Wednesday, September 3

Japanese Hotsprings Resort Protests Geothermal Power

Local tourism workers fear that nearby geothermal drilling could dry up tourist supply for Kusatsu's famous hotsprings resort

About 1,100 residents of tourist town Kusatsumachi held a protest rally against a plan to build a geothermal power generation plant 2 miles from their famous Kusatsu Onsen (hot springs) resort. More than 90 percent of the villagers earn their living from tourism-related jobs. Gathering around the town's symbolic natural thermal well, they waved fans bearing slogans such as "Geothermal power generation dries up our hot springs," and "Protect Japan's hot spring bath culture."

Natural hot water at the Kusatsu Onsen hot spring resort is scalding hot and cannot be used for bathing.

In the town's hot spring baths, a practice called yumomi--stirring up hot water to lower the temperature--is preferred over adding cold water, which thins minerals in the hot water believed to be healthful.

Ironically, this practice of yumoni wastes heat energy, but geothermal power generation would more efficiently utilize such wasted power. That's because in modern geothermal development, steam is turned to liquid water and reused, without negatively affecting nearby hot springs.

The earliest geothermal projects, in New Zealand, did not reinject fluids back for reuse. Initially only about 10 percent was returned to the earth. As a result, in Wairaki: the second geothermal development in the world the hot pools have been depleted by geothermal drilling. Only 10 percent had been reused. Reinjection began purely as a disposal method, but has now been recognised as an essential part of reservoir management.

Japan could more than double current geothermal electricity supply if it harnessed all the untapped thermal energy from 1,591 hot spots nationwide, and this can be done while also protecting their hot springs for resorts when the fluids are reinjected after use. Currently Japan is fifth in the world in geothermal power.

Via Yomiuri Online
Photography by Marc Veraart

For Matternetwork