Japan mayor wants tsunami-hit rice paddies to go solar

TOKYO Thu Jun 9, 2011 4:16pm IST

Employees of Fukushima prefecture's agricultural industry department walk on the dried-up rice paddy which was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Soma, about 50km from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, May 11, 2011. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Employees of Fukushima prefecture's agricultural industry department walk on the dried-up rice paddy which was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Soma, about 50km from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, May 11, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Issei Kato

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese mayor is seeking to rebuild his city into a renewable energy hub by placing solar panels on top of rice paddies that were devastated by the March earthquake and tsunami.

Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai put Minami Soma, 25 km (16 miles) from the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, on the global map after his plea for assistance via YouTube reverberated around the world.

TIME magazine also chose the 55-year-old former farmer as among the 100 most influential people in the world.

Sakurai told reporters on Thursday that more than 40 square kilometers of the city, including rice paddies, were ruined by the massive tsunami waves on March 11.

"The land is ruined land but we can see this as a chance to fill them with solar panels in a single swoop," said Sakurai, who wants to invite experts from around the world to help rebuild Minami Soma as a center of renewable energy.

"But such a venture cannot succeed unless the government sets regulations where power companies are required to buy electricity at a specified price," Sakurai said.

The disaster at Fukushima's nuclear power plant has forced a fundamental rethink of Japan's energy policy, and Prime Minister Naoto Kan said in May that the country needs to revamp how it regulates power and also explore renewable energy sources.

The government is currently ill-positioned to pursue a shift in energy policy with Prime Minister Naoto Kan on his way out and lawmakers busy with political jockeying after Kan promised to quit to avoid passage of a no-confidence motion.

"Politicians going through with a vote of no-confidence was nothing but a farce for those of us affected by the disaster," Sakurai said.

"Our attempts cannot succeed unless the government shows it is willing to go all out in pursuit of its policies."

(Reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro, editing by Miral Fahmy)

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