Will Japan's Earthquake Shake the Electronics Industry?

A drop in semiconductor production in Japan could reverberate in auto showrooms and Apple stores

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Special Report: Fukushima and the Future of Nuclear Power

Editor's Note: John Boyd is an IEEE Spectrum contributor reporting from Kawasaki, Japan. This is part of IEEE Spectrum's ongoing coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency. For more details on how Fukushima Dai-1's nuclear reactors work and what has gone wrong so far, see our explainer and our timeline.

Now that workers at the Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima nuclear plant are able to get power and water into the reactor cores and cooling pools, the world can take a deep breath and remember that the world’s third largest industrial power suffered two other enormous blows to its economy—an economy that’s as intertwined with the world’s as two families are after a wedding.

The World Bank has estimated that Japan’s losses could reach $235 billion, mostly from the earthquake and the tsunami. That’s almost twice the impact Hurricane Katrina had. We’re hearing about shortages of cars and parts from the auto sector, but what about the beating hearts of all our consumer electronics—that is, semiconductors?

Facilities belonging to Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, and Fujitsu were damaged by the double disaster, and market analysts are worried they may have hampered semiconductor production in Japan, which supplies about 40 percent of the world’s flash memory. What could that mean to the price and availability of everything from Android tablets to GPS devices to MacBooks?

Steven Cherry’s guest is Jim Handy.  He’s an analyst at Objective Analysis, a market research firm in Los Gatos, Calif., that specializes in semiconductors.

This interview was recorded 22 March 2011.
Segment producer: Ariel Bleicher; audio engineer: Francesco Ferorelli
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