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Disaster in Japan exposes supply chain flaw

Disaster in Japan exposes supply chain flaw

About 40 miles west of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, another kind of crisis may be unfolding — this one striking at the heart of the world's multibillion-dollar market for smartphones, portable music players and other cutting-edge electronics.

The powerful earthquake that rocked Japan last month knocked out a hillside factory owned by Shin-Etsu Chemical Co. Little known outside industry circles, Shin-Etsu is the world's biggest producer of advanced silicon wafers, a key material needed for the manufacturing of semiconductors. Its Shirakawa plant represented 20% of the globe's capacity to produce the building blocks on which some key high-technology products depend.


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