Eastern Japan Faces Crippling Blackouts

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As a result of the quake, eastern Japan’s major power company Tepco has announced it plans to introduce rolling blackouts throughout much of the region, the first since the end of WWII, for as much as 6 hours a day and possibly lasting until next year.

The rolling blackouts will apparently take the form of daily blackouts in 3-4 hour blocks, with timing determined by a system of zones and blackouts occurring from 6AM to 10PM. Particularly unfortunate areas could see two blackouts in one day.

As there are no separate circuits, everything in these areas will be affected: medical facilities, traffic signals, trains, elevators, mobile reception, street lighting, etc.

Worse yet, the blackouts are set to continue “at least until the end of April,” with Tepco suggesting they may be even reinstated later in the summer and winter months to cope with elevated demand from cooling and heating .

However, to prevent complete national paralysis the majority of the 23 wards of central Tokyo will be completely unaffected.

The blackouts are the result of a roughly 25% shortfall in capacity at peak hours; as the western half of the country uses 60hz transmission rather than the eastern half’s 50hz, surplus cannot easily be redistributed between the two, and power storage capacity from using gravity reservoirs has already been exhausted.

With the duration and severity of the blackouts a virtual death blow to the region’s economy and quality of life, there is some understandable concern about the competency of Tepco’s handling of the affair – it already has a history of covering up nuclear accidents, evidently overstated the ability of its plants to withstand earthquakes, and seems to have no clear plan for restoring capacity.

The fact that the announcement of the zones was made only the night before the cuts were to begin has also aroused some criticism, as has the fact it was online only and initially provided information riddled with errors and inconsistencies.

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89 Comments

  • 50Hz and 60Hz on the same island…

    Clearly a retarded bureaucrat decided to allow something like that to happen…

    Mindboggling…

    But then, running 40 Year old nuclear reactors that aren’t even properly waterproof at the edge of the ocean in an earthquake and tsunamis hotspot is not that smart either.

    • Yeah, unfortunately such bullshit are even worse in many other countries.

      Especially the matter of their nuclear plants, i believe is something they have to give account to in the courts. Yes it was a big earthquake and tsunami but still when you are messing with things like nuclear energy excuses like “the back-up system to the water pumps isn’t working” just ain’t good enough.
      They should have ten freaking back-up systems for even the worst of the worst scenarios. This is nuclear power and deadly radiation that can affect whole oceans and products all over the world that we are talking about.
      You can’t be a cheapskate about such things. They knew Japan is a country with high earthquake activity and danger of tsunamis. Their power plants should have been the strongest fucking thing ever build with many back-up systems. Another example of a big company saving money by risking security after the BP fiasco and there are thousands of them in the world, always putting profit before sense.

      • Ikuhisashiku says:

        “They should have ten freaking back-up systems for even the worst of the worst scenarios.”

        Quite simply, I agree with this.
        They should’ve had more than just the one backup system in place. Or, atleast made it waterproof.
        It just dosen’t make much sense otherwise.

        • I stand corrected, but isn’t this a private company? They abode by the law and did nothing wrong. You can ask for as many backup systems you want, theres still a chance of failure.
          I myself am a mechanical engineering student and I can tell you that this sounds to have been decently designed. Accounting for everything is over-design and will cost more than is lost if everything is done like that. Instead things are designed by probability of failure; everything has a chance of failure.

          In contrast, in South Africa there were similar but longer-lasting rolling blackouts from our nationalized power company. This was due to the fact that they’ve been way overdue for maintenance and way past their design life. Instead of building and upgrading new ones the government spent tax money on themselves. Story of post 1994 government in SA.

    • Wow Artefact, you really are a quite a gossipmonger sometimes. I would really expect someone like you who constantly critisizes others about factchecking and journalistic accuracy to at least do some research before attempting to turn your readership against yet another company or organization.

      “it already has a history of covering up nuclear accidents, evidently overstated the ability of its plants to withstand earthquakes, and seems to have no clear plan for restoring capacity.”

      The reactor containment and cooling systems in the Fukushima power plant were designed to withstand up to a 7.9 magnitude quake, and the fact that these systems withstood a 9.0 is quite remarkable in and of itself. Shutdown procedures worked, and backup diesel generators came online to continue the flow of coolant just like it was supposed to. The problem wasn’t the quake, but the tsunami that followed, which knocked out the backup generators among other things.

      Every expert opinion I’ve heard so far, from physicists to engineers have said that given the severity and sudden nature of the catastrophy, Japanese officials have handled the Nuclear disaster remarkably well. Note there hasn’t been any core containment breach so far, in a situation that certainly could’ve resulted in one.

