The first post by SurvivalJapan was “A New Threat“: Manufactured goods from the no-man’s land are the latest addition in the spread of contamination. Japanese cars are among their best manufactured goods and those that are built in Japan for the domestic market pose a serious threat. Conversely, Japanese cars built abroad for the international markets should not be a concern (but exports are). The Japanese car industry is scattered around the country and car parts can come from any factory in the world so it is impossible to trace which car brands are safest, radiation-wise, with certainty. However, some car manufacturers headquarters, factories and public policies give us some hints.
When you seat down in your car, seats expel some air charged with dust. Likewise, when you turn on your air-conditioning system, air inflow follows ducts, pass through some filters against pollens, etc. which should be changed regularly in order to do their job (otherwise the air just passes through a condensate of pollens, dust, fungi, etc.). Another source of dust is the car headliner which is rarely vacuumed. Even if car parts are imported, final assembly will not take place in a white room, so depending on your choice, your car could be filled with contaminated dust. Even if you purchase a second-hand car, be aware that many cars were retrieved from the no man’s land and that the decontamination process was basically taking them to a car wash.
Another source of danger comes from the onboard electronics. In the aftermath of 3/11, supply chain was interrupted and car manufacturers worldwide were waiting for parts from Japan, and particularly onboard computer system called microcontrollers for which Japanese company Renesas enjoy an enormous market share. Renesas was directly hit by the disaster and is therefore in the no man’s land. Electronics and computers are fragile in the face of radiation. Space industry reinforces their satellite onboard computer systems against the radiation in which they will bask up there. If a “heavy” radioactive particle hits a supremely miniaturized transistor cell inside their computers, satellites can get out of control. Usually hardened integrated chips, extra shielding and redundancy (multiple back-up systems) avoid space disasters. Cars are not designed to safely operate in radioactive environments. Renesas microcontrollers are made from silicium that could be contaminated by radioactive dust if white rooms are not clean enough, or if the cleaning of the IC chips is done in a poorly controlled environment (for example at a subcontractor, cf. TEPCO) and the final product could still be damaged when stocked in the no man’s land. Next time you wonder why the automatic brake did not work, you may inquire where the microcontroller came from (this of course applies to any country since a majority of foreign brands use these Japanese chips). As if this was not enough, the Japanese government chose Tohoku as a hub to recycle rare metals which are used in electronic devices, thus ensuring internal contamination, dysfunctions and eventually new lethal car accidents.
The car manufacturer which is in the center of the no man’s land is Honda. Today, Toyota announced that they would produce their smaller cars in Miyagi and progressively shift production towards Tohoku. Toyota currently has factories in Shizuoka prefecture, i.e. where green tea leaves are radio-positive. Several other car manufacturers are based around Tokyo, which is also highly contaminated. The only company outside the no man’s land is Mazda, in Hiroshima. It is not absolutely certain that their cars are radiation-free, but it is quite sure that with other makers, you’ll breath some amount of contaminated dust.
The key point with Toyota is that they put the focus on supporting Tohoku (maybe getting some financial incentives by local government) instead of making absolutely sure their cars are radiation-free. This kind of policy is decided at high management level and will apply to their other subsidiaries, like Lexus, Daihatsu, etc. in the long term. If you live in Japan and decide to purchase a Prius because of its ecological appeal: think twice. Likewise, all so-called “green” cars who plug in electricity stations actually support nuclear power.
Toyota is one of the main taxi manufacturers (and army transportation vehicles but in all likeliness it does not concern you unless the Japanese Self-Defense Force sends their contaminated trucks to your country). Old taxis do not have this kind of problem – but think about it next time you ride a brand new Toyota taxi.
Honda declared that they would halve exports of domestically built cars and it is good news for their customers abroad in terms of radiation exposure.
Honda to halve car exports
BY YUKIO HASHIMOTO STAFF WRITER
The soaring value of the yen will force Honda Motor Co. to slash exports of domestically manufactured vehicles, according to the company’s president.
Takanobu Ito told The Asahi Shimbun that the firm plans to cut the proportion of Japan-built cars sent overseas from 34 percent to between 10 and 20 percent over about 10 years.
In fiscal 2010, Honda manufactured 910,000 vehicles in Japanese plants and exported 310,000 of them. That was considerably lower than the 53 percent export ratio of the whole Japanese automobile sector, but Ito said further cuts are necessary to maintain profitability.
In fiscal 2010, Honda manufactured a total of 3.57 million vehicles worldwide. The new strategy means that cars sold in foreign markets will increasingly also be manufactured overseas.
