Miki Inoue recalled a power outage in Kyoto three years ago that lasted for only 10 minutes but still brought up fears for the worst.
Her 58-year-old husband, Hideo Inoue, a former junior high school teacher, has suffered for four years from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). With his mobility severely limited as his muscles waste away, Hideo depends on a mechanical ventilator around the clock for survival.
The ventilator during the blackout ran on a built-in battery until power was restored.
“I was so worried, and I felt the time was so long,” Miki, 54, said.
Those fears have been creeping back since the central government requested power-saving efforts this summer to stave off electricity shortages with all of the nation’s nuclear reactors off-line.
Health-care experts are calling for special measures and proper planning in the summer for people who rely on medical devices and senior citizens lacking physical strength. They say if power outages or rolling blackouts occur, many of these vulnerable people could be at risk of dying.
Miki said her husband’s ventilator can operate for about an hour on the built-in battery, but after that, she will have to use an external battery she bought three years ago for about 100,000 yen ($1,260).
She said she heard the external battery has enough juice for around six hours.
She has also prepared a manual ventilator for the worst-case scenario and told her two children to prepare to work in shifts operating the device to keep their father alive.
“If planned rolling blackouts are carried out, we want the public administration to take measures in a responsible manner so that patients can make sufficient preparations in advance,” said Kimiaki Kanazawa, secretary-general of the Japan Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association.
Kyoto Prefecture is calling on home-care patients who rely on ventilators to register at hospitals for emergency transfers in case of power cuts during certain times of the day.
The prefectural government said 47 patients have registered so far.
“We have taken steps early to prevent accidental problems,” a Kyoto prefectural government official said.
Isao Tanaka, 72, who lives in Osaka city with his wife, Masako, 67, does not rely on medical devices, but he said he fears for their safety if the summer is extremely hot.
“We made every effort to save power last summer,” Isao said. “It’s hard to do more.”
Last year, the couple responded to the government’s request to reduce power usage by 10 percent or more from 2010 levels, as well as the 15-percent reduction requested by Kansai Electric Power Co.
Masako, who almost suffered a heatstroke two years ago, said she gave up her daytime TV programs and only watched TV for the evening news. They ran their air conditioning for only one hour before going to bed and used an electric fan to cool off.
The couple said they were at a loss over KEPCO’s power-saving request for this summer.
Isao also said he resents KEPCO’s plan to present gift certificates to households that have cut power use by a certain amount.
“Life is more (important) than vouchers,” he said.
Older people are believed to be more at risk of developing heatstroke because they are less perceptive to rises in temperature and their ability to produce sweat and their cardiorespiratory functions have declined with age.
“People have to share (limited) power and decide when and where to use air conditioning or not,” said Yasufumi Miyake, associate professor at Showa University and chairman of a Japanese Association for Acute Medicine committee on heatstroke.
(This article was written by Toyotaka Nagata and Chikako Numata.)
- « Prev
- Next »