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Friday, April 1, 2011

Euro Coal-Rebounds $2 on strong oil, gas

Mar 31, 2011 4:38pm GMT

* No fresh trades reported
* Bids, offers remain specific, blocking trade

LONDON, March 31 (Reuters) - Prompt European physical coal prices rebounded by around $2.00 on Thursday in line with stronger oil and gas prices.

Oil prices rose by over $2 on Thursday, touching $117.70 a barrel as Middle East supply worries led concerns [O/R].

Gas prices will stay under pressure for the balance of the year due to the amount of Liquified Natural Gas arriving in Europe but gas will also respond to rises in the general energy complex, as was the case on Thursday, traders said.

Both bids and offers were again very specific with certain origins and ports only.

"You have to wonder if anybody wants to actually trade or are they putting numbers out there which they know aren't going to be hit," one trader said.

End-user demand in Europe has been limited this week and tends to be so at this time of year as utilities begin switching into gas from coal-fired generation.

But there are so many opposing factors operating on coal prices at present that a lack of demand alone is not enough to pull coal lower, traders said.

Fundamental oversupply in the Atlantic and the Pacific (until Japan starts buying again) ought to trim FOB Newcastle spot prices and pull down FOB Richards Bay South African prices, traders and utilities said, but losses could be reversed by factors which have nothing to do with physical supply and demand.

"We're not super-bearish but it's normal for prices to drift a bit lower at this time of the year and I don't see a large number of end-user sellers out there," one large European trader said.

"The dollar could move sharply, oil could spike again - and gas is actually stronger today despite all the LNG coming to Europe," he added.

"Go figure, there are all these bearish LNG stories and the market's rallied more than $1.50 on the back of oil," another European trader said.

Two lines were closed by a derailment on Wednesday on the railway to Richards Bay Coal Terminal but the tonnage lost was unknown, industry sources said.

Rail operator Transnet Freight Rail said one of the closed lines will reopen on Friday.

A series of derailments resulted in a loss of around 3 million tonnes in December-February, exporter sources said.

South African coal has been predominantly shipped to Asia rather than Europe so the tonnage lost would tighten supply there, if anywhere, traders said.

Two June loading Newcastle parcels traded at $119.25 a tonne on globalCOAL, down $1.00.
A June delivery DES ARA cargo traded at $125.05 a tonne via brokers, also down $1.00.

A June delivery ARA cargo was bid at $127.25 and offered at $127.50, up $2.00.
A May DES ARA cargo was bid at $126.75 and offered earlier at $126.50, up nearly $2.00.

There had been a June ARA bid earlier on Thursday at $127.50 a tonne for 50,000 tonnes of South African only.

A May loading South African cargo was bid at $121.00 and offered at $121.75, up $2.00.

A June cargo was bid at $119.00, unchanged.

(Reporting by Jackie Cowhig)

Floods cut Australia's Queensland coal output 30 mln/t-council

Fri Apr 1, 2011 7:36am GMT

* Australia floods seen causing deeper losses in Queensland coal output
* New loss estimates by Resources Council exceed earlier govt tallies
* Coking coal worst hit

By James Regan

SYDNEY, April 1 (Reuters) - Australia's Queensland state lost about 30 million tonnes of coal production, or 15 percent its annual output, due to extensive summer flooding, the Queensland Resources Council said on Friday, suggesting official estimates of lost output may be too low.

The Council forecast total coal production for fiscal 2010/11 from the nation's main coal mining state will be cut to 170 million tonnes from a previous estimate of 200 million tonnes, based on feedback from coal-handling terminals.

The council's board of directors includes executives from some of the world's biggest coal mining companies, including BHP Billiton , Xstrata , Rio Tinto and AngloAmerican .

The extent of lost production indicates the coal mining industry is only slowly recovering from the devastating floods that slashed production and damaged infrastructure between late November and February.

"The recovery has been a very slow process," Jim Devine, a spokesman for the mining group told Reuters.

The floods have driven both thermal and metallurgical coal prices up significantly.

Prices in Asia for metallurgical or coking coal, which is used for steel-making, are expected to increase by nearly 50 percent for the second quarter of 2011, with the contract for coking coal expected to settle around $330 per tonne, up from $225 a tonne in the first quarter.

The floods also helped push up thermal coal prices, with Japanese thermal coal contract for fiscal 2011, reaching a record settlement of about $130 per tonne this week.

Traditionally around 85 percent of Queensland's coal is shipped out, meaning export losses could be as high as 25.5 million tonnes.

The Queensland Treasury in its mid-year economic and fiscal review estimated around 15 million tonnes in coal exports is expected to be delayed or lost in 2010-11.

"Coking coal is taking the majority of the hit because it represents the majority of the exports," Devine said.

"We still have three out of four coal mines in Queensland working under transitional environmental programmes to remove water form their sites," he added.

The council's estimate of 30 million tonnes in lost production is also well above those compiled from a Reuters poll in late January that showed the floods would cause 11.3 million tonnes in lost coking coal production in 2011, representing about 5 percent of world exports.

The poll also showed losses to thermal coal production will be much less significant, reaching around 5.5 million tonnes, or less than 1 percent of world trade.

Typically, Queensland produced 60 percent metallurgical coal and 40 percent thermal coal, Devine said. (Additional reporting by Rebekah Kebede in PERTH; Editing by Mark Bendeich, sourced Reuters)

Orissa may allow POSCO to export and import iron ore

Friday, 01 Apr 2011

Orissa government has agreed with POSCO India to allow swap of certain quantities of iron ore for production of better quality steel in its proposed 12 million tonne per annum steel project near Paradip.

This was stated by Orissa Steel and Mines Minister Mr Raghunath Mohanty while replying to a question in the state assembly.

Mr Mohanty said that “The company may swap certain quantities (not exceeding 30% of the requirement for the Paradip plant annually) of such iron ore which have high alumina content with equal quantity of low alumina content iron ore of equivalent or better Fe content imported for blending in order to produce better steel in the Paradip project and conserve energy.”

The minister said that state government is examining other factors associated with swapping of iron ore with the company.

Mr Mohanty said that the matters under state government’s examination are the amount of foreign exchange to be spent on importing better quality iron ore, the country from which the raw material would come and the veracity of pollution to be created due to processing of such imported ore.

(Sourced from PTI)

China imported iron ore stocks rise 0.8 pct this week

Fri Apr 1, 2011 8:35am GMT

BEIJING, April 1 (Reuters) - Stockpiles of imported iron ore at major Chinese ports rose 0.8 percent this week to end at
79.85 million tonnes, up for the first time in a month, according to data from industry consultancy Mysteel.
China's port iron ore stocks have stood at more than 60 million tonnes since 2008, and surged past the 80 million tonne
mark in February following a spree of orders by local mills and traders banking on strong steel demand.
Despite the drop in orders since mid-February, port stocks have fallen by just a fraction, indicating that steel mill
inventories have not yet reached a critical level.
Prices of the key steelmaking raw material inched up over the week as end users returned to the market to replenish stocks
that had been dwindling since mid-February.
But analysts were pessimistic about long-term demand, and said orders could slow in April as steel mills start to digest
the costly port inventories.
 Following is a table showing stockpile movements this week. 
Country Stocks Weekly Change
Australia 28.86 mln T +190,000
Brazil 21.13 mln T +90,000
India 14.33 mln T +320,000
Total 79.85 mln T +660,000

(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Chris Lewis, sourced Reuters, Mysteel)

Military no cure for Libya crisis: German foreign minister

Fri Apr 1, 2011 7:38am GMT

BEIJING (Reuters) - The crisis in Libya cannot be resolved militarily, Germany's foreign minister said in Beijing on Friday, calling for efforts for a political solution for the oil-rich North African nation.

Germany broke ranks with the United States, France and Britain and joined China, Russia, India and Brazil in abstaining on a United Nations vote authorising the use of force to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya and protect civilians.

"The Libyan situation cannot be resolved by military means," Guido Westerwelle told reporters after meeting his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, according to a pool report.

