Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

A shortage of children in Japan

April 23, 2017

The challenges of population implosion will be quite different to the challenges of growing populations. Japan is facing most of these challenges earlier than the rest of the world, but what Japan faces in the next 50 years will also be faced in Europe in about 20 years, by China in 70 years and in India in about 100 years.

The challenges of an aging population are receiving much attention as the ratio of working population to supported population declines. But what receives less attention is the upheaval being caused in Japan by the sharp decline in the number of children.

From a peak of just under 30 million children (0-14 year olds) in 1955, the number has been declining. By 2050 there will be only about 10 million children in Japan. Rural schools are already being abandoned for lack of children. That in turn leads to long commutes for the children still living in rural areas. Commutes of 50km, each way, are not so rare.

QuartzMedia: About 5,800 public school buildings closed between 2002 and 2013, according to data from the Japan’s education ministry. By rights, many more schools should close for lack of students. But they remain in existence because no one can think of anything better to do with them. Of those that have closed, a few hundred have been demolished and about 1,500 schools were still on the books in 2014 in need of a new purpose, according to ministry data.

It is not just schools of course. Numbers of teachers, demands for teacher training places, school meals suppliers, uniform manufacturers and even school bus manufacturers are all facing shrinking demand. Demand for higher education places lag school places by about 15 years. Some Universities are reducing their entry requirements to fill the places they have.

Japan is among the first to face these challenges and how they cope is going to be watched with great interest.

That they will cope is not in doubt. But how they cope will provide many of the solutions that the rest of the world is going to need.



The natural world is overturned as the Japanese ” Cherry Blossoms” devour the S African “Springboks”

September 20, 2015

The Rugby Union World Cup is on and the natural order of the universe has been overturned. The carnivorous cherry blossoms from Japan won their first ever World Cup match since 1991 (when they beat Zimbabwe), by bringing down the mighty S African Springboks. Or maybe that should be the once-mighty Springboks.

Holland beating England in a T20 cricket world cup match last year was shocking enough but still does not come close to yesterday’s astonishing result.

The S African team are now probably suffering from PTSD.

sbnation: Japan has stunned the world with a wholly unbelievable 34-32 win over South Africa in the Rugby World Cup. Before Saturday, the Cherry Blossoms hadn’t won a World Cup game in 24 years when Japan defeated Zimbabwe in 1991. They knocked off one of the favorites to win the whole thing.

Carnivorous cherry blossoms

springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis)


Waves of aging

December 15, 2013

The aging of the world is not news, but visualising the change is done very well here:

Population By Age, Japan

Population By Age, Japan

Population By Age, U.S.

Population By Age, U.S.

Not all countries are getting older. Many developing countries still have high fertility rates, and children account for a huge share of the people in those countries. (Typically, fertility rates don’t start falling until countries hit a certain stage of economic development.)

When you look at the whole world, you see a blend of these two trends — the population of the globe is aging, on average, but there are still far more children than old people.

World Population Breakdown By Age

World Population Breakdown By Age


Atomic Rat strikes at Fukushima

March 20, 2013

You Dirty Little Rat, You!!!!


A rat may have caused this week’s power outage at Japan’s tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant, says the Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco).

The company suspects the rodent may have caused a short-circuit in a switchboard, triggering the power cut.

“We have deeply worried the public, but the system has been restored,” Tepco spokesman Masayuki Ono was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

Two years ago a quake-triggered tsunami caused meltdowns at the plant.

This week’s outage was a reminder that the plant remains vulnerable despite the government’s claim that the reactors are in a “cold shutdown” state and no longer releasing high levels of radiation.

Fire Ice (methane hydrate) success in Japan gets India all excited

March 17, 2013

I get the impression that not only the oil and gas industry but also countries with limited energy resources have not been this energised about prospects for energy independence for a long time ( and perhaps not since the discovery of North Sea Gas). First came Shale gas and then Shale oil and now Fire Ice is catching the imagination. The sheer abundance of methane hydrates around the globe and the thought that much of this gas could soon be economically extractable is almost intoxicating for those involved.

