Friday, March 25, 2011

Damaged Japanese Ports Reopen, Supply Chain and Radiation Concerns Remain

The March 11 earthquake/tsunami disaster in Japan did far less damage to the island nation's port infrastructure than initially thought, but non-marine infrastructure damage is still causing internal supply chain problems and fears of radiation exposure are increasing concerns as post-disaster Japanese cargo begins arriving at international ports.

While actual damage from the 9.0 earthquake appears to have been minimal at most port facilities, the subsequent tsunami was thought to have heavily damaged at least four major ports in the affected area, including: Hachinohe, Ishinomaki, Onahama and Sendai.

Other northern ports that were initially reported to have suffered varying degrees of damage include: Aomori, Hitachinaka, Hitachi, Kesennuma, Kamashi, Miyako, Ofunato, Oarai, Shiogama, and Soma.

Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism reported Thursday that, "Fifteen of 15 ports in the afflicted area are usable. Multi-purpose piers are partly available, excluding Aomori port."

The Ministry also said that the ports are open for both humanitarian and commercial vessels.

Despite the opening of the ports, damage to highway, railroad and factory infrastructure throughout the northeast continues to cause supply chain problems.

Auto manufacturers throughout Japan are struggling to reestablish their supply chains with some automakers, such as Toyota shuttering most of their plants, while others, such as Nissan, restarting production facilities but only as long as on-hand part supplies last. Goldman Sachs has estimated that each lost production day costs Nissan about $25 million in profits.

Consumer electronics manufacturer Sony has shuttered six production plants across Japan until at least the end of March. Major production facilities belonging to Fujitsu, Nikon, Texas Instruments, and Toshiba have also suffered damage and been shuttered. Perhaps more significantly to the electronics industry, the Shin-Etsu Chemical firm has shuttered two production facilities including their Shirakawa facility in Fukushima which produces about 20 percent of the world's supply of the silicon wafers used to make computer and memory chips.

Radiation, which continues to leak from the heavily damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant, is also becoming a concern – and in some cases far from Japan's shores.

While very low-levels of radioactive material from the disaster have been detected at West Coast monitors from Alaska to Sacramento, radiation has also been detected on at least one vessel moving past Japan and on cargo loaded in Japan after the earthquake.

Low, non-life threatening levels of radiation were detected Wednesday in the engine room air filters of a cargo ship tied up at the Port of Tacoma, according to the United States Coast Guard. The ship, the first post-quake ship from Asia to call at the port, had last called at Shanghai. Coast Guard officials pointed out that the ship had not passed within 250 miles of Japan.

On Friday, Chinese officials at the Port of Xiamen detected "abnormal radiation" aboard a cargo vessel that had last called at the Port of Tokyo on March 17. Officials did not provide the exact levels of radiation, or the condition of the ship crew or cargo.

The first vessel to arrive at the Port of Los Angeles carrying post-quake cargo from Japan was inspected and cleared by US Customs and Border Protection staff on Thursday. Customs officials said, "no harmful levels of radiation were found" among the 355 containers that were screened.

German shipping lines Hapag-Lloyd and Claus-Peter Offen have stopped calling at the central Japanese ports of Tokyo and Yokohama, citing radiation fears. Hamburg Sud, which initially had stopped calling at Tokyo and Yokohama last week, resumed calls at the two ports on Thursday.

Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United States are restricting food and milk imports from the zone around the crippled nuclear power plant.

China has implemented tougher restrictions that cover dairy, aquatic and vegetable products from five Japanese prefectures.

South Korea has banned all food products from four Japanese prefectures around the Fukushima power plant.

Taiwan has banned foodstuffs from five Japanese prefectures and advised local fisherman not to fish in Japanese waters.

Canada, the European Union, Great Britain, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam have all stepped up monitoring of Japanese imports.