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2008年5月10日 (土)


(May. 9, 2008)

Domestic coal takes spotlight again

石炭価格急騰 再び脚光を浴びるか国内炭(5月9日付・読売社説)

An upsurge in energy costs around the world is beginning to affect coal prices. Coal is becoming less inexpensive and less readily available.


But this could be a boon to the barely surviving domestic coal industry. There are growing expectations about the ongoing change as a move toward redefining coal as an important domestic energy source.


Domestic industrial circles were shocked by high import prices for Australian coal under an agreement between major Japanese steelmakers, including Nippon Steel Corp., and a foreign mining giant. The price of coking coal to be imported in fiscal 2008 is $300 per ton, nearly three times the price in fiscal 2007.



About 60 percent of coking coal imports comes from Australia. As prices of coal from other countries also are bound to increase, the steel industry is facing a large increase in its costs.


The price of fuel coal for thermal power generation is predicted this fiscal year to be about $125 per ton, a more than twofold jump from the price in fiscal 2007.


Hikes in prices of steel products, electricity bills and other charges seem to be inevitable due to the large price increases for coking and fuel coal. Coal-related price hikes that follow a continued rise in oil and food prices will likely deal a blow to people's lives.


Under this situation, domestic coal has jumped into the spotlight.


Cost gap narrowing


Domestic production of coal has been hovering around 1.4 million tons per year for several years. Annual output has been decreasing after it hit the postwar peak of 55.4 million tons in fiscal 1961. Today, only eight coal mines remain in operation in Japan, all of them in Hokkaido. This is the result of domestic coal losing out to cheaper foreign coal.


The current import volume of foreign coal is about 180 million tons a year. Compared to this, domestic coal production is marginal.


However, the price gap between domestic and imported coal is quickly narrowing. Domestic coal prices are hovering at around 10,000 yen per ton and are projected to fall below the price of foreign fuel coal this fiscal year.


New life to mining areas


This has prompted Mitsubishi Material Corp., a leading nonferrous metal and cement firm, to start using domestic coal at its cement factories in Japan for the first time in 18 years. Hokkaido Electric Power Co. increased its purchases of domestic coal from 700,000 tons in fiscal 2006 to 1.1 million tons in fiscal 2007, and plans to maintain the same volume in fiscal 2008.


Energy industry officials predict that import prices of foreign coal will increase further in the future. Coal has been in short supply in the international market, as a result of an uninterrupted increase in coal demand in China and India.

エネルギー関係者は、海外炭の価格は今後、一段と値上がりすると見ている。中国やインドの石炭需要は拡大する一方で、市場で品薄状態が続いているためだ。(uninterrupted 連続する)

Because of this, coal mines in Hokkaido have begun to increase output and the development of new mines are being considered.


Admittedly, it is impossible to produce enough domestic coal to eliminate the need for foreign coal. However, the shift toward greater use of domestic coal is worthy of note as a move that will lead to the economic reconstruction of coal mining areas while securing Japan's own energy sources as much as possible.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 9, 2008)

2008590150  読売新聞)


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