“The worldwide amounts of carbon bound in gas hydrates is conservatively estimated to total twice the amount of carbon to be found in all known fossil fuels on Earth”.

I posted recently about the successful flow test for extracting gas from deep sea methane hydrate conducted in Japan. Of course commercialisation of this technology is still many years away (though Japan hopes this could be as early as 2016). Deposits of methane hydrate are known to be extensive and generally exist either under permafrost or under the sea. The deep sea deposits were laid down under conditions of high pressure (deep sea conditions). India is known to have substantial deposits and this is now getting some people very excited:

Types of methane hydrates deposits

Economic Times:

Estimates of global reserves are sketchy, but range from 2,800 trillion to 8 billion trillion cu.metres of natural gas. This is several times higher than global reserves of 440 trillion cu. metres of conventional gas. However, only a small fraction of hydrate reserves will be exploitable.

Methane hydrate is a mixture of natural gas and water that becomes a solid in cold, high-pressure conditions in deep sea-beds (where the temperature falls to 2 degrees centigrade). It is also found in onshore deposits in the permafrost of northern Canada and Russia. Heating the deposits or lowering the pressure (the technique used by JOGMEC) will release gas from the solid. One litre of solid hydrate releases around 165 litres of gas.

India has long been known to have massive deposits of methane hydrate. These are tentatively estimated at 1,890 trillion cu.m. An Indo-US scientific joint venture in 2006 explored four areas: the Kerala-Konkan basin, the Krishna-Godavari basin, the Mahanadi basin and the seas off the Andaman Islands. The deposits in the Krishna Godavari basin turned out to be among the richest and biggest in the world. The Andamans yielded the thickest-ever deposits 600 metres below the seabed in volcanic ash sediments. Hydrates were also found in the Mahanadi basin.

Formidable economic and environmental challenges lie ahead. Nobody has yet found an economic way of extracting gas from hydrates. Industry guesstimates suggest the initial cost may be about $30/ mmBTU, double the spot rate in Asia and nine times higher than the US domestic price. JOGMEC is optimistic that the cost can be cut with new technology and scale economies.

The Indian National Gas Hydrate Program (NGHP) Expedition was conducted together with the US Geological Service

The World’s Largest Potential Energy Resource
Released: 2/7/2008 9:21:21 AM

An international team led by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons, which is under the government of India’s Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, conducted the expedition.

Highlights include:

  • gas hydrate was discovered in numerous complex geologic settings, and an unprecedented number of gas hydrate cores and scientific data were collected;
  • one of the richest marine gas hydrate accumulations ever discovered was delineated and sampled in the Krishna-Godavari Basin;
  • one of the thickest and deepest gas hydrate occurrences yet known was discovered offshore of the Andaman Islands and revealed gas hydrate-bearing volcanic ash layers as deep as 600 meters below the seafloor;
  • and for the first time, a fully developed gas hydrate system was established in the Mahanadi Basin of the Bay of Bengal.

“NGHP Expedition 01 marks a monumental step forward in the realization of gas hydrates becoming a viable energy source,” said USGS Director Mark Myers. “This partnership combines the expertise of two organizations dedicated to understanding gas hydrates, and research results provide new and exciting information about this important potential energy resource.”

Directorate General of Hydrocarbons Director General and NGHP Program Coordinator V. K. Sibal said, “The global gas hydrate resources are estimated to be huge. Although the exploration and exploitation of gas hydrates pose significant challenges, the opportunities are unlimited. The combined wisdom of the scientific community from across the world could provide the answers and solutions to many of these challenges. The Indian gas hydrate program has been fortunate in having the benefits of a truly global collaboration in the form of the first gas hydrate expedition in Indian waters. The results of the studies are not only encouraging, but also very exciting. I believe that the time to realize gas hydrate as a critical energy resource has come.”

Methane hydrate deposits around the world: Graphic Der Spiegel


Boeing’s PR upsets Japanese Civil Aviation Board – and this will delay the Dreamliner flying again

March 16, 2013

Boeing’s upbeat announcement that the Dreamliner could be flying in a matter of weeks has upset the Japanese Civil Aviation Board. It would seem that Boeing did not clear their PR blitz in Tokyo in advance with the CAB. Their optimistic statements about the Dreamliner flying again “in a matter of weeks” to try and reassure the market place may prove to be a PR blunder and could backfire.

