Nippon Steel Corp. said Friday it is not sure when it can resume full production at its Nagoya plant, which closed after a gas tank explosion earlier this week.

Japan’s biggest steelmaker has restarted three electric-powered cold-rolling mills at the plant, which is located in Tokai, Aichi Prefecture. Facilities, including a blast furnace, that are powered by recycled gas, remain shut.

“We don’t know exactly when we can get things up and running again,” spokesman Hiroshi Nakashima said. “Our cold-rolling mills are working, but as long as we can’t produce crude steel, it doesn’t help very much.”

The blast furnace at the Nagoya works produces about 20 percent of the company’s crude steel, which is then used to make various steel products. Nippon Steel produced 30 million metric tons of crude steel in fiscal 2002.

Two storage tanks for carbon monoxide were destroyed in Wednesday’s fire, disrupting power supplies to most of the plant. The cause of the fire remains unknown, Nakashima said.

The Nihon Keizai Shimbun earlier reported that the Tokyo-based steelmaker aims to restore 70 percent of production capacity within one week. Nakashima said that is unlikely.

Honda Motor Co., Suzuki Motor Corp. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. meanwhile said they have enough steel at their factories to last until next week.

“The shortage of steel may have a negative effect in the short term, but after a longer period the effect will be small,” said Koji Endo, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston Japan Inc. “I don’t see this affecting their full-year earnings.”

Honda, Japan’s second-biggest automaker, buys about 70 percent of the steel it uses at its Suzuka plant from the Nagoya plant, spokeswoman Yuriko Yabe said. The automaker makes models such as the Civic and Fit compacts and Mobilio minivan at Suzuka.

On Thursday, JFE Holdings Inc., Japan’s second-biggest steelmaker by sales, told Nippon Steel it is prepared to supply steel to its bigger rival, according to JFE Executive Vice President Tetsuo Miyazaki.

Mitsubishi Motors, the nation’s fourth-largest automaker, has enough steel to last until Tuesday, spokesman Tetsuji Inoue said. The automaker is considering buying steel from other Nippon Steel plants or other suppliers, the automaker said.

Toyota reacts to blast

NAGOYA (Kyodo) Toyota Motor Corp. will run its manufacturing lines without overtime Monday following a gas tank explosion at its key steel product supplier, according to Toyota officials.

Toyota usually runs its manufacturing lines with one to two hours of overtime.

The No. 1 Japanese automaker will decide Monday morning what to do about production beginning the following day, the officials said Friday.

Toyota will conduct manufacturing for the new hybrid car Prius at a plant in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, as usual, they said.

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