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A leader in mercury waste management

Interview - May 16, 2017

Nomura Kohsan is engaged in the collection, transportation and disposal of municipal and industrial waste and is the only mercury-recycling company in Japan. President, Yasushi Fujiwara, speaks to The Worldfolio about the liberalization of the power sector in Japan, environmental regulation and his company’s all-important role mercury waste management, particularly following the signing of the 2013 Minamata Convention, a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury.


The Fukushima  nuclear  disaster  redistributed  the  cards  of the  country’s energy sources. By 2030, Japan expects renewables to represent 22% of its energy mix. If  achieved,  this  objective  is  expected  to  make  Japan’s  self-sufficiency  rate  go  from 6.1% (2013), to over 24% (2030), directly reducing the cost of electricity. How  would  you  rate  initiatives  such  as  the  feed  in  tariffs (FIT)  or  electricity deregulation?  How  can  the  issue  with  supply  line  be  resolved?  And  what  other  incentives would you like to see from the government?

The FIT policy relates to the purchase of power generated from the private sectors and the introduction of the policy has made it easier for newcomers to take part in the same field of business.  The policy was activated five years ago and nearly 30 million kilowatts of capacity have been newly introduced by this policy during that time.  In Japan, it is heavily biased to photovoltaic technologies which have left behind other technologies, for example geothermal power generation has not increased and I foresee that the next challenge will be to diversify and focus on the other opportunities available such as biomass power generation. It is not purely a bad thing to heavily rely more on photovoltaic energy, the characteristic of the photovoltaic pagination is to have all utility of power generation by the available sanction, in order to balance or equalize the level of power supply.  It is now beginning to newly construct additional facilities as well as increasing capacity of power energies in the community, which is a secondary effect of the economic stimulation.

The geothermal power generation has a very promising future, partly because of the poor air born resources in Japan.  A challenge that we face, not only necessarily with the geothermal generation, but in general whenever a new technology is introduced into the community it is a challenge to get a consensus from the local residents. There is a structural infrequency between the Ministry of Economic Trade and Industries who is responsible for the promotion of new technology development and the Ministry of Environment, who is in a position to pay attention to the environmental issues but to some extent has seen his political authority be vastly delegated to the local government, which causes some distance between those authorities and makes it even more difficult for the private sector to address.

I am aware some private sector companies are deeply committed to promoting biomass power generation and in the long-term future it will become critical to promote the supply of biomass fuel.  Should this transpire the subsistence may not be fruitful, therefore it will be essential for the government leaders to coordinate with the fuel supplier and the business promoter.


The latest country  report  from  the  Environmental  Performance  Index  ranked  Japan  at 39th in  the  world.  Except for  Belgium,  Japan  has  the worst ranking of all tier one nations. However, Japan scores very well  in  sub-themes such as water conservation and sanitation (100/100). As  a foreigner,  what  is  your  assessment  of  the  evolution  of  Japan’s environmental attitude? What is the role of the private sector in sharing the “green philosophy”?

There is a constant and stable recognition by the Japanese general public that the water will be safe to drink and that the air will be clean. The official regulation of Japan is stringent in comparison to the average international technology. One of the Japanese private sector's strengths is in constantly working to satisfy the regulations that are introduced by the Ministry of Environment as part of the expert’s recommendations, submitted by the advisory bodies.  This has been the situation for some time, the experts discuss and then produce recommendations, the ministries then produce regulations which the private sector companies must constantly work to meet.  This has been the situation for some time and the fact that the private sector companies constantly meet the regulation requirements, is something Japan can be proud of.

Not all regulations that the private sector implement are successful, for example there was a policy to promote energy saving technology and the Japanese government introduced a subsidy on the purchase of energy saving home appliances.  The general public rushed to take advantage of the subsidy and replaced their fridges and other appliances with new energy saving appliances, however, instead of reducing the consumption it was actually increased because the number of appliances purchased were increased as a result.  The policy did produce some good results, however, there were counter effects as well. So how the whole policy is appreciated can come into question from different angles.


