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2011年5月15日 (日)


アルミ箔[ホイル]  aluminum foil
金箔gold foil [leaf] (leafは普通 foilより薄い)
銀箔silver foil [leaf] (leafは普通 foilより薄い)
銅箔copper foil

(Mainichi Japan) May 14, 2011
Top-quality electrical power a source of Japan's problems and its international edge

In a previous article, I talked about foreign investors preying on Japanese materials and parts manufacturers comprising the strength of the Japanese economy. Here, I'd like to focus on just one of those being preyed upon, the Japanese copper foil manufacturing industry.

One should not be dismissive of mere thin copper sheets.

Ultra-thin copper foil is indispensible in producing cutting-edge electronic devices like smartphones, and Japan has 100 percent of the world's share.

The supply has diminished due to the damage caused by the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, and as a result, smartphone factories around the world came to a halt.

From what I've heard, copper foil of the extreme thinness and consistent quality of that produced in Japan cannot be manufactured anywhere else in the world.

The reason is ironic: the production of high-quality copper foil requires high quality electricity, or in other words, an uninterrupted supply of electricity with consistent frequency and voltage.
As it turns out, Japan is the only country where such a supply is available.

This means that we could say, albeit with some exaggeration, that the production of top-quality copper foil is made possible by the troubled Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO).

According to the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC) website, Japan experienced 16 minutes of power failures in the 2007 fiscal year, while the figure was 37 minutes in Germany, 57 minutes in France, and 162 minutes in California in 2006, 2004 and 2006, respectively.

Although New York only had 12 minutes of power outages in 2006, the numbers show that Japan overall does a good job of supplying power to consumers.

In the past, I've criticized the quality of Japanese electricity as being unnecessarily high, making power costs much higher in Japan than in other industrialized nations.

It turns out, though, that it is this very electricity that has given Japan a competitive edge in the international market -- probably not just in copper foil, either. This poses a conundrum, however.

As a result of the ongoing crisis at Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, TEPCO faces massive compensation claims, and there has even emerged the possibility that the company will declare bankruptcy to secure the funds to pay for damages.

Furthermore, a debate on the liberalization of the electric power market -- a vision once promoted by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) that ended in failure, which would overturn the current system in which Japan's 10 electric power companies conduct both power generation and transmission -- has been reignited.

The power companies have heretofore argued that they are able to conduct operations responsibly and provide consumers with high-quality electricity with few supply interruptions precisely because they carry out both generation and distribution.

The problem here is the quality of electrical power.

I'd been under the impression that having power quality comparable to that of other industrialized nations would be sufficient. But I imagine the copper foil industry would have none of that.

It's not that I'm completely throwing my weight behind the copper-foil industry and calling for a stop to all debate on possible electricity-market liberalization, convinced of the need for Japan to have the world's highest-quality electricity. It appears, though, that what's behind Japan's status as the world's best copper-foil manufacturer is symbolic of the depth of the problem we currently have on our hands.

(By Michio Ushioda, Expert Senior Writer)

毎日新聞 2011年5月11日 東京朝刊


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