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Japan easing limits, allowing up to 16,000 evacuees to visit homes inside nuclear no-go zone, AP via global news, 3/31/12

Mari Yamaguchi,  AP, Friday, March 30, 2012 2:48 PM

  TOKYO – Japan is letting up to 16,000 people back into their homes around its leaking nuclear power plant, easing restrictions in the no-go zone for the first time since last year’s disasters.

They won’t be allowed to stay overnight, some must wear protective gear, and it’s unclear how many will return at all, but the step is crucial to permanently resettling towns vacated since the the March 11, 2011, earthquake andtsunami devastated the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant and caused meltdowns in three of its reactors.A 20-kilometre (12-mile) zone around the plant has been off-limits to about 100,000 residents for more than a year because of radiation contamination. But the plant was declared stable in December, with leaks substantially subsiding, and that let officials focus on how to clean up the contamination and allow some people to return.

On Friday, the government said it was rearranging the evacuation zone based on three categories of contamination, rather than by distance. The strict perimeter was long criticized as an inexact measure of safety, as radiation levels varied widely in the area and some hotspots existed outside the area.

The change affects three of the 11 municipalities inside the former evacuation zone.

“The reorganization would be the foundation for the reconstruction of the affected towns. We will thoroughly discuss how we can best accommodate their needs,” said Economy and Trade Minister Yukio Edano, who announced the step late Friday.

Starting Sunday, Tamura will allow all residents to visit their homes part-time without protection or permission — but not sleep there just yet, and the town of Kawauchi will allow residents to visit, though they must wear protective gear in some areas.

Areas of Minamisoma fall into all three categories of contamination, but the town will allow residents to visit their homes in the least contaminated areas in mid-April. Residents in the least contaminated areas will be allowed to return permanently following further decontamination efforts.

Kawauchi mayor Yuko Endo welcomed Friday’s announcemet and told public broadccaster NHK that, “The revision comes at a right time just as the town tries to rebuild and reborn.”

He said however, that residents have a right to choose whether or not to return to their homes right away.

The town office had moved to another part of Fukushima prefecture but moved into a part of Kawauchi just outside the evacuation zone earlier this month to help smooth the process of residents’ returning.

While the reclassification means about 16,000 people can return home fairly soon, it’s not clear how many will. Most are waiting until the area is further decontaminated and infrastructure restored, and local officials have said towns may lose unity due to the three-way divisions.

Under the revised evacuation plans, areas with annual exposure levels estimated at 20 millisieverts or below are deemed safe for people to visit and prepare for their permanent return, while being encouraged to make further decontamination efforts. Limited access is allowed for residents in areas with higher contamination — up to 50 millisieverts of estimated annual exposure. Places with annual exposure estimates exceeding that will remain off-limits.

Despite the government declaration that Fukushima Dai-ichi is stable, the plant is largely running on makeshift equipment and remains vulnerable. Officials have said that it would take up to 40 years to fully decommission the highly contaminated plant that has three reactors with melted cores.

Decontamination efforts also are uncertain. Experts have said there is no established method, and more highly contaminated areas are difficult to clean up.

Environment Minister Goshi Hosono, also the nuclear crisis management minister, said Friday that containing radiation release and keeping the plant stability is crucial to the return of affected residents.

Read it on Global News: Global News | Japan easing limits, allowing up to 16,000 evacuees to visit homes inside nuclear no-go zone

Three evacuated municipalities in Fukushima to be reclassified so some residents can return home, japan times, 3/31/12


The government said Friday it will reclassify three partially evacuated municipalities near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in April to facilitate the return of their residents, officials said.

The municipalities will be newly designated using three categories, depending on local levels of radiation.

In areas where levels of 20 millisieverts or less per year are recorded, preparations will be made for evacuation orders to be lifted. The government’s current threshold for issuing mandatory evacuation directives is 20 millisieverts a year.

In zones with radiation readings of between 20 and 50 millisieverts, residents will be allowed to travel back and forth but won’t be permitted to return permanently.

But in areas where levels are currently at 50 millisieverts or more and are expected to remain at 20 millisieverts or above for the next five years, it will be difficult for evacuees to return.

Evacuation orders will be lifted in parts of the municipalities with 20 millisieverts or less once infrastructure is restored, and after schools and other public facilities have been decontaminated to a degree deemed satisfactory.

