Fukushima spas block geothermal development

JIJI

A proposed major geothermal development in Fukushima has been stalled by opposition from operators of local hot-springs resorts despite the prefectural government’s support for the project.

The prefecture, badly affected by the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011, is promoting renewable energy as a key to recovery. The prefectural government is backing the geothermal project as being “in line with our reconstruction plan,” officials said.

The project, prompted by the central government’s deregulation on excavation work in March, was initiated by Idemitsu Kosan Co. and eight other companies.

The government relaxed regulations on some drilling work in national parks under certain conditions with the aim of promoting renewable energy development.

Under the new rules, the syndicate drew up a plan to build geothermal facilities in Bandai-Asahi National Park, which stretches into three prefectures.

The area is seen as a strong candidate for geothermal development because it has active volcanoes such as Mount Azuma and Mount Adatara.

The envisioned facilities would form the biggest geothermal plant in the country and boast a maximum output capacity of 270,000 kw.

The companies started proposing the plan to local residents in April, but they met with opposition from hot-springs resort operators worried about a possible impact on the environment and spring water.

“The amount of spring water would fall, its temperature would drop, and the mineral constituents of the water may change,” said Yoshiyasu Sato, head of a local hot spring association.

“Nature is our precious asset,” said Junichi Endo, head of a task force set up to fight the geothermal project. “We should not dig into them.”

Idemitsu and other companies initially planned to start surveying the surface of the land this month, but the launch of the project has yet to be decided amid the strong opposition.

“We are still at the stage of listening to people’s opinions,” an official for energy policy in the Fukushima Prefectural Government said. “It is not something we can push forward unilaterally.”

Idemitsu said the companies hope to proceed with the project after obtaining local acceptance.

A geothermal plant has been operating since 1995 in the town of Yanaizu, Fukushima Prefecture, with a capacity of 65,000 kw.