SOLAR POWER MUST BE REGULATED AS STRINGENTLY AS NUCLEAR POWER
Around 10:30 a.m. on July 3, a deadly torrent of mud and debris hit a district of the seaside resort city of Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, damaging or destroying nearly 130 homes and killing 18 residents. Twelve people are still missing two weeks later. It is impossible to ignore the possibility that the cause might have been a nearby mega solar power plant, but Shizuoka Prefectural authorities quickly announced that the plant had not had anything to do with massive landslide.
The avalanche of mud reportedly constituted some 55,000 cubic meters (approximately cubic 72,000 yards) of earth and rocks mainly from a mammoth mound created with surplus soil filling up a hillside some 200 meters (220 yards) from where the solar panels are located. Because the landslide included industrial waste, prefectural officials explained the disaster as a problem caused by the surplus soil rather than the nearby mega solar facility.
Last Friday, I invited two well-informed guests to my “Genron” weekly Internet TV news show to discuss how the landslide and mega solar development may be interrelated. Goshi Hosono is a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) member of the lower house of the Diet representing Shizuoka Prefecture, and Jun Takada is a prominent emeritus professor of physics at Sapporo Medical University. Takada took issue with the explanation Deputy Governor Takashi Namba gave, pointing out:
“Namba held a news conference to explain the landslide. From the outset he single-mindedly clung to a theory that the flawed landfill project was the presumed cause of the disaster. But I strongly believe his contention by itself is highly questionable. Aerial photos clearly show a road linking the site of the landfill to the mega solar facility located close by.“
From these photos, we can see numerous solar panels covering a ridge on a nearby hill. The road linking the plant with the spot where the cave-in occurred, as described by Professor Takada, can also clearly be seen. Isn’t there a possibility that the surplus soil from the ground-leveling work at the solar plant site might have been transported to create the mound which caved in? Obviously, the developer lied to the authorities as regards the planned soil volume and height of the embankment when it applies for approval of the project. (The height the developer cited initially was 50 meters [55 yards] but it actually turned out to be much higher). The mound subsequently collapsed in heavy rain but the solar panels were still intact. Perhaps that is why the deputy governor denied any ‘direct relationship’ between the installation of the solar panels and the landslide.
Hosono, whose constituency once included Atami, stated: “I can’t understand why the prefectural officials refuse to include the solar facility as a possible related cause of the landslide just because the ridge on which the mega solar panels stand didn’t collapse. The real causes must be properly investigated.”
Following the Fukushima disaster in 2011, Hosono (then Minister of State for Nuclear Damage Compensation under the second Democratic administration led by Naoto Kan), made a big show of setting the long-term goal of radioactive pollution for the affected areas at less than 1 millisievert a year—versus the 20 to 100 millisieverts accepted internationally. No small number of Fukushima citizens still criticize as a blunder Hosono’s words and deeds that followed the meltdown, pointing out specifically that the rigid safety standards he set have prevented many citizens from returning to their hometowns. Hosono pledges to “eventually confess all my sins (including that particular point) in the ‘court of history.’”
Journalist Gentaro Saigusa, formerly with the conservative daily Sankei Shimbun, has this to say on the basis of having frequently covered solar power generation across the nation:
“Of the many solar power plants I have covered over the years, there have been at least six cases that involved landslides in areas where solar panels had been installed. In Shimoda, Shizuoka Prefecture, houses were engulfed in a fierce avalanche of mud and rocks. All of the solar panels have escaped undamaged, but the mountain terrain near them fell prey to massive landslides.”
Criticizing Solar is Taboo
Saigusa points to a big hillside collapse that occurred last October in the town of Ranzan-cho in Saitama Prefecture neighboring Tokyo. The township had cut down forests to develop a mountain slope measuring 46,000 square meters (55,015 square yards) as its site for solar power generation, covering the surface with a carpet of 10,000 solar panels. When it rained incessantly for several days, a huge portion of what used to be the forest sustaining the slope caved in. It was obvious that the completely deforested part of the mountain had significantly lost its water-holding capacity against heavy rains.
