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Failure of world's 1st offshore floating wind farm in Fukushima disappoints 3.11 survivors

This Oct. 4, 2013 file photo shows a wind power generation facility floating off Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture. (Mainichi/Takashi Morita)

FUKUSHIMA -- About seven years after the world's first floating wind turbine was installed off the eastern Japan prefecture of Fukushima, the Japanese government announced its withdrawal from the offshore wind farm, disappointing survivors of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

    The turbine, dubbed "Fukushima Mirai (future)," was placed in the Pacific Ocean some 20 kilometers off the town of Naraha in Fukushima Prefecture, and unveiled to media in October 2013, about 2 1/2 years after the quake and tsunami that triggered the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (now Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.) It was the first installation of an offshore wind farm that the central government and others were building. As its name indicated, it was seen as a harbinger of Fukushima's "future" with the introduction of natural, wind-generated energy.

    During a meeting in the city of Fukushima on Dec. 16, 2020, about seven years after the disasters, local fishery operators hurled harsh questions at officials at the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, asking, "What will happen to the symbol of reconstruction?" and "Can't you make use of the facilities?" Earlier that day, agency officials had announced the government's complete withdrawal from the "Fukushima Floating Offshore Wind Farm" project, which included the Fukushima Mirai turbine.

    It was about a year after the disasters that the agency and others had launched a demonstration experiment with a view to commercializing the offshore wind generation project. Later, the 2-megawatt Fukushima Mirai turbine was installed, followed by "Fukushima Shinpu (new wind)" (7 MW) and "Fukushima Hamakaze (beach wind)" (5 MW). Some 60 billion yen (about $560 million) was spent on the project as a "symbol of reconstruction" following the nuclear disaster.

    Before its launch, the project had faced strong opposition from local fishery operators who argued that dragnets and other equipment used in trawling could get caught on undersea cables connecting the floating facilities to the land. However, they eventually accepted the project when considering the ongoing voluntary restraints on fishing after the nuclear disaster and expectations that the wind turbines would vitalize the region by becoming a tourist attraction, among other reasons.

    In a ceremony marking the start of operations of the Fukushima Mirai turbine in November 2013, Kazuyoshi Akaba, then vice-minister of economy, trade and industry, had declared, "We want to make this project a precursor of renewable energy and the symbol of Fukushima's reconstruction while coexisting and co-prospering with fishery industry operators."

    However, a series of glitches hit all three wind turbines, and it was decided in 2018 that Fukushima Shinpu would be dismantled. It was also decided that the remaining two unprofitable turbines would be dismantled in the coming fiscal year beginning in April 2021.

    Despite its demise, energy agency officials emphasized the significance of the project, saying, "We obtained important data. We'd like to make use of it in the future." Many locals, however, perceive it as a "failure."

    Yoshinori Sato, a 62-year-old member of the Iwaki fisheries cooperative in the prefecture, had persuaded local fishery operators to accept the wind farm project from the outset, hoping the turbines would blow away images of the nuclear disaster. The decision to end the project has only left him disappointed. "Huge sums of tax money were spent on it," he lamented.

    A local company executive who had anticipated the benefits the wind farm would bring to the region, such as drawing clusters of wind power projects, commented, "We had growing dreams to make the waters off Fukushima represent Japan's wind farms and to spur the creation of jobs and raise up people with knowledge on wind power generation... But now it's come to an end with nothing to show for it."

    (Japanese original by Shotaro Kinoshita, Yokohama Bureau; Yusuke Hiratsuka, Yamaguchi Bureau; and Mina Isogai, Fukushima Bureau)

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