ET: Japanese regulators immediately warned that the timetable was impossible to predict, in part because investigators still do not know what had caused lithium-ion batteries to overheat on two 787s. 

“At this time we are not yet in a position to say when flights will restart,” said Shigeru Takano, the air transport safety director at Japan’s Civil Aviation Board (CAB), which will assess and approve Boeing’sproposed fix. …

…. “If we look at the normal process and the way in which we work with the FAA, and we look at the testing that’s ahead of us, it is reasonable to expect we could be back up and going in weeks, not months,” the 787’s chief engineer, Mike Sinnett, said at an earlier briefing in Tokyo. 

But the CAB, the FAA’s counterpart in Japan, dismissed Sinnett’s prediction, saying it was too early to predict when 787 operations could resume, since regulators in the United States and Japan are still investigating. Takano, the air transport safety director at the CAB, said Sinnett’s comment on the battery probe was “inappropriate.”

To call Boeing’s statement “inappropriate” is tantamount to an outright rejection. I think Boeing has shot itself in the foot since the CAB clearly perceives their role being usurped by Boeing’s PR pronouncements. There is now no way that the CAB can or will allow any “fast-tracking” of approvals.

Reuters: Japan is Boeing’s biggest customer for the fuel-efficient aircraft, which has a list price of $207 million. JAL and ANA combined account for almost half the global Dreamliner fleet. Japanese firms also build 35 of the aircraft.

And until the CAB approves, other countries will also hold off their approvals. It is going to be at least 2 months now before Dreamliners fly again commercially.

Japanese test confirms successsful extraction of gas from deep-sea methane hydrate

March 13, 2013

Methane hydrates represent the largest source of hydrocarbons in the earth’s crust.

“The worldwide amounts of carbon bound in gas hydrates is conservatively estimated to total twice the amount of carbon to be found in all known fossil fuels on Earth”.

JOGMEC has put out a press release:

Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation which has been conducting preparation works for the first offshore production test off the coasts of Atsumi and Shima peninsulas, started a flow test applying the depressurization method and confirmed production of methane gas estimated from methane hydrate layers on March 12, 2013.
JOGMEC will start analyzing data while it continues the flow test.

Methane hydrate receives attention as one of the unconventional gas resources in the future.
During the period from FY2001 to FY2008, which is Phase 1 of the “Japan’s Methane Hydrate R&D Program”, seismic surveys and exploitation drillings were conducted at the eastern Nankai trough, off the coast from Shizuoka-pref. to Wakayama-pref., as the model area, where a considerable amount of methane hydrate deposits is confirmed.
In Phase 2 of the Program starting from FY2009, aiming to develop a technology to extract natural gas through dissociation of methane hydrate, this is the first offshore test ever conducted. The first offshore production test is planned over a span of two years. In February and March last year, the preparatory works including drilling a production well and two monitoring wells were conducted. From June to July, the pressured core samples were acquired from methane hydrate layers. In this operation, a flow test through dissociation of methane hydrate is conducted after the preparatory works including drilling and installing equipments for the flow test.

Deposits of methane hydrates have been reported in marine sediments in the Nankai Trough off the Pacific coast of central Japan, where the water depth is more than 500 meters. Some estimates indicate that the reserves of methane hydrate correspond to a 100-year supply of natural gas for Japan, making it an important potential source of energy. The Japan National Oil Corporation (JNOC) began research work on methane hydrates in 1995, and JOGMEC has overseen the project since the JNOC’s restructuring. An international joint research team including Japan has obtained successful results in experimental production of methane gas by injecting hot water into a borehole in the Mackenzie Delta in the arctic region of Canada.

With shale gas and shale oil adding to the known reserves of oil and gas and now with the potential exploitation of deep-sea methane hydrates, “peak-oil” and “peak-gas” would seem to have been postponed by a millenium.


