The Nalaikh Coal mine was established in the 1920's, and remained the only coal mine in Mongolia until the 1950's. A methane gas explosion within 1990 killed 21 people and forced the government to shut down the mine, putting 1,500 Mongolians out of work overnight.
A miner empties a bucket of coal, before lowering it back down the shaft to his two partner below. Soon after the Nalaikh Mine was closed in 1990, the former miners began returning to the shafts to work. Illegally. With families to feed, and in a region known for harsh winters, they saw no other choice.
A group of Mongolian coal miners speak with their supervisor 150 ft below the surface. With no regulation on the mines, safety is not priority. There is little coordination between mining teams, collapses and cave-ins are common, and safety beams are sometimes seen as an unnecessary expense. Since 2009, more than 50 miners have been killed and hundreds more injured.
Nalaikh's power plant can be seen from the coal fields, but it receives all of its coal from massive industry-run pit mines to the south.The ground around Nalaikh still holds 30 million tons of coal, but the pit mines are measured in the tens of billions.
The coal is used to heat homes through the long Mongolian winters. In a region where temperatures can drop to -30 celsius for weeks on end, coal is nessecary for surbvial,
Teams of miners use electric jack hammers to extract coal deep below the surface. While some work in pairs or within their own families, others have formed large operations with assigned roles; miners, loaders, truck drivers, and supervisors.
Gers, the traditional Mongolian house, dot the ruins of the original Nalaikh Coal Mine. The Gers are positioned near open shafts to prevent claim-jumping.
Miners work to fill the iron canoes that will then be winched back up to the surface. 12 full canoes equals lunch, 24 signals the end of the work day. These mines have no true access shaft, the only way in and out is to ride the canoe 150ft to the surface.
A worker loads raw coal into the back of a truck. Larger operations like this one can fill a truck every 20 minutes. They sell to local residents and market vendors , each truckload bringing in around $400.
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