Nuclear and wind power can be likened to water and oil; they just don’t mix well. So what kind of “soap” can bring the two energy sources together in Fukushima Prefecture, known as a center for both?
Before disaster struck at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the prefecture's nuclear power output exceeded 9 gigawatts, on par with Fukui Prefecture, home to the most nuclear reactors in Japan.
Fukushima's wind power output is a paltry 140 megawatts compared with nuclear energy, but it still ranks fourth among Japan's wind power-generating prefectures.
The symbol of Fukushima's wind power is the Koriyama Nunobiki Kogen Wind Farm, which sits at an elevation of about 1,000 meters and is located south of Lake Inawashiro. It is Japan's second-largest wind power station in terms of power output. It features rows of 33 wind turbines towering roughly 100 meters high and with triple-bladed rotors spinning at their tops.
The image of wind power is that it is locally produced and locally consumed. I thought the electricity generated here was sold to Tohoku Electric Power Co. But Isao Naganuma, 68, of the Wild Bird Society of Japan's Oku-Aizu branch, corrected my thinking.
"Tokyo Electric Power Co. takes it to the Tokyo area, just like the energy generated by nuclear plants," he said.
The wind power station was built by Tokyo-based Electric Power Development Co. (J-Power).
Two major factors determine whether a wind farm will make a practical business.
The first is obviously wind. The Nunobiki Kogen plateau is an excellent spot due to average wind speed exceeding 7 meters per second.
But the problem is the second factor: the power grid. Tohoku Power has little leeway to receive power from an unstable source like wind. However, TEPCO, which has a large-capacity power grid connected to the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 power plants, accepted transmission by the station.
The “soap,” therefore, is the power grid.
Separating power generation from transmission, one of key issues in reforming the power industry, would increase transmission options, thus raising the likelihood of local power production for local consumption.
Naganuma opposes wind power generation. During the four years since 2001, when J-Power was preparing to construct the power station on the Nunobiki Kogen, Naganuma repeatedly asserted the danger of "bird strikes" that kill migratory birds and those that make their home on the plateau.
Soon after he began his anti-wind power activities, Naganuma received some good news: Fukushima Prefecture became the first prefecture to subject wind power stations to environmental impact assessments.
The Fukushima governor at the time, Eisaku Sato, now 72, is currently an adviser to the Mayors for a Nuclear Power Free Japan. Although he previously promoted the use of nuclear power, he scrutinized development in the prefecture's mountain forests, which cover 70 percent of the land. The time between the start of an assessment and breaking ground on a site took four years.
Thereafter, the movement spread among local governments to enact ordinances regulating wind power projects. In October, wind power projects will become subject to the Environmental Impact Assessment Law.
A power station project with nine wind turbines on highlands along Lake Inawashiro's west shore is now under way, despite opposition from residents concerned about health hazards posed by low-frequency sounds.
Much of the industry discussion on such projects only concern "feasibility," but the subject of "social acceptability," with an emphasis on environmental consideration, now often crops up. Projects cannot move forward unless they directly address wild bird protection and ways to maintain scenic landscapes and reduce noise.
Probably the best-known anime featuring a wind turbine is Hayao Miyazaki's "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind." The film is set in a small country a thousand years after the destruction of a great industrial civilization. The country is located in a valley surrounded by highly toxic air but shielded by the sea breeze. The power of giant wind turbines dotting the land pull up uncontaminated water from deep underground.
Wind turbines have a very green image, and the global mood is inclined toward eliminating nuclear power. The high expectations for renewable energies are providing momentum for wind turbine construction.
Even staunch wind power opponent Naganuma complains about renowned environmentalists who often talk about protecting wild birds but unquestioningly support wind power.
If wind power utilities and the Wild Bird Society remain at loggerheads like water and oil, both sides will lose out in a huge way. So where is the soap?
"Our society is becoming one in which it is hard to understand risk,” said Junko Nakanishi, 74, a fellow at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology and an expert on the study of environmental risk. “However, there is one basic principle: Go out into the field, take measurements and patiently gather data. Then pool it all together and make a level-headed assessment."
When claims that endocrine disruptors would seriously affect human health became a huge story in academia and the media, Nakanishi published a study called "The pointless fuss over endocrine disruptors" in a journal. As it turned out, she was right.
But Nakanishi hasn't always won the debate. For example, her assessment of nuclear power was mistaken.
In 2004 she wrote, "I do not think that nuclear power is a dream technology, but considering our country's energy situation and the kinds of control techniques we have now, it would be OK to use it a little more."
She had not made a thorough risk assessment of nuclear power.
"I'm embarrassed by my ignorance. I've started research with my colleagues about how we should decontaminate Fukushima. We have a lot of opinions, but we should be able to see the right approach if we base our conversations on field research and analysis," she said.
Research data could be another "soap" in negotiations over wind turbine construction. If we cannot trust research conducted solely by wind power companies, then we need a way that allows greater participation by environmental groups.
Fukushima Prefecture aims to generate 4 gigawatts of electricity with wind power by fiscal 2030. The prefecture now has 80 wind turbines of various sizes. To meet its goal, it will have to build a couple thousand 2-megawatt wind turbines in less than 20 years.
Environmental protection costs money. If we don't look at the issues realistically, the shouting in favor of a "Valley of the Wind" will eventually die out.
* * *
Koji Atsumi is the chief of The Asahi Shimbun’s Fukushima General Bureau.
- « Prev
- Next »