Japan: Sickness claims prompt study of wind turbines

Credit:  BY AYA ITO AND TSUYOSHI TAKEDA, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, www.asahi.com

An Asahi Shimbun survey, meanwhile, has found that residents have filed complaints to the state, local governments or operators over turbines at 30 locations (31 municipalities) in 18 prefectures. Some sites straddle two municipalities.

At the 30 locations where complaints have been filed, 90 percent concerned health problems. Residents say they suffer from insomnia, headaches, dizziness or buzzing in the ears.

Turbines used for wind power generation, pushed as a promising renewable energy source, will come under government scrutiny because of the possible impact on the health of residents.
The Environment Ministry will conduct its first field survey of possible health hazards of wind turbines, covering all of more than 1,500 units in operation across the country.
The four-year study, to start in April, was planned following complaints from neighborhood residents about noise and environmental problems as well as health issues.

No causal relationship has been established, and until now, no nationwide study has been conducted into the situation.

The ministry’s field survey will measure low-frequency sounds from turbine operations and interview residents face to face, according to officials.

Wind turbines standing on windy seashores or hilly areas generate electricity when their rotor blades turn.

The power is counted upon as a clean energy source, one of the keys to slashing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions..

The government has promoted their use since the latter half of the 1990s. But as their number rose, so did complaints.

As of March last year, 1,517 units were in operation at 376 locations in 40 of the nation’s 47 prefectures, according to the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization.

An Asahi Shimbun survey, meanwhile, has found that residents have filed complaints to the state, local governments or operators over turbines at 30 locations (31 municipalities) in 18 prefectures. Some sites straddle two municipalities.

When opposition to proposed construction is included, the number of locations comes to 72 (73 municipalities) in 24 prefectures.

At the 30 locations where complaints have been filed, 90 percent concerned health problems. Residents say they suffer from insomnia, headaches, dizziness or buzzing in the ear.
Of these, complaints are most notable in seven cities and towns, such as Higashi-Izu (Shizuoka Prefecture), Toyohashi (Aichi Prefecture), Minami-Awaji (Hyogo Prefecture), Shimonoseki (Yamaguchi Prefecture) and Hirado’s Azuchi-Oshima island (Nagasaki Prefecture).
The areas have one to 20 wind turbines each. In each case, several to 60 residents have reported health problems.

At the 42 sites where turbine construction faces opposition, health and environmental concerns are most often cited. At 12 of those sites, plans have been dropped or frozen due to a lack of cooperation from residents.

In Nagano Prefecture, plans were afoot to build 49 wind turbines at Mount Nekodake, in Suzaka city, and in a Southern Alps area in Ina city.

But opposition from nature conservation groups and others, along with Nagano Governor Jin Murai’s call for “caution” last February, has sent the plans back to the drawing board.

In Kawauchi village in Fukushima Prefecture, Minamata city in Kumamoto Prefecture and Ojika town in Nagasaki Prefecture, the mayors, along with assembly members, have expressed their opposition to the plans.

According to the ministry plan, the survey will first ascertain whether there have been problems reported in the vicinity of wind turbines.

If residents complain of health problems, their symptoms will be examined.  Measuring equipment will be placed in their homes to find out the relationship between the turbines and health problems. The distance between the turbines and homes as well as geographical features of the area will also be examined.

Wind power generation facilities are not currently covered by the Environmental Impact Assessment Law, which requires an assessment of the possible impact of a large construction project before it is approved.

An expert panel of the ministry’s Central Environment Council proposed in its interim report in November that wind power plants be added to the law’s coverage.

The ministry plans to use the survey results on turbines’ low-frequency noises in setting the standards for the assessment.

The ministry’s Office of Odor, Noise and Vibration says finding out the effects of low-frequency noise on the human body is “a pressing issue” because the country is pushing for greater use of wind power as a renewable energy source.

More than 100 businesses are engaged in wind power generation. Operators contacted by The Asahi Shimbun said they will follow the standards when the impact of low-frequency sounds is scientifically clarified.

Izumi Ushiyama, president of the Ashikaga Institute of Technology and an expert on wind power generation, says operators must listen to residents before pushing their projects.
“Some operators make light of communications with residents in carrying out their projects, which causes friction,” he says.

“This has tarnished the image of wind power generation and blocked its promotion.”
Ushiyama also says a third-party “communicator,” trusted by both operators and residents, must be called upon to make adjustments because the two sides may become involved in confrontations if left alone to discuss the issue.