Japan Helium Centre (JHC), helium producer and affiliated company of Taiyo Nippon Sanso, obtained permission for the first time to import helium from Qatar into Japan.

JHC is a joint venture in which Taiyo Nippon Sanso put up 40%, BOC 40%, Tomoe Shokai 10%, Suzuki Shokan 6%, and Chubo 4%, making for a total of 5 investing companies.

The reason to focus on helium from Qatar was through a request from BOC which shares sales rights with Air Liquide for the helium produced and refined in Qatar. Indicating an aim at a 2 source importation arrangement, Takashi Ogiya, a senior general manager at JHC, stated, "With just the U.S. as our source, we are easily affected by port strikes such as the last one and extreme shortages caused by a tight supply. By diversifying our sources, we anticipate that we should be able to mitigate the risk. The present importation is a test run, and if circumstances are favourable, we will continue to import on a constant basis. Our idea is eventually to switch over to Qatar for 30% of our requirement."

Production of helium in Qatar, which boasts of one of the largest natural gas reserves in the world, is undertaken by Ras Gas. It has a plant at the Ras Laffan gas field located about 75 km north of the capital Doha. The production capacity during Phase 1\\$quot;š that went into operation in 2003 amounted to an annual 9.6 million. Phase 2, which was completed in November of last year, has an annual production capacity of 8.3 million . There are 7 plants which refine about 50% of the crude helium using PSA and refining equipment. There are also four 10-ton-storage tanks. Ras Gas has contracts with BOC and Air Liquide whereby each take over 50% of the production.

JHC did enter into a long term, 10 year contract BOC helium produced in the U.S. and they decided upon the importation of helium from Qatar within this framework. They saw a solution undertaken at a level in terms of cost not different from the helium from the U.S. Along with a voyage of just over 3 weeks, it took nearly 1 month altogether before the helium finally reached Japan, starting from the date of production. Compared to the 10-15 days over the route from the U.S. this is clearly quite disadvantage.