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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fukushima resort to tap spa for own power, revival pitch

Jiji

FUKUSHIMA — A group of baby-boomer residents from a spa resort section of the city of Fukushima is aiming to restore the area's popularity — which is suffering amid the prefecture's nuclear crisis — by introducing a geothermal power-generation system that uses water from the hot springs.

Located in a mountainous area of the city some 15 km west of JR East's Fukushima Station, the Tsuchiyuonsen resort previously attracted an average of more than 200,000 tourists each year. But that number plunged following the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and ensuing triple-meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 atomic power plant, some 75 km away. More than a year into the crisis, tourist figures remain far below predisaster levels, and five of the resort's 16 hot-spring inns have shut down, while another has been temporarily closed for an extended period of time.

To address the dire situation, local volunteers formed an association to lure tourists back to the resort, which is well-known for its production of "kokeshi," a type of traditional wooden doll.

The group's leaders are Katsuichi Kato, 63, who heads a social welfare firm, and Kazuhiro Watanabe, 62, who runs the Sansuiso inn.

Kato and the other members are pinning their hopes on the geothermal power-generation system, which uses heat from the hot springs. The heat will be used to boil ammonia, which has a low boiling point, to drive turbine generators. The project has won a subsidy from the Environment Ministry.

The new system, which can utilize excess spa water, is considered to be more environmentally friendly than existing geothermal power generation systems that require large-scale plants to generate electricity from high-temperature gases deep in the ground.

Kato's group aims for the generation of 500 kw per hour by the end of March 2014. It also plans to build small-scale hydropower facilities that use a local river.

The combined target is 1,100 kwh, which would cover all of the electricity used in the area.

Kato is also working on a number of other resort revitalization initiatives, including tours to showcase environmentally friendly power generation and setting up vegetable production facilities that use this electricity.

If the area becomes self-sufficient in regards to its electricity supply, the achievement would be the first for any spa resort in the nation, according to Kato. "We are set to walk on the road to recovery by creating new tourist attractions and new jobs," he said.

The pair were also part of a group that worked on revitalizing the spa in the wake of the 1973 oil shock. The current plight has been likened to the aftermath of a massive fire in 1954 that burned through most of the resort.



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