Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Concerns about the coming months

My previous post described the situation in Tokyo and explained why I thought there was no reason to leave Tokyo at that time. There have been a couple of developments that are cause for concern though.

Power shortage in eastern Japan

As I mentioned before, residents in the suburbs of Tokyo have been coping with scheduled power cuts. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) have started publishing their daily electricity demands and capacity. Here's a snapshot for today:


They're updating this in real time. As you can see, the efforts being made to save electricity are paying off. This year's demand is substantially lower than last year's. The corridors in my office are dark, the hand driers are switched off in the toilets and escalators have been cordoned off. However, we're dangerously close to full capacity. Last week, TEPCO issued an emergency warning stating that a power cut could occur at any moment due to high levels of demand. My whole office was told to go home at 4:30pm.

So we're struggling now, and it's only March. Demand for electricity will go through the roof in the summer and TEPCO is already warning that power cuts may occur during the summer months. I am NOT looking forward to relentless 35 degree humidity day and night with no air conditioning. This post at Spike Japan takes a detailed look at the situation and the outlook is not good. In addition to the Fukushima nuclear power plants, there are a large number of other power plants that are no longer functioning. Looking at the numbers, it looks highly unlikely that supply will be able to meet demand in the summer.

Foodstuffs and Drinking Water

With the exception of those living in the immediate vicinity of the Fukushima powerplants, radiation carried through the air has so far been a non-issue. This site has an excellent set of graphs showing radiation readings taken in various locations in Japan. Tokyo appears fine.

Food and drink is another issue. The government has already moved to deal with contaminated milk, spinach and other foods that are produced in Fukushima. Today, the Tokyo water department has stated that infants should not consume tap water due to high levels of radioactive iodine. I have a 9-week-old baby boy. The shelves in supermarkets are already empty most of the time as people buy rice, bread and other basics. Similar panic buying of bottled water could be unpleasant for those with infants.

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