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Fukushima and the move towards renewable energy

“The nuclear disaster was not a natural disaster, it was a very man-made disaster,” Watanabe says. “So we felt that there was now a need for clean energy and greater energy independence.”

“It was at that symposium that I started to really think about the need for an energy shift away from nuclear power and about how rich the prefecture of Fukushima is in renewable resources,” Sato says.

“Nuclear power companies are not prepared for the cost of decommissioning and could in some cases go bankrupt. Banks and pension funds have lent them a lot of money because they have been regarded as stable, so bankruptcies could become a national financial problem. This would be difficult for the government to handle and might directly hurt pensioners,” he says. “But now the government is just hiding the problem and postponing managing it.”

 

Fukushima looks to renewable energy sources in the aftermath of nuclear disaster, Japan Times, BY KAJSA SKARSGÅRD  ,
Yauemon Sato | CHRISTINA SJOGREN11 Mar 18,

Steam rises from outdoor pools overlooking a waterfall at a 90-year-old hotel in Fukushima Prefecture’s Tsuchiyu Onsen.

“What has saved us since the disaster are the loyal regular guests and the new visitors who have come to study our town’s renewable energy plant. Without them, I’m sure we would have had to close,” says Izumi Watanabe, who has been director of Sansuiso Tsuchiyu Spa for 37 years.

“People come from other onsen areas all over Japan to learn how they can become energy independent and how the binary plant we have doesn’t affect our hot springs,” she says, challenging the preconception that onsen communities, fearing a negative impact on their tourism business, typically hold back the development of geothermal energy in Japan.

Watanabe was at a meeting in the city of Fukushima when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck seven years ago. She returned to Tsuchiyu Onsen to find her hotel intact, but two other hotels in the area damaged and the entire community without power.

or three snowy days, Watanabe sheltered 70 of her own and other hotels’ guests without electricity, telephones or working internet. Gathered together, they ate whatever stored food they could find. Over the next six months, her spa served as accommodation for police and rescue workers, grieving families and people displaced by the tsunami and nuclear crisis.

In total, this town of about 340 residents took in around 1,000 evacuees after the 2011 disasters. Five of the 16 hotels in Tsuchiyu Onsen have since gone out of business: two as a result of earthquake damage, the others on the back of a decline in visitor numbers from approximately 230,000 a year to about 70,000 as rumors of elevated radiation levels swirled. Members of the local community gathered together in October 2011 to discuss their future at what was dubbed the “Tsuchiyu Onsen reconstruction conference.” The locals decided they couldn’t simply go back to doing what they had done before — something new was needed to revive the town and create a safer future.

“The nuclear disaster was not a natural disaster, it was a very man-made disaster,” Watanabe says. “So we felt that there was now a need for clean energy and greater energy independence.”

A renewable energy plant and shrimp farm……….

A local, national concern

An hour’s drive inland, past Mount Adatara and Mount Bandai in the city of Aizu-Wakamatsu, people also started organizing after the nuclear disaster. In July 2011, around 200 people met in the sake brewery owned by Yauemon Sato, a ninth-generation brewer, to discuss the disaster and the future.

“It was at that symposium that I started to really think about the need for an energy shift away from nuclear power and about how rich the prefecture of Fukushima is in renewable resources,” Sato says.

Sato had no background in electricity production, but he did have experience in trying to get small breweries into markets dominated by larger manufacturers. He took one of the leading roles in the growing community power movement.

With the help of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, which had also worked to promote locally owned renewable electricity production before the disaster, Aizu Electric Power Co. was established to manage the planned solar parks.

Today, the company has 70 solar power sites and Sato has become a vocal critic of the large nuclear- and fossil-fuel companies that control the grid through regional monopolies,  thereby hindering the new renewable energy companies from getting into the market.

The monopolies argue that they are protecting the stability of the grid, so at present newcomers in some regions can only connect a maximum voltage of 50 kilowatts onto the network.

“This is a severe problem,” Sato says. “In 2020, the government is going to separate the power transmission business from the power production business, but these big electric companies are creating sister companies to run the grid, so it will still be in the control of the same big companies and continue to be difficult for other producers to use.”

The Aizu region is where shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu’s rebels fought one of the last big battles against government troops in 1868. The people’s rights movement flourished here after the civil war. It matters here that it is the people of Fukushima who have paid the ultimate price for the nuclear power that was sold mainly to Tokyo.

Aizu Electrical Power Co., its logo a fist held up in the air over the letters AiPower, is challenging the electricity establishment of Japan, and is part of a bigger movement.

The first World Community Power Conference was held in the city of Fukushima in November 2016 on the same day as the Paris climate accord came into force. One of the organizers was the Japan Community Power Association, in which Sato is a board member. He is also the vice president of Genjiren, an anti-nuclear power association that, with the help of the former prime ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Morihiro Hosokawa, pitched a bill to the opposition parties in January calling for an immediate halt to nuclear power, together with a more ambitious national goal for renewables.

“Finally I feel that we have a political movement for an energy shift,” Sato says. “We want to make this a national citizens’ movement.”

Unsustainable politics defied

The grass-roots movement pushing for renewables is not alone. Both at home and abroad, the Japanese government has been criticized for failing to embrace broader renewable energy policies in the wake of the 2011 disasters while remaining open to the construction of additional coal plants and nuclear reactor restarts.

……… Tomas Kaberger, executive board chairman of the Renewable Energy Institute in Tokyo.  believes the government is willing to restart more reactors because it fears the financial consequences of failing to do so. The reactors are valuable for the balance sheets of the power companies, but in reality they represent a significant decommissioning liability.“Nuclear power companies are not prepared for the cost of decommissioning and could in some cases go bankrupt. Banks and pension funds have lent them a lot of money because they have been regarded as stable, so bankruptcies could become a national financial problem. This would be difficult for the government to handle and might directly hurt pensioners,” he says. “But now the government is just hiding the problem and postponing managing it.”…….https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2018/03/10/environment/fukushima-looks-renewable-energy-sources-aftermath-nuclear-disaster/#.WqWVhx1ubGg

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March 12, 2018 - Posted by | Japan, renewable

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