Coal Industry

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Coal Industry


the branch of the fuel industry dealing with the mining and processing (upgrading and briquetting) of coals. The USSR produces more coal than any other country in the world. The growth in Soviet coal output through the years is shown in Table 1.

The first known attempts at mining coal by primitive means were made in ancient Greece and China. Coal began playing an important role as a fuel in 17th-century England. The second half of the 18th century saw a new phase in the development of the coal industry with the use of coals to produce coke for making iron. Transportation became an important user of coal in the 19th century.

Table 1. Coal production of the USSR (millions of tons)
 TotalUnderground minesSurface mines
1913. . . . . . . . . .
1940. . . . . . . . . .165.9159.66.3
1950. . . . . . . . . .261.1234.027.1
1960. . . . . . . . . .509.6407.6102.0
1970. . . . . . . . . .624.1457.5166.6
1975. . . . . . . . . .701.3475.5225.8

The principal coalfields in Russia were discovered in the early 18th century: the Donets in 1721, the Moscow in 1722, and the Kuznetsk also in 1722. The first mines appeared near Kizel in the Urals, near Tula, and, later, near Lisichansk in the Ukraine. Before 1917 the country’s coal output accounted for 2.5 percent of the world output; foreign entrepreneurs controlled most of the mining operations. Coal production reached its highest level in 1916, when 34.6 million tons were mined, with more than 80 percent coming from the Donbas. The main tools used were the pick and shovel; the coal was carried primarily on sledges.

As a result of the Civil War of 1918–20, the amount of coal produced in Russia dropped to 8.7 million tons in 1920. The Communist Party and Soviet government devoted particular attention to the development of coal production. The GOELRO (State Commission for the Electrification of Russia) plan of 1920 provided for an increase of coal output to 62.5 million tons over a period of 10–15 years. In 1929 the output of hard coal surpassed the level of 1913.

Table 2. Distribution of coal reserves and output in the USSR (millions of tons)
 Explored reserves as of Jan. 1,1975Output in 1975
Donets Basin. . . . . . . . . .54,945223.0
Pechora Basin. . . . . . . . . .8,56724.2
Moscow Basin. . . . . . . . . .4,39434.1
Ural deposits. . . . . . . . . .2,23445.2
Siberian, Kazakh, Middle Asian and Far Eastern basins and deposits. . . . . . . . . . .201,627344.8
Kuznetsk Basin. . . . . . . . . .66,451137.6
Karaganda Basin. . . . . . . . . .7,53746.3
Kansk-Achinsk Basin. . . . . . . . . .74,33527.9

By the end of the first five-year plan in 1932, the annual coal output had reached 64.4 million tons. During this period, 138 new underground mines, with a combined capacity of 53 million tons of coal per year, were opened in the Kuznetsk, Moscow, and Karaganda coal basins and at deposits in Eastern Siberia, the Far East, and Middle Asia. Great progress was made in the mechanization of mining operations. By the end of the five-year plan, a number of plants were producing machinery for use in the coal industry. Among them were the S. M. Kirov Gorlovka Machine Works, the Pnevmatika Plant in Leningrad, the Svet Shakhtera Plant in Kharkov, and plants in Konotop and Tomsk. The world’s first cutter loader was invented in the USSR in 1932.

During the second five-year plan (1933–37), the annual output of coal doubled and reached 128 million tons per year. A total of 146 new underground mines were opened.

The introduction of advanced equipment necessitated changes in the organization of labor. Outdated norms had to be reviewed; a sharp increase was required in labor productivity. In 1932, on the initiative of the coal cutter N. A. Izotov, a movement developed with the aim of training new workers and providing them with advanced occupational skills. During the night shift of Aug. 30–31, 1935, A. G. Stakhanov, a cutter at the Tsentral’naia-Irmino Mine, used a pneumatic drill to cut 102 tons of coal, an amount that was 14 times greater than his quota. This record marked the beginning of the Stakhanovite movement.

