Photo/IllutrationA room where 21 atomic clocks generate Japan Standard Time in the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology in Tokyo’s Koganei (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Japan’s official time keeper will start operating a new set of atomic clocks in Kobe on June 10 to ensure the country has the correct time in the event of a crippling disaster in Tokyo.

The National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT), which is in charge of generating Japan Standard Time (JST), said the backup plan is necessary in the quake-prone country.

JST is currently determined by 18 cesium atomic clocks and three hydrogen maser atomic clocks at NICT headquarters in Tokyo’s Koganei. The clocks’ functions play a crucial role in all corners of normally punctual Japan, including public transportation and electric commerce.

“Now, Japan Standard Time would not be interrupted even if there is an emergency (in Tokyo),” said Yuko Hanado, a senior researcher at the NICT.

The necessity of the backup plan came under the spotlight after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Tohoku region.

A radio wave transmission facility for disseminating time had been operating in Kawauchi, Fukushima Prefecture, near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

But it was forced to close when an evacuation order was issued, causing problems for some radio wave clocks and watches.

The NICT realized that if an earthquake damaged the clocks at its Koganei headquarters, the institute might be unable to generate or disseminate JST.

The backup facility is located within the Advanced ICT Research Institute of the NICT in Kobe. The institute is 4 kilometers west of the standard time meridian, which is 135 degrees east longitude.

It will operate five cesium atomic clocks and two hydrogen maser atomic clocks.

If the Tokyo facility is hit by a disaster and becomes inoperable, the seven clocks in Kobe will kick in and keep Japan on time.