Fukushima Pref. annual budget eyes balance between pandemic and economy, showing 1st gain in 3 years

The Fukushima prefectural government has compiled an initial general account budget for fiscal 2022 totaling 1,267,677 million yen, marking an increase of 9,200 million yen or 0.7% over the initial budget for fiscal 2021 ending on March 31, 2022, Gov. Masao Uchibori announced on Feb. 3. It is the first rise in three years since fiscal 2019. The prefectural government is scheduled to propose the budget to a regular prefectural assembly session for February, opening on Feb. 14. The budget highlights the local government's focus on battling the coronavirus epidemic amid the rapid spread of the Omicron variant while seeking to bring social and economic activities back to normal. It is the initial budget compilation for the first year of what the prefecture calls the "new overall program" -- an extensive development plan covering fiscal 2022-2030. The program aims to move forward the efforts for reconstruction and rebirth of Fukushima, which was battered by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, revitalization of local communities facing depopulation, and digital technology-based reform and transformation, among other measures. Local rebirth, digital promotion The budget sets aside 126,600 million yen for measures to cope with the COVID-19 epidemic, up 35,400 million yen from the previous year. It is designed to secure stable supply of medical services at a time when no signs are in sight of an end to the sixth wave of coronavirus infections nationwide. It also envisages continuous financial support for small and medium-sized enterprises affected by the infectious disease. The budget allocates 242,928 million yen for post-disaster responses and revitalization of local communities, down 15,600 million yen or 6.0% from fiscal 2021. The transportation of decontaminated soil, which was polluted by the nuclear accident, from the affected areas to interim storage facilities has been making steady progress, resulting in a decrease of 20,700 million yen in budget allocations to related programs. On the other hand, spending on the construction of the "Fukushima reconstruction and rebirth roads" -- a project to build a network of new roads across the prefecture -- and associated expenses are set to grow by 9,500 million yen. The project is viewed as underpinning the post-disaster reconstruction initiatives. The budget also envisions implementing the "Fukushima SDGs tourism" campaign to expand sustainable tourism and exchanges with travelers. As part of the project, 30 million yen is budgeted to push the "extreme tourism brand" tourism promotion program designed to publicize the prefecture's attractions. The national government has announced its policy to discharge into the ocean swelling treated wastewater from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. In this connection, the local government lists 79 million yen in the budget to finance measures to address reputational damage stemming from the move and prevent the disaster's memories from fading. Fukushima Gov. Uchibori characterized the initial budget as "a starting budget under the new overall program" in a press conference held at the prefectural government office. "We are still halfway through reconstruction, but we have seen bright light increasing steadily," he said. "We will continue challenging in full force in order to realize, one by one, the targets listed in the overall program portraying our future vision." (Translated by Kyodo News)