Fukushima: The Case for Hydroponic Greenhouse Gardening

Fukushima nuclear workers

The Fukushima nuclear disaster transformed the world’s view about the genuine sustainability of nuclear power. Once considered part of the solution to reduce global greenhouse gases, we find ourselves in a position today where many countries and local utilities are re-evaluating the business case for nuclear power altogether.

The economics for nuclear have always been suspect at best, a long-lived toxic asset that requires monitoring for generations beyond our own. With all due respect to the human species, we have trouble making decent logical decisions for next year let alone future generations. Cost overruns of over 200 percent are par for the course, with new power plants costs in excess of €8.5 billion (originally budgeting for €3 billion).

Farmers in Fukushima are coping with the new reality that their livelihoods are forever changed. They’re now utilizing hydroponic farming with LED lights to produce food that is safe and unconnected to the the nuclear radiation soaked into their soil. A hydroponic facility currently under construction has the ability to produce over 8,000 heads of lettuce per day, requiring 1 percent of the water and 25 percent of the fertilizer used in the field. What the professors at Chiba University fail to disclose is the amount of energy used by the LED lights, and what fuel source is producing that energy? At Greenhouse Gnome we’d argue there is no better and cheaper alternative to natural light.

Most greenhouse vegetable production in developed countries is done using a hydroponic system—greenhouse hydroponic tomatoes being among the most commonly consumed retail vegetables, making up 67 percent of the total U.S. domestic tomato production. Many see hydroponics as a bastardized form of modern industrial farming, but in fact hydroponic growing has been around since the time of Babylon—the famous hanging gardens were hydroponics!

Can greenhouse hydroponics address the growing concern about global food security and population growth? We definitely think it plays a major role, especially in urban areas and deserts. Yields can be 10-100 times greater than yields achieved outside, high value crops can be grown out of season, and using one-tenth the water of a field farm. All rather exciting, however a common consumer complaint is lack of taste—something that hydroponic farms have been aggressively addressing. Soil farmers argue that the mineral compositions of soil are too complex to ever be mimicked by a slew of nutrient solutions.

Taste issues aside, the commercial greenhouse vegetable sector is a growth industry. In 2002, the North American greenhouse vegetable sector stood at 2,791 hectares, and by 2011 was up to 16,872 hectares—a staggering nearly sixfold increase in total production!

image: IAEA Imagebank via Compfight cc
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