Tag: Japan

Lone rodent blamed for Fukushima nuclear disaster

Tepco, the operator of the ill-fated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant might have found the culprit responsible for the plant’s partial meltdown and it has four legs and a wiggly tail. 

Of course, the disaster was caused by an earthquake, followed by a  massive tsunami, but it was preventable. The plant experienced an extended blackout that disabled its cooling systems, causing multiple reactors to overheat, suffer partial meltdowns and release enough radiation to create more than five Godzillas.

Now, it seems the unfortunate power outage might have been caused by an equally unfortunate rat, who found his way into a switchboard, caused a short circuit and was promptly dispatched to Rat Heck. Engineers found the rat’s body inside a faulty switchboard, and discovered that he’d been gnawing away at the wires when he met his maker.

Tepco had previously blamed the faulty switchboard for the power failure. The outage cut off the flow of cooling water to four pools used to store more than 8,800 spent fuel rods. It took the company almost two days to restore cooling to the pools. Sadly, efforts to cool down the reactors weren’t as successful.

Now it seems that a single rat might have contributed to the biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, which seems like an improvement, as the Chernobyl disaster was completely avoidable. It was caused by Soviet paranoia and general stupidity. Someone in the chain of command conveniently forgot to tell reactor operators that lowering graphite tipped control rods in RMBK reactors can cause a brief power surge when reinserted into the core. The same phenomenon was observed at the Ignalina nuke plant a couple of years earlier, but nobody got the memo, leaving large chunks of Belarus and Ukraine irradiated and uninhabitable. 

Clearly, the world has made a lot of progress over the past three decades: instead of blaming pinko commies for nuclear tragedies we’ve moved onto rodents. The rat did it.

The fact that the Fukushima Daiichi plant was built on the coast and that its cleverly designed redundant generators were all flooded in a matter of minutes probably had nothing to do with the disaster at all. 

Japan to overtake US, Germany in photovoltaics this year

A market research firm said Japan is set to overtake both Japan and the USA in the installation of photovoltaic (PV) capacity.

According to IHS IMS, Japan will grow by 120 percent  and will install over five gigawatts of PV systems during 2013.

But there’s a clear financal reason for that. A feed-in tariff in Japan pays up to ¥42 per kilowatt hour. “At ¥42 Japan’s feed-in tariff is by far the most attractive globally,” he said.  He described the tariff as perhaps “overly generous” Ash Sharma at IHS said.  That could mean the market “overheats”.

He said the industry expected Japan to reduce the tariff by 10 percent later this year, but that won’t prevent Japan leapfrogging over Germany, Italy and the USA to become the second largest PV market in the world.

The tariffs will help Japanese companies that sell modules and inverters – currently they lag behind overseas companies. Japan, said IHS, wants foreign companies to speed up PV installations – and Chinese and US module suppliers now sell into the market.

One of the main reasons for Japan’s boost is on projects over two megawatts – dubbed “mega solar”. While that’s going to assist growth during 2013, it will be a short lived move because there’s a shortage of available land. High electricity prices and a shortage of nuclear energy are all contributing to growth in the country.

Tokyo cat grasses up mystery hacker

Japanese police had their claws out after trying to tail a hacker who used a cat as a key communications device.

Fur flew on Sunday when Inspector Knacker of the Japanese Yard fingered the collar of a man suspected of being behind a computer hacking campaign.

Crucial to the arrest was evidence gathered by interrogating the man’s cat, which proved more fruitful than the “confessions” of four men the coppers had previously arrested – who were innocent.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the hacker, Yusuke Katayama, 30, liked evading the authorities with a series of cyber-riddles. He left a trail of clues that had the police stumped, as well as sending numerous threats from computers around the country – including against a school and a kindergarten attended by grandchildren of Emperor Akihito.

Cops, caught in a cat and mouse game with the hacker, had been unable to stop him. They then became embarrassed by a scandal over the case when it emerged that officers had extracted “confessions” from four people who had nothing to do with the threats.

Prosecutors claim that Katayama sent messages to newspapers and broadcasters claiming details of a computer virus used to dispatch the threats were strapped to a cat living on an island near Tokyo.

After cracking a set of riddles, police found the cat and removed a digital memory card from its collar which revealed a message saying “a past experience in a criminal case” had caused the hacker to act.

The card claimed that the case “changed” the anonymous hacker’s life, and added that “no more messages will be sent”.