A total of 11 local governments were issued evacuation directives and advisories after the nuclear crisis started last March, but the other eight municipalities have yet to reach agreement with the central government over the reclassification process.

The government issued its first evacuation directive, covering residents within a 20-km radius of the No. 1 power plant, soon after the quake-tsunami disasters wrecked its reactors.

Later, it also designated areas with high radiation levels outside the no-go zone as emergency evacuation preparation zones, where residents were required to be on standby in case the nuclear disaster worsened.

Aichi students develop disaster recovery project, japan times, 3/31/12

Chunichi Shimbun
Students at Aichi Gakuin University in Nisshin, Aichi Prefecture, have been striving to launch a business project that would support post-March 11 reconstruction efforts.
Asking for cooperation from businesses in the prefecture, they will start running the service as early as August.
“I hope we can create jobs for the people affected by the disasters and fill the hollowness in their heart, if by only a little,” said Akira Nozaki, 21, a sophomore majoring in management.
The project has been undertaken by Nozaki and four other students: Tsuyoshi Takaba, Azusa Iwamoto, Kotaro Hori and Mei Yamada, all 20 years old. They have studied how to launch a company under the tutelage of professor Hironari Ukai, 46.
They came up with a two-pronged strategy: providing part-time work for people in the northern part of Miyagi Prefecture, where many people are still living in temporary housing, while also offering jobs for people in the southern part of the prefecture to manufacture bricks using soil damaged by tsunami.
Last September, as part of their academic work for Ukai, the students began planning a project to contribute to the recovery efforts.
Having interviewed 10 people, including university staff and students who have done volunteer work, and studying news reports, they decided to try to help the many people in temporary housing who remain unemployed and are struggling to pay off their debts.
The students believed that if the jobless could land work and support their families, they would be satisfied.
Then they came up with the plan to create jobs in which people can work together while helping each other. The brick-production project stems from the idea that salt used to be added to the soil in manufacturing bricks.
They are seeking cooperation from private companies to introduce side jobs for the affected area or to build a brickyard.
They have already negotiated with Naishoku-Ichiba Corp., an agent that assigns part-time jobs in Kasugai, Aichi Prefecture, for the introduction of more than 500 jobs.
Seto Brick, based in Seto, Aichi Prefecture, has agreed to offer full cooperation once a brick plant is established in Miyagi.
Under the job-placement service, one idea is for temporary housing residents to make items that could be used as small gifts or product samples. The students will start talks with Miyagi Prefecture to kick off the project.
The average wage for part-timers is around ¥1,000 a day, or ¥30,000 a month. If the brick-making business gets off the ground, some of its profit will be allocated to the job-placement business.
In November, the five students participated in the Business Plan Contest organized by the U.S. Embassy and Keio University. Students across the country made proposals on the theme of disaster recovery efforts, and the Aichi Gakuin group won one of the top prizes, a regional contribution award, in February.
Now they are visiting companies in Aichi Prefectures to get more sponsors. “I want to see their business plans take off by the time they graduate,” said professor Ukai.

Quake Demand Alone Won’t Solve Builders’ Problems, nikkei, 3/29/12

TOKYO (Nikkei)–Japan’s general contractors, longtime supporters of the country’s building and civil engineering markets, faced a stern test of their management after last year’s Great East Japan Earthquake, which set off a tsunami that inflicted tremendous damage and paralyzed city functions along a large slice of the country’s northeastern coast.

The latest challenge for the builders is how to take advantage of high technology in their reconstruction of disaster-hit areas.

On Monday, Takashi Yamauchi, president and CEO of Taisei Corp. (1801), was discussing an upcoming construction technology exhibition with executives at the company’s Shinjuku Center Building 52nd-floor headquarters.

“This model moves, right?” Yamauchi asked as he scrutinized the model to be used to explain the company’s newest quake-resistance engineering. His attention to detail is not surprising: He plans to invite clients to Taisei’s headquarters and explain the latest technologies himself.

Good on paper

Last year’s March 11 temblor brutally exposed the inadequacy of the seismic disaster predictions by the central government, municipalities and industry experts.

After the disaster, general contractors set about commercializing new technologies based on larger earthquake scenarios, anticipating stricter quake-resistance standards from the government and others. One example is seismic isolation and control technologies designed to withstand a magnitude-9 class earthquake. Amid heightened attention to disaster preparedness in greater Tokyo, Taisei hopes to pitch its technologies, one of which dampens long-period ground motion in skyscrapers during a quake.

