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For Fukushima returnees, security a growing concern in deserted towns

14 May 2017

It’s like a dream to once again be able to live in my “home, sweet home.”

That’s what Hidezo Sato, 72, says he feels every day since returning to his fallout-hit hometown of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture.

The government partially lifted its nuclear evacuation order on March 31, six years after radiation from the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant forced them to evacuate.

Now, friends come by to chat at his home in the Gongendo district, which is much more comfortable than where he spent the past six years living as a Fukushima evacuee.

But one thing still bugs him - he doesn't feel safe at night.

According to town officials, only about 300 residents have come back so far.

Many of the houses in Sato’s neighborhood remain uninhabited. So when he spots a car parked in the dark, it frightens him.

“If safety and security aren’t ensured, there won’t be more people coming back,” Sato said.

Sparked by returnees’ concerns about security, many recovering municipalities have set up neighborhood watch groups, installed security cameras and taken other measures to increase safety.

In December, two men were arrested on theft charges after spotted by security cameras.

In Minamisoma, City Hall is installing home security systems for returnees in the Odaka district that allow them to alert a security company simply by pushing a button. As of April 27, about 240 households, or 30 percent of the roughly 770 households that have returned, had the system installed by the city.

The number of police officers brought in from outside Fukushima to help patrol the no-go zone has been reduced to 192, or about 150 fewer than five years ago. The police presence is expected to decline further as decontamination progresses, raising concerns on how to ensure security there in the future.

Many municipalities have been funding security costs with central government subsidies, but it is unclear whether that will continue after fiscal 2020, when the state-designated reconstruction and revitalization period is scheduled to end. The Reconstruction Agency is also slated to be dissolved by then.

A top Reconstruction Agency official would only say it will “consider the issue in the future.”

For its part, the town of Namie is expected to spend about \700 million in fiscal 2017 to fund the neighborhood watch teams and surveillance systems. But town officials are worried whether they’ll be able to afford the systems once the subsidies dry up.

Reconstruction minister Masayoshi Yoshino, a Lower House politician representing the Fukushima No. 5 district, said in April that he will consider creating a new government entity to take over the work of the Reconstruction Agency.

“I want the government to tell us that it will continue to fund” such projects, said Namie Deputy Mayor Katsumi Miyaguchi.

16 June 2017

Drone flight control system to be developed, tests to continue through FY 2019

An R&D project to build a management system designed to ensure the safe flight of unmanned aerial drones is set to begin in the current 2017 fiscal year ending next March in a robot testing zone being developed by the Fukushima prefectural government, according to an announcement on June 15 by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO).

Under the three-year project in the Fukushima Robot Test Field, which will straddle Minamisoma city and Namie town, five major companies in the air traffic control, telecommunications and logistics sectors will jointly undertake tests to demonstrate the management of multiple drones in flight until fiscal 2019. NEDO, affiliated with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), is orchestrating the METI-commissioned project.

The companies involved are Hitachi Ltd., NTT Data Corp., NTT Docomo Inc. and Rakuten Inc. as well as NEC Corp., which is acting as coordinator. They are seeking to establish a system allowing the safe and efficient operation of multiple drones in the same airspace within the same time frame. Such flying vehicles are expected to find a broad range of applications, including the home delivery of merchandise, surveys at construction sites and disaster response. The companies aim to combine high-tech expertise on remote-controlled long-distance flights, avoidance of midair collisions and other tasks for more effective use of drones in business and public services.

Fiscal 2017 will be devoted to the design of a management system, fiscal 2018 to test operations of the system in Minamisoma, and fiscal 2019 to the simultaneous flight of a dozen or so drones above facilities and in adjacent airspace. "We will undertake the project in a united manner involving all parties concerned in Japan to put the results of our R&D to practical use in society," NEDO Chairman Kazuo Furukawa told a press conference in Tokyo.

NEDO is looking to establish partnerships with companies in the prefecture for such purposes as the procurement of drone components. If the project produces successful outcomes, the Robot Test Field is expected to be more widely used as an R&D base.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

7 June 2017

TEPCO to pay Namie town 2.5 bil. yen in nuke mishap compensation

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) is expected to pay Namie town 2.5 billion yen out of some 11.59 billion yen the municipality is demanding in compensation for alleged declines in the value of its land caused by the 2011 nuclear accident at the utility’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, town officials said on June 6. If the compensation is paid, Namie will be the first municipality in Fukushima Prefecture to receive it for public assets in connection with the accident.

The town filed a compensation claim with TEPCO in June last year, alleging that municipally owned residential land, forests and other public assets totaling some 260 hectares have declined in value or become worthless. The amount of compensation was calculated on the basis of standards shown by TEPCO to individuals and corporate entities for figuring out damage to their properties.

Namie is set to continue negotiations with TEPCO for payment of the remaining sum of about 9 billion yen. The town submitted a supplementary general account budget for fiscal 2017 incorporating the initial compensation amount to the municipal assembly's June regular session on June 7.

TEPCO declined to confirm the latest compensation, saying it “cannot comment on the amount of payment and its ground associated with individual negotiations.”

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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