Two years on and Japan returns to nuclear power

March 11, 2013

It is two years today since the Great 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami and the meltdown at 3 reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

It was the most powerful known earthquake ever to have hit Japan, and one of the five most powerful earthquakes in the world since modern record-keeping began in 1900. The earthquake triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 40.5 metres in Miyako in Tōhoku’s Iwate Prefecture and which, in the Sendai area, travelled up to 10 km inland. The earthquake moved Honshu (the main island of Japan) 2.4 m  east and shifted the Earth on its axis by estimates of between 10 cm  and 25 cm.

On 12 September 2012, a Japanese National Police Agency report confirmed 15,881 deaths, 6,142 injured and 2,668 people missing across twenty prefectures, as well as 129,225 buildings totally collapsed, with a further 254,204 buildings ‘half collapsed’, and another 691,766 buildings partially damaged. … 

The tsunami caused nuclear accidents, primarily the level 7 meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex, and the associated evacuation zones affecting hundreds of thousands of residents.

In the knee-jerk reaction to the Fukushima accident all Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors in operation were shut down. Ongoing nuclear power plant projects were suspended. The global debate was more an emotional wave rather than rational discussion. The fear was real of course but what was generally ignored was that while the earthquake and tsunami killed some 18,000 the Fukushima accident did not cause any direct radiation related fatalities. The reality is that the Fukushima reactors were designed in the 1960’s and yet managed to survive the magnitude 9.1 earthquake but they could not cope with and succumbed to the massive tsunami. After the earthquake the reactors were actually shut down – automatically and in good order – but the emergency power to the cooling systems were knocked out by the subsequent tsunami. The failure was a failure of anticipating and designing for a tsunami that was as large and as powerful as it was. Tsunami’s as large as the 2011 event have occurred in Japan roughly every 1000 years. The Fukushima failure was not so much a fault of the nuclear plant as the failure of the designers in anticipating a sufficiently large tsunami within the lifetime of the plant.

But two years on, some rationality is returning to the debate. Two reactors have been turned back on and construction has gingerly been restarted on the new 1383 MW advanced boiling-water reactor at Oma.

Map credit Washington Post

Washington Post: 

In the aftermath of March 2011 meltdowns in Fukushima that contaminated 700 square miles with radiation and forced 150,000 to flee their homes, most never to return, Japan’s utility companies paused nearly all nuclear-related projects. The accident sparked a global debate about nuclear power, but it was especially fierce in Japan, where all 50 operable reactors were taken offline and work was halted on three new plants where building had been underway.

But two of the existing reactors are back in action, and the resumption of construction at the Oma Nuclear Power Plant here — a project that broke ground in 2008 and was halted by the operator, J-Power, after the accident — marks the clearest sign yet that the stalemate is breaking. ….. 

At the national level, Japan has cycled through three prime ministers since Fukushima — the first fiercely anti-nuclear, the next moderately anti-nuclear, the current one cautiously pro-nuclear. The previous ruling party tried last fall to plot a nuclear phaseout by the 2030s, but anti-nuclear advocates say the pledge was watered down to the point of being meaningless. The new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, plans this month to convene the latest in a series of expert panels to help overwrite the phaseout plan, and its makeup suggests that he prefers a role for nuclear power.

Japan’s anti-nuclear movement, which swelled after the Fukushima accident, could still play a role, but it is politically disorganized and has grown quieter in recent months. Individual activists cite the resumption at Oma as controversial but note that the move did not prompt mass-scale protests. ….. 


Japanese demographics are alarming as Finance Minister tells elderly to “Hurry up and die”

January 27, 2013

The demographic strains in Japan are beginning to tell. They face a shrinking population and an increasing proportion of the elderly and without measures to increase the productive proportion of the population the situation is not sustainable. That the problems are not in some long distant future but are already exercising the minds of the current administration shows in the outburst from the new Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Taro Aso, when he exhorted the elderly to “Hurry up and Die”

The Japanese deputy prime minister Taro Aso kicked up a storm of controversy Monday with his comments on the financial burden the elderly place on society. 