"There can only be a political resolution and we must get the political process under way. That should begin with a ceasefire that Gaddafi must heed to allow the peace process to begin," he said.

Westerwelle said at an EU foreign ministers' meeting last month that Arab League criticism of the air strikes had vindicated Germany's reluctance to back the action.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang said China was "worried by continued reports of deaths and injuries among civilians and continuing clashes," and repeated that the crisis "must be dealt with appropriately by diplomatic and political means."

Berlin had long said it did not believe a no-fly zone or air strikes would be successful in driving Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi out or protecting Libyan civilians.

Westerwelle has dismissed claims that Berlin was isolated after refusing to join its NATO allies in staging military strikes on Libya.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to opt out of any military action in Libya has drawn criticism at home, putting the government on the defensive over a policy that opinion polls suggest should be popular with voters. (sourced Reuters)

Portuguese president dissolves parliament, calls for elections in June

Fri, April01, 2011 04:59:23 |

Portugal's President Anibal Cavaco Silva attends a news conference at the Belen Palace in Lisbon March 31, 2011. Silva on Thursday dissolved parliament and set a snap election for June 5 following the resignation of the minority Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Socrates.(Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

LISBON, March 31 (Xinhua) -- Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva decided on Thursday to dissolve the parliament and call for elections on June 5. This is the outcome of the political crisis that started on March 23, when the five opposition parties from the left to the right wing united to defeat the government budget cut measures.

According to President Cavaco Silva, "In the current parliamentary framework it was not possible to generate a government solution that could run the country's affairs. I have taken this decision having in mind the difficulties of the minority government to approve the necessary measures to face the country's problems. There is also a lack of confidence between the political parties."

Although the parliament decision was a week ago, the president only could announce his decision Thursday because of the legal formalities. He had to call for a State Council meeting a mandatory presidential advisory board before publishing his decision. Editor: Mu Xuequan, Xinhua

Tensions rise between Italy, France over immigrants

llegal north African immigrants protest over stagnated evacuation out of the southernmost Italian island of Lampedusa, March 31, 2011. Tensions between Italy and France were rising over the immigration emergency as more refugees coming from the southern island of Lampedusa tried to escape across the frontier and were pushed back by the French police. (Xinhua/Wang qingqin)

ROME, March 31 (Xinhua) -- Tensions between Italy and France were rising over the immigration emergency as more refugees coming from the southern island of Lampedusa tried to escape across the frontier and were pushed back by the French police.

Undesecretary of State Stefania Craxi said Thursday that France was not doing its part in sharing the burden of hosting some of the over 16,000 of North African immigrants which have landed on Italy's shores since January.

"This humanitarian emergency does not only concern Italy and we demand that Paris shows solidarity and generosity as becomes relations between European member states,"said Craxi.

Despite recognizing the existence of a bilateral treaty that grants France the automatic right to push back all immigrants coming from Italy, Craxi demanded more flexibility and sense of cooperation from her French colleagues, local media reported.

In March, over 3,300 desperate Tunisian immigrants coming from southern Italy have reached the northern town of Ventimiglia, located at 10 kilometers from the border with France, in search of better conditions. Most arrive by train but some also risk their lives traveling in the trunk of cars.

Ventimiglia is a passage way, from here refugees try to pass the frontier to France in all possible ways (on trains, walking across the border or along the beach) but have been systematically pushed back to Italian territory by the French authorities, who have adopted a stricter policy towards refuges.

In recent weeks some 600 immigrants were intercepted and pushed back by the French frontier police. Following immigration emergency in Italy, France has tighten border controls by placing over 300 policemen on railways.

Ventimiglia's mayor Gaetano Scuillino has voiced concern that his hometown turned into the"northern Lampedusa." A new immigrant center was opened here on Thursday but there's not enough space to host all the refugees being pushed back from France, he said.

Replying to Italy's criticism, the French government on Thursday said that it was Italy's duty to send the refugees back home in accordance with the Schengen and bilateral agreements.
Editor: Mu Xuequan, Xinhua

Xstrata, Chugoku settle FY2011 thermal coal contract at $130/tonne

Thu Mar 31, 2011 11:21pm GMT

PERTH, April 1 (Reuters) - Xstrata and Chugoku Electric have settled the Japanese annual coal contract for the Japanese fiscal year starting April 1 at a record level of around $130 per tonne, sources told Reuters Friday.

The settlement price exceeds the 2008 record of $125 per tonne is also considerably higher than the annual contract price of just under $100 set in 2010. (Reporting by Rebekah Kebede,sourced Reuters)

Finland's Outokumpu may dump nuclear project-report

Fri Apr 1, 2011 3:01am GMT

HELSINKI, April 1 (Reuters) - A plan by Fennovoima to build a nuclear reactor in Finland could be at risk of falling through as Outokumpu (OUT1V.HE: Quote), the company's biggest industrial owner, eyes other nuclear stakes instead, a Finnish paper reported.

Steelmaker Outokumpu has held talks with forestry group UPM-Kymmene (UPM1V.HE: Quote) about acquiring some of its shares in other nuclear projects in the country, Tekniikka & Talous newspaper reported on Friday, quoting unnamed industry sources.

UPM-Kymmene owns part of utility company Teollisuuden Voima (TVO), which is currently building the much-delayed Olkiluoto 3 reactor in Western Finland, and holds a principle permit for its next reactor, Olkiluoto 4.

The Finnish paper cited sources as saying Outokumpu may be interested in a smaller, cheaper cut of Olkiluoto 4 over a stake in new nuclear company Fennovoima.

UPM-Kymmene's chief financial officer, Tapio Korpeinen, said in the paper his company's forestry plants would not need as much electricity as they are set to have in TVO, but declined to say if UPM would reduce its stake.

Outokumpu, which owns about 10 percent of Fennovoima and has appeared as its strongest promoter, declined to comment on the report.

Fennovoima expects its plant to cost 4 billion to 6 billion euros ($5.69 billion-$8.53 billion). It's biggest owner, German utility E.ON (EONGn.DE: Quote), said earlier this week it will seek to incorporate into future projects what has been learned from Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster, but assured it remained committed to Fennovoima.

Last July, the Finnish parliament gave permission to TVO and the Fennovoima consortium to construct new nuclear reactors, taking Finland's total reactors to seven.

Fennovoima has not yet chosen a location or a supplier for its reactor. (Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl; Editing by Steve Orlofsky,sourced Reuters)

Iron Ore-Prices extend gains as restocking continues

Fri Apr 1, 2011 3:13am GMT

BEIJING, April 1 (Reuters) - Spot iron ore prices extended their recovery on Friday, inching towards $180 per tonne as Chinese buyers continued to replenish their stocks, but traders were still bracing themselves for another slump.

A commodities broker based in Hong Kong said most in the market still believed current prices were unsustainable, even after the pick-up in trade this week.

"We may have seen a jump this week but generally people are in the market for one or two shipments and that's it -- they will buy what they need but stockpiles are still pretty high," the broker said.

Industry consultancy Mysteel's 63.5-63 percent index for Indian fines on the Chinese market reached $179 per tonne on Friday, up $2 on the day and $8 since last week.

Platts 62 percent iron ore index IODBZ00-PLT ended Thursday unchanged at $175 a tonne after jumping $5.50 on Wednesday.

Metal Bulletin's 62 percent gauge .IO62-CNO=MB reached $172.87, up $3.16, while the Steel Index .IO62-CNI=SI saw a $1.90 increase to $172.40.

The broker said the relatively large increases might have been down to a decision by Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton to auction off a number of cargoes this week.

"They have each got a dozen customers and they hold internal auctions of cargoes -- these didn't previously go into the index but now they do, and they might have a substantial impact," he said.

Three Chinese traders contacted by Reuters on Friday said the consensus in the market was that prices will fall to around $160-165 in the coming month.

As the second quarter begins, the rationale behind the three-month pricing system used by the big iron ore suppliers could be further undermined, the broker suggested.

According to the new rules, April-June prices will be based on an average of index prices from December to February. Despite a slump in spot iron and steel prices in March, mills are now facing record-high contract iron ore costs.