      • Quake or tsunami, the plant failed and started belching radiation into the environs. The company already has a history of lesser safety breaches and has illegally concealed these at every turn. They don’t deserve your defence.

    • Long story short – the split happened because of a *lack* of bureaucracy. No, you read that right – here goes…

      The Kansai power company that serves the western side of the island had their generating equipment built in Germany – Europe, as you may know, uses 220V/50Hz.

      Tepco, on the other hand, decided to buy their equipment from America – Gerneral Electric. Of Course, the 120/60Hz system is only really used in North America.

      How did this happen? because at the time, the government hadn’t considered the need to standardise the utilities, and once it was done they didn’t want to force the expense of changing everything on the companies.

      It’s handy in a way though – more recent gear designed for the Japanese market will work in both the US and Europe as a result, you just need a different cable to the wall socket. 🙂

    • I was really surprised by the 60hz/50hz split.. How on earth have they been living with this? Doesn’t the east/west visit each other?

      Well maybe this is a wakeup call to finally unite transmission standards and standardize on 50Hz. It can’t get any worse then it is now obviously.

        • @Anon 08:42

          Yeah 230V/50Hz is “superior in every way” at frying your ass and burning itself and the appliances that are hooked up to it up if you get a power surge than old U.S. 110V/60Hz and modern U.S. 220V/60Hz.

        • hate to call you out but the frequency does make makes a bigger impact than the voltage

          voltage can be easily stepped up or down for the application with transformer, not to mention almost any motor can be wired to run on either voltage, but try turning any motor at 10 less or more Hz you will be a 5-15% difference in the rpms of the motor and that’s bad for the industrial world which for the most part already operates on higher voltages for the most part, not to mention the basic power brick the run a good 95% of electronics they don’t have auto switching/conditioning circuity, usually only pc/laptop’s and gaming consoles come with this. for example my wireless router uses 12v dc so it came with a basic power adapter to go from 120v 60hz to 12v dc this adapter on a 50hz supply would only supply 9-10v dc

          virtually they only thing that it wouldn’t affect is pcs/gaming consoles and incandescent light bulbs

        • Not technically better. But Tokyo uses 50hz already, and 90% of the rest of the world also uses 50Hz. International grid interoperability can be important. (It’s MUCH MUCH easier to step up/down voltage then change the frequency)

        • the hertz rate actually doesn’t make any difference for most appliances.
          however there are those exceptions where a device uses the power supply to synchronize something. usually old devices. most modern devices have universal power adapters and don’t give shit about it.

          a different voltage would make a bigger difference. higher voltage would mean they could push more power over thinner lines and would need less of those transformers hanging around on poles everywhere. however that would blow up many 100-110 volt appliances ^^;

  • “evidently overstated the ability of its plants to withstand earthquakes”

    The earthquake has been officially recognized as a 9.0
    Sorry, but I do you really think any nuclear plants out there are designed to withstand the 4th(?) most powerful earthquake in humanity’s history?

    On a side note, I heard Russia will supply Japan with additional coal, gas, as well as electricity via the underwater cables. Japan would survive this disaster least stressfully if they’d finally swallow their pride and apologize for trolling the Rus gov for the past few years.

    • Ikuhisashiku says:

      Actually, the earthquake wasn’t really the problem. The reactors shut down like they were supposed to, but the problem arose when the tsunami took out the diesel generators for the emergency cooling system.

      As much as I hate to admit it, it does seem rather empty-headed to not make the backup system waterproof. Even if they never predicted a tsunami would happen, or that it would even take out the diesel generators, they still had measures in place in case of an earthquake. The next logical step should’ve been to make sure the backup system was at least waterproof, even if it was only as a “just in case” type of thing.

      “Better to be safe than sorry.”
      Well, in this case, I’d say they’re sorry.

      • its not that its not water proof, they are. its 1 gallon of watter weighs about 8-10lbs depending on the gallon.

        now that weight traveling at about lets say 20 mph, probably more, and how many gallons? not much can withstand that type or pressure for long.

        its not a case of it being watter proof or not, its can it take a wreaking ball and still go at this point.

        • Dia
          16:07

          you cant realy do that. at least not with a generator the size that would be required for power plant emergency operations.

          Anonymous
          13:35

          many buildings can handle extremely powerful earthquakes, its the bigger they get the more vulnerable they are. however how many can take a wreaking ball like force?

          nuke power plants, at least the parts where it matters are able to withstand certain amounts of explosions (i don’t have the equivalence on hand)

          —–

          now probably the best back up back up for the generator would be a battery backup, not some pussy shit either, a batter the size of a 2 story american home (in the 200k+ range). it wont be as reliable as a generator, but it will be a decent backup. and even if it costs a few million, its cheap in the long run.

