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Siting for renewables needs bottom-up approach

Staff Report

If post-Fukushima nuclear disaster crisis Japan chooses to fill its energy needs with renewable energy sources, the nation will still face the same NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) resistance to building large numbers of new facilities in the densely-populated country, an American expert said at a recent energy seminar in Tokyo.

The government is advised to take a bottom-up approach to find communities that are willing to accept wind turbines and solar power generation farms, rather than the top-down process that it used to convince farmers and fishermen into agreeing to the construction of nuclear power plants in their neighborhood over the past five decades, said Daniel P. Aldrich, an associate professor of political science at Purdue University and a Fulbright research fellow at the University of Tokyo.

Aldrich was speaking at a seminar on energy issues organized by the Keizai Koho Center on March 14, based on his research on how Japan was able to build and operate more than 50 nuclear power reactors nationwide — until the triple meltdowns hit Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No.?1 plant in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake.

While the Fukushima crisis changed Japanese people’s views toward nuclear power, the NIMBY reaction of people will not be limited to nuclear plants, but will be likely toward all facilities that bring broad public benefits but locally-focused costs, such as airports, dams and power facilities, Aldrich said.

While many people talk about renewable energy sources as replacements for nuclear power, the NIMBY resistance could be a bigger problem for renewables because they require a far larger land area to produce electricity than nuclear plants, he said.

In choosing the sites for nuclear power plants, the Japanese government for decades targeted rural communities where civil society was weakening and local resistance was believed to be weak, and then used various policy tools to convince the communities into accepting the plants, he said.

One possible way for Japan to approach the NIMBY problems on renewables, Aldrich said, would be to go bottom up — by trying to find communities that are excited about green energy and renewables, to start from the community side and use that initiative to find the locations for wind turbines and solar energy farms.

  • Christina Macpherson

    This is an important article. I hope that many people read it. Germany was able to make a success of renewable energy because of this “bottom up” approach. It is going to be a hard call, for a society like Japan so used to accepting government attitudes. but still, the Japanese people are not stupid!!