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Japan Plants Renewable Energy Village in Fukushima's Contaminated Farmland

Growing crops beneath solar panels could inspire Fukushima farmers in the wake of Japan's nuclear disaster

2 min read
Japan Plants Renewable Energy Village in Fukushima's Contaminated Farmland
Photo shows a rice paddy in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, on Oct. 12, 2011.
Kyodo / AP Photo

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

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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