Asia Minute: Geothermal Power and Japan’s Hot Springs

Jun 16, 2016

Snow monkeys in Japanese Onsen.
Credit Chi Tranter / Flickr

Geothermal power has been part of the electricity grid for decades on Hawai‘i Island. In Japan, development of geothermal has been slow—but a recent move might speed things up. HPR’s Bill Dorman explains in today’s Asia Minute.

Hot springs are a vital part of Japan’s tourism industry.  Hotels and resorts are built around them….and onsen culture has been a traditional form of relaxation for a very long time.  Many of the people who run these resorts have been opposed to geothermal power projects---fearing that the quality and volume of their water might be affected by a nearby power plant.

Now there’s a policy for that.  Tokio Marine and Nichido Fire Insurance is now selling insurance to operators of geothermal plants that would pay for a technical survey to determine if a plant has any impact on a nearby hot spring.  Up to now, the operators of the hot springs have been on the hook for those studies…which can top a quarter of a million dollars.

Four years ago, Japan’s government eased some rules to allow geothermal power in protected national parks…as the country explores its energy options beyond nuclear power following the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant.  Just last year Japan re-opened its first nuclear power plant since that crisis…..and today only two of the country’s 42 nuclear plants are in operation.  Nuclear power once supplied about 30% of the country’s electricity needs….but a return to wide use of nuclear energy faces stiff public opposition.