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Fukushima Prefecture sets sights on flying cars to boost recovery and local industry

13 September 2019

The Fukushima Prefectural Government is leading a collaborative effort involving companies from different industries and a robotics testing field to invent a flying car.

In early August, the research center at the test field began accepting applications for four additional companies. The prefecture is focusing on efforts to attract companies to the site, which remains the only facility in the country where development and testing can all be done at the same site.

The prefecture hopes to create synergies among various businesses and local parts suppliers and eventually build one of the country’s largest industrial centers in Fukushima.

Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori introduced the concept in Tokyo during a conference on flying car development organized by the industry ministry on Aug. 2.

The central government is in the process of putting together a plan to build a working flying car by 2023. The market for such vehicles will rapidly expand in the near future, according to Tokyo-based Deloitte Tohmatsu Consulting Co. By 2030, the Japanese market is expected to surpass ¥650 billion, while the world market could exceed ¥9 trillion.

A variety of companies from a wide swath of industry would be needed to procure materials for fuselages and wings, as well as to develop the systems related to automated flying and collision avoidance that would be necessary to build a working model.

The prefecture sees it as a growing market with strong potential and is working to gather companies interested in collaboration.

In Japan, mostly venture companies are involved in the research and development of flying cars. The prefecture, along with the Fukushima Innovation Coast Framework Promotion Organization, the designated administrator of the Fukushima robotics test field, are publicizing the facility through company visits and exhibitions.

Participation from local businesses will be a primary concern as the prefecture looks to establish a new market. Thus, the prefecture has dispatched staff to the facility to help promote business deals.

Test flights can be conducted freely at a special facility in the robotics test field, but flying outside is heavily regulated by the aviation law. The prefecture plans to ask the central government to amend the law in order to create a better environment for research and development.

In an effort to support robotics research and the recovery of the region struck by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, as well as the resulting nuclear disaster, the industry ministry is supporting the prefectural government’s efforts.

Tasuku Nakai, the president of Tetra Aviation, a Tokyo-based research company that was accepted onto Fukushima Prefecture’s research team during the first round of applications, is optimistic that the prefecture will attract companies.

“The market will expand as more companies enter it, and flying cars will become more and more exciting,” he said.

Leading up to the Fukushima governor’s announcement in August, Fukushima and Mie prefectures made an agreement to work together to invent a flying car.

“I hope this partnership will help move the concept forward,” said Uchibori during a ceremony on Aug. 2.

“The two prefectures will work together to build the future,” said Mie Gov. Eikei Suzuki.

In Mie, where small islands are scattered off the coast, flying cars are seen as potentially useful means of transportation for both logistics and tourism. After successful test flights at the test field, demonstrations are expected to be held in Mie.

5 September 2019

Gov't agency to resume probe into cause of Fukushima nuclear accident

The central government's Nuclear Regulation Authority confirmed at its meeting in Tokyo on Sept. 4 that it will resume investigation at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant that was crippled by the 2011 accident in a fresh bid to identify what caused the disaster.

Based on findings obtained through progress in the work to decommission the plant, the NRA will analyze the process of dispersion of radioactive fallout as well as the loss of electrical power sources that led to the accident, seeking to draw up a more detailed interim report in 2020. The agency came up with an initial interim report in 2014 but it failed to cover some matters due to high levels of radioactivity at the plant. It will deepen the analysis of factors behind the mishap through the additional investigation and use findings from the probe to help prevent severe accidents.

The investigation will focus on buildings that house nuclear reactors, including those facilities where radiation dosages have declined following cleanup operations. The NRA will analyze factors and developments that resulted in the accident on the basis of new findings from decommissioning work such as the status of debris of melted nuclear fuel, the distribution of radioactive dosages, and damage to facilities and equipment. It intends to shed light on where and through which routes radioactive substances leaked from containment vessels, the conditions of equipment related to the cooling of reactors, and the mechanism of hydrogen explosions, among other factors.

The planned fresh investigation will be conducted after approval at the NRA's next or later regular meeting. It will include on-the-spot surveys, collection of sample materials and various analyses, to be undertaken in cooperation with the utility and Japan Atomic Energy Agency. The outcome of the probe will be discussed by a panel of experts such as NRA members and outside intellectuals toward compiling a new interim report.

"The question is whether we will be able to learn lessons that should be reflected (in nuclear plant regulations) without ending up just grasping specific phenomena (at the time of the accident)," NRA Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa told reporters after the meeting.

Investigation committees set up separately by the government, parliament and other parties concerned after the March 2011 nuclear accident differed in their views over some points, including the course of events that unfolded in the disaster. In response, the NRA examined challenging issues at study panel meetings and produced the first interim report in October 2014, which blamed the loss of a power source of the No. 1 nuclear reactor not on vibrations caused by the temblor preceding the nuclear accident but on tsunami triggered by the quake. No panel meeting has since been held.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

31 August 2019

Fukushima to review estimated damage from future quakes, tsunami

The Fukushima prefectural government is set to review estimates of damage stemming from major earthquakes with hypocenters within the prefecture or tsunami caused by offshore temblors. The three-year review will start in the current 2019 fiscal year ending next March. Based on lessons learned from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake that registered magnitude 9.0, the prefecture will raise the presumed maximum magnitude to the same level.

In estimating damage, the local government assumes three types of quakes: a temblor off the Pacific coast of Tohoku, the northeastern region of Japan, and two inland quakes -- one in the Nakadori region of central Fukushima and the other in the Aizu region in the west.

The local government will estimate the death toll, the number of injuries, collapsed buildings, severed lifeline systems and other details of damage for each of 59 cities, towns and villages in the prefecture. It will show the results of such damage estimates on a map by the end of fiscal 2021 to help strengthen each municipality's disaster management system.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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