The 72-year old finance minister said elderly should be allowed to “hurry up and die” at a meeting of the National Council on Social Security reforms, hoping to ease the financial strain caused by an aging population where fertility rates are low and the economy is struggling. Heaven forbid if you are forced to live on when you want to die,” Aso said. “You cannot sleep well when you think it’s all being paid for by the government.” 

“This won’t be solved unless you let them hurry up and die.” …. Aso is no stranger to controversy: the former prime minister once said he wanted to make Japan the kind of country where “the richest Jews would want to live,” and compared the opposition to the Nazis.

But the fact is that he is the first politician who has dared to defy political correctness – his subsequent apology notwithstanding – and address what is likely to be Japan’s most serious challenge within the next decade. It is a challenge that is going to come to dominate the realities in Europe as well. In the US – and in some countries in Europe –  it is the continuing immigration into the ranks of the productive population which helps to keep this challenge a little further away in the future. In any event it will be population decline that is the global issue within one hundred years. Globally the proportion of productive population to elderly population will not be so wrong – but it will be too low where population is declining unless active measures to keep this in balance are taken.

The latest data from the Japanese National Institute of Population show why Aso is so alarmed. The projections for the next few years of the rate at which the productive population is declining are alarming.

Aso’s outburst is not palatable or feasible but there are only 4 basic ways to address this issue:

  1. reduce the proportion of elderly requiring support 
  2. increase the birth rate,
  3. allow immigration to bolster the productive part of the population , and
  4. increase the age at which the elderly get support from the state

Increasing the birth rate is a long term measure and that assuming that birth rate can be increased. In the short term it has to be immigration into the productive portion of the population which can have an effect (assuming of course that they can contribute to growth).

But before the demographic challenge can be addressed it has to be acknowledged and maybe Aso’s outburst – unpleasant as it is – will bring the issue to the table.

Commonsense returns as Japan “reviews” its 2040 nuclear abandonment plan

December 27, 2012

In spite of the seriousness of the Fukushima nuclear plant accident, it was never sufficient to justify the hysteria which ensued and the knee-jerk anti-nuclear decisions taken not only in Japan but also in Germany and other countries. The alarmist, anti-nuclear hysteria often seems to forget that it was the great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami which killed around 18,000 people (15,878 dead with 2,713 missing). The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant incident killed no-one directly. There may well be some indirect deaths which can and will eventually be attributed to the nuclear plant accident but there were no deaths caused directly.

Nevertheless Japan and Germany announced hasty, panic-ridden plans to abandon nuclear power. Greens began to rejoice and then started to realise that there is no practical alternative to nuclear power other than large-scale hydro-power and fossil fuels. The pipe-dream of thinking that base-load nuclear power could ever be replaced by unreliable and intermittent wind or solar power began to be seen for the mirage it was.  The high electricity price which has resulted has also seriously disdvantaged industry and hit households hard. Reality has begun to sink in.

Now Japan has a new government and a new Prime Minister. The task of reversing the fear-driven decisions (invariably bad decisions) of the past has begun. A “review” has been ordered and the results are inevitable …..

BBC: The new government in Japan has announced it will review the planned nuclear power phase-out proposed by the previous administration.

Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said that reactors would be restarted if considered safe by the nuclear authority. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promised bold measures to revive the economy. The stoppage of nuclear power use by 2040 was ordered following last year’s Fukushima disaster.

….. Veteran trade minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who is also in charge of energy policy, made it clear that the government would not allow its plans to be hampered by higher energy costs.

“We need to reconsider the previous administration’s policy that aimed to make zero nuclear power operation possible during the 2030s,” he told a news conference. ….. 

…… “A strong economy is the source of energy for Japan. Without regaining a strong economy, there is no future for Japan,” Mr Abe said after taking office.

The prime minister had also said that he would allow nuclear energy a bigger role, despite last year’s disaster. Japan, which relied on nuclear power for almost one-third of its energy supplies before the incident, shut all its 50 nuclear reactors after the leaks, but recently restarted two of them. The move has resulted in higher energy costs, and many big businesses want Japan to return to using nuclear power.

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