Plant blast poses threat to supply of major resin

JIJI

An explosion at a key supply base for superabsorbent polymer in Hyogo Prefecture late last month has led to fears of supply shortages of the resin, used in disposable diapers, as well as its raw material, acrylic acid.

The plant, operated by Nippon Shokubai Co. in Himeji, has been shut down since the Sept. 29 explosion that which killed one firefighter and left more than 30 people injured, including employees of the company.

The plant turns out about 20 percent of superabsorbent polymer and 8 percent of acrylic acid produced globally.

According to the Himeji fire department, the investigation into the cause of the accident, including inspection of the facility, will be lengthy.

“If the supply shortages of the resin continue for a long time, the supply-demand balance of disposable diapers will be tight, causing a price upsurge,” an industry official said.

U.S. consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble Co. is believed to be among those badly affected by the plant closure. The company buys most of the raw material for its disposable diapers for the Japanese and other Asian markets from Nippon Shokubai.

“We will cover shortages by redistributing stocks reserved for export and through other procurement routes for the time being,” a company official said.

An official of Unicharm Corp. , Japan’s leading maker of disposable diaper makers said “the accident has not had any impact on the company so far as we buy the resin from other companies.”

Sumitomo Seika Chemicals Co. , which also produces the resin, is willing to help cover the loss in production at the Nippon Shokubai plant, but only to a small degree because “the size of our production is significantly smaller (than at Nippon Shokubai),” an official said.

The Japan Hygiene Products Industry Association plans to study the impact of the accident on member companies’ production of disposable diapers and may advice consumers not to overreact by stockpiling diapers.