Thursday, March 17, 2011

News from Japan on the Impact of Disasters

All thoughts are of Japan and the country’s well-being after a triple disaster on March 11th, with a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami, followed by major nuclear reactor malfunctions. My heart goes out to all my friends and colleagues and their families in Japan, and their collective loss.

I have been in contact with Takeshi Hattori, president of Hattori Consulting International and an advisory board member for The ConFab, with more than three decades of experience at Sony. He worked around blackouts to file his report at 10:19 pm Tokyo time: “Letter from Japan: Update on infrastructure, fab status after earthquake”.

I also contacted a longtime friend and colleague, Kenji Tsuda, who was with Nikkei for 25+ years, launched Nikkei Microdevices, acted as Editor-in-Chief of Semiconductor Internatinoal Japan, and is now Editor-in-Chief of Semiconportal. He (like Hattori-san) is fine although expressed concerns about continued earthquakes (quakes are still felt every day, even in Tokyo), radiation and the status of survivors in the north of Japan. He reported that “Most disaster areas are snowing, where climate is similar to Illinois or Minnesota, colder than in Tokyo. So, they require blankets, oil, gas, and foods. Why they do not have sufficient goods required for life? This is because traffic roads are also damaged with the quakes and huge tsunami. Logistics are not available enough, but now getting better,” he writes.

Tsuda said the first priority of the logistics is for disaster people, secondly for industry and thirdly for national people. “Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) estimated this Monday consumption of the power might be 41GW (giga watt) covering the big Tokyo area called Kanto district. Due to power down at Fukushima nuclear power plant, however, the actual power capability was 31GW (almost 10 GW by nuclear energy)."

TEPCO announced a “rolling blackout” would start from this week. “Many commuter trains stopped and business people are confused, but JR railroad, a major railroad company in Japan has own power generators, and provides almost perfect operation. However, people living in suburbs of Tokyo were obliged to keep in their home, not to work at their office,” Tsuda said. “Yesterday, I came to my office in Tokyo, but people in Tokyo are not so many, (very quiet) and all lighting of buildings is dark to save power as well as subway station and facilities.”

He said there was plenty of misunderstanding related to nuclear effects. "Today (March 17th) the maximum radiation dose is in the nearest city, Soma City in Fukushima Prefecture, was instantly 200 micro Sv (Sievert), comparable to a flight traveler radiated with space radiation from NY to Tokyo. Usually average natural dose is 0.05 micro Sv, and places 100km far from the nuclear power plants have a few micro Sv, a 100 times larger than daily average, but not enough to damage to our health. This is lower level than radiation level in usual flight travelers." Radiation levels at the damaged nuclear plant are still unknown.

Tsuda added that, from an industry side, people worry about how long the rolling blackouts will continue. “Power is essential to ramp up their factory operation. Factory damage is being recovered within a month, people say, including Fujitsu, Toshiba and Renesas.”

Continued good wishes to Japan during this tragic time.

Pete Singer

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