Power grid crisis Japan hits data centers

In the aftermath of the big earthquake in Japan it becomes more and more clear that the crisis in the critical power grid infrastructure isn’t over yet and is also hitting another critical infrastructure, data centers.

Data released by the Japan Atomic Industry Forum showed that only 17 of Japan’s 54 nuclear power reactors were in operation in mid-May. They represented around 15,500 MWe, or 31%, of the country’s total nuclear generating capacity. Thirteen reactors, with a combined capacity of 11,545 MWe (23.6% of total nuclear capacity), have shut as a direct result of the 11 March earthquake and tsunami. Another 22 nuclear reactors are currently offline for inspections or equipment replacement, and will require local government approval to restart. Now, in June, 19 reactors with a capacity of 16,550 MWe, or about one-third of the total is online. So an astonishing two-third of the power plants are off-line! For a complete list of reactors that are shut down see Bloomberg.

Since March 11, reactors halted for inspection have not been restarted. Since each nuclear reactor must undergo a regular checkup every 13 months, the remaining 19 reactors are scheduled to be suspended one after another over the coming months, with all of them shut down by next summer. As in accordance with the Electricity Enterprises Law, regular checkups last a few months and involve inspection of reactors’ piping and peripheral equipment, disassembly and examination of emergency power generators, and checks on many other items, including turbines.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) warned that if those reactors currently shut down for inspections or maintenance are not restarted, and those currently operating are shut down when scheduled inspections are due, all of Japan’s nuclear power plants would be offline within about one year.

Japan nuclear generation drop

Japan nuclear generation drop (Image: METI)


Japan’s industry minister has called for a reopening of 35 atomic reactors that were shut down for safety evaluations after the March 11 nuclear disaster at Fukushima. At a Tokyo news conference, Banri Kaieda said electricity demand increases during the summer and power shortages could hobble industry, the Kyodo news agency reported.

However, many local governments where the idle plants are located are leery of restarting the facilities, despite assurances from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, the report said.

Adding to the uncertainty are remarks by Haruki Madarame, the chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission. In an interview with Kyodo, Madarame said he regretted previous inadequate efforts to enhance the safety of nuclear power generation. He said even before the disaster, the International Atomic Energy Agency had reported some potential problems in the country’s regulation policies, but Japan “had not finished addressing” them when the earthquake and tsunami hit.

On top of this the power grid of Japan doesn’t make things easier. The transmission network in Japan is unusual because the country is divided for historical reasons into two regions each running at a different frequency. This frequency difference partitions Japan’s national grid, so that power can only be moved between the two parts of the grid using frequency converters, or, HVDC transmission lines. METI noted that if those reactors currently not in operation in western Japan are not permitted to restart by local authorities, the supply capacity in that region during the coming summer months will decrease by 8.8 GWe, or about 11% of expected supply capacity. This would not only affect supplies on the western coast of Japan, but also make it difficult to implement plans to transmit electricity to the eastern coast.

Power grid of Japan

Power grid of Japan src: Wikipedia

Japanese car companies will stop working on Thursdays and Fridays next month in a move that industry executives hope will relieve the pressure on Japan’s faltering electricity supply.
Data centers have been told to cut their energy use 20 percent because of the ongoing nuclear power crisis. Because of this, for example, computer maker Fujitsu Ltd.  plans to move 3,600 of its servers in the Tokyo and Yokohama area to data centers in other regions. The firm also plans to halt the use of some servers.

At this moment not many information is available what kind of measures the data center companies are taking. It sure is interesting to follow the developments closely. This power grid disaster is also food for thought about the impact of these kind of events when cloud data centers are involved.

Fortunately at the upcoming DatacenterDynamics conference on June 30 in San Francisco, a presentation will be given by a representative of the Japan Data Center Council (JDCC) and Zen Kishimoto of AltaTerra Research on Japanese data centers in the aftermath of the major quake in March. Although many data centers in Japan are concentrated in the Tokyo metropolitan area (some 60%), and few suffered direct damage from the quake, the JDCC surveyed the damage and collected noteworthy pictures and statistics.

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