Reuters calculations suggest that three-month contract prices could rise 20 percent to almost $180 per tonne beginning on April 1. [ID:nL3E7E107E]

"The buyer has a choice and he could say that he doesn't want the benchmark but wants the spot price instead -- and that could force (the spot price) up," said the broker. (Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Ken Wills, sourced Reuters)

Tags :BHP Billiton, Chinese iron ore traders, raw material, steel mills, steelmaking, spot prices

Supras Ex Richards Bay Coal Terminal to India hovering at $ 25 - 27.00 PMT - FEARNBULK

Friday, 01 April 11

Atlantic markets remain stable with more activity from the Black Sea to FEast paying in the mid 20´s on Supras. The USG remains firm paying in the mid 20´s for trips into the Med and low/mid 30´s for trips FE.

Outlook: stable. The Pacific market is still weak; the signs of weakening are lack of fresh enquiries and less trading activities. Indian activities are also very slow. Supras on WC India are seeing high teens for trip to China with freight levels hovering between usd 20 pmt. Supras ex Richards bay coal terminal/ India hovering at usd 25/27.00 pmt. Ex Red Sea to India handymax tonnages are seeing mid/high 20´s.

With few fresh cargoes entering the market, the rates declined marginally this week. TA´s fixed in average around USD 16k, which is a tick down from last week. South America and coal from US kept the market going. In the Pacific the rates hovered around USD 16500. However rumors stated that Japan would increase their coal import, due to lack of nuclear energy. The ballasters from the Pacific and Indian Ocean obtained decent numbers, around USD 16-17k daily, which was in line with the short period market.

Activity is up but same has yet to be reflected in rate levels as this segment remains generally overtonnaged. The main WAust/China ore trade is erratic in volume but stable in value at usd 7.35-45 pmt - equivalent to less than opex. Nuclear concerns have given some support to Atlantic coal activity/ expectations, with resultant transatlantic levels maintained at some usd 12250 and fronthaul also unchanged at around usd 23350. With an inverted forward curve, period activity is limited to 180kdwt/blt 2009 spot FEast done for 12 mos at usd 16k, 177kdwt/blt 2004 China ppt done for 4-6 mos at usd 15500 and 174kdwt/blt 2007 said to be done for 2 yrs at around usd 17500. source:Fearnbulk

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Thursday, March 31, 2011

S.African Transnet shuts coal lines after derailment

Thu Mar 31, 2011 4:18pm GMT

JOHANNESBURG, March 31 (Reuters) - South Africa's freight logistics group Transnet [TRAN.UL] said on Thursday that it had closed two lines linking the coal mines with the Richards Bay export terminal after a derailment near Ermelo.

Spokesman Sandile Simelane said one of the two lines would reopen on Friday.

"We anticipate one of the lines to reopen tomorrow," he told Reuters, adding that an investigation into the cause of the derailment was ongoing. He declined to comment on how much tonnage would be lost as a result of the derailment, which occurred on Wednesday. (Reporting by Agnieszka Flak, sourced Reuters )

Radiation in tunnel water at Japan plant 10,000 times over normal

Thu Mar 31, 2011 3:08pm GMT

TOKYO, March 31 (Reuters) - Radiation in water of an underground tunnel outside a turbine building of No.2 reactor at Japan's crippled nuclear complex was more than 10,000 times above normal levels in reactors, the plant operator was quoted by Kyodo news agency as saying on Thursday.

The operator also found radiation in groundwater near a turbine building of the No.1 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, Kyodo added. And an abnormal level of radioactive caesium has been found in beef from the area, it said. (Reporting by Yoko Nishikawa and Kiyoshi Takenaka,
sourced Reuters)

Costs the key for Europe steel outlook-Fitch

Thu Mar 31, 2011 3:45pm GMT

* Non-integrated steel makers face higher raw material costs
* Auto, engineering demand healthy, construction weaker
* Fitch sees European steel demand up 5-6 pct in 2011

PARIS, March 31 (Reuters) - The performance of European steel makers this year will be shaped by their ability to pass on higher raw material costs and by contrasting growth in the industries they supply, a Fitch analyst said on Thursday.

"Possibly the biggest issue for steel producers this year is their ability to pass through costs," Peter Archbold, European head of basic materials at Fitch Ratings, told reporters.

The price of most mining commodities was expected to be higher on average this year because of supply tensions, with coking coal expected to be the most bullish following floods in Queensland, Australia, that have cut output, he said.

"There is going to be some margin pressure for non-integrated companies," he said, stressing that steel demand was not as strong as in 2006-08 when producers were in a better position to pass on rising raw material costs.

However, conditions for steel makers would also depend on demand from different industries, he said, noting that while Thyssenkrupp (TKAG.F: Quote) did not have integrated mining activities it was benefiting from brisk demand from the German car industry, one of Thyseenkrupp's main outlets.

Fitch expected steel demand from the automotive sector in Europe to rise by 5-6 percent this year, in line with its outlook for overall growth in European steel demand.

Demand growth would be faster in mechanical engineering, a key sector in Germany, at 7-8 percent but much weaker in construction at 1-2 percent, he said.

Fitch sees 2011 global steel demand rising by 6-10 percent.

The European steel sector as a whole was expected to continue this year its "progressive recovery", which has seen output climb back up to 80 percent of 2007 levels, lagging the global market which has already reached pre-crisis levels, driven by Chinese production, Archbold said.

The pushing through of production costs should support steel prices in Europe, he added.
(Reporting by Gus Trompiz, sourced :Reuters)

NATO against arming rebels in Libya: Secretary General

Thu Mar31, 2011 20:00:18 |

STOCKHOLM, March 31 (Xinhua) -- NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday during a visit in Sweden that NATO is against arming the rebels in Libya.

"As far as NATO is concerned, we will fully implement the U.N. Security Council resolution which requests the enforcement of the arms embargo, and the purpose of the arms embargo is to stop the flow of weapons into Libya," Rasmussen said, following recent proposals of some member countries to arm the rebels in Libya.

"We are there to protect the Libyan people, not to arm them," he said.

Rasmussen also defended NATO's operation in Libya as to protect civilians against what might eventually become a humanitarian catastrophe.

He appreciated Sweden's planned contribution of eight aircraft to the NATO-led military actions in Libya.

Rasmussen is visiting NATO's partner countries to discuss the situation in Libya and how the countries will contribute to the actions in Libya.

Anti-nuclear march in Tokyo, Japan

A protester shouts slogans during an anti-nuclear march in Tokyo, Japan, March 31, 2011.(Xinhua/Ji Chunpeng)

Two hurt in parcel bomb at Swiss nuclear lobby

Thu Mar 31, 2011 10:48am GMT

* Two women taken to hospital with
minor injuries
* Swiss suspended nuclear power
approvals over Japan
* Greenpeace holds anti-nuclear rally in Olten

By Christian Hartmann

OLTEN, Switzerland, March 31 (Reuters) - Two people were injured when a parcel bomb exploded in the offices of the Swiss nuclear lobby on Thursday, police said.

The two female employees of Swissnuclear were taken to hospital with superficial burns and hearing damage, a police spokesman said, adding police did not yet know who had sent the parcel.

Police cordoned off the office of Swissnuclear on the fourth floor of a building in the northern town of Olten. The police spokesman said they had forensic specialists on the ground.

Earlier this month, Switzerland suspended the approvals process for three new nuclear power stations so that safety standards could be reviewed after Japan's earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Swissnuclear says it works to promote the safe and efficient use of nuclear power and represents Swiss utilities Alpiq, Axpo, BKW, CKW and EGL, which run the nuclear plants that produce about 40 percent of Swiss electricity.

Olten is also home to the headquarters of Alpiq, where about 50 Greenpeace protestors held a demonstration on Thursday calling for the company to withdraw its application to build a new nuclear plant.

A police spokesman said they were examining whether there was any connection between the explosion and the demonstration.

Greenpeace said it had nothing to do with the attack. "We are shocked that such action can be used for political purposes. Greenpeace is committed to non-violent protest," said energy campaigner Florian Kasser.

