BEIJING, March 18 (Xinhua) -- Salt prices in China are stabilizing after government departments worked to halt a "salt panic" prompted by radiation fears over Japan' s crippled nuclear power plant, China' s top economic planner and price regulator said Friday.
The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said in a notice on its website that there was a rush buying of salt in most parts of the country on Thursday, but salt prices are becoming stabilized with salt supplies increasing and panic buying starting to fade.
Mao Qingguo, general manager of China National Salt Industry Corp.(China Salt), the country' s largest salt manufacturer, also told Xinhua in an exclusive interview that, according to the company' s monitoring, the rush buying had eased in most regions.
Salt supplies had been ensured, especially in large supermarkets, while consumers have calmed down, he said.
Rumors in some Chinese cities, starting Wednesday, claimed that radiation has leaked into the sea from the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, compromising the future safety of salt taken from the sea, and that iodized salt could help guard against radiation poisoning.
Figures from China Salt showed that 370,000 tonnes of edible salt were sold on Thursday, which was equivalent to the amount normally sold in 24 days .
But salt consumption started to decline on Friday as government efforts to ease public fears paid off. In China' s eastern Zhejiang Province, salt sales fell to 4,855 tonnes in the first twelve hours of Friday, from 10,000 tonnes in the same period Thursday.
The NDRC on Thursday ordered a crackdown on hoarding of daily necessities, urging that local price control authorities counter rumors about shortages of daily necessities and hoarding of these goods.
Salt prices in most department stores and supermarkets had remained at the levels set by the pricing department, but in some small supermarkets and marketplaces salt was selling at a higher price, said the NDRC statement.
"Some salt retailers are selling it at two to ten times the normal price," it said, adding that these grocery stores and supermarkets had been fined up to 50,000 yuan (7614.1 U.S. dollars) for the price increase.
The NDRC has also ordered local price authorities to further improve monitoring of changes in salt prices.
Chinese government departments had been striving to calm the panic by ensuring market supplies and eliminating public fears over salt shortages.
The Chinese Ministry of Commerce said earlier Friday that the country' s salt reserves are "quite substantial" , with an annual salt production capacity of more than 80 million tonnes.
The country' s edible salt consumption is only about 8 million tonnes a year, and salt companies usually have stocks for three months' consumption, said the ministry.
China Salt figures showed that, currently, China' s national inventories of iodized edible salt stood at 1.33 million tonnes that are available for sale.
Also on Friday, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) urged salt producers to ensure a steady supply of salt to retailers and make sure that edible salt remains available in large supermarkets as of Friday.
The MIIT, together with the commerce ministry, advised retailers to supply salt in an orderly, balanced and sustained way.
China Salt said, for the next stage, the company would work to increase supplies to convenience stores and the rural region and continue to provide close attention to further developments, according to Mao.
Following a slump in salt sales, salt-related equities retreated after Thursday' s bounce. Yunnan Salt & Salt Chemical Co., Ltd. dropped 7.55 percent to 13.96 yuan by Friday' s market close.