Friday, November 11, 2011


The March 11th Tohoku earthquake was of such a magnitude that they've resurrected a word which seemingly hasn't been used since the Kanto earthquake of 1923. Daishinsai (大震災) means 'big shaking disaster'. I think it's the perfect word.  The disaster was not the shaking itself. I  remember only a few reports of structures which collapsed from the quake itself. The bigger issue in the short run was the accompanying tsunami, and in the long run the radiation from the Fukushima plant. 

One far-reaching side effect of the Fukushima plant being offline is setsuden. Setsuden (節電) is energy conservation. With the Fukushima plant down and another plant damaged (I'm not sure if it's back online yet) the energy production of East Japan has taken a serious hit. And West Japan uses a different frequency of electricity so we can't share without converting it. 

The entire of East Japan has been on setsuden since March to avoid spontaneous blackouts. Sometimes it's like the whole world's gone dim. Most government offices have taken out half their lights. Some elevators and escalators are turned off. Stores don't leave their signs on overnight. 

But I kind of wonder how long you can keep it up. I mean it doesn't take that much to not use lights. But one has to wonder if the powers-that-be are just going to dig a giant graveyard for all the escalators and elevators. There doesn't seem to be that much effort to find a short term solution. 

And winter is coming. This country uses a lot more fuels in winter than electricity, but the average kerosene heater still uses electricity. How will the grid hold up when we're all trying to stay warm at the same time? 

On the flip side, it makes me wonder. East Japan is getting by on some fraction of the energy it used before. Which makes me think of all the things that we really didn't need to be wasting electricity on in the first place. Like the flashing lights in the drink machines. They used to flash all day, presumably as a marketing technique to draw your eye to the machine. Since setsuden, most of the machines only light up when someone is purchasing something. 

I hope the end of setsuden comes soon. I hate worrying constantly about which will be the day it's too much and the power goes off. In all likelihood it will be a day when it -20C in my house. But I hope that when we return to "normal", that we won't stop the energy conservation methods we've picked up along the way.

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