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Qatar dispute threatens Japan's helium supply

Iwatani may need more US imports; gas used in producing semiconductors

OSAKA -- Helium shipments from Qatar have stalled following the severing of diplomatic ties between the resource-rich emirate and several of its neighbors, raising concerns about the supply of the gas used in semiconductor production.

Qatar is the world's second-largest producer of helium after the U.S., supplying 20-30% of Japan's imports totaling 10 million cu. meters annually.

Iwatani, which holds half of Japan's helium market share, no longer is receiving shipments from Qatar. The industrial gas provider says it has about a month's supply in stock. Helium extracted in Qatar is transported in a liquid form through Saudi Arabia to reach a port in the United Arab Emirates, where the gas is shipped to Japan. But both of those countries cut ties with Qatar, blocking Iwatani from using this shipping route.

The problem could affect the industry as a whole. "There is a possibility that supplies from Qatar will stop," said Air Water, a major Japanese helium provider.

Iwatani looks to bolster U.S. imports, but faces an uncertain outlook. Japan used to procure more than 90% of its helium from the U.S. until supplies began to decline around 2010. After acquiring an interest to import helium from Qatar in 2010, Iwatani started boosting procurement from the country in 2013, by acquiring concessions.

The Japanese company produces 8 million cu. meters of helium in Qatar annually, selling the gas there and elsewhere. But Iwatani may need to consider alternative import routes if problems in the Middle East persist.


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