The centre-left Social Democrats and the Greens are calling for Switzerland to abandon nuclear power after the Japan disaster but Energy Minister Doris Leuthard has cautioned against a hasty decision, warning that would mean more gas power stations which would lead to a rise in carbon emissions.

In 1990, Swiss voters backed a 10-year moratorium on the building of nuclear power plants but they rejected extending the freeze in 2003, opening the way for the government to consider new plants to replace those that need retiring.

Last month, voters narrowly approved the building of a new plant in Muehleberg to replace the old one there, 20 percent owned by Germany's E.ON.

(Additional reporting by Sven Egenter in Zurich, writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Janet Lawrence, sourced Thomson Reuters)

France urges world nuclear review after Japan crisis

Thu Mar 31, 2011 10:24am GMT

By Chizu Nomiyama and Chisa Fujioka

TOKYO (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on Thursday for a reform of global nuclear standards by the end of the year during a first visit by a foreign leader to Japan since the earthquake and tsunami that triggered its atomic disaster.

Group of 20 chairman Sarkozy said France wants to host a meeting of the bloc's nuclear officials in May to fix new norms in the wake of the crisis at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan supported the idea.

"In order to avoid recurrence of such an accident, it is our duty to accurately share with the world our experience," he said at a joint news conference.

The world's worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl in 1986 is proving hard to contain and has forced an international re-think of the benefits and safety of nuclear power.

It has also compounded an agonizing moment for the Asian nation after the quake and tsunami left more than 27,500 people dead or missing and caused damage that may top $300 billion (186 billion pounds).

First data on the economic impact of the March 11 disasters showed manufacturing slumped the most on record this month as factories shut and supply chains were disrupted, especially in the car and technology sectors for which Japan is renowned.

France, the world's most nuclear-dependent country, is taking a lead in assisting Japan. As well as Sarkozy's show of solidarity by his personal presence, Paris has flown in experts from state-owned nuclear reactor maker Areva.

"Consider me your employee," Areva Chief Executive Anne Lauvergeon told Japanese officials.

The United States and Germany have weighed in too, offering robots to help repair the damaged nuclear plant.

In a worrying development in Switzerland, two female employees were injured when a parcel bomb exploded in the offices of the local nuclear lobby, police said. It was not known who sent it.

Switzerland has frozen the approvals process for three new nuclear stations pending a safety review after Japan's disaster.

Pressure has been growing on Japan to expand the evacuation zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant where radiation hit 4,000 times legal limits in nearby sea and hindered the battle to contain the world's worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl.

Both the U.N. nuclear watchdog and Japan's own nuclear safety agency have advised Kan to consider widening the 20-km (12-mile) zone round the plant on the northeast Pacific coast.

High radiation was detected at twice that distance away.

Government officials are pleading for Japanese, and the world, to avoid overreaction to what they say are still low-risk levels of radiation away from the plant.


More than 70,000 people have been evacuated from the 20-km ring. Another 136,000 who live in a 10-km (6-mile) band beyond that have been encouraged to leave or to stay indoors.

U.N. body, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said radiation at Iitate village, 40 km (25 miles) from the plant, exceeded a criterion for evacuation.

Japan's chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the government was reviewing the issue daily but "at this moment, no decision to expand the evacuation area has been made".

Consistently high levels of radiation found in the sea near the complex could mean radiation is leaking out continuously, Japan's nuclear watchdog said. The source is still unknown, adding to the headaches for engineers on the site.

Radioactive iodine in seawater near drains running from the plant was 4,385 times more than the legal limit, the highest recorded so far during the crisis.

In a sign of the extraordinary times Japan is living, one newborn baby's first medical appointment was not with a paediatrician but a Geiger counter.

"I am so scared about radiation," Misato Nagashima said as she took her baby Rio, born four days after the earthquake and disaster, for a screening at a city in Fukushima prefecture.

Concern over radiation beyond Japan grew further after Singapore detected radiation nine times the limit in cabbages from Japan, while the United States reported "minuscule" levels of radiation in milk samples on its west coast.

Contaminated milk was one of the biggest causes of thyroid cancers after the 1986 nuclear accident in Chernobyl because people near the plant kept drinking milk from local cows.

Several nations have banned milk and produce from areas near the damaged nuclear plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo. Japan has itself stopped exports of vegetables and milk there.

While food makes up only 1 percent of Japan's exports, the nuclear emergency poses a risk to an economy burdened with public debt twice the size of its $5 trillion dollar economy and a fast ageing population.

Japan has called on World Trade Organisation nations not to impose "unjustifiable" import curbs on its goods.


Experts say the battle to control Fukushima's six reactors could take weeks, if not months, followed by a clean-up operation that may drag on for years.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co could face compensation claims of up to 11 trillion yen (82 billion pounds) -- nearly four times its equity -- if the nuclear crisis drags on for two years, an analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch said.

As operators struggle to regain control of the damaged reactors, nuclear experts said the continued lack of a permanent cooling system was hindering efforts to cool down fuel rods.

Workers have been forced to pump in seawater to cool the rods, but this creates contaminated seawater around the stricken plant and is making it difficult to reconnect the plant's internal cooling system which contains radiation.

Radiation readings around the evacuation zone vary widely.

Daily readings published by the government show that 30 km (19 miles) northwest of the reactors levels are climbing up to 42 microsieverts per hour, about 6 times the cosmic radiation experienced during a Tokyo-New York flight.

Elsewhere at that distance around the reactor it is just 1.0-1.2 microsieverts per hour.

A Reuters reading in downtown Tokyo on Thursday showed a radiation level of 0.18 microsieverts per hour. This is still quite low by global standards as Japan has lower levels of natural background radiation than other places.

(Additional reporting by Chisa Fujioka, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Chizu Nomiyama in Tokyo, Dave Dolan in Fukushima City, Ben Gruber in Koriyama and Sylvia Westall and Fredrik Dahl in Vienna, and Andrew Callus in Geneva; Writing by Michael Perry and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by John Chalmers, sourced : Reuters)

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Airstrikes killed 40 civilians in Tripoli-Vatican official

Thu Mar 31, 2011 9:56am GMT

ROME (Reuters) - At least 40 civilians have been killed in airstrikes by Western forces on Tripoli, the top Vatican official in the Libyan capital told a Catholic news agency on Thursday citing witnesses.

"The so-called humanitarian raids have killed dozens of civilian victims in some neighbourhoods of Tripoli," said Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, the Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli.

"I have collected several witness accounts from reliable people. In particular, in the Buslim neighbourhood, due to the bombardments, a civilian building collapsed, causing the death of 40 people," he told Fides, the news agency of the Vatican missionary arm.

Libyan officials have taken foreign reporters to the sites of what they say were the aftermath of western air strikes on Tripoli but evidence of civilian casualties have been inconclusive.

Western powers say they have no confirmed evidence of civilian casualties.

(sourced: Thomson Reuters)

KPCL to import one million tons of 6300 GAD COAL

Thu, March, 2011

Karnataka Power Corporation a state utility of Karnataka, India called for open tender for supply of one million tons of 6300 Kcal/kg coal on air dried basis on delivered basis. The delivery of first cargo should starts from June this year. The supplier must supply atleast 100,000 MT of every month starting from June 2011.

This coal supply is destined for its 1,720MW Raichur thermal power station(RTPS) in Raichur Karnataka. Due to short of domestic coal linkage to RTPS, the KPCL has to resort to higher usage of imported coal.

Earlier in 2010 due to acute shortage of domestic coal RTPS has concluded two imported coal tenders of 900K MTs and 500K mts respectively.

Both the tenders have been bagged by Nagpur based Gupta Coal Corporation, an Indian coal trading company and the contracts are under execution. According to a coal trader based in Karnataka, the existing tender was awarded at US$ 67 per MT on delivered basis for 6300 GAD kacal/kg coal with 16 percent total moisture.

The current Indonesian coal prices with 6300 kcal/kg on air dried basis and 16 percent is being offered high eighties from medium scale suppliers are high nineties or hundred plus from premium scale suppliers.

