China and Her Coal: China has coal to burn--and plans to.

AuthorYanli, Hou

Coal-related statistics on China make for sobering reading. China is the world's largest coal producer (2.2 billion short tons in 2004) and consumer (2.1 billion tons). China's production in 2004 roughly equaled the combined production of the next four top producers (the United States, India, Australia, and Russia). The country also produced 243 million tons of coking coal last year, accounting for 53 percent of the world's total production. Underlying this huge output are vast reserves--according to the Ministry of Land and Resources, China had "proven" coal reserves of over 1 trillion tons in 2003, nearly 12 percent of the world total--and 26,000 coal mines employing nearly 8 million workers.


Given this abundance, it's perhaps not surprising that China has an unbalanced energy structure dominated by coal. Coal accounted for 69 percent of the country's primary energy consumption in 2005 (while oil accounted for 21 percent, natural gas 3 percent, and hydropower 7 percent), and for 75 percent of total electricity generation. Coal-fired powerplants accounted for 83 percent of new generating capacity installed in 2005. In addition, the country's roughly 410,000 industrial furnaces and 180,000 kilns that burn coal as fuel account for almost half of China's coal consumption. Most Chinese cities get their heat from coal-fired furnaces.

This heavy reliance on coal comes at great cost. To begin with, 3,306 accidents occurred at coal mines nationwide last year, killing 5,938 workers. Nearly three-quarters of the deaths occurred in county--or town-owned mines (as opposed to the relatively safer state-owned mines), and in fact statistics over the years show that accidents mostly happen in midsize, small, and very small coal mines, where the production safety challenges remain grim.

Coal use also puts daunting pressure on the environment. Energy-related pollution not only increases economic costs but also seriously threatens public health, and is one of the biggest social and economic challenges the country faces. Last year, for instance, nearly 26 million metric tons of sulfur dioxide were discharged into the air in China, of which 90 percent came from coal burning. The country also emitted nearly 20 million tons of particulate matter and other smog-forming pollutants, 70 percent of it from coal. In addition, coal contributed to 67 percent of total national nitrogen oxide (N[O.sub.x]) emissions and 70 percent of China's 4.7...

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