Article: Japan’s first new geothermal power plant in 15 years to open next month
The news article announces a new geothermal power plant that is scheduled to open in April this year, Japan’s first one since 1999. The power plant is located in Kumamoto prefecture on Kyushu Island, and is built by the Chuo Electric Power Co. The article states that this is just the start of a string of other geothermal projects by several companies on top of Chuo Electric alone.
In the article, Japan is represented as a nation with a rich, abundant source of geothermal energy, since Japan has many volcanoes. Yet there has been low usage of geothermal power due to strong resistance from local communities of potential sites, and many such sites are located in government-protected national parks.
Geothermal energy is considered a “green” or greener source of sustainable energy, and is commonly touted as an alternative to relying on fossil fuels. Furthermore, geothermal energy is one of the few renewable energy technologies that can supply continuous power 24 hours a day (Union of Concerned Scientists). Japan’s renewed emphasis on geothermal energy is forward-looking as it allows the supply of energy with the “lowest environmental impact possible” (Demetriou, 2014).
Critically analyzing the representation of Japan as going greener, while it is true that geothermal energy is a cleaner and greener source of energy, it has its fair share of environmental risks that are not covered in the article. The construction of geothermal power plants significantly increase the possibility of earthquakes as the land is made unstable, and the release of toxic gases and metals are associated with geothermal reservoirs (Maehlum, 2013). The impacts of the new plant, and subsequent ones being planned, on the host communities and their environment, are unknown.
Secondly, it is mentioned in the article that many plants currently planned are circumventing local opposition to geothermal plants by scaling down the size of the plant and promising to revitalize the towns. Yet many plants have plans to expand their operations after they are launched. This brings to mind Aldrich’s article in which he asserts Japanese leaders view public opinion as malleable, and seek to align public opinion with national goals (Aldrich, 2012). Similarly, the opening of geothermal plants is a venture by the industry and highly supported by the government, at the risk of ignoring local environmental concerns.
Should the industry and government go ahead with geothermal energy without sufficient safety plans and engagement with the local community to adequately inform them of possible risks, a similar ‘safety myth’ could occur in these areas with new power plants (Onishi, 2011). It remains to be seen whether this renewed emphasis on geothermal energy would be a blessing or a curse to post-Fukushima Japan.
Aldrich, D. P. (2012). Networks of Power: Institutions and local residents in post-Tohoku Japan. In J. Kingston, Natural Disaster and Nuclear Crisis in Japan (pp. 127-139). London & New York: Routledge.
Demetriou, D. (2014, Mar 16). Japan’s first new geothermal power plant in 15 years to open next month. Retrieved from The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/10701440/Japans-first-new-geothermal-power-plant-in-15-years-to-open-next-month.html
Maehlum, M. A. (2013, June 1). Geothermal Energy Pros and Cons. Retrieved from Energy Informative: http://energyinformative.org/geothermal-energy-pros-and-cons/
Onishi, N. (2011, June 24). ‘Safety Myth’ Left Japan Ripe for Nuclear Crisis. Retrieved from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/25/world/asia/25myth.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Union of Concerned Scientists. How Geothermal Energy Works. Retrieved from Union of Concerned Scientists: http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/how-geothermal-energy-works.html#.VD5eoPmSwjp