Culture & Travel

8 February 2021
Japan’s New Power Source: Geothermal 

Today, electricity is the world’s most needed resource. We need energy everywhere, from our homes to our workplaces and factories. Japan is among the countries with highest electricity production and consumption. Developed industry increases electricity consumption, requiring us to somehow increase production.

After the collapse of Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in 2011, energy production was one of the biggest problems Japan had to face as a country. Because nuclear power plants were supplying about 30% of all energy production. As the country with most nuclear power plants in the world, Japan disabled them after Fukushima, which resulted in a major energy crisis. Japan is not an exception in a world dependent on fuel for energy. However, the country is planning to reduce its fuel dependency to a large extent by 2030. Undertaking important works towards renewable energy, the next resource Japan is talking about is geothermal power resources, i.e. underground water resources.

Japan does not have petroleum, but it is rich in terms of coal, which is destructive for the environment. After 2011, Japan reopened new plants working with coal out of necessity. However, these plants are not sustainable in terms of environment and resources. The government insists on nuclear energy (they have already reopened a couple of plants), but the public pressure undermines this insistence. World-renowned writers like Haruki Murakami and Kenzaburo Oe as well musicians like Ryuichi Sakamoto stand against nuclear energy.

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At this point, Japan’s underground water resources have become prominent. Geothermal Information Institute President Sachio Ehara thinks that there are enough geothermal resources in Japan to produce the electricity of 20 large-scaled nuclear power plants. This much geothermal energy stems from nearly 200 volcanoes in the country. If they make use of this energy, it is estimated that 10% of the country’s energy needs can be met in the first year only. Meaning that this is an incredible option. But why don’t they make use of it?

That is the main topic of discussion. These geothermal resources are currently being used for another purpose in Japan: The hot springs known as “Onsen” in Japanese. The hot springs we have all identified Japan with for over a thousand years use these underground resources. Almost 120 million people visit over 3 thousand hot springs all around Japan. The authorities of these hot springs claim that “Onsen” is a part of Japanese culture and geothermal energy will destroy this culture, which necessitates another option for sustainable energy, as per their claim. The owner of Shunji Shibatani hot spring says “there is always at least one Japanese in an Onsen in Japan”.

But, is it not possible to sustain both opportunities? The Hot Springs Union, representing an industry that is worth $26 billion, says “No” to that question and claims that geothermal power plants will damage not only the environment, but also the waters. The other party claims that this is scientifically wrong, and both opportunities can be sustained at the same time. Culture or science? What is clear is: Japan’s energy problem will continue to be an important agenda for a little longer.