May 30, 2011
The March tsunami and earthquake in northern Japan knocked out power in the region, threatening people’s lives, due to a lack of heat in the middle of winter.
So why didn’t the Japanese utility company TEPCO take electricity from another region, which was not affected?
Because the two sides of Japan don’t run on the same electric power. In the west of the country is a power system operating at 60 hertz; in the eastern part of Japan, the system runs on 50 hertz. The two power systems are incompatible.
The power problem in Japan is an aspect of the power problem all over the world. In the early days of making electric power, there were many systems, running on many different rates of hertz. London, England, for example, had 10 different power systems in 1918, each running on a different hertz rate. Great Britain did not standardize power systems until after World War II.
The same is true for Japan, which first purchased electric generators from AEG, a German company, in 1895. But when the U.S. occupied Japan at the end of World War II, it pushed the German company aside, and the part destroyed by U.S. bombing got its power equipment from U.S. manufacturers. And that’s why TEPCO still runs on two different, incompatible systems.
People shiver in the cold and dark after disasters because capitalist competition is unplanned chaos.