Established in Japan in  1978,  your  company  offers  services  in  the  collection  and disposal  of  industrial  and  municipal  waste,  while  also  providing top  quality  recycling services, measurement analysis and manufacture of chemical reagents. Can you comment on the milestones achieved since inception? What were the challenges that you faced and how did you overcome them?

The main milestone is in the handling of mercury, which is the core of the business.  If I put that to one side another major milestone for Nomura Kohsan is in the recycling of new dry cells and used fluorescent lamps, we accept those wastes from the customers and then completely recycle the two objects. I should highlight that Nomura Kohsan has been engaged with the recycling of dry cells for last 32 or 33 years and fluorescent lamps for last 24 years.  There has been continuous research into the recycling of dry cells and fluorescent lamps since its inception, due to the fluctuating market and the need to find new customers to keep the business a viable option, so this is a challenge that we meet by conducting continuous research and many milestones are produced as a result. So, new customers, new market, new ways to survive in this business of recycling dry cell batteries and fluorescent lamps.


Nomura Kohsan  is one  of  the  only  two  companies  that  signed  a Memorandum  of Understanding with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization in 2014 to disseminate environmental technologies to developing countries. What  is  the  role  of  international  cooperation  in  creating  a  sustainable society? What were the reasons that motivated you to sign the Memorandum? Three   years   after   signature, can   you   tell   us   how   it   influenced   your company and what opportunities did it create?

There are two main motivations for Nomura Kohsan to sign this memorandum of understanding from the sustainable society. One being the belief that the accumulated knowledge and technology of the countries that have the common challenges of waste management, will bring benefit to the members or may solve some mercury waste management challenges.  The second motivation is the potential of business opportunities.


Domestically speaking, Nomura Kohsan manages 13,000 tons of used  dry-cell  batteries,  8,000 tons of used fluorescent lamps and 6,000 tons of other mercury wastes. Your company also imports and treats mercury-containing waste, as you thrive for the international promotion of mercury treatment solutions. What are the competitive advantages of your company’s services?

Our advantage is in being able to process the waste management of any product that contains waste contents of mercury.  I believe that Nomura Kohsan is the only mercury waste management that can claim this and that other Japanese companies are limited to providing solutions for perhaps one such product.


We know you also have the unique competitive advantage of taking a business unit to Asia and also providing several waste management premises in other countries, for example the Philippines. Having such a competitive advantage and also such uniqueness: Are you thinking about exporting your services outside Asia?

Our biggest challenge that we would face in exporting is the man power that would be required to cover that far into the market. Following the Minamata Convention  on  Mercury,  it  is  expected  that  the  demand  for mercury  will  decrease  in  the  years  to  come, leading  to  a  surplus  of  mercury  in  the marketplace.


What strategy have you implemented to tackle the issue of storage that this surplus will create?

The government of Japan has already produced the mercury waste management guideline under the Minamata convention and using this guide line, Nomura Kohsan has already constructed the final disposal facility in Itomuka plant this year.  This year we are due to conduct a final verification after that we will be ready to disseminate this technology both stabilization and solidification of the separated mercury and then perpetual storage in the facility and this technology can be on dissemination to other countries that have the same problem and it will be a welcome solution once the verification test has been completed and verified sometime this year.


Having the pleasure of being the leader of a company as important as Nomura Kohsan and the opportunity to bring a better and greener future to new generations, it is a great responsibility but at the same time an honor for you to lead a company that has such a power. How would you like your legacy to be remembered and what message would you like to convey to the next generation?

Japan has not passed environment education to the next generation in comparison to for example the countries in the European Union. During the first six years of environment education, Japan has spent over thirty hours talking about the environment to school pupils and there are only two pages dedicated to chemical waste management in their text books.  This situation is not satisfactory.  This does not only apply to mercury and I refer to the Minamata disease. If human beings were more educated this might not have happened, in the natural environment there are some other heavy metals that human beings need to raise their awareness of in order to handle them correctly for a better life and better technology. Education in this case is limitless and although it is not a direct message to the next generation, there are great concerns regarding this aspect.