A prorata penalties are applicable for Gross calorific value and total sulphur and weight basis penalties are applicable for Ash content, Total Moisture and size.

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Challender signs option agreements to purchase four coal projects in Indonesia

Wednesday, 30 March 11

Challenger Signs Three Exclusive Option Agreements to Purchase Four Coal Projects in East Kalimantan, Indonesia

Challenger Deep Resources Corp.has announced that it has, through its wholly-owned subsidiary, PT Bestindo Energy, (“Bestindo”) entered into three separate Memorandums of Understanding ("MOU’s") which give Bestindo the exclusive right, for a period of thirty days, to purchase the shares of three separate private Indonesian companies which hold various coal rights related to four separate coal projects, according to news that posted in its web site.

Each of the coal projects is 100% owned by the respective private company and all of the projects are located in the Regency of Kutai, East Kalimantan. Each of the MOU’s provide for the subsequent execution of a Conditional Share Purchase Agreement (“CSPA”), which provides for staged payments of the purchase price over a period of four months in respect of one MOU and over a period of 24 months for the other two MOU’s.

Arni Bersaudara Coal Project
Pt Arni Bersaudara (“Arni”) is the holder of two contiguous IUP Exploration permits covering 3,039 and 2,874 hectares in the District of Muara Kaman. The IUP’s are approximately 40km north of the Mahakam River The Arni MOU provides that, if Challenger elects to enter into a CSPA, it can acquire 100% of Arni for payments totaling $2,414,181 CAD. Terms of the payment include $84,215 CAD upon signing, $308,790 CAD within 6 months of signing the CSPA and the balance of $2,021,176 CAD after all the essential permits to bring the project into production are in place, or a maximum of 24 months from initial CSPA signing.

The target calorific value of coal is in this concession is around GCV 6,300 – 7,000 and 5,600 – 6,000 respectively.

Apriadi Bersaudara Coal Projects
Pt Apriadi Bersaudara (“Apriadi”) is holder of a KP PU (Mining Authorization for General Survey) covering an area of 930 hectares, which is currently being converted to IUP Exploration in the District of Samboja (AP1) and a SKIP (Exploration Permit Application) covering an area of 3,086 hectares in the District of Muara Kaman (AP2). The AP1 project is 10km from the coast and close to an independent haul road and port loading facilities which are under construction. The AP2 project is approximately 45km north of the Mahakam River and in close proximity to the Arni Bersaudara projects. The Apriadi MOU provides that, if Challenger elects to enter into a CSPA, it can acquire 100% of Apriadi for payments totalling $2,077,318 CAD. Terms of the payment include $56,143 CAD upon signing of the CSPA , $112,287 CAD upon receiving IUP exploration permits for both projects, $224,575 CAD within 12 months of CSPA and the balance of $1,684,313 CAD due on the 24 month anniversary of the CSPA signing.

The target calorific value of coal ranging from 5000 GAD to 7000.

Putri Etam Coal Project
CV Putri Etam (“Putri”) is a private Indonesian company which is in the process of applying for an IUP Exploration and has successfully secured a Local Announcement letter from authorities. The application covers 100 hectares and is located in the Muara Badak district. The Putri MOU provides that, if Challenger elects to enter into a CSPA, it can acquire 100% of Putri for payments totaling $84,215 CAD. Terms of the payment include $28,071 CAD upon signing and $56,144 CAD upon completion of the deed of shares transfer.

An additional agreement also provides that a royalty of US$4.50 be paid to the former Putri shareholders for every ton of coal produced and sold.

The target calorific value of coal in this concession is ranging from 5,600 – 7,000.

The press report says, a program of due diligence on all of the projects is to commence as soon as possible to verify the data provided and to confirm Challenger’s exploration target parameters.

Challenger’s execution of the CSPA’s to acquire these projects will depend upon the results of the initial due diligence program in respect of each. A more detailed technical description of the properties will be made available if and when a CSPA is signed.

“The signing of these latest MOU’s, reflects the culmination of many months of excellent work by our acquisition team”, stated Ranjeet Sundher, President of Challenger, as quoted in press release.

“We are very pleased with the execution to date of our plan to assemble and advance a strong portfolio of coal exploration and development projects in East Kalimantan. Our team remains focused on the exploration of our current projects and the acquisition of new projects.”

Visit Challender Deep website for more details.

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Iron Ore-ShFE rebar ends flat; spot ore up on freight hike

Thu Mar 31, 2011 7:41am GMT

By Nick Trevethan

SINGAPORE, March 31 (Reuters) - Shanghai steel rebar futures rose 0.4 percent on Thursday, on course for a loss of around 1.5 percent on the quarter, while iron ore indexes gained on the prospect of costlier freight charges for Indian ores.

The most active rebar contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange, October, rose 19 yuan to 4,813 yuan a tonne by 0140 GMT, reversing the previous session's losses.

The contract remains near an eight-session high, having hit a four-month low of 4,627 on March 22, but is down 1.5 percent this quarter.

Late Wednesday, Baoshan Iron & Steel , China's top listed steelmaker, posted an 8.3 percent rise in quarterly profit, and said it expected growth in global steel demand to slow this year. [ID:nB9E7EP00X]

"The important thing to note is that it's growing, not slowing. Maybe it's not growing as quickly as before but the rates we saw in 2009 and 2010 were unsustainable, built on all that stimulus money," said a trading source in Sydney.

"It looks like demand growth will moderate. We still have a bit of an inventory hump to get over, which in the short term may cap steel prices, in particular in China and even cause a lull in iron ore demand in the next three to six months, but it's temporary."

Key iron ore indexes, based on spot transactions in China, rose sharply on Wednesday.

India's iron ore exports fell for the eighth straight month in February because of a continuing ban on shipments by its key Karnataka state and exports are likely to face further pressure as the country hikes freight rates again.

Exports from the world's No. 3 iron ore supplier dropped 18.6 percent from a year ago to 10.137 million tonnes in February, data from the Federation of Indian Mineral Industries showed on Wednesday.

In addition, Indian Railways said it will impose a "busy season" charge of 7 percent on iron ore freight rates from April 1 to June 30 and from Oct. 1 to March 31.

Platts 62 percent iron ore index IODBZ00-PLT jumped $5.50 cents to $175 a tonne, including freight, and the Steel Index's 62 percent benchmark .IO62-CNI=SI gained $2 to $170.50.

Metal Bulletin's 62 percent gauge .IO62-CNO=MB rose $1.74 to $169.71. (Editing by Himani Sarkar)
Tags : steel plant, steelmaking, Chinese iron ore market, raw material, busy season charge, levy on coal and coke

Sinosteel and Gindalbie start Australia iron ore shipments

Thu Mar 31, 2011 3:49am GMT

SYDNEY, March 31 (Reuters) - Australia's Gindalbie Metals and Chinese metals group Sinosteel will start shipping iron ore to China on Thursday at a rate of 60,000 per month for eight months, Gindalbie said on Thursday.

Two-thirds of the ore will come from Sinosteel's Koolanooka mine, operated by an Australian subsidiary and the rest from Gindalbie's newly-developed Karara mine under an agreement reached earlier this year, a Gindalbie spokesman said.

Both mines are located in west Australia's Mid West region around 1,000 km (600 miles) south of the traditional Pilbara iron belt dominated by major producers Rio Tinto , BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group , which this year are forecast to ship a combined 500 million tonnes.

High-grade Karara hematite lump ore is currently being loaded onto the Panamax vessel, M.V. "Ju Da", which is scheduled to sail for China on Thursday evening, according to Gindalbie.

Tags : iron ore shipment to China, raw material, steelmaking

China Coking Coal Supplies In Shortage During 2011

Thu Mar 31, 2011 11:30

China's coking coal output this year would amount to 513 million tons while its consumption would be 569 million tons, resulting in a supply shortage of 56 million tons. China and India have replaced South Korea and Japan as the world's largest importers of coking coal, suggesting the international prices of such a raw material will continue an upward movement in the medium and long run.

