After 2011 Disaster, Fukushima Embraced Solar Power. The Rest Of Japan Has Not

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Hiroyuki Endo’s grave sits in the middle of the solar farm he and his family built after fleeing Fukushima.

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Chiyomi Endo (top) stands beside her husband’s grave. «Remember that this family evacuated Futaba town, Fukushima prefecture,» the stone reads, «and moved here due to the nuclear accident following the Great East Japan Earthquake that occurred on March 11, 2011.» Endo’s father-in-law, Shouei Endo (bottom, left), wanders through the family solar farm. Shouei Endo’s dog rests by Hiroyuki’s grave.

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The Endos’ solar farm is on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, as far south as they could drive from Fukushima.

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Chiyomi Endo stands at the top of the driveway at her old home in Futaba before handing her keys over to government officials. She and her mother, Tomiko Funaki, 71, had taken one last walk through the house.

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Chiyomi Endo lives with her 10-year-old son, Keiji, in a bright, sunny new house in Kyushu.

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Some, like Chiyomi and her husband, jumped in to build smaller, local operations, while corporations rushed to build massive solar and wind farms. Renewable energy production in Japan — particularly solar — increased year after year, nearly doubling in the nine years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

But in 2018, the Japanese government began backpedaling on the feed-in tariffs, announcing that it would reduce them by more than half, as utility companies passed the cost onto consumers and energy bills skyrocketed.


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And, Iida points out, it has become increasingly difficult for renewables to connect into the power grid.

«The big electricity monopolies have set up a kind of barrier to stop the rapid increase of renewables,» said Iida. He notes that the utilities often favor their own power plants, which burn imported coal or natural gas. With few homegrown energy sources other than its previous production of nuclear power, Japan is one of the world’s top importers of both coal and natural gas. Prior to the Fukushima disaster, Japan had planned to reduce its dependence on coal by more than half in the coming decade; it has instead increased.

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A solar farm is set up in Aizuwakamatsu, a city in Fukushima Prefecture, which has embraced the post-disaster call for renewable energy. Individuals jumped in to build smaller, local operations, while corporations rushed to build massive solar and wind farms.

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Shigeyuki Konno, 74, stands outside his home where he rents his land out for a power company to install solar panels.

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Solar panels in Konno’s field in Iitate, a community in Fukushima Prefecture once known for producing rice and beef. The wind carried high amounts of radioactive material here after the disaster, and the government scraped off all the topsoil in decontamination efforts, making farming a challenge.

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Solar panels in Konno’s field in Iitate, a community in Fukushima Prefecture once known for producing rice and beef. The wind carried high amounts of radioactive material here after the disaster, and the government scraped off all the topsoil in decontamination efforts, making farming a challenge.

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Solar panels are ubiquitous, especially in the area around Daiichi that was evacuated after the disaster. They line hillsides and gleam on rooftops of individual houses. Megafarms stretch for miles along highways.

Out in the farmland of Iitate, a community once known for producing rice and beef, solar panels now sprout from fields instead of crops.

«This is all my land — but it’s nonsense now,» said 74-year-old farmer Shigeyuki Konno with a laugh. He pointed to the land around his one-story home, where his family has been growing tobacco, rice and buckwheat for generations.

He calls his land «nonsense» because it’s relatively useless now. The wind carried high amounts of radioactive material here after the disaster, and the government scraped off all the topsoil in decontamination efforts. The farmers here can’t really farm much anymore.

So when a local power company came and asked Konno whether it could rent his land to install solar panels, he said yes — and most of his neighbors did, too.

But, Konno pointed out, this area is so different now. There used to be rice paddies all around, filled with water and tiny frogs that created a kind of soundtrack for his life. Now it’s quiet.

«I miss the frogs a lot,» he said with a sigh.

Konno doesn’t earn nearly as much now as he did farming, but he sees this as a necessary change. He has nine grandchildren, who all live far away now, scattered after the disaster. They were in town for a visit on a recent weekend, running through the fields.

«My grandparents were farming here, my parents, too. But now, we have to change,» Konno said. «We’re entering the time for solar energy, so I’ve realized it’s a new season. This is for future generations.»

Kat Lonsdorf (@lilkat_bigworld) is NPR’s Above the Fray fellow. The fellowship is sponsored by the John Alexander Project, which supports foreign reporting in undercovered parts of the world. Follow the fellowship on Instagram (@thejohnaproject) and Twitter (@thejohnaproject)

  • Solar energy
  • fukushima
  • Japan

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