China's zombie steel mill

China's zombie steel mill

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This hulking Qingquan Steel mill stands on the outskirts of Tangshan, an industrial city in northern China that makes more steel a year than the whole of the United States.

But the plant’s cranes and chimneys are frozen in inactivity. Qingquan Steel is one of dozens of “zombie mills” in Tangshan, where authorities have been told to reduce steel output to cut air pollution, and market forces have already brought many to the brink of bankruptcy.

. Hebei, China. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

Hebei province is China’s biggest steel producer and home to seven of the 10 most polluted cities in the country, environmentalists and industry experts said.

Stirred by growing public anger over smog that often spreads to neighbouring Beijing, the government summoned Hebei's leaders to a series of meetings in the capital last year and urged them to draw up plans to slash steel capacity.

But many mills are already near bankruptcy because of slowing demand, plunging steel prices and a liquidity crisis that would have forced them to shut anyway, experts said.

"In Tangshan and other parts of Hebei, the private mills are facing the most difficult time in their history," said Xu Zhongbu, chief of Beijing Metal Consulting.

"Profits are poor and producers are all losing money - this has nothing to do with environmental measures: it is the economy."

. QIANYING, China. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

Workers at the Qingquan Steel mill went on strike in October after going unpaid for six months and have not returned.

Now much of the mill, like the modest house pictured above, stands empty.

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Slideshow

A man rides an electric bike along a muddy road near the abandoned Qingquan Steel mill.
. QIANYING, China. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

A man rides an electric bike along a muddy road near the abandoned Qingquan Steel mill.

Tyre tracks are seen on a muddy road leading to a locked gate at the zombie mill.
. QIANYING, China. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

Tyre tracks are seen on a muddy road leading to a locked gate at the zombie mill.

A damaged house stands inside the mill.
. QIANYING, China. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

A damaged house stands inside the mill.

A boat lies on the ground next to a fish farm near the abandoned mill.
. QIANYING, China. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

A boat lies on the ground next to a fish farm near the abandoned mill.

A fish at the farm lies in the partially frozen water.
. QIANYING, China. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

A fish at the farm lies in the partially frozen water.

A frozen pond is pictured next to a muddy road near the zombie mill.
. QIANYING, China. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

A frozen pond is pictured next to a muddy road near the zombie mill.

The sun sets behind a chimney of a steel mill in the industrial city of Tangshan.
. TANGSHAN, China. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

The sun sets behind a chimney of a steel mill in the industrial city of Tangshan.

. TANGSHAN, China. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

Smoke rises from a chimney in front of new residential high-rises under construction in the centre of Tangshan.