Geothermal dreams bubble up post-Fukushima via The Globe and Mail

Larger plants also remain controversial. Relaxation this year of a ban on vertical geothermal drilling in national parks has sparked excitement among would-be operators, but many in the hot spring sector say new plants threaten water flows.

Kasumi Yasukawa, an expert on geothermal resources at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, says there is no evidence of such problems and that even if they occur they should be technically resolvable.

Yoshiyasu Sato, chairman of the Fukushima hot spring association, doubts such assurances. The tsunami and nuclear crisis gave Fukushima troubles enough without making geothermal a new threat to troubled bathing businesses, Mr. Sato says. “The most important thing is not to destroy the status quo,” he adds.

Such worries are understandable. The supposedly impossible failure of Fukushima Daiichi was a potent reminder of the need for skepticism toward official promises.

Yet neither Fukushima nor Japan can afford to settle for the status quo. With nuclear power out of favour, there is an urgent need for other sources of electricity – and geothermal is much more stable than weather-dependent solar or wind. Fukushima, too, badly needs to boost business investment and tax receipts.

Officials in the prefecture will have to work hard to overcome opposition – finding ways to ensure hot spring operators stand to benefit from projects and shield them from any losses should their water sources suffer.

However, as the Tsuchiyu project shows, many in the hot spring business realize the troubles caused by the nuclear disaster have also created opportunities. As Mr. Kato puts it: “In a pinch, there is a chance.”

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