Message to Ito Group, March 25, 2011
On March 11, 2011 at 2:41pm a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck Japan off of the coast of Miyagi prefecture, 373 kilometers northeast of Tokyo. Tokyo was shaken quite hard, and in our headquarters we had computer monitors tip over, books tumble out of cabinets, and boxes fall off tables and shelves. The only damage that we have found, however, is a small leak in one window that we didn’t even notice until it rained 10 days later. Our warehouse nearby has some cracks in the walls, but they are small and we do not believe that they are a problem. To be safe, we have scheduled a structural engineer to come evaluate the warehouse.
At our Mito office, further north and closer to the quake, the shaking was stronger. Our building and people were again fine, but there was much more damage in the surrounding areas and water service was not restored until March 22. Further away from the quake at our Shonan and Nagoya offices there was little shaking and no damage at all.
In the end, Ito Group was very lucky, but the people in northeastern Japan and the Fukushima area have suffered huge losses to both life and property. The combined total for dead or missing people is now getting close to 30,000, and almost everyone is Japan knows someone dead or missing, or is friends with someone who has lost a family member or friend. It is a time for sorrow, and it is a time for remembering who and what is important to us.
The hundreds of thousands of people in evacuation centers across northeastern Japan need everyone’s support, and Ito Corporation will be making a donation on behalf of Ito Group when we have decided on what we can afford and where that money can best be used. In the meantime, we encourage each of our employees to find some way of contributing, whether it is through money, food, or simply continuing to work hard and with pride to help Ito Group be able to donate an even larger sum.
Moving forward, Japan and Ito Corporation still have many challenges. One immediate challenge is the current situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. At this time the levels of radiation are not harmful to any of us working in Mito and Tokyo, the two closest areas, but we are tracking the levels and making sure that our employees have the right information to make decisions regarding what is appropriate for them and their families. Unlike in some other parts of the world, the mass media here has largely been even-handed in its reporting of the Fukushima situation, but for our overseas employees who may be concerned about levels of radiation in Tokyo or Mito, I would like to provide a few pieces of information and some links to places that can provide more.
First, there is no danger from airborne radioactive contamination in either Mito or Tokyo right now. The levels are elevated from where they were before the quake, but they are still very low. For example, according to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the average yearly radiation exposure in the USA from naturally occurring background radiation is 3100 microsieverts (uSv). Tokyo is currently experiencing about double the level of radiation it had before the quake. However, because the naturally occurring background radiation in Tokyo is very low when compared to most of the world, at the levels being measured today (March 24, 2011, 0.11uSv/hr), our yearly dose is only about 1000uSv, or less than one-third of what is normal in America. In other words, if you live in America and want to reduce your radiation exposure, one way to do it would be to move to Tokyo as soon as possible.. I have not referenced data here for other parts of the world, but they are similar to the USA. Lastly, while Mito is experiencing radiation levels about 10% higher than Tokyo, the radiation level is still much lower than in many parts of the world and is not dangerous right now.
Longer term there are additional issues regarding radioactive contamination of the food and water supplies, but unlike air we can control how and when we come into contact with food or water. Food is particularly easy to control, and as we do not yet know how much radioactive material has gotten into the soil or ocean yet, I will not comment on it. Water is something I would like to address.
Levels of Iodine-131 in parts of the Tokyo water supply have already risen substantially and are now above the recommended level (100 becquerals) for use with infants, but they are still below the recommended threshold for adult consumption (300 becquerals). It is important, however, to understand how low these levels of contamination actually are. If you were to drink a normal amount of water every day at these levels, the additional radiation you would receive is 400uSv, bringing the total in Tokyo for a year up to 1400uSv, or still less than one-half of the average does in America. Obviously we do not want to go out of our way to drink the tap water now, but at these levels it is absolutely not a threat. It is something, however, that we will continue to watch.
The true long-term impact on Tokyo and the greater Kanto Region, however, is likely to not be radiation, but something much more common. That impact will be energy.
During the quake, 6 oil refineries covering 31% of Japan’s production capacity were shut down, and two of them burnt to the ground – One burning for 11 days until March 22. Several of the plants that were shut down have re-opened, but Japan’s refining capacity right now is only 80% of what was being processed in the week before the quake. This has meant long lines at gasoline stations, rationing of gasoline when you get there, and much higher prices. The large refining companies are now working to open up more capacity to fill the gap, but for now there is a shortage, and that shortage will likely continue for at least several more months.
The much larger impact, however, is in electrical power production. In addition to Fukushima Daiichi, Japan lost a number of other power plants and is currently running a power deficit in the Tokyo region of right around 10 gigawatts of power. As a result, the areas around the center of Tokyo have been divided into 5 groups, and each group is cycling through a 3-4 hour-long planned blackout every day. These start in the morning around 6:30am and finish as late as 10:00pm at night. A great effort by companies and people to reduce power requirements has meant that in practice it is rare that every area gets a blackout every day, and some days we have actually been able to make it through without any blackouts. This is important, because although Ito Corporation’s headquarters and our Shonan office are not in an area subject to planned blackouts, the Mito office is.
The government has reduced electrical consumption not only by planned blackouts, but by reducing subway and train frequency, lowering the brightness of street lights, and other less obvious measures. At Ito Corporation, people are coping by riding bikes to work, making sure than unused appliances at home are not only turned off, but unplugged from the wall, and not heating or only partially heating their homes. At the Tokyo, Mito, and Shonan offices we are all trying to do our best to conserve power and have not been using heat or our normal level of lighting. At headquarters we have installed power switches at each desk so that power to monitors, notebook computers, mobile phone chargers, printers, and other small parasitic energy drains can be completely shut off at night. It will be interesting to see what our power consumption is when we get the bill, but I am hoping that we can get a 25% reduction in power consumption at the headquarters office.
TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, announced yesterday that these rolling planned blackouts will continue for at least a year and may continue until the end of summer, 2012. That may seem like a very long time, but power plants normally take years to build and that process can only be shortened so much. Summer is when power consumption is highest, because people rely on air conditioners to escape Tokyo’s hot, humid weather. The last two summers, TEPCO warned that it was dangerously close to not having enough power even when all of its plants were running. My belief is that the biggest effect on Tokyo from the earthquake will be felt starting in June. There is a good possibility that we will shift our working hours to try to spend more time at the office when it is cooler. If that happens we will of course let everyone at all offices know.
This note became much longer than I had planned, but I hope that you found it useful. We must remain rational in our decision-making, reasonable in determining how we will work through the difficulties ahead, and resolute in our belief that Japan has the strength of country and character to survive this ordeal and emerge even stronger. If you have questions about any of this, address them to IGS and we will get you an answer. Our business is strong and our people are working hard. We have no reasons to fear right now and a lot of reasons to buckle down and show our true strength.