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Aftershock Shuts Factories; Japanese Big Business Slams Government

Nearly a million people are without power and production has stopped at several major companies after northern Japan suffered from a big aftershock yesterday, piling on to companies’ ongoing electricity supply problems.

Three people were killed when the 7.4 magnitude quake hit the northeast coast of Japan, which had already borne the brunt of last month’s devastating 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami.

The aftershock caused some slightly radioactive water to spill at one plant, but no new problems occurred to exacerbate the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex, MSNBC reported.

However, Sony Corp. and chip-makers Epida Memory and Renesas all said they had stopped production, Reuters reported. The risk of more aftershocks, damage from last month’s disaster and continuing disruptions to electricity supplies are all dampening manufacturing output, Reuters said.

“It [an earthquake] could happen again and that means you can’t really proceed with reconstruction,” Yuuki Sakurai, CEO of Fukoku Capital Management, said.

“[Manufacturers] have to be very careful. They need thoughtful planning. They need to be doubly, triply solid against the next earthquake. So it will cost a lot and you have to consider whether it is worth rebuilding,” Sakurai added.

On Wednesday, before this latest aftershock, the head of Japan’s leading business lobby slammed a government proposal to cut the supply of electricity to industry by 25 percent.

Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of Nippon Keidanren, told the Wall Street Journal that businesses should instead come up with their own energy-saving plans, which would keep more factories operating. The government is proposing the 25 percent cut in an effort to avoid massive blackouts this summer.

Yesterday’s aftershock, the strongest since the day of the tsunami, took six power plants off-line, MSNBC reported. Since then three have come back online and others should be working again within hours, according to a spokesman for Tohoku Electric Power Co.

But power lines through the area are damaged, and the spokesman said the company did not know when electricity would be fully restored.

Sony has said it stopped production at two plants, which had both resumed partial production at the end of last month, but resumed output at another factory.

Renesas said four of its plants in northern Japan had suspended operations due to the power blackout, and Elpida said it had stopped manufacture at one factory.

Also reacting to the aftershock, Honda, Nissan and Toyota said they will look to restart production this month, but are planning to only produce half their originally planned volumes.

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