The goal of the third five-year plan (1938–42) was to achieve a 90-percent increase in coal output by 1942; such an increase would mean an output of 242 million tons per year. Because of the attack of fascist Germany on the USSR, this figure was not reached. In late 1941 the Hitlerites occupied the Donets and Moscow coal basins, and almost all coal enterprises were destroyed. During the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45, coals in the Kuznetsk and Karaganda basins and in the Ural regions were intensively mined and development of the Pechora Basin began.

The restoration of the coal industry of the Moscow Basin was completed while the war was still in progress. The coal industry of the Donbas was reconstructed in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. In 1955 almost 400 million tons of coal were mined.

In 1975 the USSR produced 537.6 million tons of bituminous coals, including 181 million tons of coking coals, and 83.9 million tons of anthracites. The Donbas accounted for the greatest amount of coal—more than 30 percent of the country’s total output (Table 2). Coal production is increasing in the eastern regions of the country. It is interesting to note that the combined geological coal reserves of the Kansk-Achinsk, Tunguska, Southern Yakut, Lena, and Minusinsk coalfields in Eastern Siberia constitute 80 percent of the reserves in the USSR.

Production processes in the coal industry are being mechanized and automated on a large scale. The USSR leads the world with

Table 3. Number and output of underground and surface mines in the USSR
 Number of working underground minesAverage output per mine (thousands of tons)Number of working surface minesAverage output per mine (thousands of tons)
1960. . . . . . . . . .797504462,115
1965. . . . . . . . . .771562562,367
1970. . . . . . . . . .642711582,662
1975. . . . . . . . . .539893633,390

respect to the amount of coal mined by mechanized coal complexes (seeCOAL COMPLEXES) and the extent to which such machines are used. As of 1975, about a thousand mining faces had been fitted with such equipment. Under the ninth five-year plan (1971–75), the average annual rate of growth of labor productivity in coal mining was twice that under the eighth plan. The concentration of production and the intensity of exploitation increased. The average quantity of coal extracted at each working face rose from 331 tons in 1970 to 454 tons in 1975. The total number of working faces fell from 4,101 to 3,115; at more than half of them mechanized complexes and advanced narrow-web equipment were being used, including cutter loaders, plow units, hydraulic supports, and conveyors. The extraction of coal in underground mines acquired the character of a continuous process. In 1975,60.7 percent of the total coal output was produced by advanced techniques—that is, through the use of mechanized complexes and by means of hydraulic mining and surface mining. Many underground mines are equipped with a continuously operating ventilation system for protection against gases. In the mid-1970’s underground mining was still the primary method of working coal deposits in the USSR. (SeeMINING, UNDERGROUND.)

The use of surface mining is markedly increasing. Powerful high-capacity excavation, mining, and transport equipment is employed in surface mine’s. In 1975 more than 1,500 different excavators were in use in surface mines, including walking draglines with bucket volumes up to 100 cu m and rotary units with a capacity of 3,000–5,000 cu m/hr. Most of the locomotives are powerful electric locomotives or independently powered hauling units. With respect to motor vehicles, more than 40,000 trucks and special-purpose vehicles are in use at surface mines. In 1975 the average monthly output per worker for coal mined at open workings was 417 tons. At the Sofronovskii and Azeiskii Mines in Irkutsk Oblast and the Bogatyr’ Mine in the Ekibastuz Coalfield, the output per worker in 1975 exceeded 1,000 tons (33 tons/day).

As a result of the construction of large new underground and surface mines and the reconstruction of existing mines, the output per mine has increased (Table 3).

Under the ninth five-year plan, mining operations began at two large underground mines: the Raspadskaia in the Kuznetsk Basin, with an initial capacity of 6.0 million tons per year and an eventual capacity of 7.5 million tons per year, and the Vorga-shorskaia in the Pechora Basin, with a capacity of 4.5 million tons per year. An important surface mine was also opened under the plan: the Bogatyr’, with a capacity of 30 million tons per year and a projected eventual capacity of 50 million tons per year.