Temporary fix

Rebuilding from the quake has given a sudden boost to Japan’s construction investment, which had been falling since the 1990s. Measures to improve the quake resistance of major structures and coastal defenses, along with general reconstruction work, boosted construction spending in fiscal 2011 compared with the previous year.

But reconstruction demand alone will not solve the biggest weakness in the industry: overreliance on public works spending. “General contractors taking on reconstruction work need to determine its cost-effectiveness,” said Yamauchi.

With the fiscal year ending this month, money from supplementary budgets for reconstruction has finally started flowing, setting off a flurry of breakwater construction in coastal areas. Offshore engineering companies such as Penta-Ocean Construction Co. (1893) have benefitted.

General contractors will see the money really start to roll in when trillion-yen road construction projects get under way in the next fiscal year. How they respond to the surge in demand and deal with their long term challenges will determine the health of the industry.

(The Nikkei Business Daily March 28 edition)

Land-Price Polarization Complicates Reconstruction Efforts, nikkei, 3/29/12

TOKYO (Nikkei)–The Great East Japan Earthquake has led to a polarization of land prices in the hard-hit Tohoku region of northeastern Japan that could make it harder for residents to rebuild their lives. At the same time, the devastation has given local governments an opportunity to develop safer, more future-oriented communities.

The wide price gaps are especially conspicuous in the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. Two properties separated by a national highway exemplify this polarization: In the government land-price survey for 2012, one property saw the biggest price increase and the other saw the third-largest decline.

Land prices in the old Ishinomaki port district of Yoshino fell 15.9% on the year. The area is still reeling from the tsunami. Banks and shops on the main shopping street there remain shuttered, and a once-thriving dental clinic has moved to a different location. Anxious about the future, people are streaming out of Yoshino in search of a safer place to live.

By contrast, land prices in the new residential district of Shirasagidai, upland from Yoshino, surged 60.7% on the year.

Moving mountains

The disaster has made finding safe living quarters the top priority for many people in affected areas. But it takes time to carve up mountains and hills to develop new residential areas on higher ground. Major housing developers estimate it will take at least two to three years to clear land for residential purposes. The shortage of potential relocation sites is fueling the polarization of land prices.

Inefficiencies in the process for rebuilding residential areas are seen as a reason for the extreme land price gaps. In areas hit hard by tsunami, municipalities are still trying to draw up land-use plans, hampering housing construction. This means that moves to build safe, new towns have yet to gain momentum.

Relocating large chunks of towns and residential areas is easier said than done. Given that most potential relocation sites are located in remote areas surrounded by forests and farmland, preparing the land for new use would entail cumbersome work and involve a slew of stakeholders. In addition, relocating an entire community would require a consensus to be reached among residents.

Nuclear legacy

In Fukushima Prefecture, meanwhile, land prices in all surveyed areas fell due to the nuclear disaster.

High levels of radiation have been gauged at parks in the city of Koriyama. The city government has been cleaning up contaminated areas, but fear is building among residents. The owner of a dry-cleaning shop there said sales this winter fell 30% on the year. Families are moving out in droves, and prices of nearby commercial land have fallen 11.9%.

But not all is bad news in the battered northeast. Tsunami-ravaged areas near JR Ishinomaki Station have been buzzing with the construction of condominiums. In the shopping arcade in front of the station, the Mitsukoshi department store recently opened a small outlet, prompting souvenir shops dealing in local specialties to resume operations.

Tohoku is still struggling to rebuild from the devastation wrought a year ago, so a temporary polarization in land prices may be inevitable. But if no action is taken, people in coastal areas will keep moving out. And land prices in the limited number of residential areas on higher ground will soar to extreme levels, which could make it impossible for some people to relocate.

Eyes on the future

The municipal government of Higashimatsushima, also in Miyagi, recently launched a large-scale land development project in its western inland district in which it plans to build a residential area of about 1,500 households on 201 hectares of land it has purchased.

The city plans to rebuild tsunami-damaged transportation infrastructure, such as moving inland East Japan Railway Co.’s (9020) Senseki Line connecting Sendai and Ishinomaki and other roads. The new residential area will be equipped with solar power generation facilities to establish a sustainable energy supply system.

The project involves too many complicated issues for the private sector to undertake, so the municipal government is committed to taking the reins to demonstrate its leadership in building a safer town for its people.

(The Nikkei March 29 morning edition)


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