        • Again, the plant was designed to withstand an 8.2 earthquake and the effects thereof. Not only was an 8.9 quake was a full 7 times stronger than anticipated, but the epicenter was both in close proximity and extreme SHALLOW for a quake, which led to a tsunami much larger than the designers had planned for ever happening.

          Go go engineer arrogance!

        • That might be true, but it wouldn’t be a problem if they kept some backup generators positioned well above the waterline. Building a nuclear plant on the shore of an ocean in a very earthquake-prone area, one should expect the possibility of a large tsunami potentially damaging support equipment. There are hills surrounding the plant, so it’s not like they don’t have higher elevation ground to work with. It sounds like the generators were poorly positioned in terms of ‘tsunami-proofing’ them, if that’s even what caused their failure.

      • Apparently the reactors were designed to withstand an 8.2 earthquake on the richter scale. The fact that the reactors themselves held up to an at least 8.9 earthquake actually says good things for the engineering. Remember that the richter scale is logarithmic. Of course, it should be noted that Tepco wasn’t responsible for the actual construction of the reactors, or any of the other construction related to them, instead a list can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_I_Nuclear_Power_Plant

        EDIT: It’s also important to remember that the reactors at the Daiichi plant are between 33 and 41 years old, and don’t exactly have the latest and greatest in nuclear technology.

        • The fun thing is that there was an additional backup battery that would work for 8 hours should the diesal generators all inexplicably fail, which was considered a “never going to happen” issue that was given a failsafe anyway (which in retrospect is kind of a critique on engineer arrogance), and that battery did its job for 8 hours while they attempted to find a new power source to take over.

          The problems arose when they discovered that all the diesel generators they trucked in from other locations were incompatible with the system (the plugs wouldn’t fit), and then the battery ran out of power before they could acquire proper generators. >_>;

          9 times out of 10, the issue almost always boil down to human error. ~_~

        • It’s not like the reactor had to withstand even close that 9 magnitude earthquake, the center of it was several 100 kilometers away and I doubt it could have withstood direct hit from it unharmed.

          And reactor’s age shouldn’t matter as much as it did. There are several ways to upgrade some of the safety mechanisms of old plants (like making sure there are multiple ways to give additional power, some of the old reactors are even upgraded to be able to cool the reactor without any electricity) and many countries require that those upgrades must be done.

          The major two countries which don’t require this are Japan and USA. I’m not sure of China’s and Russia’s situation, but it’s quite likely that Russia has implemented at least some of the recommended safety updates, after all they are very much aware of nuclear power risks. And China’s reactors are pretty new. However, they have been constructing new plants quite fast and that is pretty worrisome sign.

    • Ikuhisashiku says:

      In light of recent events, I’m sure the ban will pretty much be the farthest thing from anyone’s mind.
      If any politician were stupid enough to bring it up right now, or even mention any way to enforce it, they’re likely to find themselves right in the middle of a media shitstorm because they evidentally don’t “care enough about the tsunami-affected people.”

      All in all, I’m fairly certain we won’t hear about the ban again for atleast another month or so, at the earliest.

  • A lot of things don’t add up with this move. 6 power plants were shut down and Japan has more than 50, plus various other methods of gaining energy. Seriously, i really think this company is incompetent. Incompetency usually becomes obvious when there are extreme situations.

  • Just a heads up, but many regions are actually in multiple groups. Some groups are 6 hours outage a day, but if you are in groups 2,3 and 4, you are out for 12 hours a day (Group 2 also has 6 hours outage a day, 3, 4 and 5 are only 3 hours)

        • It’s simple math after all.

          Just Fukushima 1&2 have 20% of all reactors in Japan. So even just that is some 7% of national power output, going by the rough numbers. And there’s at least two more plants out – Tokai with one unit, and Onagawa with two units.

          Even if you account for 3 units at Fukushima-1 that were out anyway, turning off the plants listed still mean a loss of 20% of total nuclear output. And 1/4th of that is lost permanently due to announced seawater flooding… could be more, as we know nothing of the fate of four Fukushima-2 units, of which 3 were reported to have been overheating.

          Either way, blackouts are there to stay.

  • You know, I thought of something that might be considered a slight extremity… what if the people in the affected areas were to be granted temporary sanctuary in an allied country? That way they would be taken out of harm’s way in the case of another damaging quake, and repair crews could work on the areas that had been nearly destroyed. I realize they’re already doing something similar by evacuating people to other cities, but not only would that jack the population density in those areas to incredible levels it would also not guarantee they would remain unaffected by power outages or further aftershocks should they occur. Not to mention the radiation if a reactor does in fact blow…

  • Maybe I’ve missed something , but everybody is still talking about today. And what’s next?
    They are going to rebuild that old electricity system as it was before and wait for another event with nature ?
    What about wind and solar power?
    http://www.kleanindustries.com/s/PressReleases.asp?ReportID=345580
    that’s an old article , but I guess hardly anything changes there.

