Mining in Nalaikh

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. The coal mine had sustained the town for 70 years and when it died, so did the city’s economic prospects. Unemployment rates soared above 70%. With families to feed, were no choice but to return to the ruins of the former mine and reopening the mine shafts. Illegally.


While some miners work in pairs or within their own families, others have formed large operations with assigned roles; miners, loaders, truck drivers, and supervisors. They sell to local residents and market vendors , each truckload bringing in around $100. 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 necessary for survival as food and water.


The problems at Nalaikh are hardly a blip in the radar for the Mongolian government. Their attention is focused on the larger  multinational mining companies  in other parts of the country. No government regulation on the Nalaikh  mines means 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.


Standing in the coal fields, Nalaikh's power plant can be seen in the distance, but it receives all of its supply 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.