China's reserves of coking coal account for only 21.9 percent of its total coal resources. Shanxi harbors 52.4 percent of the country's total coking coal reserves and produces a third of the country's total coking coal. The import volumes of coking coal into China are forecast to increase by 10 percent this year, lower than the staggering growth rate of 37.3 percent in 2010. Soaring oil prices, a weaker dollar and the resources tax reform in Australia will push the international prices of coking coal even higher this year. (sourced:Indiainfoline)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fitch says likely to downgrade Portugal if no bailout

Wed Mar 30, 2011 1:08pm BST

ATHENS (Reuters) - Fitch is likely to cut Portugal's credit rating soon if it does not ask for an EU/IMF bailout, while the EU's new bailout fund puts increased pressure on Greece's junk rating, the firm said on Wednesday.

In a report assessing the rating implication of last week's EU summit, Fitch also said that the main short-term risks to Ireland's sovereign rating remained the recession and possible additional bank support costs.

(Reporting by Ingrid Melander)

Japan orders immediate safety upgrade at nuclear plants

Wed Mar 30, 2011 3:52pm BST
By Risa Maeda and Yoko Kubota

TOKYO(Reuters) - Japan ordered an immediate safety upgrade at its 55 nuclear power plants on Wednesday in its first acknowledgment that standards were inadequate when an earthquake and tsunami wrecked a facility nearly three weeks ago, sparking the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

As operators struggle to regain control of the damaged Daiichi nuclear reactors 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, radiation leakage continued, with radioactive iodine in the sea off the damaged plant at record levels. The state nuclear safety agency said the amounts were 3,355 times the legal limit.

Smoke was reported coming from a second damaged nuclear plant site in Fukushima on Wednesday, with authorities citing an electric distribution board as the problem.

It is not known how serious the problem was at the Daini plant, which has been put into cold shutdown and is several miles from the stricken Daiichi power facility.

Anger at Japan's nuclear crisis saw more than 100 people, chanting "stop nuclear power", protest outside the Tokyo headquarters of nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) on Wednesday.

"We don't want to use electric power that can kill people," said Waseda University student Mina Umeda.

A Reuters investigation showed Japan and TEPCO repeatedly played down dangers at its nuclear plants and ignored warnings, including a 2007 tsunami study from the utility's senior safety engineer.

The research paper concluded there was a roughly 10 percent chance that a tsunami could test or overrun the defences of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant within a 50-year span based on the most conservative assumptions.

The new safety steps, to be completed by the end of April, include preparing back-up power in case of loss of power supply, and having fire trucks with hoses ready at all times to intervene and ensure cooling systems for both reactors and pools of used fuel are maintained, the Trade Ministry said.

Other measures such as building higher protective sea walls would be studied after a full assessment of the Fukushima disaster, officials said.

The immediate measures do not necessarily require nuclear plant operations to be halted, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Banri Kaieda told a news conference.

"These are the minimum steps we can think of right now that should be done immediately," said Kaieda.

"We shouldn't wait until a so-called overhaul or a comprehensive revision -- something major that would take a long time -- is prepared. We should do whatever we can if and when there is something (which safety authorities agree is) viable and necessary," he said.

Before the disaster, Japan's nuclear reactors had provided about 30 percent of the nation's electric power. The percentage had been expected to rise to 50 percent by 2030, among the highest in the world.


The government and TEPCO conceded there was no end in sight to Japan's nuclear crisis.

"We are not in a situation where we can say we will have this under control by a certain period," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news briefing.

The discovery of highly toxic plutonium in soil at Daiichi had raised alarm over the disaster, which has overshadowed the humanitarian calamity triggered by the earthquake and tsunami, which left 27,500 people dead or missing.

TEPCO will test sprinkling synthetic resin in some areas of the Daiichi complex to prevent radioactive dust from flying into the air or being washed into the ocean by rain. The resin is water-soluble, but when the water evaporates, it becomes sticky and contains the dust.

Pollution of the ocean is a serious concern for a country where fish is central to the diet. Experts say the vastness of the ocean and a powerful current should dilute high levels of radiation, limiting the danger of marine contamination.

However, just how radiation is spilling into the ocean is unclear and controlling leakage from the plant could take weeks or months, making precise risk assessments difficult.

Tokyo Electric said it would take a "fairly long time" to stabilise overheating reactors, adding four of the six reactors would need to be decommissioned. Meanwhile, the head of the company was in hospital due to high blood pressure, adding to the disarray at Asia's largest utility.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan, whose government faces mounting criticism for its handling of the crisis, won assurances of American support in a telephone conversation on Wednesday with President Barack Obama.

The United States has already agreed to send some radiation-detecting robots to Japan to help explore the reactor cores and spent fuel pools at the stricken nuclear plant.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who chairs the G20 and G8 blocs of nations, is due to visit Tokyo on Thursday. He will be the first foreign leader in Japan since the disaster.

In further support, France flew in two experts from its state-owned nuclear reactor maker Areva and its CEA nuclear research body to assist TEPCO.


Hundreds of engineers have been toiling for nearly three weeks to cool the plant's reactors and avert a catastrophic meltdown of fuel rods, although the situation appears to have moved back from that nightmare scenario.

Jesper Koll, director of equity research at JPMorgan Securities in Tokyo, said a drawn-out battle to bring the plant under control and manage the radioactivity being released would perpetuate the uncertainty and act as a drag on the economy.

"The worst-case scenario is that this drags on not one month or two months or six months, but for two years, or indefinitely," he said. "Japan will be bypassed. That is the real nightmare scenario."

Japan's main stock index has fallen about 9 percent since the tsunami while TEPCO shares have fallen almost 80 percent. The government is considering a tax increase to pay for the damage it estimates at $300 billion in what could be the world's costliest natural disaster.

Already criticised for weak leadership during Japan's worst crisis since World War Two, Kan has been blasted by the opposition for his handling of the disaster and for not widening the exclusion zone beyond 20 km (12 miles) around Fukushima.

Kan said he was considering that step, which would force 130,000 people to move, in addition to 70,000 already displaced.

Hundreds of thousands whose homes and livelihoods were wiped away by the tsunami that obliterated cities on the northeast coast have heard next to nothing from the government about whether it will help them to rebuild.

About 175,000 were living in shelters on high ground above the vast plains of mud-covered debris with temporary housing for only a few hundred currently under construction.

(Additional reporting by Jon Herskowitz, Elaine Lies, Mayumi Negishi, Leika Kihara and Yoko Nishikawa in Tokyo, Roberta Rampton , Ayesha Rascoe and Deborah Zabarenko in Washington, Eileen O'Grady in Houston; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by John Chalmers and Alan Raybould, Reuters)

Japan likely to scrap all reactors at contaminated Fukushima nuke plant

Wed, Mar30, 2011 19:28:24

TOKYO, March 30 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano on Wednesday said that it was highly likely that the stricken reactors at the radiation-leaking Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in northern Japan would be scrapped.

Speaking at a news conference, the top government spokesperson said that he believed all six reactors at the troubled facility should be decommissioned.

He said scrapping the reactors would be in the best interests of society.

"I believe it is very clear from the viewpoint of society (that the reactors should be decommissioned). That is my perception," the chief cabinet secretary said.

In the absence of Masataka Shimizu, 66, estranged CEO of the nuclear plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) who having not been seen for the past two weeks was hospitalized yesterday due to high blood pressure and dizziness, TEPCO chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said at least four of the reactors should be scrapped.

"We have no choice but to scrap reactors 1 to 4 if we look at their conditions objectively," Katsumata said at a separate news conference.

Edano said that the ongoing crisis will take some time before it is resolved and as such local residents evacuated from the vicinity of the Daiichi facility may not be able to return home anytime soon.

"Unfortunately, some time is needed before the situation is brought under control and we can be sure that people are safe from radiation," said Edano.

Earlier Wednesday the government was mulling taking the unprecedented measure of covering three of the badly damaged nuclear reactor buildings with special fabric caps and fitting air filters to limit radiation leakage.