What I wish to emphasize here one more time is that one simply cannot claim that the collapse of the artificial mound in Atami had nothing to do with the solar development project implemented nearby simply because the solar panels remained intact.
Shizuoka Governor Heita Kawakatsu surprised me during a telephone interview with totally unexpected remarks about what he saw as possible causes of the disaster. He said he was having a problem with some press reports which effectively determined that “Shizuoka prefectural authorities have made a judgment to deny any relationship between the tragic landside and solar power generation, obviously removing it from an investigation of the real causes.”
Kawakatsu asserted that, while he appreciated Namba’s specialist knowledge as deputy governor, it is “not my intention” for the prefectural government to be construed as rigidly excluding solar power generation from among possible causes of the landslide. His remarks made me feel he may perhaps be admitting that he does see a relationship between them. Remarked Kawakatsu:
“Problems involving mega solar power generation are indeed very serious. I have set up a prefectural investigative committee to determine if and how the mega solar facility atop the hill may have triggered the landslide. Prime Minister Suga, who visited Atami on July 12 to inspect the site of the disaster, has agreed to have the state investigate the matter.”
But it still strikes me as strange why the deputy governor made the explanation to the press that could be taken as denying any possible relationship between the two factors. I also wonder why it is that almost all our TV stations, newspapers, and news agencies have rather suddenly stopped reporting on this matter. Some TV stations are not even showing the nearby solar facility in their coverage of the story. It is as if they are afraid of mentioning solar power generation. Since when has criticism of solar power generation become taboo in this country?
Government’s Grand Scheme Will Destroy Nature
As I pointed out on my news show, the vast forest near where the Atami landslide occurred are currently owned by Zen Holdings Co., Ltd.—a construction and real estate outfit headquartered in Tokyo. Heading its legal team is Hiroyuki Kawai, a liberal lawyer who has vigorously pushed forward anti-nuclear power generation campaigns in tandem with Ms Mizuho Fukushita, a lawyer who heads the minority Social Democratic Party. Do the media and Shizuoka Prefecture have any reason to fear going head-to-head with Zen Holdings or the likes of Kawai and Fukushima? Would a decision not to criticize solar power generation do them some good?
I wonder what role the energy policy of the Suga administration is playing in all this. Minister of Environment Shinjiro Koizumi, elder son of former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, is Suga’s fair-haired boy popularly viewed as one of the most promising politicians of his generation. Koizumi is clearly under the influence of his father who is strongly against nuclear power. In his zeal to aim for a virtually zero CO2 emission by 2050, Koizumi Jr. is zealously promoting a major increase in the nation’s mega solar power plants, an implementation of which will in reality require great sacrifices on the part of the Japanese people—no matter how one looks at it. And Suga is giving the project a boost.
Koizumi asserts that in order to fulfill his ultimate goal by 2050, Japan will need to install solar power generation facilities capable of generating a total of 20 million kilo-watts of electricity—equal to the output of 20 nuclear power plants combined. That would require a deforestation of all together 100 square kilometers (39 square miles) of our hills and mountains, Takada warns, observing:
“Suppose the government comes up with a belt of solar power plant 100 meters (110 yards) wide, Koizumi will not be able to achieve his objective without a solar panel belt stretching a total of 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) across Japan. Is he seriously planning to pursue the construction of so long a solar panel belt, stripping bare a wide stretch of our lush green mountains from Aomori Prefecture to somewhere in western Japan, say Kobe? The Japanese people do not want such destruction of our nature.
Why is such a scheme being pursued by the Suga administration? Bureaucrats maintain that it is part of the nation’s overall strategy to sustain our economic growth, but I wonder why the Suga administration is moving ahead with a policy that likely will destroy our peaceful landscape, cause landsides, and claim many victims. If the government continues to push solar power, it should at least adopt stringent regulations that are equal to those applied to nuclear power.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 960 in the July 29, 2021 issue of The Weekly Shinco)