    There are many problems also in my country (Lithuania) with electricity because
    We had to close our both reactors up to 2010, but that’s not the main thing.
    “shit-heads” similar to those in “Tepco” are still in action and if you’ll try to do something like to use wind generator you’ll face big bureaucratic obstacles.
    They don’t care about people and their safety, but only in their company’s profits and “face” .
    It is not so easy to control these greedy bastards.

  • They keep announcing blackouts throughout Tokyo, but in my neighborhood they keep not happening. Does the disaster area not have enough of a grid to take the power, or what?

    Also, anyone bitching about only having a day after the announcement can shut their fucking hole. It isn’t like an extra day (which is all they would have had, at best) would have given them any better chance at getting ready. Supplies would have run out a day earlier.

    Also…the store shelves are fucking bare of any bread or rice. Now bread, I understand. But rice? If you’re worried about not having electricity, how do you plan to cook the rice, guys? (Badly, would be my guess.) Other than that, it’s not so bad in Western Tokyo.

  • Medical facilities and other important government buildings will have diesel generators in order to continue functioning.

    Well, they do in any city with a half-decent facilities management department of government, hopefully Ishihara hasn’t been diverting that money to pay for his blow and hookers.

  • Man, I feel so sorry for those guys…
    They might be somewhat xenophobic, and have a lot of issues aimed at outside world.
    But they totally didn’t deserved such disaster :/
    If the first two strikes wouldn’t be enough, now it will take considerable time for them to stand up.
    And I already can expect countries like China to only be an ass and either obstruct or toss disgraceful smack talk.

    • Think that’s a good example of a vague logo look at TECO’s logo near same name doing the same field in different parts of the world all while making it hard to tell what they do.

  • I remember reading somewhere that the 50hz and 60hz regions are due to US, and UK re-building different parts of Japan after the WW2.

    Why did UK use 50hz when the whole of UK was switching to 60hz at the time. Dunno.

    • ah you got the tv screen frequency and electic power supply frequency mixed up uk is still 50hz electric due to the crippling cost it would need.

      back on topic
      1- changing power supplies from 50 to 60 or the othe way costs a lot and requries too much investment in the short term and is easier to just rebuild the existing infastucture than redo the whole lot

      2- the ban might get swept under the rug and put though

      • It’s not just the UK – if you check wikipedia, it’s only the US, Mexico and Canada that use 60Hz for their power.

        There’s no technical reason to prefer 120/60 or 240/50 – although 50hz does make some math easier.

  • This is all the fault of loli-ero manga. Clearly the politicians need to step up and continue to denounce their evil impact upon society, and their degenerative moral effect on those in charge of the electrical industry!

    There will be no power until Tepco stops fapping to child porn! A vote for Ishihara is a vote for moderate action in restoring power to our homes!

    • Not by a long shot.

      If anything, they have to increase their efforts on animation because their economy just took a huge hit. Japan needs money now and I’m certain that they’ll know better than to cripple sure-fire ways of income.

    • I highly doubt it.

      For those making the Anime, it is their job to do so. They’re not gonna stop doing what puts bread on the table for them. Not to mention the earthquake relief will put a huge damper on any banning legislation, because politicians will be (hopefully) putting money and effort where it matters the most: in helping the victims and refugees of this massive disaster, instead of banning the “sexual exploitation” of non-existent women. Not to mention any politician’s image would be in shambles if they insisted on “protect the children” style legislation in the wake of a huge natural disaster. If they did, it would give off the image that they don’t care about the victims, which at a time like this would be the death of their political careers.

      Not to mention that it is specifically stated that most of the 23 special wards of Tokyo will be unaffected. And just where is most Anime made exactly?

      And on another note, when people go through hard times, they want to escape. They want to get away from the troubles of real life. Never mind that people want to do that all the time, but now the want for escapism will be magnified even more. Just what will people find escapism in? Well for some, it might be in the embrace of Anime, Manga, and Games.

      Art has always been a source for escapism, and often art doesn’t die, but proliferates in times of crisis. It is a way to convey one’s emotions, and as a means of escape from a harsh reality.

      I can see delays in how fast Anime and Manga is produced, serialized or broadcasted for sure. But death? I highly doubt it.

    • Do you really think anime is going to end?
      Highly unlikely, but in all honesty if it comes to that, only the fans can do something about it: Don’t let the art style die in Japan and start develop it in other countries.
      Sure, it won’t be the same… But a culture only dies if people stop paying attention to it.