapped underground. After a daring rescue effort, 115 were recovered alive.

Police said they had already detained those responsible for the blast, without giving any details.

China, the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases, has made highly public commitments to reducing its reliance on coal, pledging to cut output of carbon dioxide gas per unit of gross domestic product by 40 per cent to 45 per cent by 2020 from 2005 levels. The central government has set a target of generating 15 per cent of all electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

However, efforts to improve the country’s environmental record and to consolidate the coalmining industry are hampered by the booming demand for coal.

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