Japan's power supply system weak link in times of disaster

September 7, 2018 by Elaine Kurtenbach And Mari Yamaguchi
Japan's power supply system weak link in times of disaster
In this Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018, file photo, people gather to charge their mobile phones in the blackout on the center of Sapporo, Hokkaido, northern Japan, after a powerful earthquake. The blackouts that paralyzed the northern island of Hokkaido after a powerful earthquake struck early Thursday showed the weak link in all that technology. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)

Japan's ultramodern conveniences, its zippy bullet trains, automated ticketing systems and smart homes work just fine, until the power goes out.

The blackout across entire northern island of Hokkaido after a powerful earthquake struck early Thursday showed the weak link in all that technology.

It's a problem shared by most affluent, and increasingly many other countries, but seems more apparent in this seismically overactive nation, where earthquakes and tsunamis are a constant threat and even the high-tech toilets have electronic flushes.

The magnitude 6.7 quake on Hokkaido's southern coast knocked out to nearly all 3 million households on the island, forcing essential services such as hospitals and traffic lights to use generators or other backups. Damage to some generators was likely to delay the full restoration of power for more than a week, officials said.

On Friday, with power restored to about half of all Hokkaido households, Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko urged residents to conserve electricity.

"Unplug appliances. Families should try to all stay in one room," he said. "That can help us more quickly restore power in more places."

The vulnerability of the electric grid was driven home most painfully in 2011 by a massive earthquake and tsunami on the northeastern coast of the main island of Honshu, and subsequent meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi . Shutdowns of reactors for safety checks put a chunk of Japan's power generating capacity out of commission—straining supplies in this resource scarce nation.

Japan's power supply system weak link in times of disaster
In this Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018, file photo, a man calls with a public phone in the blackout on the center of Sapporo city, Hokkaido, northern Japan, after a powerful earthquake. The blackouts that paralyzed the northern island of Hokkaido after a powerful earthquake struck early Thursday showed the weak link in all that technology. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)

Some 3 million households on Hokkaido, whose power supplies generally are only based on the island, were without electricity for nearly a whole day after the quake. After a long, dark night a large share of the lights were back on early Friday in the prefectural capital of Sapporo, a city of 1.9 million.

Without power, most tap water systems didn't work. Traffic and street lights were dark and cellphones ran out of power. Some landlines were also silenced, though public phones were working—for free, carrier NTT said.

Hokkaido Electric Power Co., or HEPCO, said the large-capacity Tomato Atsuma power plant—source of most power to the region and located relatively close to the quake's epicenter—will take about a week to restart. As a stopgap, the company restarted three other plants with less generating capacity and switched on dozens of small hydroelectric .

Officials at METI, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which is in charge, told reporters the utility lacked a contingency plan for the failure of all three of Tomato Atsuma's generators—echoing the lack of emergency planning that caused massive problems at the Fukushima plant. HEPCO had only anticipated the possible loss of up to a third of peak power demand, or up to 1.3 million kilowatts, they said.

Likely mindful of complaints over the handling of the aftermath of the 2011 disaster by Tokyo Electric Power Corp., operator of the Fukushima plant, the industry minister, Hiroshige Seko, ordered HEPCO to be sure to provide quick and thorough updates.

Japan's power supply system weak link in times of disaster
One of city's landmarks, Sapporo TV Tower, is seen in the blackout on the center of Sapporo city, Hokkaido, northern Japan, Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. A powerful earthquake hit wide areas on Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido early Thursday, triggering landslides as well as causing the loss of power. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Japan's nuclear regulator said that external power was restored at Tomari, Hokkaido's only nuclear power plant, after it temporarily switched Thursday to backup generators to power cooling systems for spent fuel from its three reactors.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority said there was no abnormality at the plant, which has been idled since 2012 for routine safety checks, its reactors emptied of fuel.

Hokkaido Electric says the island's average peak demand is about 3.8 million kilowatts. By drawing on secondary generators and possibly importing power from elsewhere in Japan, the utility said it could provide about 2.9 million kilowatts of power even if Tomato Atsuma remained offline.

Japan's power supply system weak link in times of disaster
Police officers guide traffic as pedestrian walk in the blackout on the center of Sapporo city, Hokkaido, northern Japan, Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. A powerful earthquake jolted Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido, buckling roads, knocking homes off their foundations and causing entire hillsides to collapse. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Like many tough residents used to Hokkaido's long, harsh winters, Norio Oikawa was looking on the bright side. His home in Sapporo had no power by early Friday, and he was rationing the water he managed to store in his bathtub before his taps went dry.

Thankfully, basic public facilities were at hand—no fancy electronics involved.

"There is a park nearby, with a toilet and running water. So, that's a great help," he said.

Japan's power supply system weak link in times of disaster
People sit in the dark to have some food in the blackout on the center of Sapporo city, Hokkaido, northern Japan, Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. A powerful earthquake hit wide areas on Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido early Thursday, triggering landslides as well as causing the loss of power. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

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gkam
1 / 5 (1) Sep 08, 2018
Earthquakes and nuclear powerplants. Not a good idea.

Japan is hobbled by internal corruption, and we are going the same way under Trump.
WillieWard
not rated yet Sep 09, 2018
"Even the worst nuclear accidents result in far fewer deaths than the normal operation of fossil fuel power plants."
Wind and solar are useless placebos, just decorative facades for the coal/oil/gas industries which air pollution respects no border and kills millions of people every year.

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