TodayApril 16, 2022

Japan’s earthquake – automobiles and energy

Sendai, Japan is about the same distance from Tokyo, Japan as New York City is from Washington DC. It’s a pleasant drive on highway 6 along the coast from Sendai to Tokyo. It was, until last night.

There were five military bases I remember in the Tokyo area when I went to high school in Japan. Yokohoma, Yokota, Tachikawa, Fuchu and Kanto Mura. Kanto Mura has since been shut down and a soccer field lays directly on top of it. Near that area is still ASIJ, the American School in Japan, where all the diplomats kids went to school.
Driving the Nation
Tokyo, and the surrounding area, is the heart of business with many of the car companies headquartered in the surrounding areas.
I experienced many earthquakes while in Japan, but none as extreme as the earthquake I felt in 1989 when I lived in San Francisco, CA. I was on the phone when it started and remember telling the person that this was going to be a big one, that I had to go. I got off the phone and ran outside. It indeed was a big one. Major fires in the city, concrete down, the bay bridge broken, lives lost.
The 1989 San Francisco earthquake was a 6.9. Japan just had an 8.9 on the richter scale. Fox News reported that the cataclysmic earthquake that hit Japan lasted 4 minutes and was 900 times more powerful than the ’89 earthquake that shook the San Francisco bay area.
The earthquake itself, because it’s epicenter was offshore, didn’t do much damage, but tsunami warnings went out immediately. This saved thousands of lives.
First, my friends
One of my high school chums emailed me, “I haven’t been able to contact all of my family because all the phone lines are down. They live in Chiba (outside of Tokyo) which had a tsunami. My other relatives in Kyoto (further South) should be alright. I found out through Facebook – updates which were scary. Gas off…more aftershocks…tsunami hit….nuclear power reactor shut off…evacuations…fires.
Japan relies on imported oil, natural gas and nuclear power.
Nuclear plants:
Wikipedia says that as of 2009 Japan had 53 active nuclear power generating reactor unit’s.
At first I thought the reactor in trouble was up near Sendai, but I have found out it is near Fukushima, right between Sendai and Tokyo. For anyone that is following this, it is like having a nuclear reactor that is in trouble in Princeton, NJ – right between New York City and Washington DC.
Reuters reported that two nuclear power plants and a quarter of Japan’s refining capacity shut down automatically during the quake. The temperature in the Fukushima’s nuclear reactors fuel rods has built up to 50% above normal levels since the six-reactor facility was shut down.
Operators at Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) are still working to control the situation at it’s Fukushima Daiichi plant.
The emergency diesel generators stopped, leaving Unit’s 1, 2 and 3 with no power for important cooling functions.
According to the news reports, the cooling water temps in the nuclear plant are approaching boiling point (100C), mainly because of the receding water levels.
Nuclear plants need power to operate motors, valves and instruments that control the systems that provide cooling water to the radioactive core.
Tepco declared an emergency and the government ordered thousands to evacuate the area, while engineers worked to restore power. The company is bringing in mobile generators to restore the power supply, but pressure inside the containment of Unit 1 has continued to increase.

“Japanese authorities have also reported a fire at the Onagawa nuclear power plant, which has been extinguished,” IAEA added.
The Los Angeles Times went on to report that he agency also said it had information from it’s International Seismic Safety Center that a 6.5-magnitude aftershock or second earthquake early Saturday local time struck near the coast of Honshu in the area of the Tokai nuclear plant. There were no immediate reports of damage or leakage concerns.
Oil refinery:
Chiba is outside Tokyo, Japan and there is a report of an oil refinery on fire. CBS news is reporting the 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan caused massive damage. A large fire erupted at the Cosmo oil refinery in Ichihara city and burned out of control with 100-foot high flames whipping into the sky.
How are the car companies doing?
Headquarters: Aoyama, Tokyo, Japan
Honda has reported a 43-year old assoicate in their Tochigi research and development plant died, and thirty others were injured during the earthquake.
Production had been halted at two plants, one has been restarted.
Honda produces 80% of the products they sell in America, so there is no immediate effect.
Headquarters: Shinjuku, Japan
Subaru produces 50% of the products they sell in America, the rest is imported from Subaru Japan.
Headquarters: Yokohama, Japan
Operations are suspended at Nissans Japan plants through Sunday, March 13. Nissans global headquarters building in Yokohama was not significantly affected, is safe and operational.
Power outage confirmed at the Nissan Technical Center (Atsugi City, Kanagawa Prefecture). Employees who were remaining in that facility are now evacuating to the Nissan Advanced Technology Center (Atsugi City, Kanagawa Prefecture) nearby.
There were a couple small fires, but they were put out. Two workers were injured.
Headquarters: Tokyo
As of now, Toyota has confirmed that there have been no injuries at the Tokyo head office, as well as the Higashifuji, Tochigi office, Yamanashi office, and Toyota Motor Tohoku facilities. All TMC plants have restarted production.
We are presently gathering information on Central Motor Corporation and Kanto Auto Works.
The plants that have stopped production are Toyota subsidiary plants, including:
Toyota Motor Hokkaido Plant, Toyota Motor Tohoku Plant, Central Motor Corporation Miyagi Plant, Kanto Auto Works Iwate Plant
Employees at these facilities have been evacuated to safe areas.
Two of Toyota’s main suppliers, Boshoku and Denso, have suffered property damage.
Headquarters: Hamamatsu City
The earthquakes epicenter was located 240 miles north of Tokyo while Suzukis headquarters are in Hamamatsu City , which is 158 miles south of Tokyo. Suzuki Motor Corporation announced there is currently no reported harm to Suzukis personnel, headquarters or manufacturing plants located in the Shizuoka Prefecture region.
If you are looking for someone in Japan you can try
A friend in Japan just emailed me, “Update: Fukushima reactor No. 1 — they’re “letting out” some of the “steam” as the temperature in the reactor is getting too high. They say the air could be “nuclear-polluted.” Tokyo Electric says if you stay outside the 10 km radius, you should be fine. Hmmmmm……..Do NOT go near.”
Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.