The site of the most recent high-profile nuclear disaster is reinventing itself as a renewable energy leader in Japan. Land that became too toxic for people to farm and live on after the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station will soon be dotted with windmills and solar panels.
By 2024, 11 solar and 10 wind power plants on abandoned land in Fukushima Prefecture will generate 600 megawatts, which is roughly two-thirds of the energy output of a typical nuclear plant, Nikkei Asian Review and Yale Environment 360 reported. It’s still far less power than the nearly 4,700 megawatts its nuclear reactors were capable of generating before. But a 2017 prefecture survey found that 54 percent of residents wanted renewable energy, compared to 14 percent who didn’t, according to The Japan Times. The shift is beginning to take shape, thanks to $2.75 billion in financing from groups including the Development Bank of Japan (which is government-owned) and Mizuho Bank (privately owned). A new power grid will connect to the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s transmission lines, which will transfer energy to Japan’s capital city, a three- to four-hour drive away.
Fukushima’s transition from nuclear energy to solar and wind comes as policymakers and scientists around the world debate the role of nuclear energy in efforts to stop the climate crisis. Some look to nuclear energy as an important way to generate energy without burning planet-heating fossil fuels. Yet, despite advances in nuclear technology since notorious meltdowns of the past, others are still concerned about the risks associated with nuclear power.
Fukushima Prefecture, an area encompassing 59 municipalities and a population of over 1.8 million people, is still recovering from rounds of disasters. Eight years ago, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake triggered a tsunami, which led to three reactor core meltdowns at the nuclear power station. In October 2019, Typhoon Hagibis took another swipe at the prefecture, wiping out homes and businesses that had been rebuilt since 2011. Its floodwaters also washed away an unknown number of industrial-strength plastic bags filled with soil contaminated since the nuclear accident, according to The New York Times.