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Japan Builds World's Largest Floating Wind Turbine off Fukushima

Japan has constructed the world's largest floating wind turbine, a 344-foot structure that is billed as being able to withstand 65-foot waves.
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FUKUSHIMA, Japan — Engineers in Japan have installed the world's largest floating wind turbine, a towering 344-foot structure that is billed as being able to withstand 65-foot waves and even tsunamis.

The 7 megawatt turbine was fastened to the seabed last week by four 20-ton anchors about 12 miles off the Fukushima coast.

Its installation was delayed four times because of consecutive typhoons in the region. But one of its chief engineers, Katsunobu Shimizu, told NBC News that the turbine — which is about the same height as London's St. Paul's Cathedral — would be able to withstand even the most extreme conditions.

"These turbines and anchors are designed to withstand 65-foot waves," Shimizu said during a sea tour of the turbine given from a boat off the coast. "Also, here we can get 32-foot-tall tsunamis. That’s why the chains are deliberately slackened."

If a large wave were to push the turbine up, down or to the side, the loose chains connecting the structure to the seabed would give it the freedom to move without being damaged, he said.

The country is still reeling from the March 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Before the quake, 30 percent of the country's energy came from nuclear; now Fukushima is being decommissioned and all 48 of Japan's nuclear reactors have been taken offline.

With few natural resources of its own, Japan's importation of fossil fuel since the Fukushima disaster is estimated to have cost the equivalent of $80 billion, according to a government report last October.

The floating turbine was part of an experimental project sponsored by the Japanese government to create the world's first floating offshore wind farm, connecting three floating turbines with one floating sub-power station.

Its goal is to explore the commercial feasibility of wind power as an alternative to nuclear power, as well as to examine whether this could become a potential industry which Japan can export overseas.

The 10 firms involved in the consortium include Shimizu Construction and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.