In the USSR underground mining is carried on at an average depth of 410 m. Approximately 15 percent of the total underground output is accounted for by 86 mines that are deeper than 700 m. A particularly large number of deep mines are located in the Donets Basin, where 79 mines have a depth greater than 700 m. Of these 79 mines, five are deeper than 1,000 m.

About 36 percent of the coal output of the USSR goes for the production of electricity, 20 percent is used by the by-product coke industry, 14 percent goes to supply general community needs, and 30 percent is used for other purposes, such as agriculture and the production of building materials.

The principal lines of development of the coal industry in the USSR are as follows: the raising of output and rate of extraction through advances in equipment and techniques, the improvement of the quality of the mined coal, the increasing of the efficiency of the industry, the reconstruction and modernization of mines and plants, and the expansion of surface mining in the eastern regions of the country. The Southern Yakut Basin is being developed at an accelerated pace, and work is proceeding on the Kansk-Achinsk Fuel and Power Complex. Increased quantities of mechanized coal complexes, entry drivers, loaders, and other equipment are being produced. Steps are being taken to reduce the hazardous nature of mine work.

As of early 1975, the world’s “explored” coal reserves—that is, reserves in categories A, B, and Q (seeMINERAL RESERVES)—were estimated to total 1.075 trillion tons. Of this figure, 410 billion tons, or 38 percent of the total, were located in the socialist countries. The USSR’s reserves amounted to 277 billion tons and accounted for 26 percent of the world reserves. The reserves of the other socialist countries totaled 134 billion tons. The countries with the largest reserves, and the sizes of the reserves in billions of tons, were as follows: People’s Republic of China, 70; Yugoslavia, 18; Poland, 15.5; German Democratic Republic, 7.5; Czechoslovakia, 6.6; Hungary, 3.5; Mongolian People’s Republic, 1.7; Bulgaria, 4.5; and Rumania, 4.1. In 1975 the socialist countries produced more than 50 percent of the world’s coal output.

Table 4. Coal production of the principal coal-mining countries1 (millions of tons of salable coal)
1According to various estimates, approximately 400 million tons of coal per year are mined in the People’s Republic of China, which thus has the third largest output in the world. Official data have not been published since 1960.
USSR. . . . . . . . . .490545577684
German Democratic Republic. . . . . . . . . .228253262299
Federal Republic of Germany. . . . . . . . . .245244225217
Poland. . . . . . . . . .114141173202
Czechoslovakia. . . . . . . . . .85100109110
Great Britain. . . . . . . . . .194189143109
Australia. . . . . . . . . .38537190
India. . . . . . . . . .53697685
Republic of South Africa. . . . . . . . . .38485564
France. . . . . . . . . .58544025
Total world output. . . . . . . . . .2,6002,7812,9263,040

With regard to the capitalist and developing countries, hard coals made up 522 billion tons of the reserves in 1975, and brown coals accounted for 142 billion tons. The reserves were concentrated primarily in the following countries (the sizes of the reserves are given in billions of tons): USA, 215; Federal Republic of Germany, 132; Great Britain, 127; Australia, 50.4; India, 25.2; Canada, 54.5; Republic of South Africa, 25.4; Japan, 6.0; and France, 2.1. Although world coal production has been growing, and now exceeds 3 billion tons per year (Table 4), the coal output of the countries of Western Europe has tended to decrease. Over the 15-year period ending in 1975, the proportion of the world’s output from the countries of the European Economic Community fell from 20.5 to 14.2 percent. Coal output has increased in such leading coal-producing countries as the USA, Australia, Canada, India, and the Republic of South Africa. The growth in the world’s coal production is due primarily to the increased use of surface mining, which accounts for more than 40 percent of the total world output.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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