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Gov’t begins demolishing former base for battling nuke accident in Fukushima

26 November 2019

The Environment Ministry began full-fledged work on Nov. 25 in Okuma town to dismantle the former Fukushima Prefecture Nuclear Emergency Response Center building where the central government situated its local headquarters to cope with the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Starting on the east side of the building, workers used heavy machinery to begin crushing the 20-centimeter-thick outer wall, causing a thunderous sound to reverberate around the site. The ministry expects to complete the demolition work by the end of March next year.

The former center is located about 5 kilometers west of the crippled nuclear power plant. About 100 people were working there at the time of the disaster. But the facility lacked sufficient equipment to keep out radioactive fallout, sending indoor radiation dosage higher and forcing staff to retreat to the Fukushima prefectural government’s offices just four days after the accident began. The center ended up failing to fulfill its duties, which included supporting the evacuation of residents, and later came to be seen as a symbol of weak preparedness for nuclear hazards.

The facility is situated inside a designated reconstruction and revitalization base area in a difficult-to-return zone. The Okuma town office is seeking to have the evacuation order still in force lifted in the spring of 2022, and develop the area and vicinity for residential use.

Ahead of the demolition work, the prefectural government recovered more than 200 items from inside the facility, including whiteboards on which developments at the time of the disaster were scribbled down. Some of them are to be displayed in a “hall for passing down the Great East Japan Earthquake and nuclear disaster” to be opened next summer in Futaba, adjacent to Okuma, to transmit lessons from the accident to future generations. The nuclear plant straddles the two towns.

【Photo】 Heavy machinery is used to begin demolishing former Fukushima Prefecture Nuclear Emergency Response Center.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

25 November 2019

Website launched for "Mugenkyo" ravine boat in Fukushima's Okuaizu area

A website has launched for "Mugenkyo no watashi" (Mugenkyo ravine river crossing) at a top tourist spot in the Okuaizu area in northwestern Fukushima Prefecture, allowing tourists to conveniently reserve boat tickets around the clock.

The service ferries passengers by rowboat across the Tadami River between the towns of Kaneyama and Mishima. Weather permitting, visitors can enjoy fantastic views of mist shrouding the river surface. The number of passengers has been increasingly sharply in recent years. The website (//www.mugenkyo.info/) introduces the history of Mugenkyo and various must-see spots elsewhere in the area. It is also available in English, Chinese and Korean.

This season's service has already closed, but it will restart around late April 2020.

【Photo】 "Mugenkyo no watashi" website for river crossing reservations around the clock.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

15 November 2019

Planned int’l education & research hub in Fukushima's coastal area to be made state-run

The Reconstruction Agency presented during an expert panel meeting on Nov 14, a plan to have the national government lead the operation of an international education and research hub to be set up in the Nakadori coastal region of Fukushima Prefecture as part of the "Innovation Coast" initiative aimed at developing the nuclear disaster-hit region as a cluster of global industry-academia-government cooperation bases.

The plan will be incorporated into a new master program for reconstruction starting in fiscal 2021 as a successor to the current 2011-2020 program, mapped out after the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. A Cabinet decision on the new program is expected before the end of this year.

The panel of experts met behind closed doors except for at the outset. An interim plan calling for the projected new hub to be made a state-run entity was presented at the meeting. According to the agency, the following three factors were cited as reasons for making the hub a national institute: (1) Nakadori's reconstruction is the social responsibility of the government that had promoted a nuclear energy policy; (2) it is the international responsibility of the country where the disaster arose to convey lessons learned from the Fukushima accident to the rest of the world; and (3) similar facilities in nuclear energy-related places abroad such as Chernobyl in Ukraine and Hanford in the United States are state-run entities.

The planned national institute will specialize in remote control of robots used in decommissioning nuclear reactors and skills in observing radiation while nurturing specialists. Acting as a central base for Nakadori's revitalization, it will also seek partnerships with research institutes abroad.

Other duties will include surveys and studies on improvements to infrastructure related to livelihood, such as the introduction of information and communications technology into agriculture, a mainstay industry in the local economy. The institute will also help improve the living environment to encourage researchers to settle down in the region.

The Innovation Coast initiative is a national project under the Act on Special Measures for the Reconstruction and Revitalization of Fukushima, enacted after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident. Initially included was an education plan that sought to attract a university and a graduate school to the Nakadori region, but it was shelved for the time being as it was deemed difficult to maintain educational institutions there in view of the sagging birthrate in Japan.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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