Thursday, April 07, 2011

japan's peak oil dry run

OurWorld | Each Monday for the next few weeks, in light of the recent triple disaster, our new Transition Japan series will consider the challenges faced by Japan in dealing with climate change, peak oil, food security and biodiversity loss. In today’s first installment, Brendan Barrett takes a look at how Japan’s post-tsunami response might help us to respond to peak oil.

For large parts of eastern Japan that were not directly hit by the tsunami on 11 March 2011, including the nation’s capital, the current state of affairs feels very much like a dry-run for peak oil. This is not to belittle the tragic loss of life and the dire situation facing many survivors left without homes and livelihoods. Rather, the aim here is to reflect upon the post-disaster events and compare them with those normally associated with the worst-case scenarios for peak oil.

The earthquake and tsunami affected six of the 28 oil refineries in Japan and immediately petrol rationing was introduced with a maximum of 20 litres per car (in some instances as low as 5 litres). On 14 March, the government allowed the oil industry to release 3 days’ worth of oil from stockpiles and on 22 March an additional 22 days’ worth of oil was released.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which serves a population of 44.5 million, lost one quarter of its supply capacity as a result of the quake, through the closedown of its two Fukushima nuclear power plants (Dai-ichi and Dai-ni), as well as eight fossil fuel based thermal power stations. Subsequently, from 14 March 2011 onwards, TEPCO was forced to implement a series of scheduled outages across the Kanto region (the prefectures of Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, Tokyo, Chiba, and Kanagawa).

While the thermal power stations may restart operations soon, the overall shortfall will become even more difficult to manage over the summer period when air conditioning is utilized. The reality is that these power cuts could continue for years, especially since the one of the two Fukushima nuclear plants has effectively become a pile of radioactive scrap.

Related to this, when the Tokyo Metropolitican Government began to announce levels of radioactive contamination of drinking water above permissible levels, this was immediately followed by the rapid sell-out of bottled water, even after the levels dropped again. When bottled water is on sale in local convenience stores after some restocking took place, each customer is only allowed to purchase one 2 litre bottle.

Immediately after the quake, supermarkets outside the disaster area in Tokyo and other major cities began to sell out of foodstuffs, including various instant meals. The electrical appliance stores sold out of batteries, flashlights and portable radios.

As we all know, the twin natural and human tragedies are having impacts beyond the Tohoku region where Fukushima lies, and the Greater Tokyo area. It has been difficult for Japan’s notoriously efficient industries to maintain production, given that they rely on just-in-time systems and which have supply plants (for needed parts) that are located in the zone impacted by these combined disasters. One example is in car production, where major firms have had to suspend work at their factories when key parts are no longer available from the affected region. The fragility of this system of industrial production is glaringly obvious and it is something that peak oil commentators have warned of multiple times.

These food and bottled water shortages, power cuts, fuel-rationing and breakdowns in just-in-time manufacturing have been anticipated by those who take peak oil seriously. It is almost as if eastern Japan is experiencing a peak oil rehearsal, although other regions of Japan are virtually unaffected. If proponents of peak oil are correct, then the rest of the world may experience something similar within the next 5 to 10 years, and hence it is important that we learn valuable lessons from Japan’s response to the current circumstances.

3 comments:

Temple3 said...

That is some scary, matter-of-fact bizniz right there.
"Each Monday for the next few weeks, in light of the recent triple disaster, our new Transition Japan series will consider the challenges faced by Japan in dealing with climate change, peak oil, food security and biodiversity loss."

CNu said...

and why we need to commence clocking what happens there like it was a job....,

brotherbrown said...

There was an aftershock in the range of 7.1.

Statewide and regionally, we've been operating VOADs and COADs and doing disaster preparedness, but I just don't think a critical mass of people even give any thought to being prepared to shelter in place.

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