Silicon Valley May Help Rebuild Japan's Power Industry

Bay Area technology could be key to helping Japan recover from last year's 9.0 Tohoku earthquake that killed more than 20,000 people.

By Patricia Decker
|  Wednesday, Mar 7, 2012  |  Updated 11:01 PM PDT
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Dramatic Photos: Devastation in Japan

AP

A year later, Japan needs to rebuild its energy infrastructure. The earthquake and tsunami heavily damaged several nuclear power reactors -- especially those at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which experienced meltdowns.

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A year after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami devastated northeastern Japan, the country is looking to Silicon Valley for solutions to the problem of restructuring its power industry.

The Tohoku earthquake, the strongest recorded in the country's history and the fifth-largest quake recorded worldwide, struck on Friday, March 11, 2011, and triggered tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 133 feet and traveled up to six miles inland.

More than 20,000 people were killed, about 6,000 were injured and more than 3,200 people were missing across 18 of the country's 47 prefectures after the quake and tsunami leveled entire towns.

A year later, one lingering effect is Japan's need to rebuild its energy infrastructure, as the earthquake and tsunami heavily damaged several nuclear power reactors -- especially those at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which experienced meltdowns.

According to Stanford officials, green technology and information technology being developed at Stanford labs and at start-ups throughout Silicon Valley could be key to helping Japan recover.

Masahiko Aoki, a senior fellow at Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and emeritus professor of economics and Japanese, said the demand for alternative energy solutions is high after the meltdowns rattled the public's trust in nuclear power.

"Energy efficiency is starting to take precedence when people talk about rebuilding," Aoki said. "In the short run, there will be quite a bit of investment in infrastructure ... but long-term innovation will center on restructuring the power industry."

Crises often create opportunities for innovation, Aoki said, as was the case when the 1970s oil crisis led Japanese auto makers to design more fuel-efficient vehicles.

What links Silicon Valley and Stanford to Japan is technological innovation, according to Kenji Kushida, a Stanford alum and researcher at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center.

The rebuilding process brings with it "massive budgets to rebuild cities and to reinvest in local industries," Kushida said.

Silicon Valley's innovations can help some of those delegations that are interested in becoming more energy efficient and less dependent on nuclear power, he said.

"It's very early in the commercial battles for who exactly is going to build or provide what, but Silicon Valley can see opportunity in Japan and vice versa," Kushida said.

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