Live from Japan: Nuclear crisis looms, chip firms map recovery

Longtime semiconductor exec Takeshi Hattori continues his reporting on the aftermath of the massive Japanese earthquake and tsunami, with updates on the nuclear crisis, status of facilities and production struggles. See previous updates from Japan here and here.Click to Enlarge

April 4, 2011 – The nuclear crisis and rolling blackouts are ongoing. Major semiconductor fabs and the biggest silicon crystal plant are being shut down for several months.

Nuclear crisis

More than three weeks have passed since the March 11 earthquake (officially named the Great East Japan earthquake). The death toll from the earthquake and tsunami is now 12,000, with more than 18,000 people listed as missing in the ruins on land or in the sea; hundreds of thousands of people are still homeless.

The nuclear crisis continues at Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant in Fukushima Prefecture. TEPCO and the governmental METI office concluded over the weekend that radioactive water was leaking from the crippled plant into nearby Pacific Ocean, but failed on Sunday in repeated attempts to seal a crack, a possible source of the pollution. On Monday, it was found that the crack was not the source — and the real sources are not known.

TEPCO has now decided (Monday, April 4) to intentionally release more than 10,000 tons of radioactive water into the sea, in a bid to help speed up work to store more contaminated water inside the plant. The government has permitted the action because nobody can find any alternative methods. The release of contaminated water continues for several days. Japanese people anticipate that the release may be repeated again and again, and fish in the seashore of Pacific Ocean will be contaminated.

Most Japanese people are tired of hearing overly optimistic (or misleading or wrong) comments on TV news programs by nuclear engineering-majored professors of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka universities — who have received for many years, huge amounts of research funds from TEPCO, Toshiba, Hitachi (both nuclear reactor manufacturers), and governmental (METI’s) nuclear plant promoting agencies.

Scheduled rolling blackouts by TEPCO continue in greater Kanto Plain. Everybody is making every effort to save electric energy, which has spared the region from blackouts in the past few days and tomorrow too. The rolling blackouts will continue until the end of this month, and will be applied this summer and even next winter, when the peak for electricity consumption comes due to full air-conditioning operations both at home and offices.

The Japanese government is finalizing a decree to impose limits on peak electricity use this summer in the Kanto Plain, including central Tokyo. The nuclear crisis and damage to non-nuclear thermal plants have cut TEPCO’s generating capacity to about 75% of expected peak demand this summer. The decree is aimed at averting large-scale blackouts in greater Tokyo.

General Electric chairman Jeffrey Immelt said Monday (April 4) afternoon in Tokyo that GE will help address power shortages in Japan resulting from the ongoing nuclear crisis by shipping their gas turbines to Japan. GE, which was involved in making the nuclear reactors #1 and #2 at the nuclear plant, continues to offer as much support as possible to stabilize the reactors.

According to the National Bank of Japan’s tankan (short range perspective) survey disclosed on April 4, Japanese firms became more pessimistic about business conditions in the coming three months following the March 11earthquake and tsunami.

Travel tips for Japan

Some flights to Tokyo have been canceled everyday maybe due to smaller number of passengers. So flight confirmation is highly recommended. Japan Rail’s Narita Express (NEX) train services have all been canceled since the March 11 earthquake and local trains serve on an once-an-hour basis. The rival private Keisei has also canceled the fastest CityLiners, limited express to Ueno. So, the best way is to take a limousine bus to hotels in Tokyo.

Rolling blackouts are not applied to the central Tokyo area, so you will find inconvenience, but some of lamps and illuminations are off everywhere due to electricity savings. JR Shinkansen (bullet trains) to Kyoto/Osaka/Hiroshima/Hakata is available on time, but shinkansen to Sendai is suspended due to many damages in rails and stations in Tohoku District.

Update: Semiconductor plants


Toshiba’s Yokkaichi plant in Mie Prefecture, responsible for more than 40% of NAND flash memory manufacturing used in the world, is fully operational. But they are anticipating of their supply-chain disruption, particularly silicon wafer procurement if SEH’s world biggest silicon crystal plant in Fukushima prefecture will continue its halt of operations (see below).

Iwate Toshiba Semiconductor in Kitakami City, Iwate Prefecture, responsible for logic SoC manufacturing, has already repaired their structural damage such as walls and air-conditioning systems. Electricity and gas are available, but there are concerns about the future rolling blackouts. They plan to start partial operation on April 11. Toshiba’s Oita Plants will provide alternative production partially, in case of prolonged power outages.

Toshiba Components’ two discrete semiconductor plants in Kimitsu and Mobara, both in Chiba Prefecture, have already repaired exhaust air ducts in the roof and started partial operation on March 26, but the rolling blackouts prevent full operations. Toshiba plans to accelerate production at their overseas facilities due to local power outages.


Renesas Electronics’ Naka Plant in Hitachi-Naka, Ibaraki Prefecture, had structural damage as well as shift and inside-damage of both 200mm and 300mm equipment. After inspection, repair, and testing, they plan to start partial production this July. The Naka Plant produces some 20% of Renesas’ microcomputers and SoC chips and some 10% of its analog power semiconductors. Sixty percent of the microcomputers produced in the plant are automotive microcomputers, accounting for about 25% of Renesas’ total such devices.

