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After the earthquake, Hitachi made every effort to promote the restoration of power generation plants and other infrastructure systems.
The Power Systems Company delivers thermal and nuclear power generation, power transmission and distribution, and renewable energy. I heard that Hitachi Works, a core plant which you oversaw during the earthquake, was severely damaged. What was your initial response?
Above all, we worked on preventing a secondary disaster because there were frequent aftershocks. We did not let people go into the plant until we made sure that it was safe.
So, safety was the overriding concern.
We also needed to respond swiftly to customer needs. At first, we were unable to picture the overall damage. So, we summoned general managers and above and instructed them to gather information on the situations at nuclear and thermal power plants, especially those requiring immediate attention, and we provided support to Emergency Response Centers. We had trained employees for contingencies and had a communications network in place. So, there was little confusion in confirming safety.
Still, the earthquake ruined plumbing and some plant equipment, causing water cuts and blackouts. We had to restore things quickly. But only 10 of 6,000 employees were plumbers or electricians. So, we formed teams with other Hitachi Group employees and with people from outside the Group who came to help. We harnessed their expertise and skills. For example, an inspector knowledgeable about high voltages inspected a power plant, a construction engineer helped to build a temporary office, and so on. Hitachi Works traditionally holds a sports day that crosses business boundaries. I think that one reason our recovery went so smoothly was that we were able to form cross-divisional teams.
What about community assistance?
We used the gasoline we obtained from headquarters to fuel emergency vehicles and enable Group company Hitachi Dentetsu Co., Ltd. to operate local buses. We felt it was important to rebuild the community infrastructure based on the belief that the town would start up again once it regained some transportation. Although we had a well at the plant, we could not distribute water to local residents because we did not have approval from the public health department. After the earthquake, we did get authorization and reached agreement with the municipal government to supply well water during emergencies in the future.
Since the quake, people's expectations for ensuring energy safety have been increasing. What is your safety focus?
Improving the safety of nuclear power is a social necessity. We are focused completely on this. Preventing another serious accident like the one at Fukushima Daiichi is closely related to the national government's safety guidelines. We will make proposals and participate in technical improvements. At the same time, after a full review we must now prepare for events that go beyond our assumptions. We need to review frameworks, such as those for regulations and responsibilities, as a national commitment. To do this, I think we need to communicate risks accurately rather than fuel anxiety. It will take a long time to decommission the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi. We are committed to contributing to that process through to completion, including developing robot technology.
From the public's point of view, no matter how much you say that something is technically safe, you cannot completely erase concerns. To ensure safety, you need to generate trust with people and the organizations controlling technology. So, aside from the technical management, I believe that people will continue to question how seriously safety is being handled.
It seems that demand for energy and expectations for a stable supply are likely to increase. What's your stance on energy?
When you consider such factors as energy costs, sustainability, and security, we should explore the potential of natural energy. At the same time, I think it is important to make nuclear power safer and increase the efficiency of thermal power. Optimal energy mixes differ among countries and regions. Particularly in Asia, there is high demand for coal-fired thermal power, so many governments base their policies on coal. Demand is rising for boilers using lignite, which has high moisture content, in Eastern Europe, India, and Southeast Asia. Our leading-edge ultra supercritical coal-fired thermal power technology is highly efficient and can help reduce CO2. We need to meet energy demand by combining natural energy with nuclear, thermal, and other power generation, while using our global technologies and resources.
Following the Great East Japan Earthquake, interest in energy and local production, consumption and regional optimization has risen. We're seeing a trend toward combining biomass, wind power, storage batteries, and other technologies.
We're focusing mainly on wind and solar power. Hitachi is strengthening business in downwind technology, which is ideal for sea and hill sites. However, we need transmission networks that can handle diverse combinations including wind, solar, thermal, and other power sources with different types of power. In April 2012, we set up the Transmission & Distribution Systems Division, and are focusing on cutoff equipment, transformers, transmission networks, and smart grids.
When you develop business outside Japan, don't you sometimes make proposals before national standards are decided?
For countries without energy regulations, we submit proposals for formulating regulations and energy policies, and we assist with the education of technicians. We propose optimal solutions for each country and region that uses highly efficient smart grids, combining components such as thermal and other large generating plants, natural energy and other distributed energy, and storage batteries.