Since the nuclear accident in the Japanese Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant in March 2011, nuclear power popularity has dropped around the world. In Germany, the public reaction lead to an hastened nuclear phase out. China and India slowed down their nuclear roll-out, Switzerland suspended the licensing for three new plants. Japan itself deferred all its plants until the structure of regulations for nuclear power plants was reviewed by a government’s commission. Is nuclear power dead? And should we regret that? Read on to find out.
Japan relied on nuclear energy to feed its energy hungry industry and population for many years. With 50 nuclear reactors, atomic energy provided 28% of its electricity needs. Everything changed after the Fukushima Dai-Ichi accident in the wake of the 2011 devastating earthquake and tsunami. After significant release of radioactive material in the environment and the evacuation of a zone around the power plant of 630 km², Japan’s government decided to take out all its other nuclear plants out of operation under huge public pressure.
Withdrawing one of their major energy sources meant they had to look for alternatives. The country started to import fossil fuels on a massive scale. Nearly 90% of the electricity is now generated based on natural gas, oil and coal. Japan suddenly became the biggest importer of LNG (liquid natural gas) and second importer of coal, after China. The move undid all the greenhouse gas reduction efforts of the last decade. Recently some nuclear reactors have started up again, after safety upgrades imposed by the government. Due to the heavy public resistance, it is unlikely that Japan will turn back to nuclear power and its original emission reduction ambitions soon. Luckily, there is another option: renewables.
There is one big problem with Japan though: it is so small. Land is precious on the mountainous island, which doesn’t leave much room for large scale solar or wind projects.
Electronics company Kyocera has come up with a good compromise: build floating solar farms on large water reservoirs. With 50 000 panels, their latest project on the Yamakura dam reservoir would be good for 13.7 MegaWatt — enough to power nearly 5000 households. It’s not the first of its kind, but when finished it will be the biggest one in electricity production.
Water and electricity are not best friends, so the electrical equipment needs to be sealed carefully. On the other hand, a floating solar farm doesn’t need the heavy steel frames as on land.
cover photo by aotaro