Progressing CCS in Japan – December 2017 Visit

For the past week I’ve been in Japan for a series of carbon capture and storage-related events, largely linked to Japan’s recent successful endeavours in deploying CCS technology in the ‘real world.’ The Tomakomai CCS Demonstration Project, up in Hokkaido in the north of the country, in November 2017 celebrated injecting its 100,000th tonne of carbon dioxide. Regardless of one’s views on CCS or on Japan’s climate policy more widely, it is hard to argue against the fact that in financing, building and delivering a large-scale CCS project on time and securely injecting and storing carbon dioxide, Japan has set an example for pretty much the entire world to follow. Moreover, as well as the technical challenges associated with CCS, the Japan CCS Company has managed to achieve this close to a large urban centre, under a seabed from which Tomakomai’s prized Sakhalin surf clams are harvested, and in a country where there is recent awareness of the links between the sea, seismic activity and energy infrastructure. This is laudable from a project management perspective, and fascinating from a social science point of view.


The first big event was Wednesday 13 December, when I was one of the main speakers at the Future of CCS symposium held in Tokyo by the Japan CCS Company and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to mark the 100,000th tonne of injection into the geological formations under Tomakomai Bay. I shared billing with Prof Toshifumi Matsuoka of the Fukada Geological Institute and Prof Yasuko Kameyama of the National Institute of Environmental Studies, and discussed the findings of the paper on Tomakomai I lead-authored which came out earlier this year in Marine Policy. Now, I would be lying if I said I was not terrified at the prospect of presenting in Japanese in front of 380 people (spread over two rooms, with the people in the second room watching via video link). However, the nerves soon abated as I started to pick out many friendly faces in the audience who I knew from previous research collaboration, seminars, and even participating in my interviews. Getting to smash open a big barrel of Hokkaido sake was my reward for getting through it – although in being joined on stage for the barrel-breaking ceremony by Kirsty Anderson of the Global CCS Institute, clearly nobody in Japan had got the message that giving two Scots a big hammer each and standing them in front of a massive vat of alcohol was A Bad Idea.


It was then an early start on the 14th to jump on a JAL flight up to Hokkaido, for a couple of days’ fieldwork in Tomakomai. Tomakomai – and southern Hokkaido more widely – is one of the case studies for my Regional Studies Association project into just transitions for carbon-intensive coastal regions, so this was a brilliant opportunity to get some extra research done. We drove through the ice and slush to the CCS plant and injection site on the far side of Tomakomai port. When I was last here in 2014 all of this was under construction, so it was fascinating to see the whole thing complete. After 6 years’ research, 9 peer-reviewed papers, and 7 projects with a CCS component, I finally got to see a CO2 capture and injection site for real!

Meeting Akihiko Sasaki, the Vice-Mayor of Tomakomai City

The most important thing for me when coming to Tomakomai, though, is to talk to people and find out about the history, culture and context of the place around which CCS happens. In this regard I was fortunate to be able to speak with the head of the Tomakomai City Chamber of Commerce; the Business Location Promotion Division of Tomakomai City Government; and the Principal of Tomakomai Komazawa University. There was also a fantastic opportunity to meet with Sasaki-san, the Vice-Mayor of Tomakomai City, who had attended the symposium in Tokyo and was keen to hear more about my research and findings. And of course, in-between formal meetings there were ample opportunities to enjoy the wonderful seafood and hospitality of Tomakomai.

Professor Kazuhiro Kawashima, President of Tomakomai Komazawa University

Last activity was giving a lecture at a study group held jointly by the Engineering Advancement of Japan and the Japan CCS Company in Tokyo on Monday 18 December. I spoke about the potential applications of thinking around social licence to operate and social impact assessment to offshore CCS in Japan, and spoke at length – perhaps a little too much so (sorry!) – about the importance of using such tools carefully and reflexively as a means of incorporating societal concerns within decision-making processes. Also presenting were Prof Tomochika Tokunaga of University of Tokyo, who discussed regulatory, governance and ethical issues around long-term geological storage of radioactive waste and their potential applicability to CCS, and Dr Motoko Kosugi of Shizuoka University, who talked us through the theoretical social science state-of-the-art on risk communication and risk governance. What impressed me most about JCCS and ENAA was that in Prof Tokunaga and Dr Kosugi, they had invited two speakers from outside the CCS ‘epistemic community’ who were prepared to speak in a rigorous, critical and theoretically-grounded way about the governance of CCS. I’ve often felt this constructive critique from ‘outside the bubble’ has been lacking in many CCS-related events I’ve been at in the past, and its inclusion is something I’ve long called for in my own work – so it was encouraging and motivating to see it included here.

It’s been a busy week, and I need to thank both the Engineering Advancement Association of Japan and the Japan CCS Company for inviting me and looking after me so well over the course of the week. I’m also very grateful to my collaborator Dr Jun Kita of the Marine Ecology Research Institute, who was crucial to me being able to undertake the initial fieldwork in Tomakomai last year and who joined us in Hokkaido this time too, and to the Regional Studies Association who are supporting this phase of the Tomakomai research and its extension beyond CCS into just transitions. I was also delighted to have my wife Naoko with me this time – she provides so much support behind the scenes in terms of making sure all the translations are spot-on when I submit work for peer-reviewed publication, so I was happy to have a chance to show her my ‘field sites.’ Lastly, as always the biggest thanks of all goes to the people of Tomakomai City for their warmth and support towards not only my research, but also the CCS project as a whole. See you again in January!

Above image: why monitoring of CO2 storage and injection matters – delicious seafood of Tomakomai Bay


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