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

15 November 2019

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)