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17 municipal assemblies in Fukushima view gov't response to polluted water disposal as "inadequate"

25 June 2020

Amid controversy over how to dispose of growing stores of treated but tritium-contaminated radioactive water at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 17 out of 59 municipal assemblies in Fukushima Prefecture have passed statements or resolutions so far this year, branding the central government's disposal policy as insufficient. They also oppose the proposed release of treated water into the sea and have called for stronger measures to address reputational damage stemming from the 2011 nuclear accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. plant. The series of municipal assembly moves reflect their increasingly clear stance seeking to have the views of local residents reflected in the government’s final policymaking process.

Fukushima-Minpo Co., publisher of the namesake local daily, conducted a survey on attitudes about the disposal of polluted water from June 18 to 24, covering all 59 municipal assemblies in the prefecture. The current status of statements or resolutions adopted or pending on the disposal policy is listed at the end of this article.

Of the local legislatures, 17 city, town and village assemblies have passed such documents. The assembly in the town of Namie passed a resolution against the ocean release plan while those in the village of Nishigo and the town of Miharu specified their objection to the proposed release into the air or sea. Many municipalities have called for the contaminated wastewater to be stored long-term in tanks as well as improved and tougher measures to counter harmful misinformation.

In reply to the questionnaire, the cities of Minamisoma and Date said their assemblies will continue debating petitions from local residents seeking submission of opinions while those of 11 other municipalities are "scheduled to deliberate from now on" over statements and other documents. A total of 30 municipal assemblies, including the 17 which have already acted, constituting more than a majority, are set to make their stance clear on the issue.

A government subcommittee comprising experts and other members, tasked with discussing ways of treating contaminated water, recommended in February that vaporization into the air and release into the ocean are "realistic choices" and that the latter choice "can be executed with greater certainty" from technical aspects, including the establishment of a surveillance system. In response, municipal assemblies in Fukushima approved statements or resolutions on the wastewater treatment policy one after another at their regular sessions in March and June.

The utility has estimated that the capacity of tanks storing treated water in the compounds of the stricken plant will reach its limit around the summer of 2022. The Nuclear Regulation Authority has pointed out that about two years will be required to prepare for the release of contaminated water. Given these factors, this summer is increasingly being viewed as a deadline for a policy decision if the proposed release in 2022 is to go ahead. Cabinet ministers concerned have reiterated that "no postponement is possible."

In making its recommendations, the subcommittee urged the government to make its final decision conditional on "listening carefully to opinions from a broad array of people concerned." The government, which held its fourth hearing in Tokyo on June 30, is also soliciting comments from the general public until July 15.

A government official involved in the policymaking process said the statements and resolutions by Fukushima's municipal assemblies are "valuable," adding that the government would like to use them as a reference in making a policy decision after scrutinizing their contents. But the government has not yet made known how it will reflect such opinions in its final decision, attracting attention to its future response.

◇Municipal assemblies that have passed so far this year statements or resolutions regarding the disposal of wastewater containing tritium: Aizuwakamatsu, Iwaki, Kitakata, Soma, Nihonmatsu, Koori, Kawamata, Minamiaizu, Aizubange, Yugawa, Kaneyama, Nishigo, Ishikawa, Miharu, Namie, Shinchi, Iitate (17 cities, towns and villages)

◇Under deliberation: Minamisoma, Date (2 cities)

◇Set to deliberate: Koriyama, Otama, Kagamiishi, Nishiaizu, Showa, Nakajima, Samegawa, Tamakawa, Hirata, Furudono, Ono (11 cities, towns and villages)

(Translated by Kyodo News)

9 June 2020

Annual cost of 10 bil. yen eyed to operate int’l education & research hub in Fukushima

The central government is considering spending a sum to the tune of 10 billion yen per year to operate an international education and research hub planned to be built in the Hamadori coastal region in Fukushima Prefecture, officials involved in the project said on June 8. The project is part of a government blueprint for reconstruction of the prefecture hit hard by the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. The government sees the need to secure a long-term research budget spanning every 10-year period to develop new technologies and industries. Based on such a master plan, it is set to work out details such as funding sources.

The government plans to set up a national research and development institute as an entity that will operate the hub as a commanding center of the "Fukushima Innovation Coast Framework" initiative, a national project. The hub is intended to inaugurate new technologies, industries and business ventures that will be world leaders in the five research spheres of (1) robotics, (2) primary industry (agriculture), (3) energy, (4) decommissioning of nuclear reactors, and (5) radiation safety, health and risk communication.

