chapter  1
16 Pages

Introduction: Challenges for Japan, Challenges for Asia

ByRyo Fujikura

March 11, 2011 is a day the Japanese people will never be able to forget. On that day, the eastern shores of Japan’s Tohoku (northeast) region were struck by a tsunami up to ten meters high, generated by what was reportedly a magnitude 9.0 earthquake – among the largest possible – that occurred below the seafloor about 130 kilometers offshore. More than 20,000 people died or went missing. Although there were fewer victims than the Sumatra earthquake and tsunami of 2004 (when 220,000 died), and the Haiti earthquake in 2010 (230,000 died), the Great East Japan earthquake has had an additional and unexpected impact on the world: the earthquake and subsequent nuclear accident exposed for all to see that the safety of nuclear power is a myth. Before the accident, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which supplies the greater Tokyo area, had the capacity to supply 57,000 megawatts of electricity. Of this total, three nuclear power plants (Fukushima Daiichi, Fukushima Daini, and Kashiwazaki) provided 17,300 megawatts. The earthquake and tsunami caused a meltdown at three of the six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. No major damage occurred at Fukushima Daini, although operations were completely halted. Due to damage that also occurred at a number of thermal power plants, the electricity supplied by TEPCO dropped to 31,000 megawatts

immediately after the disaster (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry 2011). TEPCO was able to avoid the crisis of a massive blackout in the greater Tokyo area thanks to the emergency release of water that had been stored for hydropower production, but still implemented rolling power blackouts starting on March 13. This was the first time scheduled power blackouts had occurred since just after the end of World War II. TEPCO was able to restore its generating capacity and stop the rolling power blackouts in April, thanks to a combination of measures, including recommissioning thermal power plants that had not been in operation, installing additional diesel power generators, increasing hydropower production by special permission of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (which manages rivers), procuring electricity from Chubu Electric Power Co. (which serves a neighboring region), and so on. By July, TEPCO was capable of supplying 57,200 megawatts. During the Tokyo region’s hot and humid summers, peak electricity demand usually occurs on summer days when households and offices all use air conditioning at the same time. During past summers, demand during this period peaked at 60,000 megawatts, which caused many people to be concerned about whether or not the region could get through the summer of 2011 without a major power outage. The accident at Fukushima Daiichi transformed the mentality of citizens, resulting in extensive energy conservation measures in the greater Tokyo area. TEPCO began to provide detailed information indicating the energy currently being used as a percentage of the maximum output capacity of its power plants, and this information was displayed on television, radio, the Internet, display panels in train stations, and so on. To limit electricity demand during the summer, the government called upon large consumers of electricity to make a 15 percent reduction in electricity consumption, based on legislation, and requested energy saving from all consumers including citizens. Some city governments, supermarkets, and convenience stores offered small gift rewards to citizens who produced evidence from their power utility statements indicating that they had achieved certain energy saving targets. The word setsuden (energy conservation) became a key word in the Tokyo area. The brightness of lighting was reduced in subway stations and shopping malls, creating a somewhat darker Tokyo (which had previously been much brighter compared to many cities overseas). There was a surge in sales of LED lamps and a variety of other energy efficient products. As a climate change countermeasure, the government had already been requesting for a number of years that air conditioners be set to keep room temperatures no cooler than 28 degrees Celsius, but this summer, corporations and citizens began to observe this standard more seriously. Government employees wore T-shirts instead of suits as office wear, and businessmen who wore neckties were scolded by clients and suppliers for having poor judgment. Electric fans sold out and were nowhere to be found in stores. Cooperating to reduce peak electricity demand on weekdays, from July to September all auto makers halted operations on Thursdays and Fridays, and operated on Saturdays and Sundays instead.