Nippon Steel hopes to restart Nagoya plant as soon as possible

TOKYO, Sept 5 Fri Sep 5, 2014 2:48am EDT

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TOKYO, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Japan's top steel maker Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp said on Friday it hopes to restart its Nagoya steel plant as soon as possible after it was shutdown due to a fire on Wednesday, but it did not have a definite timetable.

The company received permission from local police and the prefectural government on Thursday to resume operations at the plant, except for a coke oven and its related facilities where the fire started, on condition it ensured safety and soundness of the facilities, a Nippon Steel spokeswoman said.

"We are checking all the facilities to ensure safety and soundness. We hope to resume operations as soon as possible, but we don't know when we can do that," she said.

A fire started on Wednesday at the plant's coal storage facility and conveyor belt, near the coke oven. Fifteen people were injured and the fire was extinguished early Thursday. It was the fifth accident at the plant this year.

The cause of the fire has not been determined, but the company assumes it broke out when coal reacted with oxygen during the process of charging it for the coke oven.

The main facilities such as blast furnaces, a rolling mill, and a heavy plates unit halted operations, while some processing facilities such as a pipe plant and a galvanizing plant are continuing to operate.

The Nagoya plant in central Japan, which produced 6.74 million tonnes of crude steel or about 15 percent of its total output in the business year to March 31, has suffered power failures and smoke releases four times from January to July.

The plant has stockpiles of most of its products, including semi-finished steel, worth about two weeks, but some products may run out as early as five days after the fire accident, the spokeswoman said.

"We plan to bring some products from our other plants if needed, the spokeswoman said.

If the suspension of the facilities lasts long, it may affect the supply of steel products to its major customers such as automakers, including Toyota Motor Corp, Honda Motor Co Ltd and Suzuki Motor Corp. (Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Michael Perry)

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