About 70% of the products that are scheduled to be shipped by the end of May can be shipped in time by using completed products and products being manufactured, Renesas said. The problem is how to cope with the rest (30%) of the products and future orders. The company has tried producing those products at its Saijo Plant in Ehime Prefecture but encountered some technical difficulty, so they are considering to use the production lines of GlobalFoundries in Singapore (formerly Hitachi Semiconductor Singapore). The fab was established for DRAM volume production by Hitachi Ltd and Nippon Steel Corp., both in Tokyo, in 1996 and was producing microcomputers as a subsidiary of Hitachi from 2004-2008.

Renesus’ Takasaki Plant, in Gunma Prefecture, as well as its Kofu Plant in Yamanashi Prefecture, has suspended operation until the end of rolling blackouts, which may be at the end of April.

Separately, Renesas has signed an agreement to sell its Roseville fab in California (formerly known as NEC’s North America plant for DRAM manufacturing), including the entire workforce of about 590, to Germany’s Telefunken Semiconductor for about $53M as part of the firm’s restructuring measures after the merger of Renesas (formerly Mitsubishi and Hitachi’s logic business units) and NEC in April 2010. The wafer processing fab has monthly production capacity of 5700 8-inch wafers, mainly manufacturing microcontrollers for automobiles.


Fujitsu Semiconductor Ltd. (FSL)’s Iwate Plant in Iwate Prefecture became partial operational on April 3, about a week after the company’s Aizu-Wakamatsu Plant in Fukushima Prefecture became operational (March 28). Both center on wafer processing. Fujitsu Integrated Microtechnology Ltd.’s Miyagi Plant (assembly), in Miyagi Prefecture, became operational on March 23, and its HQ and wafer-processing plant in Aizu-Wakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, became operational on March 28. Fujitsu’s biggest wafer processing site in Mie prefecture, located near Nagoya, has no influence of the earthquake.


Persistent power, utilities, fuel constraints and other earthquake-related disruptions continue to complicate their damage assessment of Freescale’s factory in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. The facility is not operational, and any restarting date is not known.

ON Semiconductor:

ON Semiconductor’s factory sites in Japan sustained only minimal physical damage as a result of the earthquake and tsunami and remain structurally sound. In Aizu (formerly ON semiconductor) and Gifu (formerly Sanyo Electric) factories, infrastructure services have been restored, and production has begun ramping toward full recovery. Wafer fabs in Gifu and Niigata (both formerly Sanyo Electric) are currently in operation. Infrastructure services have been restored at Gunma (formerly Sanyo), and production has begun ramping toward full recovery. Kasukawa and Hanyu back-end factories are currently in operation.

Seiko Epson

The Sakata Plant in Yamagata Prefecture (wafer processing, foundry services for some American fables customers) has little damage and become partially operational on March 28. The start of full operation will depend on the end of rolling blackouts by Tohoku Electric Power Co. and supply chain recovery, which they cannot control.

Silicon crystal suppliers

Shin-Etsu Handotai (SEH)’s Shirakawa plant in Fukushima Prefecture has both structural and equipment damage — particularly silicon ingots in silicon crystal growth equipment were severely damaged — and they do not know when the damaged plant will be able to resume production. The plant has responsible for some 20% of worldwide 300mm silicon wafer supply. If the plant’s shutdown continues beyond this month, supply chain problems will occur across semiconductor manufacturers worldwide. SHE is trying to increase wafer production at other plants both inside and outside Japan.

One of seven silicon crystal plant for SUMCO remains suspended due to damage to crystal growth equipment, due both to the earthquake and instant blackout afterward. Repairs have begun to crystal growth equipment as well as other equipment at the Yonezawa Plant in Fukushima Prefecture, but they do not know when they are able to restart production.

Restoration is underway at MEMC‘s Utsunomiya plant in Tochigi Prefecture, targeting restart on April 11.

Tokyo Electron (TEL)

A summary for TEL, the biggest semiconductor equipment supplier in Japan:

  • Tokyo Electron Tohoku, in Iwate Prefecture, responsible for thermal processing systems, started operation on March 17.
  • Tokyo Electron Technology Development Institute in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, started operation on March 28.
  • Tokyo Electron Miyagi in Matsushima City, Miyagi Prefecture, for dry etch systems, started operation on March 28 — but shipments are expected to restart in late April to early May. In the meantime, the unaffected Yamanashi plant in Nirasaki City, Yamanashi prefecture, is being utilized as the primary production site for TEL etch systems to meet customers’ demand.
  • Tokyo Electron Miyagi’s new plant for etch systems in Taiwa City, Miyagi Prefecture, under construction: Due to the earthquake, the R&D facility and office buildings will commence operations in July. A production building is scheduled to begin operations in October along with the impact of small fire accident occurred in February.

TEL completed to contact all suppliers and more than 90% of them are expected to restart operations soon. TEL will take necessary measurement to cope with the situation. Overall, the company expects minimal impact on production schedule for the first half of this fiscal year ending March 2012.

Regarding the issue of radioactive pollution, TEL has already obtained inspection tools. In the meantime, they will implement radiation inspection for all equipments shipped out followed by ISO and IATA standards.

Concerning the issue of expected power shortage in Tokyo/Yamanashi area this summer, TEL is taking all measurements to minimize the impact on production schedule.

Takeshi Hattori is president of Hattori Consulting International and editorial columnist of Electronic Journal in Japan, with more than 36 years experience in the semiconductor field. He is a Fellow of the Electrochemical Society, founding member of the International Symposium on Semiconductor Manufacturing, member of SEMI’s Japan regional standards committee and SEMI/SEAJ Forum, and The Confab advisory board, among many others.


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