Tohoku’s disaster zone cranks up concrete output

JIJI

Concrete output is being ramped up in the coastal areas of three Tohoku region prefectures hit hardest by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in anticipation of port and road reconstruction getting into full swing starting from fiscal 2014.

Demand for concrete is expected to peak in the two years starting next April on the Pacific coast of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.

But there are concerns that worker shortages in the areas may worsen as projects related to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics get under way.

According to an industry group, concrete shipments in the three prefectures rose 36.7 percent from a year before to 2.95 million cu. meters from April to August this year, far sharper than the 8.7 percent increase for all of Japan in the same period.

Fresh concrete needs to be carried to construction and civil engineering sites within 90 minutes after the start of production because it gradually dries out.

In fiscal 2014, demand for concrete in the tsunami-ravaged Kesennuma district in Miyagi Prefecture is expected to reach about twice the amount that can be supplied in the district, the prefectural government says.

The central and prefectural governments have been supporting manufacturers’ efforts to boost output. On the coast of the three prefectures, eight new plants are slated to begin production toward fiscal 2014.

Reflecting serious shortages of skilled construction workers, a recent labor ministry survey showed the nation’s job-offer-to-seeker ratio for those with special skills, including mold makers and steeplejacks, rose to 5.78 in July from 4.38 a year earlier. But that ratio stood between 6.0 and over 9.0 in the three battered prefectures.

A senior official of a major cement maker said the 2020 Olympics is increasing concern in the disaster zone as competition for workers is expected to intensify.

Higher material costs are also creating uncertainty, with major cement makers urging concrete manufacturers to accept price increases as the supply-demand balance tightens.

Procurement of sand, a key ingredient for concrete, has become difficult near the construction sites as demand soars. A concrete maker in Miyagi that buys materials from Aomori said: “Transportation of materials from remote areas will mean increased costs.”