• Two survey wells planned to be drilled at national park
  • Fukushima prefecture trying to attract clean-energy projects

Idemitsu Kosan Co., a Japanese refiner, is set to begin drilling surveys for a geothermal project in Fukushima with 10 other Japanese companies, highlighting efforts to promote clean energy in the prefecture after an earthquake in 2011 triggered the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. 

Two survey wells will be drilled as deep as 1.9 kilometers (1.2 miles) at the Bandai-Asahi national park 230 kilometers north of Tokyo later this year, said Hisashi Jotaki, who heads the geothermal section at Idemitsu. Surface surveys began in 2013 to identify areas suitable for drilling.

“It’s unusual for 11 companies to work together on a geothermal project,” Jotaki said in an interview. “But we decided to do this as we want Fukushima to use geothermal power to help their reconstruction efforts.”

The plan is among dozens of geothermal power projects to receive government subsidies for geological surveys and test drilling across the country since 2012.

For the Fukushima project, the partners -- including Inpex Corp. and Mitsui Oil Exploration Co. -- will decide by March 2018 whether to move on to drilling wells for use in actual power generation. That would depend on the results of the current survey, said Jotaki, a 36-year-veteran in geothermal development.

Reserve Capacity

The companies are aiming for the project to come online in the 2020’s, the official said.

Japan has 23 gigawatts of geothermal reserves, placing it behind just the U.S. and Indonesia, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Japan currently has only 520 megawatts of geothermal capacity.

Even though Japan introduced an incentive program for clean energy in July 2012, the pace of geothermal expansion has been slow, given that development cycles typically last about 10 years and projects involve negotiations with local communities and hot spring operators.

To promote the construction of large-scale projects, the government relaxed rules in 2012 and again in 2015 to develop geothermal in national parks where about 80 percent of Japan’s reserves lie. The rule changes allowed for drilling for the Fukushima project because the potential site is in protected areas, Jotaki said.

Idemitsu is also exploring the feasibility of two other geothermal projects in the northern prefectures of Hokkaido and Akita with Inpex and Mitsui Oil Exploration.

Other companies taking part in the Fukushima project are Sumitomo Corp., Japan Petroleum Exploration Co., Geothermal Energy Research & Development Co., Japan Metals & Chemicals Co., Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Company Inc., Mitsubishi Corp., Mitsubishi Corporation Power Ltd., and Mitsubishi Materials Corp.

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