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U.S. titanium sponge imports shot up 89.7 percent in the second quarter compared with a year earlier, as Japan continued to maintain its recently won role as the largest foreign source. Imports in the three months ended June 30 totaled 7,910 tones (nearly 17.44 million pounds), up from 4,170 tones (9.19 million pounds) in the same period last year, according to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) data, and 10.5 percent ahead of 7,160 tones (15.78 million pounds) in the first quarter of this year. The nearly 15,100 tones (33.22 million pounds) arriving in the first half were 86.4 percent higher than in the same period last year.

The large increase in titanium sponge imports appeared to reflect this year’s rise in mill product shipments, which were up 24.3 percent in the second quarter and 24.1 percent in the first half compared with year-earlier figures. The two significant U.S. sponge producers are Titanium Metal Corp.’s Henderson, Nev., facility and the Rowley, Utah, plant of Allegheny Technologies Corp. (ATI), which is still working toward aerospace qualification. About 67 percent of second-quarter U.S. mill product shipments were used in commercial and military aerospace, according to the USGS.

Japan accounted for 3,610 tones of U.S. titanium sponge imports in the second quarter, or 45.6 percent of the total, while Kazakhstan, which had been the largest foreign source for most of the past decade, continued its recent decline into second place, accounting for 2,730 tones, or 34.5 percent of imports. However, while Japanese shipments fell from 4,150 tones in the first quarter, Kazakhstan shipments were up from 1,230 tones in the first three months.

Kazakhstan’s import figures are officially suppressed, but USGS estimates are generally considered reliable. Kazakhstan’s major producer, Ust-Kamenogorsk Titanium & Magnesium Plant JSC, has not been renewing its former long-term supply contracts with U.S. consumers as it moves some of its sponge output to its own, new melting capacity.

In third place was China at 886 tones (11.2 percent), followed by Russia. Meanwhile, second-quarter scrap receipts of nearly 10,800 tones were up 20 percent from the same period last year and 63.7 percent higher than in this year’s first quarter. Home scrap accounted for 2,990 tones of second-quarter receipts and purchased scrap 7,770 tones.