Japan May Prioritize Power for Data Centers

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Data center provider Equinix has arranged for priority deliveries of diesel fuel to ensure that its two data centers in Tokyo can continue operating through planned blackouts being implemented by the local utility Tokyo Electric Power. The colocation company said Tuesday that the Japanese government is working to ensure that data centers have power so that communications services remain available across the nation, which is coping with the effects of a magnitude 9 earthquake, a devastating tsunami and a nuclear emergency at damaged power plants.

“Our two data centers in Tokyo are operating as normal,” said Kei Furuta, managing director, Equinix Japan. “There is no facility damage or operational impact since the earthquake happened. So far, we have not heard any news about earthquake damage or operational impact to any data center in Tokyo.”

While no data centers in Tokyo were damaged, their resiliency may be tested by a series of rolling blackouts being implemented by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) to cope with the loss of generating capacity at damaged nuclear plants in northern Japan. Over the weekend TEPCO announced plans to implement rolling blackouts to many cities in suburban Tokyo for three to six hours daily. The blackouts will require data centers to switch over to backup generators for extended periods of time. Access to diesel fuel to power the generators will be a key issues should the rolling blackouts persist. Equinix said it has arranged contracts that provide priority access to diesel fuel.

“The biggest concern at the moment is power disruption,” said Furuta. “We have fueled the generators at our Tokyo data centers to their full capacity, which will provide emergency backup power in the event of any power disruption. We have a priority contract with our fuel supply company. We are closely monitoring the situation, but depending on future status, they could have to prioritize among the priority contractors, or in an extreme case, the government may have to prioritize the national energy to the devastated area. We do not expect an issue for fuel in the short term, but the mid to long term future is always unknown.”

Significantly, Furuta said the government recognizes the important role played by data centers in keeping critical services operating in the aftermath of the disasters.

“The government (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) is working on prioritizing power and energy supply to data centers which are considered critical information and telecommunication, and we are working with them,” he said.

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor-in-chief of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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  1. A few words on the nuclear activities and situation in Japan: Because the situation is developing quickly, no specific details are available.The nuclear industry routinely shares information to learn from events around the world. Eventually we will have complete, accurate information, but that will take time. All U.S. nuclear plants are designed to remain safe during the most severe natural phenomena historically reported for the site and surrounding area. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) then adds a margin for error to account for any limits in the historical data. Even plants located outside of areas with extensive seismic activity are designed for safety in the event of such a natural disaster. Nuclear plants are built with a defense-in-depth philosophy that uses multiple safety barriers, sophisticated earthquake detection systems and redundant safety systems to ensure that public health and safety are assured, even in the event of an earthquake or other natural forces. Here are some important points to remember about the situation in Japan: The reactors were shut down just after the earthquake. Even after shutdown, a reactor continues to generate residual heat. Cooling systems are available to dissipate that heat. But in this case, the power supplies to run those cooling systems were lost, due to the Tsunami. Backup power supplies worked for some time, but plant operators over the weekend decided to inject sea water with boric acid into the reactor core. Boric acid absorbs neutrons, which will slow the nuclear reaction and reduce heat. The explosion at one of the plants on Saturday was not the reactor. It was in the secondary containment building. The reactor is within primary containment - a steel and concrete structure encasing the reactor - which is still intact. When you hear about "leaks," or venting of radiation, that likely is a controlled release by the operators of filtered gas from primary containment. This would be done to keep pressure levels down within containment. Radiation from that process is filtered and at low levels. The Japanese reactor is a GE Boiling Water reactor, The Japanese reactor began operation in the early 1970s. Backup diesel generators to supply power if offsite power is lost. In addition, there are four combustion turbine generators that back up the emergency diesel generators, as well as battery backups. The multiple backup emergency cooling systems that are not dependent on outside power sources, which the Japanese plant does not possess. These emergency cooling systems would cool the reactor during a loss of power situation. In addition, further methods of cooling the reactor were added following Sept. 11, 2001. Reactor vessel is constructed of steel that is four to six inches thick. The vessel is located inside a primary containment structure that is constructed of a six-inch steel liner inside a shell of high-density reinforced concrete that is eight to ten feet thick. Both the vessel and containment structures are contained in a reactor building constructed of high-density reinforced concrete that is two to four feet thick. The reactor building serves as a secondary containment structure. While there was some fuel damage during a malfunction at the plant in 1966 (about 1 percent of the plant's fuel was damaged), no radioactivity was released as a result. In fact the plant was repaired and operated a few years following the malfunction, until its shutdown in 1972. What about emergency planning? The reactors have a detailed emergency plan in place to protect the public. The Nuclear Energy Institute has provided the following talking points about the situation: It is premature to draw conclusions from the tragedy in Japan with regard to the U.S. nuclear energy program. Japan is facing what literally can be considered a "worst case" disaster and, thus far, even the most seriously damaged of its 54 reactors has not released radiation at levels that would harm the public. That is a testament to their design and construction, and the effectiveness of their employees and their emergency preparedness planning. The industry takes very seriously our commitment to safe operation of nuclear energy facilities and will incorporate lessons learned based on this experience into our safety and operating procedures. Nuclear power plants have proven their value to society in Japan, the United States and elsewhere. They provide large amounts of carbon-free electricity on an around-the-clock basis, and they do so cost-effectively with the lowest electricity production costs of any large energy. Both Japan and the United States have benefited greatly from nuclear energy; it has been instrumental in the nations' economic success over the past half century and their high standard of living. Nuclear energy has been and will continue to be a key element in meeting America's energy needs. The nuclear industry sets the highest standards for safety and, through our focus on continuous learning, we will incorporate lessons learned from the events in Japan. The dominant factors determining technology used for new generation will be demand for new generation, the competitiveness of nuclear energy in comparison with other sources of electricity generation, and the continued safe operation of U.S. nuclear power plants. There has not been a rush to judgment on the part of U.S. policymakers during the first few days of this situation. That is due in part to the recognition on their part that nuclear energy must continue to play a key role in a diversified energy portfolio that strengthens U.S. energy security and fuels economic growth.

  2. anon

    I can say that a DC just outside of Tokyo want off line after the quake Friday. The DC in question was a secondary (BCP site) for a major financial institution where I happen to work. The production DC was fine though.

  3. What is this, a forum for pro-nuke lobbyists? Put a sock it. That s*** is leaking all over the place. They are moving aircraft carriers 100 miles off the coast to get away from that radiation cloud. Enough of your bs.