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Nippon Paper bounces back after the tsunami

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Nippon Paper bounces back after the tsunami

August 12, 2012 - 16:00

BRUSSELS, Aug. 13, 2012 (RISI) -Nippon Paper Group (NPG) - one of Japan's giant pulp and paper companies - hard hit when the devastating earthquake struck in the north of the country in March 2011, continues to return to normal operations.

On a recent Metso press tour visit to NPG's Ishinomaki mill, we were told that almost 90% of the paper mill is back online after rebuilds. For example, PM 7, with a capacity of 108,000 tonnes/yr, came back online in April.

"We expect that the mill will resume full production in August this year with a total capacity near to 850,000 tonnes/yr. We have been working so hard for the recovery of the mill and we are more than happy to get all the production to restart this year," says Yoshiaki Uchida, general manager of the production department.

Ishinomaki's quick recovery after the devastating earthquake is thanks to the mill and the company's excellent management amid the crisis. In only 28 minutes after the Tsunmai hit, 1,306 employees were evacuated to high ground. "No one in the mill was injured or died on the site on the day," adds Uchida .

A massive 9.0 earthquake that struck Japan in March 2011 put several large pulp and paper mills out of commission including Mitsubishi Paper and Oji, in addition to Nippon Paper. There are some 16 pulp and paper mills on or near the coast of the most heavily affected region stretching from the Hokkaido prefecture in the north down to the Ibaraki prefecture just north of Tokyo.

Other action the mill took immediately after the tsunami included receiving relief supplies, opening company housing for disaster victims, and announcing reconstruction plans of the mill in March 2011. Local infrastructure recovered quite quickly, with electricity in late March and water and gas service resuming in early and mid-April last year.

Also, the company highly appreciated the help it received from all parties home and abroad including suppliers, for example, Metso Paper Japan. "Metso did a good job in helping us to recover from the disaster, and we appreciate the help from our Finnish suppliers," says Uchida.

"Metso Paper Japan has own engineers in the country. So projects were done by mainly Japanese engineers with the support from Metso Finland," says Makoto Saito, sales manager of paper business line, Metso Paper Japan, who went to the site one month after the tsunami by car, as public transportation was still paralyzed.

Metso's operations in Japan include Metso Paper Japan (MPJ), Metso Automation (MA) and Metso Minerals. Metso Paper Japan (in Tokyo and Okayama) and Metso Automation (in Tokyo, Okayama and Fuji) have 84 and 27 employees respectively.

The Ishinomaki mill of Nippon Paper was hit hard by a major earthquake and tsunami in March 2011
The Ishinomaki mill was a flagship mill of Nippon Paper before the tsunami

Rising again

PM 7's return to action follows the restart of PM N6, a 272,000-tonne/yr lightweight coated (LWC) paper unit, which was fired back up in March this year. PM N5, which can produce 150,000 tonnes/yr of LWC, came back online in February.

PM 8 and PM N4, which can produce 112,000 of coated/uncoated paper and 125,000 tonnes/yr of graphic paper respectively, were restarted last year. The former came back online in September, and the latter was re-commissioned in November.

One more machine is yet to be fired back up. PM N2, an 89,000-tonne/yr coated paper unit, was due back online by August this year.

And in November 2011, 25,200 tonnes of radiata pine and eucalyptus chips arrived at Ishinomaki's rehabilitated port from Portland, Australia, in anticipation of the restart of kraft pulp production in the coming weeks.

Almost 90% of the paper mill has been recovered after rebuilds completed by May 2012 when PPI visited the mill

The site's kraft pulp capacity, which was used for integrated paper production, amounted to 643,000 tonnes/yr before the March tragedy. The number includes groundwood pulp and TMP.

Now, woodchips from overseas (Australia, Chile and South Africa, etc) as well as roundwood from domestic resources are supplying the mill's pulp lines.

Raw material security is a priority for NPG. The group has made good progress in setting up overseas plantations, with 167,000 ha established in Australia, Brazil, Chile and South Africa. The group plans to boost this to 200,000 ha by 2015. It has another 90,000 ha of plantations in Japan.

The paper mill is equipped to manufacture a wide variety of papers with six paper machines and two coaters, using different furnishes: mechanical pulp, chemical pulp and deinked pulp.

NPG's other mill that was directly affected by the tsunami is Iwanuma, which is close to the Ishinomaki mill, also on the northeast coast of the country. The 542,000-tonne/yr graphic paper mill in Iwanuma did not fully restart until May.

NPG put its extraordinary losses from the tsunami at more than ¥19 billion.

Since the big earthquake and tsunami, Metso Paper Japan has worked on numerous mills including Mitsubishi Hachinohe, in addition to Nippon Ishinomaki and Nippon Iwanuma.

Nippon Paper’s Ishinomaki PM N6 with Metso Paper’s OptiConcept technology started up in November 2007 and resumed production in March 2012

To be continued ... Read Part IIhere.

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