The idea of anchoring an empty tanker near the troubled No. 2 reactor building so that workers can pump several hundred tons of highly-radioactive water into its storage facilities, has also been floated by government and nuclear experts.

Seawater near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility's No.1 reactor contained radioactive iodine at 3,355 times the legal limit and a spokesperson for Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said earlier on Wednesday and extraordinary measures must now be taken.

"The (radiation) figures are rising further," said the agency's Deputy Director-General Hidehiko Nishiyama.

"We need to find out as quickly as possible the cause and stop them from rising any higher. We are in an unprecedented situation, so we need to think about different strategies, beyond those we normally think about," Nishiyama added. (

Tags : Chernobyl solution, over radiation leaks, Tokyo, Chernobyl disaster

ANALYSIS - Should the world be more like Belgium ?

On Wednesday 30 March 2011, 12:32 PM

By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - This is a European country riven by ethnic tensions. Its public debt is almost as big as its total annual output and it's in the middle of a political crisis so deep that this week it passes Iraq as the modern-day state whose politicians have taken the longest to form a government.

Yet the buses run more or less on time, the garbage is collected twice a week, exports of pharmaceuticals, steel cord, chocolate and beer are uninterrupted -- and it can still take about a month to get a new telephone line.

Governing is never easy. In the past year or so, it has sometimes seemed impossible. Just ask North Africa's rulers who, after a long period of stability, not to mention repression and abuses, have faced popular uprisings demanding their ousters. In the United States, the big two parties have fallen victims in different ways to the upstart populist Tea Party movement. In Europe, governments in Britain and Ireland have been kicked out in the aftermath of the financial crisis. This month, the government in Portugal collapsed.

Meantime in Belgium, whose Dutch- and French-speaking parties can't agree on what powers should be devolved from the centre to the regions, the absence of government is hardly commented on. More than nine months after a June 2010 election, talk in bars and cafes strays only occasionally to the country's political predicament. "We're not really following it anymore," says a bartender in the Flemish town of Mechelen with a shrug.

"It's a crisis without an audience," says Carl Devos, politics professor at the University of Ghent. "It's a bit absurd."

In a world of upheaval, the fact that one of its oldest democracies has kept ticking over without validated political leadership is remarkable, even if its citizens don't see it.

Belgium managed the whole of its six-month presidency of the European Union last year with a caretaker government. That same government has laid out a 2011 budget and dispatched fighter jets to play their part in guaranteeing the no-fly zone over Libya. In the first three months of 2011 it's reached almost half its target for this year's bond issues.

Would some countries work better without a government?

Could the world learn something from Belgium's experience?


One thing's for sure, having no government can be cheaper. New administrations bring new projects -- and new costs.

"One consequence of not having a working government is that the cost of public spending is not so high," says Philippe Ledent, economist at financial services company ING Belgium. "In the short-term, there is no real negative effect. I thought there would be on confidence, but in the end it's been rather limited."

Financial markets were rattled by Belgium's political paralysis at the end of November and early January, but since the start of February they seem to have calmed. Government 10-year bond yields are a little above 4 percent, about 1 percentage point more than benchmark German equivalents.

That compares with spreads of nearly 7 percent and over 9 percent respectively for EU bailout recipients Ireland and Greece. This year could have been a challenge with around 26 billion euros of Belgian bonds due to mature, but heavy issuance in 2010 allowed the debt agency to buy back a third of the maturing paper ahead of time.

Even though Belgium's public debt is well above the euro zone average, it has not carried out austerity measures like those seen in other European countries, because there's no fully fledged government empowered to enact them.

"I have heard it said that a caretaker government is the best you can have, as it is most unlikely to raise taxes," says Rudy Andeweg, political science professor at Leiden University.

Business confidence is at its highest level since July 2007. In February, consumer confidence too was also also at a 3-1/2 year high, although surging oil prices dragged it down a little in March.

There have been hiccups: Belgium's business federation says some IT companies reliant on public sector contracts have been hit by the fact that the government can only roll over small payments, and can't launch new tenders. Smaller banks would likely have benefited from an adjustment to banking taxation, which the financial community backs, but which cannot be enacted until a government is in place.

But being in the euro has sheltered the country from the most dramatic consequences. Since 1999, Belgium's monetary policy has been determined by central bankers in Frankfurt.


One of the secrets to Belgium's stability is force of habit. Like the Netherlands next door, the country of nearly 11 million is used to having caretaker governments for extended periods.

Proportional representation -- which gives parties parliamentary seats based on their share of the vote rather than handing all power to the overall winner -- makes it usual for governments to rule in coalitions, and coalitions take time to form.

It's not an uncommon set-up in Europe: Austrians, Italians, Finns or Germans are pretty sanguine about a gap between an election and a new government taking power. In Germany, a "grand coalition" of the main centre-left and centre-right parties took two months to form in 2005 and in Austria four months were needed in 1999-2000 for the Christian Democrats and the far-right Freedom Party to forge an alliance.

In countries with a winner-takes-all system, single-party rule is the norm and the prospect of a coalition can be more alarming. Britain is a good example: last year, the threat of protracted wrangling between the three main parties rattled financial markets before May's election, causing a sell-off of government bonds, or gilts.

In the end, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats forged a coalition just five days after the vote, but not before the pound had slid, British shares had fallen and gilts had underperformed their German counterparts.

Belgians are used to long drawn-out discussions. The cause of the latest political row dates back decades, to the creation of separate linguistic areas in 1962 which laid the ground for the country's current structure.

That in itself was years in the making. Now, despite fresh suggestions that the country should split itself in two along ethnic lines, Belgian leaders seem happy to keep talking.

"As complex as the situation is at the moment, it is still much simpler than the problems that would arise if we decided that the Belgian state must be dissolved," says Karl-Heinz Lambertz, premier of Belgium's small group of German speakers, who are mostly viewed as neutral in the stand-off between Dutch- and French-speakers.


One requirement for any country considering a spell without an elected government is a functioning bureaucracy. Belgians like to carp about the size and cost of theirs -- the business federation says it has 7 more civil servants per 1,000 citizens than its nearest neighbours, at an extra cost of 5 to 6 billion euros a year -- but it keeps things working, which may be a cost worth paying for now.

"It may have faced criticism, but our government administration is certainly functioning," said Ghent University's Devos.

Unlike in some countries, such as the United States, senior civil servants in Europe are generally not elected or appointed by ruling parties, which makes any period of transition smoother.

On top of that, many players besides politicians have pivotal roles. "The system is less dependent on a dominant leader. You have unions and employer groups, controlling agencies," said Keukeleire, of the University of Leuven and College of Europe.

"The European Union, international organisations and international agreements also determine the limits of government."

In fact, central government in Belgium doesn't actually have all that much power at all. It's restricted to managing public finances, the army, judicial system, foreign affairs and certain other issues such as social security and nuclear power.

That makes leadership a less coveted prize than in more centralised countries.

It's a similar story in the Netherlands, next door.

"In some countries, the president can appoint ministers, judges and people in administrative functions and in the army," says Jan Tuit, a senior adviser at the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy.

"If you look at for example the power of the Dutch prime minister, it's really very limited. He cannot even reshuffle the cabinet."

And the longer Belgium's caretaker government has been in charge, the more powers it is assuming, or being given.

"Of course it's better to have a government with full competence, but it's possible as a caretaker government to take many decisions and we are doing that," acting Finance Minister Didier Reynders told Reuters.

The country's constitution has nothing to say on caretaker governments. In theory, a stand-in government would just cover a month or two before a new administration is sworn in, but the prolonged deadlock means the unwritten rules are changing.

"As time goes by, the scope of decisions taken by the government is widening. You could not have imagined six months ago that the government would nominate a new director of the national bank. Now they have done so," said Rudi Thomaes, chief executive of the Federation of Enterprises in Belgium.

Having a monarch has also helped. As head of state, King Albert II has been busy appointing mediators, but he has also demanded the caretaker government revise the 2011 budget, a highly unusual intervention.


