In late April, Hitotsubashi ICS students of Prof. Ryuji Yasuda's class were invited on a trip to see first-hand the energy policies and business in Niigata by the invitation of INPEX, the leading Japanese Oil & Gas Exploration & Production company.
Getting on the JR super express Max Toki headed for Nagaoka in the morning, students seemed excited to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and head north-east. The Max Toki brought them to Nagaoka station in Niigata, where students got on a chartered bus to the INPEX Koshijihara Oil Drilling Plant. Students saw for themselves the process of gas production, and learned about the history of the role of oil and gas in the energy mix.
In the afternoon, they visited the INPEX Museum and the Naoetsu LNG terminal, where LNG tanks are housed to receive LNG from abroad. The massive plant represented the importance of the terminal, which ultimately leads to the energy sustainability for the entire world. Following the LNG terminal, they visited the INPEX Mega Solar Jouetsu, where they were able to see the newer initiatives of the energy mix.
After a long day, students settled into Minoya, a 300-year old Japanese-style ryokan where students enjoyed the outdoor bath in the full-blossom of the cherry blossoms. For some, it was the first time to experience the Japanese-style ryokan, enjoying dinner in yukata on the tatami mat accompanied by lots of good Niigata sake and Karaoke. It was a wonderful bonding experience for all faculty and students.
The Minoya ryokan is located right in front of the Yahiko Shrine, situated at the root of the sacred Mt. Yahiko, and surrounded by a forest of 400-500 year old cedar and zelkova trees. It is known throughout Niigata as a "power spot". The Yahiko shrine enshrines Japan's first oil-refining distiller from the 19th century, and many people in the oil industry come to the Yahiko shrine to pray for success in oil drilling. Thus, the Yahiko Shrine is also known for enshrining the "deties of oil." Students enjoyed the beautiful spring scenery with various flowers in full bloom.
The highlight for day 2 was visiting the Kashiwazakikariwa Nuclear Power Station of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. Students had exclusive entry into the nuclear power station, dressing in full gear with geiger counters. They also had a lecture on the safety enhancement measures that were enforced after the Fukushima Accident. Students had a full tour of the site, observing the sea wall, water reservoir, embankment, gas turbine&generator, seismic isolated building, among other facilities.
Many students were extremely grateful to TEPCO staff for their the openness and willingness to share what they learned from their past accident, and were very impressed to see what they had only seen before on television.
"Having seen the plant with my own eyes, it really changed my world view of nuclear power. It was very impressive to see how much they are investing to prevent disasters in the future," one student remarked.
On the Max Toki back to Tokyo, it seemed many students had changed views about the ideal energy mix.
"The two days were an extraordinary experience for me. I understood there is really no perfect energy source, all sources of energy has its pros and cons, and has an impact on nature one way or another. What I did understand was the importance to have a diverse mix. As one who consumes energy everyday, it was eye-opening to learn and see with my own eyes the various sources of energy."
"It was a great two days to learn on site from the leaders of the industry. Prof. Yasuda taught us the business strategy of the energy business, and Prof. Itano gave his insight on the technology side, while Prof. Matsunaga gave his views on the government/policy making side. We really got to know all of them very well, and we are truly grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime experience."
We would like to thank Course Professor Ryuji Yasuda, Visiting Professor and former Vice Minister of METI Kazuo Matsunaga, and Visiting and Adjunct Professor and Former Representative of SODECO Kazuhiko Itano, and INPEX for their generous contribution to this trip.