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Xinjiang labor clouds solar sector as panel prices swell

Sanctions risk compounds shortage in one of world's top silicon-producing regions

A solar system is installed on a roof in Sydney: much of the silicon used in solar panels is made in China, specifically in the Xinjiang region.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- China's alleged abuses against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang are now casting a shadow over the solar industry, as human-rights-conscious countries shy away from a region that is one of the world's biggest sources of silicon.

The price of silicon used to make polycrystalline wafers for solar panels now stands at more than $27 per kilogram, compared with $6 or so in June 2020, according to Tokyo-based consulting firm RTS. Roughly 80% of global production of this raw material -- which does not need to be as pure as the silicon used in semiconductors -- is handled in China, with about half of that in Xinjiang.

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