The operating cost of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) is about 20 billion yen a year. OIST is being used as a model for the planned hub by a panel of experts commissioned by the Reconstruction Agency and, as its mission, calls for "world standard" research and education, like the hub, in the science and technology sector. The school has about 1,000 people, including noted foreign teachers as well as students and management staff.

The size of staff at the Hamadori hub is presumed to be around half the OIST staff. If five research labs are to be set up for each of the five spheres, the hub will have about 600 people, including researchers from home and abroad, technical specialists, postgraduate students and clerical staff. An estimated sum in the range of 10 billion yen at least is said to be necessary to cover the annual operating expenses of the hub, based on rough calculations from research spending, personnel costs for researchers, expenses of facilities newly established or improved, and other costs at OIST, which has about 1,000 people.

The Hamadori facility is expected to start with research functions, with future establishment of undergraduate and graduate schools set for consideration. Therefore, the hub's annual operating cost is likely to be left adjustable so that it can be increased in accordance with expansion of the form and size of the facility.

Among existing national R&D institutions, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) has an annual budget of about 100 billion yen and the New Energy & Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) some 150 billion yen, for example.

Apart from operating costs, expenses for the hub's establishment will be another focal issue. The Reconstruction Agency, tasked with work to restore regions devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake, ensuing tsunami and nuclear disaster, will soon look into the location of the hub, the method of establishment, and the size of the facility’s organization and staff for inclusion in a government policy to be put into shape later this year. But opposition is likely to arise to long-term fiscal spending for every decade, possibly requiring a political decision in the long run.

■Locate hub in ex-evacuation area: expert panel

A panel of experts commissioned by the Reconstruction Agency compiled a set of recommendations for the government on June 8 over establishment of the proposed international education and research hub. As to the hub's location, the group proposed that "its place be picked in principle from among areas where evacuation orders were in place" following the nuclear accident. It also called for consideration of such factors as the living environment and means of transportation for researchers and other people concerned, with emphasis on partnership with facilities related to the Innovation Coast Framework initiative and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

The government is set to draw up a broad policy outline of the hub possibly within this year and decide its location soon at the same time. Discussions on the place are expected to be centered on the Futaba-gun (county) district that includes two towns straddled by the nuclear plant.

The hub will be a centralized type rather than a distributed one. Partial opening is targeted for the spring of 2023 and full opening for the following fiscal year beginning in April 2024.

Tohoku University and Fukushima University have expressed willingness to transfer some of their research functions to the planned hub. Other colleges, including the University of Tsukuba and Ochanomizu University, are considering participating in the project.

"We will develop the hub as a base for nurturing human resources in partnership with many universities in a manner leading to the establishment of a new university and other institutions," Reconstruction Minister Kazunori Tanaka told a meeting of the panel.

※"Fukushima Innovation Coast Framework" initiative: A scheme designed to rebuild the industrial foundation of the Hamadori coastal region as an advanced area of new industries such as reactor decommissioning, robotics and renewable energy. The region’s industrial infrastructure was destroyed by the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Inaugurated in January 2014 by Kazuyoshi Akaba, then state minister of economy, trade and industry (currently minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism), a research panel compiled the initiative in August that year and presented it to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The scheme was given the status of a national project by the Act on Special Measures for the Reconstruction and Revitalization of Fukushima, enforced in May 2017.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

5 June 2020

Aerobatic pilot Muroya draws smiley in sky over Fukushima

Aerobatic race pilot Yoshihide Muroya, who lives in Fukushima city, flew his small propeller-driven plane over the cities of Fukushima, Nihonmatsu, Koriyama, Sukagawa and Aizuwakamatsu, and elsewhere in Fukushima Prefecture on June 4, drawing a “smiley face” in the blue sky with white smoke from the aircraft in each place.

Muroya performed the stunt in the hope of inspiring prefectural people to look up at the sky and cheering them up as they bear the brunt of hardships amid the new coronavirus epidemic. “I make it a practice to look up at the sky when I tend to lower my eyes,” he said. “I wish that it (my attempt) will be of some help at times like this.”

Muroya is scheduled to perform similar aerobatics in the Hamadori coastal region and other places in Fukushima from now on. Times and dates are to be unveiled through his official Twitter account.

[Photos]
Smiley face drawn by Muroya in the blue sky over Otamachi area in Fukushima city around 12:45 p.m. on June 4 to cheer up local people

Yoshihide Muroya

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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