Honda plans to maintain its domestic production capacity of about 1 million vehicles a year by increasing sales of cheaper minicars. It hopes to double minicar sales in Japan from 150,000 cars in fiscal 2010 to about 300,000 but will face stiff competition from rivals including Suzuki Motor Corp. and Daihatsu Motor Co.
Honda will introduce a new minicar model in December and has several other new models in the pipeline.
Overall domestic automobile production is currently about 5 million vehicles, nearly 20-percent less than 10 years ago.
Toyota to shift output of small cars to U.S. and Tohoku from Shizuoka
Toyota Motor Corp. will cut back production of small cars at its aging plant in Shizuoka Prefecture by shifting output to the United States and the Tohoku region.
It will reduce annual capacity to 180,000 units from 210,000 units at its Higashi-Fuji plant in Susono, operated by subsidiary Kanto Auto Works Ltd.
The cutback is the first for the automaker since the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake.
The Higashi-Fuji plant, built in 1968, has two production lines, rolling out the Corolla, the Corolla Fielder, high-end cars and taxis.
Toyota will shut down one of the lines, shifting the production of small cars, which have lower profit margins, to other factories.
The Corolla, which is designed for the North American market, will be manufactured at Toyota’s factory in Mississippi. The Corolla Fielder, which is sold in Japan and overseas, will be manufactured at a new plant in Miyagi Prefecture operated by Central Motor Co., a group company.
The space to be vacated by the shutdown will be used to upgrade the paint line.
The Higashi-Fuji plant will continue to produce luxury cars and other vehicles.
Despite the cutback, Toyota will maintain overall domestic annual output at 3 million units or more.
Toyota’s current annual capacity in Japan is around 3.6 million units, which the automaker considers to be excessive.
Toyota has maintained domestic annual output of at least 3 million units for many years, except for 2009, when the auto giant was battered by the financial crisis triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in autumn 2008.
Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota, is committed to maintaining the 3 million level. He has expressed concern about the possible impact on employment as well as research and development in Japan if Toyota’s production level falls.
The fate of the Higashi-Fuji plant had been a matter of considerable speculation since July when Toyota announced its plan to make facilities of its group companies in the Tohoku region the key production base for small cars as part of streamlining efforts.
Under the plan, Toyota is expected to turn Kanto Auto Works into its wholly owned subsidiary in January 2012.
After that, it will integrate Kanto Auto Works with Central Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Tohoku Corp., both of which are based in the Tohoku region, in July 2012.
This article was written by Tomoyuki Izawa and Takeshi Narabe.
Govt to position Tohoku as hub for rare metal recovery
The Yomiuri Shimbun
The government will launch a project to make the Tohoku region a hub for recovering rare metals from small electric appliances, including cell phones collected from across the country, to support the reconstruction of areas hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake, it was learned Wednesday.
Tohoku once prospered as a mining region, and there are a number of business enterprises that have the technology to recover rare metals.
The Environment Ministry, which will be in charge of the project and will shoulder the cost of delivery of small electric appliances to the region among other expenses, hopes the project will help create local jobs.
The ministry requested 200 million yen to implement the project in the third supplementary budget for fiscal 2011.
With this money, the ministry will support local municipalities and business firms by shouldering the expenses for: delivering electric appliances to the Tohoku region; promoting public awareness of the project; and purchasing “collection boxes” to be installed in local municipalities that take part in the project.
The ministry will invite local municipalities from across the country to take part in the project later this year.
Once the appliances are delivered to Tohoku, intermediate processing businesses will separate the parts and components containing rare metals for refinery firms to extract rare metals.
During the Meiji era (1868-1912), a large number of mines were developed in Tohoku. This helps explain why a number of companies operating businesses to recover nonferrous metals such as copper and zinc exist there today.
In the envisaged project, the ministry will ask the intermediate processing businesses to sort parts containing rare metals manually, rather than mechanically. By doing so, the ministry hopes to increase the recovery rate of rare metals, and also secure more jobs in disaster-affected districts.
Meanwhile, the ministry will make it mandatory for refining businesses to allocate a percentage of profits from the sales of recovered rare metals to help develop related technology. The ministry hopes the firms will become more competitive in the global market and may someday be able to expand overseas.
A national recycling system to recover rare metals from small electric appliances is yet to be established, but the ministry is thinking of introducing such a system in fiscal 2014.
The invitation for local municipalities to take part in helping collect appliances for rare metal recycling in Tohoku is considered a harbinger of the system’s full-fledged national introduction.