This article by Alex Martin discusses Japan’s green shift towards renewable energy sources following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Drawing attention to the Fukushima Prefecture, the article looks at the environmental, cultural and future concerns that may arise from this shift. The nuclear disaster which happened on March 11, 2011, was one of the most devastating nuclear disasters the world has seen. With aftereffects still being felt today, many communities and municipal governments in Japan are looking rampantly towards reducing their dependence on nuclear power and switching to alternative renewable sources of energy. The article highlights how one community, Ōtama, located just 60 kilometres west of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Ōkuma, saw the rapid construction of solar farms by developers as a result of the feed-in tariff system issued by the government. Under this system, electricity is bought by power suppliers from the producers at a fixed rate, which may bring higher profits for the producers.
With Fukushima at the forefront of alternative energy research and initiatives, “the prefecture has set an ambitious goal of powering 100 percent of the region with renewable energy by 2040, compared to around 40 percent today” (Martin, 2019), which is a huge step for Japan in terms of renewable energy sources. A publication written by the Government of Japan, dedicates an entire section on creating “A world fuelled by clean energy” (JapanGov, n.d.) and discusses the government’s initiative on finding more suitable and stable sources of renewable energy. It examines the usage of solar as a renewable source of energy, and other alternatives such as lithium powered batteries and hydrogen fuel cells. Japan’s endeavour on finding alternative sources of energy is also discussed by Holroyd (2017), where she studies the use of hydrogen as an alternative source of energy for all households and states that “Japan is promoting hydrogen in the belief that it will be better for the environment, help solve Japan’s energy security problem, and improve its industrial competitiveness” (p. 158). These efforts reflect Japan’s move to become more environmentally conscious as it turns to renewable sources of energy, as discussed in the article.
Japan’s move towards renewable energy, however, is not without controversy as seen in the case of Ōtama. The rapid installation of the solar panels in Ōtama raised concerns among villagers over the possible damage to the environment. Masao Takeda, the Deputy Mayor of Ōtama highlights that “these solar farms can be eyesores and increase landslide risks due to logging of mountain forests. It’s our duty to protect the majestic scenery of our village for our children” (Martin, 2019). However, they are not totally against solar energy and Takeda adds “we’re just asking developers to be responsible for what they build and work with residents to ensure it won’t be a burden for the village in the long run” (Martin, 2019). The case of Ōtama reflects the ambivalent attitude of the Japanese towards nature brought up by Kalland and Asquith (1997), whereby the love towards nature exists in only one-dimension. This is demonstrated by the developers who are seemingly in line with the government’s view to go green and expand on renewable energy sources but are in fact drawn to the economic benefits of the feed-in tariff system by the government. In their pursuit for economic benefits, they are not “understanding and preserving nature as a healthy ecosystem” (Kalland & Asquith, 1997, p. 29) by ignoring the consequences of logging the mountain forests, and this demonstrates their superficial concern for the environment. The villagers show more concern for the long-term impacts on the environment but also stresses the importance of aesthetic appreciation and cultural preservation. The love the villagers have for nature could be more towards an “aesthetic nature which is identical with culture” (Kalland & Asquith, 1997, p. 30) rather than nature as a whole. If the solar farms were constructed further away, would they have the same environmental concerns? Nonetheless, the case of Ōtama demonstrates some emerging issues that Japan faces on its new initiative with local communities and it should be taken into consideration when planning for future projects.
Japan’s increasing use of renewable energy sources brings it one step closer towards reducing its reliance on nuclear energy, but caution has to be taken in its implementation. The solar farms in this case provide a good source of renewable energy, but its indiscriminate construction can lead to opposition by local communities. With concerns regarding damage to the environment, there needs to be a regulation on the development of these farms to ensure limited damage to the environment in the process. A balance between a sustainable renewable source of energy and the protection of nature is certainly achievable and we believe it is something that can be done in the near future.
Holroyd, C. (2018). Green japan: Environmental technologies, innovation policy, and the pursuit of green growth. University of Toronto Press.
JapanGov. (n.d.). How Japan is advancing the virtuous circle of environmental protection and economic growth. Retrieved February 1, 2020, from https://www.japan.go.jp/sidebyside/lookingahead/page02.html
Kalland, A., & Asquith, P. J. (1997). Japanese perceptions of nature: ideals and illusions. Japanese images of nature: Cultural perspectives. Richmond, UK: Curzon.
Martin, A. (2020, January 19). Balance of power: Redefining Japan’s energy needs. Retrieved February 1, 2020, from https://features.japantimes.co.jp/climate-crisis-renewables/