Japanese Vending Machines, The Big Energy Hogs

One of the things that strike the most foreigners when they come to Japan is the huge amount of vending machines.  They are every where, on streets, inside buildings, offices, next to convenience stores etc.  Most of them sell cold soft drinks and coffee, there is also big share for tobacco sales.  In total there are 2.7 million vending machines, in other words a vending machine per 55 people.  So basically every average residential or commercial building in Japan has a couple vending machines installed inside it or on its vicinity.

Coca-Cola Co. Vending machines in Tokyo
For every 55 people in Japan there is 1 vending machine.

Most of these vending machines are built to sell soft drinks, usually cold. They host a variety of beverages, from juices, teas, different types of coffee, energy and carbonated drinks.  All year an average vending machine serves 2/3 of its drinks cold and the remaining 1/3 hot.  In winter this ratio can change a bit tending more towards hotter drinks.  Keeping drinks cool or hot require high energy consumption to keep the refrigerators and heaters running 24/7.

Market Share
Vending machine global market share

Convenience drives sales

Convenience is the main reason why vending machines have been growing ever since the 70’s, they provide the opportunity to get a drink anywhere, anytime.  Also densely populated cities like Tokyo and Osaka have mass concentrations of human traffic on train stations and commercial areas, making vending machines a very profitable business.  An average vending machine makes around ¥20,000 yen profit a month, however this profit and convenience does not come without a cost, and a very high one.

Late generation Vending Machine
One of the late generation vending machines using touch screen technology.

Vending machines operate 24 hours and they require to be hooked all time to the electric grid.  This permanent energy consumption in massive scale sums up to 6,800 GigaWatts/h a year, 6,800,000,000 KWh.

How much is 6,800 GigaWatts that?

6,800 GWh is enough power to provide 5.4 million average Japanese households with enough electricity for 1 year.  This translated into individual consumption would be the equivalent to every person in Japan using a 500Watt hair dryer for 10 mins every single day of the year.

If we looked at this in terms of electric energy generation, all the vending machines in Japan in one year would require a 4.5  month dedicated production from a nuclear power plant similar to Fukushima.

Vending machines’ electric consumption in Japan equal a 4.5 month electricity supply of a nuclear plant similar to the one in Fukushima

The Vending Machine Challenge

After the power loss from the Fukushima nuclear plant there has been a 29,891 GWh deficit in Japan. This has forced Tepco to engage in an aggressive energy saving campaign that involves the cooperation of  businesses and households all over Japan.  Businesses have down scaled their energy consumption either by closing early or by reducing consumption by using less electricity.  Households have also contributed to the generalized energy saving campaign by using less appliances and rationing their electricity consumption.

On march 11, the day the earthquake occurred, electricity rationings were scheduled right away.  Losing 29,891 GWh was a considerable energy deficit that had to be attended rapidly.  3-4 hour scheduled blackouts where programmed but they only happened during the first week after the earthquake, the immediate response of the community towards an energy consumption reduction was almost instantaneous.

Electricity supply bar
Electric supply bar showing a 2%+ energy surpluss

The above bar is provided by TEPCO, this bar shows the current electric consumption vs the available electric supply.  The 2%+ surplus prevents the city of Tokyo of undergoing the scheduled blackouts.  This information is supplied on a daily basis by TEPCO, and you can find it on the Yahoo Japan website.

Vending machines have a large footprint on the electric consumption, and reducing their use can greatly contribute to energy saving.  Since the 90’s this has been a well known fact by vending machine manufacturers, for that reason they have greatly improved the refrigeration technologies, and in the last 20 years energy consumption has been reduced by half.  However, the real challenge is to reduce it 36% more by 2012, a goal set by the Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association 日本自販機工業会 (JVMA).  This reduction in energy consumption after the Fukushima accident has become a real urgency, hopefully the JVMA will reach it by next year.

The challenge to reduce energy consumption in Japan is not only a responsibility of vending machine manufacturers it is also a collective mission that should engage every individual into saving more energy and resources everyday.

Vending machine
A late generation touch screen vending machine shut off. Although recently installed in Shibuya station it was one of the first to be shut off due to their high energy consumption.








Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant another ticking bomb like Fukushima

Seven years ago geoscientist and independent radiation specialist Leuren Moret came to Japan to comment about the dangers of having nuclear plants in an earthquake prone zone.  Part of Her conclusion was expressed in a Japan Times titled, “Japan’s deadly game of nuclear roulette”.  In the article Moret exposed through scientific facts the grave risks Hamaoka Power Station posed to Japan.  Citing a seismologist from Kobe University, she quoted, “It’s like a kamikaze terrorist wrapped in bombs just waiting to explode.”  On march 11, 2011 those bombs went off in Fukushima.

The reason is  because Hamaoka sits directly over the subduction zone of two tectonic plates overdue for a major earthquake, The Tokai Earthquake. The event could trigger an even greater nuclear disaster than the one on march 11th.
Moret raised with her article a red flag in Hamaoka almost 7 years ago.  What has been done so far?

