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Friday, May 20, 2011

Auto industry agrees to adopt weekend work shifts


Staff writer

Automakers and auto parts makers formally agreed Thursday to operate their plants on Saturdays and Sundays and close shop on Thursdays and Fridays to help ward off the threat of blackouts during the summer, when demand for electricity is expected to peak from July to September.

The decision follows a government request to major companies earlier this month to cut power consumption by 15 percent this summer to offset the loss of capacity triggered by the nuclear crisis in Fukushima Prefecture, which led to the recent closure of another nuclear power plant in Shizuoka Prefecture. Japan depends on nuclear power for 30 percent of its electricity needs.

The devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11 crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the main facility for the Tokyo area.

The operator of the Hamaoka nuclear power plant, which supplies power to the Chubu region, decided to shut down its reactors this month to take extra measures against future natural disasters, especially tsunami.

"We'll make an all-out effort to avoid blackouts," Toshiyuki Shiga, chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, said. "Shifting workdays is a major step."

Shiga, chief operating officer of Nissan Motor Co., said the step won't have any impact on productivity.

Maintaining productivity is crucial to the automakers, who along with their suppliers suffered from damage to production facilities in the quake. Although they are already losing market share because of the disaster, the soonest they expect their plants to recover is by the end of the year.

Shiga also said changing the plants' operating days will cost less than the alternatives, which include changing work hours to night from daytime.

He also said that installing more power generators at the plants would increase carbon dioxide emissions, another reason that prompted the automakers and auto parts manufacturers to change their working days.

JAMA is encouraging other industries to take similar steps, but the number of companies interested in following suit is "limited," Shiga said without mentioning any specific numbers.

In Tokyo, many companies have already taken steps to save electricity, with railways and retail stores turning off escalators, reducing lighting and giving the city's ubiquitous neon signs a rest.



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