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Nuclear crisis forces Japan to rethink energy needs

The March 11 quake and tsunami left much of Japan with a shortage of electricity and fuel. But the dark age has inspired creative ways to make do and save energy.

March 25, 2011|By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

On the baseball diamond, Japan's Pacific League, which has a team in Sendai near the quake epicenter, has pushed back its season opener until April 12 to allow for rebuilding and energy conservation. The Central League has delayed its opener by four days, until March 29. Both agreed to avoid night games and extra innings.

If there is a silver lining to the crisis, energy analysts say, it will be an awakening in Japan about energy efficiency and conservation.

"It is going to be a different world," said David von Hippel, an energy analyst with the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability, a think tank. He predicts that the nuclear accident at Fukushima will turn Japanese public opinion against nuclear power and force the nation to look more closely at energy efficiency. "They'd done a very good job at improving efficiency in the first two oil shocks in 1974 and 1979, but since 2000, the curve has been pretty flat."

With energy twice as expensive as in the United States, Japan is a world leader in energy-efficient appliances, but homes here are often poorly insulated and bright lights are kept on late into the night for advertising. "You see these all-night vending machines lit up 24/7," said Von Hippel.

Yoko Ogata, 68, of Akita said that young Japanese will have to take a cue from the generation that remembers the deprivation after World War II.

"The young people take it all for granted. They don't know how to cope with shortages the way that we do," said Ogata.

The scope of the disaster does appear to be motivating the younger generation to take action. Students at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo last week organized a campaign for earlier bedtimes to save electricity.

"Lights out at 9 p.m.!" wrote the students on Mixi, Japan's most popular social networking site. If "I go to bed three hours early, and I did this for a week, that means I would have saved 21 hours — almost a full day of electricity — and I can pass that energy on."

barbara.demick@latimes.com

Special correspondent Yuriko Nagano in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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