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 August 20, 2015
Nuclear slogan writer who saw the light now banks on solar power

 It's the dawn of a sunny new day for a man who as a schoolboy dreamed up an upbeat slogan for a signboard used to promote the now crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Yuji Onuma, 39, recently launched a solar power plant here to bring about a "bright future" without nuclear energy.

Onuma, the creator of the iconic "Nuclear energy is the energy of a bright future" sign that still hangs in Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, hopes his new venture will mark a fresh start for his life, which was greatly affected by the country's energy policy.

"Until the Fukushima accident occurred, I thought my life relied on the prosperity of nuclear energy, but I lost everything when the nuclear plant ended up as a failure," he said. "My life is still intertwined with the electric industry, but I could make a fresh restart this time thanks to this renewable energy project."

In 1988, Onuma, then an elementary school sixth-grader in Futaba, which co-hosts the damaged plant, came up with the signboard slogan as a homework project.

The slogan became a local fixture on an overhead signboard that greets visitors at the entrance to a central shopping street of the town. After growing up, he became a real estate agent and operated apartments for plant workers in the town.

But in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, his family's life has been turned upside down, just as it has for all Futaba residents.

The family has spent more than four years living as evacuees, first in Anjo, Aichi Prefecture, and elsewhere. These experiences have made Onuma reflect on his elementary school slogan and his naive acceptance of nuclear energy.

Thus, in building his solar power plant in Nasu-Karasuyama in eastern Tochigi Prefecture, Onuma and his wife, Serina, 40, decided to place a signboard with the modified message, "Renewable energy is the energy of a bright future" in its compound.

It is the sixth solar power plant he has built in Tochigi and Ibaraki prefectures since he opened the first in Sakura, Tochigi Prefecture, in May last year.

The six power plants are capable of generating a total of 236 kilowatts of electricity, which ironically is sold to Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, using the government's feed-in-tariff system for renewable energy. The system, introduced in July 2012, obligates electric utilities to purchase renewable energy generated by developers at fixed rates.

Onuma's solar power plants bring in about 200,000 yen ($1,600) a month for his family after the loan payments for their construction are deducted.

"I thought I could contribute to the creation of a nuclear-free world through the renewable energy business," Onuma said.

He added that he became even more motivated to create a nuclear-free society in Japan after his two children were born while the family was living as evacuees.

Meanwhile, Futaba town officials now plan to remove the brittle signboard later this year at the earliest and preserve it elsewhere.

Onuma has advocated preserving the overhead signboard as is to serve as a reminder of the devastating effects of the nuclear disaster as a "negative legacy."