A Renewable Energy Village has taken root in farmland contaminated by radiation fallout from Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster. The project's vision of combining solar panels with growing crops aims to inspire Japanese farmers to reclaim their abandoned livelihoods.
The community-run project in the city of Minamisoma already has 120 solar panels generating 30 kilowatts of power, according to New Scientist. It features the idea of "solar sharing" by growing crops beneath raised solar panels—a concept that could help farming communities restart agriculture in the wake of the Fukushima disaster and earn additional profits from selling renewable energy to local utilities. (About two thirds of Minamisoma's farmland lies within the nuclear evacuation zone surrounding Fukushima's nuclear plant.)
Wind turbines could also eventually appear at the Renewable Energy Village, if planners can get additional funding beyond the Japanese government's feed-in tariffs supporting the project.
Some of the first crops being grown by the project include rapeseed, a hardy, mustard-type plant with seeds that can be processed for machine lubricants or cooking oils. Belarusian scientists have found that rapeseed plants can absorb radionuclides such as cesium-137 and strontium-90 into their stalks and seed coverings while keeping their seeds uncontaminated.
The Renewable Energy Village could also help the Fukushima prefecture achieve its ambitious goal of converting to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. Local leaders have already planned to locate what could be Japan's largest solar park in Minamisoma. But the Renewable Energy Village's use of raised solar panels aims to prevent large-scale, renewable energy ventures such as solar parks from completely eliminating small farming communities.
Other renewable energy efforts in the Fukushima prefecture include an experimental floating wind turbine off the coast. That project could pave the way for a huge wind farm with a one-gigawatt capacity aimed at tapping into offshore wind power.
Fukushima's local leaders may be committed to creating a renewable energy future, but Japan as a nation won't wean itself off conventional power sources anytime soon. Japan's government has steadily pushed to restart nuclear reactors that have idled in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi plant's meltdowns. And many experts say that renewable energy projects will remain a small part of Japan's power production over the next 20 years.
Photo: Kyodo / AP Photo
Jeremy Hsu has been working as a science and technology journalist in New York City since 2008. He has written on subjects as diverse as supercomputing and wearable electronics for IEEE Spectrum. When he’s not trying to wrap his head around the latest quantum computing news for Spectrum, he also contributes to a variety of publications such as Scientific American, Discover, Popular Science, and others. He is a graduate of New York University’s Science, Health & Environmental Reporting Program.