Accepted Paper:

Risk and aesthetics of geothermal boom in Japan  


Tak Uesugi (Okayama University)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation explores how geothermal boom in post-Fukushima Japan is received in hot spring resorts near the development sites. Rsk to the hot spring resource serves as a stand-in for various suspicions including those against urban disregards for rural communities.

Paper long abstract:

Since the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, the initiative to develop renewable energy infrastructure has entered a new stage in Japan. One of the promising areas of development in this earthquake-prone nation is to utilize this geothermal energy for power generation. Japan has one of the largest reserves of geothermal energy in the world. However, its utilization has been minimal due to the government's emphasis on nuclear energy and various other technical and social difficulties. In particular, for decades, onsen (hot spring bath resort) communities have been wary of the geothermal energy development because of its unknown risk to the underground hot spring resource that they also use.

In this presentation, I follow Brian Larkin's call to pay attention to the "poetics of infrastructure" in addition to its politics. While Japan's geothermal boom is fed by the utopian vision of clean, sustainable, and nationally owned source of energy, the materiality of its infrastructures presents old dilemmas of industrial developments in rural Japan. Just as in other development projects, geothermal infrastructure brings environmental destructions and other visible intrusion to the local landscape. In particular, for onsen communities, the risk to their hot spring resource becomes a stand-in for various suspicions including those against urban disregards for rural communities. Meanwhile, in places like Tsumagoi of Gunma Prefecture, the dystopic narratives of dwindling population and rural demise has led some of its members to pin their hope on geothermal development as a way of invigorating local communities.

Panel P078
Renewable energy infrastructure