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Drone-based system developed for aerial radiation measurement in Fukushima

10 May 2019

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency has developed a system employing aerial drones that can measure distribution of radioactive substances across a wide area and generate a 3D display, agency officials said May 9. The JAEA aims to put the system into practical use in fiscal 2019 ending next March.

Conventionally, radiation dosage data is collected on foot or from a car using measuring equipment. But the use of drones facilitates low-cost, prompt identification of situations in areas where it is difficult for residents to return home due to high levels of radiation, or hot spots where radiation dosage is relatively higher than in the wider neighborhood, as a result of the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant.

In difficult-to-return zones, decontamination is under way only in places designated as "specified reconstruction and revitalization bases," while almost no clean-up operations are undertaken elsewhere. The JAEA system is expected to be useful for future decontamination work and many other purposes, including as reference data for the permanent return of residents and for ensuring the safety of clean-up workers.

The development project was also joined by Chiyoda Technol Corp., a Tokyo-based company engaged in the development of dosimeters and other products. Local company Sakae Seisakusho in Minamisoma city also cooperated.

A small, light camera capable of capturing radioactive substances and adding color to the display is mounted on the drone. The camera can show such substances on the ground and in the air as gray-scaled images in color.

A test was conducted last January in a difficult-to-return zone. The system identified the distribution of radioactive substances in an area some 7,000 square meters wide in about 30 minutes. A similar experiment undertaken in the same area using conventional measuring equipment took more than half a day, partly because of vegetation left unkempt in some places, according to officials involved.

Aerial monitoring that surveys radiation dosage with helicopters and other aircraft is in operation, but drones can sharply reduce the cost of measurement compared with aircraft surveys, according to the JAEA.

The drone system "enables us to understand conditions of contamination in wide areas promptly," said Yuki Sato, a researcher at the Collaborative Laboratories for Advanced Decommissioning Science in the JAEA’s Sector of Fukushima Research & Development. "It is also expected to be used for other work, including decommissioning of the Tokyo Electric Power Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant."

Sato and other JAEA officials spoke about the system at a press conference in the Fukushima prefectural government office in Fukushima city on May 9.

"Technology permitting the geographical identification of radiation dosage at a lower cost is indispensable for the decommissioning work which takes a long time," said an official of the prefectural government’s office promoting the robotics industry. "The system, which has been completed by integrating various technologies, can possibly be employed in other new projects."

(Translated by Kyodo News)

6 May 2019

Fukushima to draw up cuisine-focused tour courses for travelers from abroad

The Fukushima prefectural government plans to draw up within this fiscal year, ending next March, model wide-area tour courses focused on "sake" rice wine, local dishes and other "cuisine" matching the palates of travelers from abroad, with those from Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and Australia deemed as priority targets. With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in sight, the local government hopes to call attention to Fukushima's easy access from the capital region to encourage foreign tourists to extend their travel plans to the prefecture in a bid to accelerate inbound travelers.

The prefecture invited travel agency representatives and other parties concerned from abroad to visit Fukushima on monitoring tours for foreign travelers for three years from fiscal 2016. Invited were a total of 657 people from Taiwan, Thailand, China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Australia. It analyzed their preferences for meals, natural landscapes and tourist spots.

The local government found that travelers from Taiwan tend to favor the "Kitakata" brand of "ramen" noodles, scenic landscapes along the Tadami Line of the Japan Railways group and cherry blossoms, among other local tourism resources. Popular among visitors from Vietnam are fruit, cherry blossoms and tourist spots such as Shimogo town's Ouchi-juku that used to be a post town in Edo period. Travelers from Australia are interested in sake, "soba" noodles and snow (skiing). Given these trends, Fukushima will draft model tour courses combining cuisine and tourist spots favored by inbound travelers.

Fukushima is set to map out tour plans focused on a two-day trip, including travel time, on the strength of easy access from the Tokyo metropolitan region requiring only about 80 minutes to visit Fukushima on bullet trains on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line. It will assist tourist facilities around popular sightseeing spots in developing fast food-like local specialties readily available. Increasing opportunities for foreign visitors to try Fukushima food is expected to lead to dissipating bad reputation of local food ingredients stemming from the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Based on model tour courses drawn up, Fukushima will put muscle into efforts to draw attention to the local allures by opening booths at travel fairs to be held in the Tokyo metropolitan region and sending out information through social networking services. It will also ask the Tokyo region's regional governments, travel agencies and other parties to include information on tourism in Fukushima in leaflets they publish.

Travelers from abroad once concentrated in the Tokyo metropolitan region but are beginning to spread to other regional areas of Japan in recent years, according to an organization known as "Tokyo & Around Tokyo" set up by Tokyo and 10 nearby prefectures, including Fukushima, together with travel agencies and other concerned parties to promote tourism in the wider Kanto region centering on Tokyo. An official of the group says that "inbound travelers will increase and also become repeaters as regional entities promote the attractiveness of their new tourism resources."

According to the Japan Travel Agency's final data on the cumulative number of travelers from abroad who stayed one or more nights at accommodation facilities, including small ones, Fukushima accepted 130,300 such visitors in 2017. Tokyo had 19,775,890 such foreign visitors that year, the largest number among Japan’s 47 prefectures, while Chiba saw 3,675,180, Kanagawa 2,336,510 and Saitama 219,440.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

14 April 2019

Japan Para-Cycling Federation moving base to Iwaki on May 1

The Japan Para-Cycling Federation, which governs cycling competitions for people with disabilities, is to move its base from Izunokuni, Shizuoka Prefecture, to Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, on May 1 as it seeks to raise the level of athletes' performance and spread the sport. Noting that Iwaki hosts the Iwaki-Taira Keirin velodrome and has stable weather all year round, among other factors, the JPCF judged it "fit for a practice environment." With April 13 marking 500 days to go before the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics open, the federation plans to help boost regional vitality through the sport in cooperation with the city and other parties, including after the Olympics and Paralympics, which the central government has touted as a national event contributing to recovery from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, ensuing tsunami and nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The JPCF will move its office functions to Iwaki from May, having a permanent staff of four, including a manager and a coach. As a starter, a training camp will be held from May 1 to 7, joined by six cyclists designated by the federation as national team candidates. They are scheduled to practice using the Iwaki-Taira Keirin racetrack and roads along the Pacific coast.

At present, about 20 athletes are registered on the roster of the JPCF. Para-cycling is an official event at the Tokyo Paralympics. Japan has secured a berth for both men and women. Athletes practicing in Iwaki and elsewhere have their eyes set on the big stage in Tokyo.

The JPCF intends to hold cycling competition classes at grade schools and other places in Iwaki to familiarize local residents with the sport and help make it more popular. It will place emphasis on the discovery and nurturing of promising candidate athletes in Fukushima.

Iwaki is trying to foster enthusiasm among citizens, seizing the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics as an opportunity for local reconstruction and revitalization. The city is also moving to step up sports-based town-building, forging a cycling route dubbed "Iwaki Shichihama-kaido" (seven-beach coastal route) and developing a cycling terminal in the Iwaki Shinmaiko Heights sport and recreation complex.

"We hope the competitions will invigorate citizens," said Taishi Kenjo, JPCF executive director concurrently serving as team manager. "We expect to enliven Iwaki while contributing to the promotion of sound health among citizens and town-building with cycling as a main pillar."

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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