September 9th, 2011
02:41 AM GMT
Tokyo (CNN) – Working at the weekend in sweltering offices and meager use of electrical devices in a country known for its gadgets: This is the new reality in Japan.
Six months after the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown, Japan is still struggling to get back to pre-quake power generation.
Across the country energy production is down 7% on last summer; in greater Tokyo power generation has fallen by 20%. To avoid blackouts, the government told big industrial energy consumers to cut their power usage by 15% over the summer.
Nearly all companies hit their targets or exceeded them, but it's been tough on everyone.
No one knows that better than Nissan Motors' Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga, who's had to implement the measures. He talks of the "sacrifices" made by his thousands of employees.
Sacrifices like starting work at 5:30 in the morning to avoid peak energy hours, working most weekends and taking two days off during the week, setting the thermostat in the office to 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), turning off lights, cutting back on overtime.
Nissan easily hit its targets and went some way beyond, but if this is the beginning of the new normal, it won't work says Shiga.
"I think this is not sustainable. If mothers and fathers go to the office or factory at the weekend they can't talk to their children. It is such a pity. We cannot continue this working situation."
Japan Inc. rallied to the energy saving cause so strongly that the Government was able to lift the energy ban early.
But it's not over yet, not by a long shot: It looks like energy shortages could remain for another year at least.
Currently 43 of the country's 54 nuclear reactors are offline for safety checks and maintenance. And, as the Fukushima Daiichi plant continues to smolder, there's no appetite to bring them back on line.
In fact by May next year, officials say that all nuclear reactors could be offline as more are closed for annual maintenance. That suggests another sweltering summer for Japan's millions of office workers, and continued weekend work for blue-collar workers.
The real threat to corporate Japan, though, is unstable energy supply. If that happens, one Tokyo think tank says it will send Japanese industry offshore with losses of hundreds of thousands of jobs. Exporters are already struggling with the strong yen; the last thing they need is energy uncertainty.
All this puts new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in a very difficult position.
He has to convince a highly skeptical public that nuclear energy is safe and can be used, at least until alternatives to nuclear power are up and running.
And with the Fukushima plant not likely to be shut down until the end of the year, that's no easy task.
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