This time, the hacker had made a mistake – in that he trusted the cat wouldn’t snitch. Anyone who has owned a cat knows that they will sell their owner out in return for three square meals a day and a warm place by the fire.

After looking at the memory card and footage taken by security cameras, and giving the cat some of the finest salmon in Tokyo, the coppers had enough evidence to arrest Katayama. Police did not say if the cat had turned super-grass, but it looks like the cat had its paws all over the case. 

Jamaica discovers rare earth elements

Jamaica could become a major player in the rare-earth market, which is currently dominated by China.

According to Jamaica’s minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Philip Paulwell, a recent survey carried out by Japanese researchers has found high concentrations of rare-earth elements in bauxite residue. Mind you, the Japanese should be pretty good at finding stuff in the dirt, since Japan doesn’t really have any noteworthy natural resources.

In a report to Jamaica’s Parliament, Paulwell pointed out that the researchers believe Jamaica’s rare-earth elements could be efficiently extracted, indicating that commercial production could be possible. The discovery could potentially turn Jamaica’s economy around.

“The government of Jamaica perceives the extraction of the rare-earth elements that are present in Jamaica to be an exciting new opportunity to earn much needed foreign exchange and create jobs,” Paulwell told lawmakers.

AP reports that Nippon Light Metal, the company behind the survey, has already agreed to invest $3 million in buildings and equipment for the pilot project.

Rare-earth elements produced during the pilot project will be jointly owned by Jamaica and the company, while negotiations on full scale commercialisation are expected at a later date.

China currently dominates the rare-earth market and it has a virtual monopoly on supplying rare-earth elements to manufacturers. In recent years China scaled back exports, causing alarm among foreign companies and governments. In response, the US, EU and Japan filed formal complaints about China’s decision to curtail exports of rare-earth minerals. 

Series of riddles leads Japanese police to memory card on cat's collar

An anonymous hacker has let the cat out of the bag, stringing the Japanese authorities along with a series of clues that ended up with them finding a memory card attached to a feline’s collar.

A hacker sent threats to places across Japan including schools and a kindergarten, using a number of computers around the country. For months, the police were puzzled and were not able to track the sources.

Japan’s National Police Agency (NPA) was caught chasing its tail. According to AFP, at one point, the NPA forced so-called confessions from four people who were totally innocent and had nothing to do with the emails.

Newspapers and broadcasters later received a set of riddles on New Year’s Day, apparently for the eyes of the police. One newspaper, the Sankei Shimbun, reported the email wrote of “an invitation to a new game”, as well as claiming the existence of a new computer virus – hidden on a cat somewhere near Tokyo. 

Within the emails were a number of quizzes, promising reporters that they were on to a big scoop – and the answers appeared to lead towards a mountainside just outside of Tokyo. When police finally found the cat, they also found the memory card.

No one is quite clear on the purpose behind the messages just yet, but the authorities believe the culprits believe the original messages are related to those that led detectives to finding the card carrying cat.

Japan puts bounty on hackers

Japanese authorities have started putting bounties on the heads of hackers that they most want to have a word with.

Japan’s National Police Agency has been advertising for information on a hacker who can code in C#, uses a “Syberian Post Office” to make anonymous posts online, and knows how to surf the web without leaving any digital tracks.

According to Network Worldthe coppers are prepared to write a cheque for up to $36,000 for information that will lead to the hacker’s arrest. This is nearly enough to buy a cheeseburger in Tokyo.

But it is also a sign that Japan is starting to lose patience with hacking. Earlier this year four individuals were wrongly arrested after their PCs were hacked and used to post messages on public bulletin boards.

Messages included warnings of plans for mass killings at a local school.

A police spokesperson was quoted in the Japanese press as saying that until now this type of reward was reserved for cases involving crimes like murder and arson.

A reward poster, posted online, includes detailed technical descriptions of the wanted hacker’s skills.

The hacker had to be able to know C# to create a virus called “iesys.exe” and using an anonymous posting method called a “Syberian Post Office” to post messages to popular Japanese bulletin board 2channel.

The police believe that the attacker used a cross-site request forgery to make online postings via innocent users.

Japan’s National Police Agency is a bit like the FBI but its role is more focused on working with and organising local police forces. It does not tend to arrest people. 

China crisis hits Sharp end

The fact that Japan is not giving back some islands it borrowed from China in World War II is causing some problems for TV maker, Sharp.

Troubled Sharp had been hoping that China Electronics would come to the party and save its bacon with a planned cooperation pact.

