Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Japan: Onsen Owners and Geothermal Energy Developers Look for a Compromise

Naked bathers and tradition stymie Japan's clean energy ambitions (The Straits Times)

Courtesy Japan Sauna Spa Association
"We strongly oppose geothermal development," said Toru Terada, the senior managing director of the Japan Spa Association, which represents 1,200 members. "Geothermal plants can lower the temperature of the springs, as well as deplete volume. We can't support the government's plan to loosen regulations in order to expand facilities."

Hot springs are big business in Japan. More than 120 million people stay overnight at such resorts annually, while millions go for day trips, according to the association. 

"Undoubtedly the onsen has impeded" development of geothermal, Greg Bignall, head of the geothermal department at New Zealand-based GNS Science, said by phone. "They can point historically in Japan and around the world where developments have negatively impacted the hot springs."

The government and developers should address hot spring owners' concerns by showing examples of areas that have been developed without damage and by explaining advancements in current methodologies and technologies, according to Bignall.

In October, the government relaxed rules protecting onsen and natural parks, expanding the area that can be drilled. The government still doesn't allow for drilling in so-called "special protection areas."

About 80 per cent of Japan's geothermal resources lie on onsen or nature reserves, according to Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.