Fukushima: The Knock-on Effect

The ongoing crisis at Fukushima and the other stricken Japanese nuclear plants will have effects that we couldn’t have possibly foreseen before the earthquake struck – effects that could profoundly change the way some industries work.

First, there’s the hit that the nuclear industry itself has taken. Nick Clegg has already warned that the push towards more atomic power stations in the UK could be halted. There are safety concerns, he insists. I don’t agree. Fukushima and it’s brethren were forty years old, hit with a 8.9 scale earthquake and a twelve foot high tidal wave, and still managed to hold containment for over a fortnight. Unless Mr. Clegg knows more about the British weather than the rest of us, I can’t see how his concerns apply. Nuclear power is not the ideal solution to our power needs, but it’s an important addition to the post-oil mix, and not one that should be ignored because of groundless worries over multiply redundant safety features.

There’s more. Sendai district, home to the Japanese semiconductor industry, has been effectively shut down by the earthquake. Sony, Toshiba and Panasonic have all closed down factories there. This is going to have major implications down the line for the wholesale electronics market. Lens makers have also been affected by the disaster, and Nikon and Canon have both closed their factories due to earthquake damage. There are going to be shortages of high-end cameras, LCD displays, car engine management components, just to name a few examples off the top of my head. In the short term, anything with a chip in it could be subject to short supply. Have a look around you now, and think about how many objects depend on a microprocessor. Your phone. Your PC. Maybe your watch. The till at the place where you buy your morning coffee. This is terrible news for the Japanese economy, and isn’t going to help the global market one little bit.

The crisis is hitting closer to home, too, in the industry in which I work. The production of high-end digital tape formats like HDCAM has also halted. At the time of writing there are maybe two weeks of global supply remaining, with no sign of when it’s likely to resume. This is likely to be the kick in the pants that the video industry needs to go completely tapeless, producing programme deliverables either on drives or directly into client servers. That changeover needs to be quick and brutal. I predict the collapse of the digital tape market, as customers migrate en masse to a new way of working. Again, rotten news for the Japanese market – although hard drive manufacturers should probably brace for a surge in demand.

We have our knickers in a knot about the radiation coming out of Fukushima, but we’re not thinking about the ways in which the compression of the world’s third largest economy is going to effect each and every one of us. Japan needs our help – but we need Japan too.

As ever, hit up this link for donations and info about the ongoing situation.

(Heart)Breaking News

I’ve stopped watching the 24 hour news channels. I’ve contemplated switching off Twitter. In the face of a developing drama like the one that is engulfing Japan, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s very little information coming out of rolling news sources, and a whole lot of conjecture, speculation and plain old stirring the pot.

We have no way of knowing what’s going on at Fukushima. Really, we don’t. Until Japanese authorities give us updates, we’re in the dark. But because the 24 hour stations have to say something, and because the nuclear emergency on the north-eastern coast of this beleaguered nation seems to be the only news story worth telling, (regardless of the awful ongoing crisis through the rest of the country) we get guesswork. An endless stream of experts, rolled on to give worst-case scenarios based on the tiny scraps of information they’ve been able to glean. We get what ifs and deadlines. If I hear the phrase “The next [vague time period] is crucial”, I’m going to scream.

And of course, it’s an ideal time for both pro and anti nuclear lobbies to pitch up a tent and start proselytising. You get scare stories and I told you so’s banging up against safety records and unforeseeable circumstance. I think I know less about nuclear power now than I did when I started.

Facebook and Twitter have always been home for the sudden appearance of rumour and conjecture dressed up as fact. I’ll make myself clear right now. Anyone on my feed that starts talking about how this is payback or divine retribution gets an instant unfollow and a report. I’ve already had to refute the outrageous map doing the rounds that claims to be from the Australian Nuclear Authority, stating radiation levels that the Fukushima plant will never come close to coming across the Pacific in a plume of death. This is the sort of environment in which pranksters thrive, and I think we all should all know not to feed the trolls by now.

Look, I don’t want to make light of the horrible situation that’s going on at the moment. Part of the reason for closing off the news feeds is because the images coming out of Japan are so unbearable. But I think it’s best to at least take a step back away from the torrent. You’ll never be able to slake your thirst if you try to drink from a full-on hosepipe. Developing news is just that. I’m allowing myself a daily update from a trusted source, and that’s it.

The best that we can do is to donate, keep Japan in our thoughts and prayers, and not, however inadvertently, spread harmful rumours and outright lies.

The best place I’ve found for donations and contact information is Google’s centre: http://www.google.com/crisisresponse/japanquake2011.html

Let’s keep our fingers crossed, and don’t believe the hype. Stay strong, Japan. We’re with you.