About The Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant

The Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant (浜岡原子力発電所) is one of the largest nuclear power plants in Japan, 200km south-west of Tokyo.  Commisioned in year 1976, and located on Japanese East cost close to Mounin Omaezaki city, Shizuoka Prefecture, on Japan’s east coast. It is managed by the Chubu Electric Power Company. It has 5 units within the site, and currently only 3 reactors are operational with a generating power of 3,360 MW, enough electricity to power up 12,000 households for a year.  Two of the existing reactors are Boiling Water Reactors and the third one a next generation Advanced Boiling Reactor.

Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station
Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station in Shizuoka 200km from Tokyo

On its 35 year service Hamaoka  Nuclear Plant has had a long list of events and accidents.  Among them strutural damages, fires,  and leakages of water and coolant,  however their impact into the environment has not been yet determined.  In total 13 events in the last 20 years.
The plant is located just above the huge fault plane of the impending magnitude 8 Tokai earthquake on the Pacific coast of central Japan.  If this earthquake happens it will have devastating consequences in Tokyo, Nagoya and other neighboring cities.


Hamaoka from Shibuya is about 300km a 3 hour drive

An earthquake of that magnitude could collapse buildings and wash out every standing structure on the coast due to a tsunami.  An structural damage in Hamaoka could worsen the earthquake damage with radiation exposure similar to the one in Fukushima.  Although government authorities and nuclear plant constructors had claimed the structures were safe, there has been a total loss of confidence after the Fukushima accident.  Hamaoka has a similar setup to Fukushima, 3 active reactors in front of the sea below active tectonic plates with absolutely no protection against tsunamis.

Hamaoka and Fukushima Power Plants any similarities?


A call for immediate shutdown

Due to Hamaoka’s high risks mentioned above, Mayor of neighboring city of Kosai reacted strongly and requested past April 21st the immediate shutdown of the Hamaoka Power Station.However  Kosai City is beyond the 30km legal jurisdiction of Hamaoka and has no rights in demanding such a request.  Kosai City is 50km from Hamaoka, 20km beyond the stipulated risk limit.  Even though Kosai City is close enough to be affected by a nuclear disaster in case there were a release of radiation from the reactors, its mayor’s request was declined.On the other hand neighboring cities within the 30km radius did not recall a shut down, probably due to the negative impact it could have economically.  However they strongly demanded Chubu Electric to do everything possible to execute all the required actions to prevent a disaster like the one in Fukushima.  Among the requests of the neighboring municipalities mayor’s were the following,

  • Thorough investigation of Hamaoka’s MOX fuel plan
  • Earthquake prevention reinforcement
  • Thorough revision of current safety features.

The Fukushima disaster has raised grave concern in cities neighboring nuclear power stations.  Taking action is a complicated situation that can affect the economy and short term stability of the neighboring population.  Immediate shutdown generates immediate unemployment, energy deficits and economic distability in the region.  However the disastrous consequences of Fukushima should gear all actions and policies towards a phase out of nuclear energy and an embracement of cleaner energy alternatives.

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Nuclear Ginza: Japan’s Nuclear Reactor District

The other day I stumbled upon this interesting 20 min documentary about Nuclear Ginza a nuclear plant corridor along Fukui Prefecture’s coast on western Japan.

Nuclear Ginza
Nuclear Ginza's 13 nuclear reactors along the coast of Fukui Prefecture on western Japan.

On the map you can see the nuclear plant corridor along the coast, the name 原発銀座 Genpatsu Ginza, resembles the famous Ginza shopping district next to the coast of Tokyo Bay, giving the ironic idea of a japanese nuclear reactor district.

This area along the Wakasawan Coast, has been populated by nuclear reactors built by 関西電力 Kansai Denryouku, the West Japan version of TEPCO.  Kansai Denryoku provides the electricity for mayor cities in the Kansai Area like Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe.  It generates 50% of its electricity supply from nuclear power obtained mostly from Nuclear Ginza.  This area is also unique, no other place in the world has 13 nuclear reactors aligned in an area of less than 90Km in front of the sea.

The documentary Nuclear Ginza by Nicholas Rohl is based on the work of Japanese photo journalist Kenji Higuchi, which explores this particular region in Japan and also exposes the exploitation of Japanese workers most of them pulled out of the slums of Tokyo and Osaka to work exposed to radiation.

The documentary discusses critical issues like;

  • Nuclear industry political irregularities
  • Nuclear energy safety issues
  • Democracy in Japan
  • Radiation risks

If you want to learn more about the Nuclear Ginza and the other side of the nuclear industry in Japan I strongly recommend you to watch this 20 min documentary.  Below you can find the complete video.

Nuclear Ginza complete documentary Part 1 & 2









Criticality Accident

Criticality is a nuclear energy term and it occurs when a nuclear chain reaction in a mass of fissile material is self-sustaining, in other words the mass produces energy by itself without any external influence.  In nuclear experimentation criticality can get out of control and produce what is known as a criticality accident, which  is an accidental increase of nuclear chain reactions in a fissile material, such as enriched uranium or plutonium. This releases a surge of neutron radiation which is highly dangerous to humans and causes induced radioactivity in the surroundings, and can be extremely deadly.

Below is a clip from the movie Fatman and Little Boy (1989), a Hollywood recreation of the years of the development of the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII.  In this scene nuclear scientist (John Cusack) during and experiment accidentally lets 2 cores of plutonium reach criticality releasing a huge amount of radiation that eventually ends up killing him.  This is one of the most famous criticality accidents in history.

Fictionalised criticality accident in the movie Fatman and Little Boy