And despite the vacuum at the top, Belgium has plenty of government to keep it ticking over. The country has five federated regional governing bodies, not counting provincial and local authorities. "You cannot say that Belgium is stuck," says Ghent University's Devos. "We have many other governments running the country."

There are separate administrations representing the regions of Wallonia and Brussels, for French speakers and for German-speaking minority and a joint one covering the province of Flanders and Dutch speakers.

In a series of reforms since 1970, the powers of the regions and language communities have grown and those of the federal state shrunk. That's at the heart of the current impasse: Dutch-speaking Flemish people, who make up about 60 percent of the Belgian population, have voted for parties seeking yet more control for the regions and fewer subsidies for French-speaking Wallonia, where the unemployment rate is double that of Flanders.

Yet in some ways it's a boon: already, culture and education are the exclusive preserves of the language communities. The regions control a wide range of policy areas including the economy, employment, agriculture, housing, energy, transport and foreign trade.

Lambertz, premier of Belgium's German speakers, says the federal system has helped in the present crisis. "The current system isn't all that bad. Otherwise, it would have collapsed or the country would have found itself in crisis and that is not the case. Whoever travels through Belgium doesn't notice much of the current difficulties," he said.


Federal states from Australia to Switzerland might also benefit from their multiple layers of government in the absence of a national administration.

But in most places, and especially in the developing world, strong political leaders are needed to fill the hole created by a lack of bureaucracy.

In Iraq last year, for example, nine months of political limbo delayed investments to rebuild the war-torn country and left people short of basic services such as water and power.

Even in developed democracies, being without political leadership can be crippling. The lack of a plan to manage its debts has sent Portugal's bond yields to new highs this week, inflating the cost of borrowing and increasing the chances the country will need an international bailout.

Portugal faces a political vacuum of at least two months, if a snap election is called, with a caretaker government reduced to basic management of public affairs.

"It's a pretty messy situation," says Ken Wattret, chief euro zone economist at BNP Paribas. "In the Belgian context that may be fine, but Portugal has a pressing need to deliver a credible consolidation programme."

And even Belgium has had to put important decisions on hold. Analysts and economists say it needs to reform its pensions system and its labour market, reduce energy consumption and determine what to do with asylum seekers.

It's muddling along with unresolved questions about the future of nuclear power. These are decisions for the long term that a caretaker government simply cannot take.

"The longer these items are unresolved, the more costly they become. We have a fire brigade to put out fires, but we cannot renovate the building," said Ghent University's Devos.

The business federation says a government is urgently needed to rein in the debt and tackle the rising cost of an ageing population. Its chief, Rudi Thomaes, said the deadlock really began four years ago at the 2007 election, as disputes over the future of the country stalled progress elsewhere.

"If I make the comparison with other countries I see a huge difference," Thomaes says, poring over a chart listing the budgetary efforts of six countries - France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Yet Devos and others say that Belgium might need a crisis such as this to force through change acceptable to its Dutch and French speakers. It may indeed look back on nine month or even a year of political deadlock as a price worth paying.

(Additional reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Sara Ledwith and Simon Robinson, Reuters)

Tags : , Greece, Portugal, debt crisis, France, Germany, U.K., Italy, Netherlands, Spain

Iron ore exports down 18.60 pc in Feb to 10.13 MT

Wed, 30 March 2011, 1:33 PM

New Delhi, Mar 30 (PTI) Continuing its declining trend for the eighth consecutive month, India''s iron ore exports in February has gone down by 18.60 per cent to 10.13 million tonnes (MT).

The outbound shipment of the vital steel-making raw material during April-February period also declined by 17.98 per cent to 85.43 MT, mainly on account of export ban imposed by Karnataka government.

According to the data compiled by industry body Federation of Indian Mineral Industries (FIMI), the country''s shipment declined by 18.60 per cent in February against the same period last year. Exports were recorded at 12.54 MT in February, 2010.

"The industry has been suffering due to the ban on exports imposed by Karnataka in July. Also, the raise in export duty on iron ore to 20 per cent in the Budget has added salt to the exporters'' injury and its impact will be felt in March exports ," FIMI Secretary General R K Sharma told PTI.

In the Budget, duty on fines was hiked four-fold to 20 per cent while on lumps was upped to 20 per cent from 15 per cent earlier. The country had shipped 117.37 MT of iron ore during the last fiscal.

Also, on account of exports ban imposed by Karnataka shipments declined by 17.98 per cent to 85.43 MT during April-February this fiscal.

In July last year, Karnataka government had slapped the ban in the midst of a controversy generated over illegal mining activities in the state. Karnataka is one of the largest iron ore exporter of the country.

India has been exporting iron ore to China, Japan, South Korea, Europe and other countries.

Spain's Acerinox to raise base prices in U.S.

Wed Mar 30, 2011 7:51am GMT

MADRID, March 30 (Reuters) - Spanish stainless steelmaker Acerinox (ACX.MC: Quote) said on Wednesday is plans to raise base prices between 6 and 9 percent in the United States from April 1.

Iron Ore-Shanghai rebar falls; iron ore heads for flat Q1 end

Wed Mar 30, 2011 8:17am GMT

* Tighter credit weighing on China ore stockpiling
* India Apr-Feb iron ore exports down 18 pct
* India eyes another hike in iron ore freight rates
By Nick Trevethan

SINGAPORE, March 30 (Reuters) - Shanghai steel rebar futures dropped 0.4 percent on Wednesday, snapping a three-day winning streak, while iron ore indexes edged up, heading for a flat end for the first quarter as tighter liquidity hit stockpiling by top buyer China.

The most briskly traded rebar contract for October delivery on the Shanghai Futures Exchange closed down 20 yuan at 4,794 yuan a tonne, after gaining 2 percent in the past three sessions.

"The abundant liquidity of the past two years created a huge build-up in steel inventories, but this year tighter liquidity will mean building additional inventory will be very difficult," said Henry Liu, analyst at Mirae Asset Securities in Hong Kong.

"The cash situation for consumers is still adequate so it is too early to say they will dump inventory," he said.

"In iron ore, the second quarter will be weaker than the first. Prices will fall, with support at $160 to $165 but the downside is limited as Chinese steelmakers are running at full steam."

China's daily output of crude steel rose 2.6 percent to a record 1.945 million tonnes from March 11-20, figures from the China Iron and Steel Association (CISA) showed on Tuesday.

CISA said daily output stood at an average of 1.92 million tonnes in the first 20 days of the month, up from 1.823 million tonnes in February and 1.703 million tonnes in January.

According to Reuters calculations, average daily steel output up to March 20 stands at 1.81 million tonnes, which would amount to 659.5 million tonnes on an annualised basis.

The Shanghai rebar contract remains near an eight-session high, having hit a four-month low of 4,627 yuan on March 22, but is down 1.6 percent this quarter.


"Most industrial commodities have recovered from the shock after the Japan earthquake and now are just waiting to see what the impact on Japanese supply will have on demand," said analyst William Adams at

"China is also a worry. China is still tightening policy and there is the fear they will overtighten and the economy will slow too quickly."

Key iron ore indexes, based on spot transactions in China, rose on Tuesday.

Platts' 62 percent iron ore index IODBZ00-PLT rose 50 cents to $169.50 a tonne, including freight, and The Steel Index's 62 percent benchmark .IO62-CNI=SI gained $1.10 to $168.50.

Metal Bulletin's 62 percent gauge .IO62-CNO=MB rose $1.12 to $167.97.

In India, iron ore exports from the world's third-largest supplier fell for the eighth straight month in February as its key Karnataka state continued to ban shipments.

India's iron ore exports fell 18 percent to 85.43 million tonnes in April-February from a year ago and shipments are expected to fall again in March.

Iron ore supply from India are bound to get even tighter as it becomes more costly to ship the steelmaking material out of the country.

State-owned Indian Railways said it will impose a "busy season charge" of 7 percent on iron ore freight rates from April 1 to June 30, and from Oct. 1 to March 31.

India had hiked railway freight rates by 100 rupees to 1,600 rupees per tonne from March 3.