Japan, as a nation, has been understandably wary of nuclear power and nuclear weapons for well over six decades, and that wariness only increased last year when an infamous tsunami and earthquake struck the Fukushima nuclear power plants to make a perfect storm of a radiation horror story. The end result, amidst rebuilding efforts still underway fifteen months later, is that Japan has apparently washed its hands of nuclear power entirely (the last nuclear reactor was shut down on Saturday night).
Simply shutting down the reactors, obviously, has the first effect of “yay, no more nuclear waste, no more nuclear power, no reactors set to potentially explode if the ground beneath all our feet decides it wants another dance.” The second effect is the electricity shortage that comes with that, and the third is the potential increase in greenhouse gas emissions as Japan tries to make up that shortage by burning fossil fuels. Then, there’s the matter of Japan having to import the fossil fuels from elsewhere (it’s not like it has its own stash to mine), and it’s not a pretty picture.
Volcanoes to the Rescue!
However, Japan’s very nature of geological instability (it is a volcanic island chain, after all) might give it an edge in geothermal power. It’s sitting right in the middle of the infamous Ring of Fire, and has oh so many hot springs (no, seriously, you can just go sit in them and everything; the monkeys do it). Estimates put a total of 23.47 GW of potential geothermal energy in those hot springs (although there are many located in resorts and national parks that are difficult or impossible to exploit, making the usable number somewhat lower).
For a country with as much seismic energy bouncing around as Japan does, it uses remarkably little geothermal power now — only 0.5 GW. It does have the option of solar power (3.5 GW, potentially) and wind power (2.5 GW, again potentially), but geothermal offers perhaps the most potential energy to meet Japan’s needs.
Japan currently generates just 8% of its power from renewable (and local) sources. The goal is to be at over 25% in the next 18 years, and tapping its incredible potential for geothermal energy can only help it reach that goal. Questions or comments? Let us know below!
Charis Michelsen spent 7 years living in Germany and Japan, studying both languages extensively, doing translation and education with companies like Bosch, Nissin, Fuji Heavy, and others. Charis has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She also believes that Janeway was the best Star Trek Captain.