The pair would align to make the world’s most advanced LCD panels.

But the state owned China electronics chairman Rui Xiaowu told Reuters that while the cooperation on the production of the 10th generation LCD panels has already obtained approval from China’s top economic planning agency, everything has been put on hold by the purchase of the islands by the Japanese government.

Japan’s move to nationalise two disputed islands in the East China Sea, known as the Diaoyu in Chinese and the Senkaku in Japanese, triggered violent protests and calls for boycotts of Japanese products across China.

Sharp’s former President Mikio Katayama has confirmed that cooperation with China Electronics had stalled because Chinese authorities were only prepared to approve a 10th generation plant rather than the 8th generation facility earlier agreed.

Sharp only wants to give away some of its more elderly LCD technology.

Sharp is not the only one which is suffering from the island crisis. Japanese car makers have reported a slide in sales in China. 

Japan hit by cyber attacks as island dispute continues

Japanese authorities have claimed a number of cyber attacks on its financial sector and other institutions are a retaliation from China over a land dispute.

The websites of 19 Japanese banks were made temporarily unavailable following cyber attacks originating from China, according to Japan’s National Police Agency, which claimed that many of the targets had been named on hacking group sites.

Other organisations such as the Tokyo Institute of Technology said that they had been targeted which resulted in the theft of personal data, as well as other government departments also targeted in distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks.

Some websites were altered – with a picture of the Chinese flag appearing on one site – according to the Japanese Times. The attacks are believed to have ceased, though Japanese authorities are warning organisations to take precautions against further threats.

The attacks are believed to be protesting the nationalisation of islands in the East China Sea, Diaoyu and Senaku, which were previously privately owned.   

The move by the Japanese government to purchase the resource rich islands has sparked outrage in China and has led to a wave of anti-Japan protests.

Such protests have caused a number of Japanese firms operating in China to suspend factor production. Panasonic was one of the companies which chose to temporarily suspend production this week, claiming that workers in its Chinese component factories had “sabotaged” its operations.

Panasonic suspends Chinese factories

Japanese manufacturers have temporarily closed factories in China following a spate of anti-Japan protests.

Panasonic has suspended production at two of its component factories in China
after they were attacked. It has said that its plant in Qingdao would remain shut until tomorrow and it would continue to review the situation in the upcoming days.

Atsushi Hinoki, a Tokyo-based Panasonic spokesman, told Reuters that another plant in China had also closed after several workers “sabotaged” operations in the factory.

It is also reported that Canon has moved to take similar action, suspending three of its Chinese factories.

The attacks are a part of wider protests that have spread across China after Japan said
it had agreed to a deal to buy a chain of disputed islands in the East China Sea from their private Japanese owner.

China has always claimed that it has rights to the islands – Diaoyu and Senaku – which are also claimed by Taiwan, and are rich with resources.

Although all countries involved have been rowing about who is entitled to the islands, the situation came to a head over the weekend after Tokyo announced that it had agreed to buy them.

The announcement has caused protests in China with Japanese companies and their property being damaged in the demonstrations.

Sharp's Hon Hai bail out stalled

Japan’s Sharp, which was hoping that a deal with Hon Hai would help pull its nadgers out of the fire, has announced that the deal has stalled.

Apparently Hon Hai was not content with becoming the company’s largest shareholder. It also wanted a management role in return for its capital.

Hon Hai was expected to buy a 9.9 percent stake in Sharp during a visit to Japan by Hon Hai’s chairman, Terry Gou, in August. But Gou left early without seeing Sharp executives.

Sharp told Reuters that there had been no development regarding capital from their side, according to a Sharp executive.

Gou said he would only buy a stake in Sharp if it agreed to give him a say in its business strategy.

The move puts Sharp in a tricky position. It is rushing around trying to pay its debts. However, it has indicated it wants to discuss further cooperation with Hon Hai, including in its small liquid crystal display business. But that will only happen after the two companies have agreed to the investment.

Sharp’s banks are assuming that Hon Hai is history. Its main lenders Mizuho Financial Group Inc and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group are aiming to arrange financing of $3.87 billion. Hon Hai’s expected capital injection has not been factored in.

However, to get their their backing, Sharp has mortgaged nearly all of its domestic offices and factories.

On Tuesday it said that it would trim salaries of its managers by a tenth for a year and seek an across-the-board wage cut for other workers. This is in addition to plans to slash 5,000 jobs, or about a tenth of its global workforce.