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Tohoku railway to absorb tsunami-hit line in bid to reinvigorate region, asahi shinbun, 12/21/2014

MORIOKA–A scenic section of a JR line that hugs the Sanriku coastline and was all but torn apart in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami will be transferred to a local railway, with the aim of speeding up the area’s revitalization.

Under the plan proposed by East Japan Railway Co. (JR East), local operator Sanriku Railway Co. will take over running a 55.4-kilometer section of the Yamada Line that connected Iwate Prefecture’s Miyako and Kamaishi to the south.

The transfer will be formally decided at a Dec. 24 meeting in Morioka of heads of 12 coastal municipalities and Iwate Prefecture.

Though no date has been set for resuming operations on the section, the move is expected to facilitate reconstruction in the area that was devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and the towering tsunami that were generated.

Sanriku Railway resumed full service on its disaster-hit lines in April. The transfer of Yamada Line operations will reconnect the railway’s South and North Rias lines, which start from Kamaishi and Miyako, respectively.

JR East has provided bus service on the route along the Yamada Line following the tsunami, which inundated station buildings and destroyed sections of track.

In January, the company submitted a draft plan to transfer authority of the line to Sanriku Railway, under which it would provide railway track for free to municipalities concerned after the line was restored at a cost of 14 billion yen ($117 million).

At the time, the towns of Otsuchi and Yamada, where Sanriku Railway is not running, opposed the plan, arguing it could impose new burdens.

However, the towns agreed after JR East in November offered to pay a total of 3 billion yen, up from an original 500 million yen, to the local municipalities to offset the burden. They also accepted the proposal so as not to prolong negotiations, which could affect reconstruction.

JR East plans to replace more than 90 percent of railway tracks on the section in question with higher-standard models, and ties with those made of concrete.

It will also provide train carriages for free, and provide employee training and other forms of support.

Sanriku Railway was thrust into the spotlight as the model for a railway operator in the popular 2013 Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) drama “Amachan.”

(This article was written by Toru Saito and Shiori Tabuchi.)

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All fuel removed from pool of Fukushima Daiichi No. 4 reactor, fukushima minpo, 12/21/14

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) completed the removal of all fuel rods from a spent fuel pool in the No. 4 reactor building at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Dec. 20, marking a milestone in TEPCO’s decommissioning efforts. The No. 4 reactor building suffered a hydrogen explosion in the early stage of the 2011 nuclear accident at the plant, and the continued fuel storage in the weakened building was a source of concern, prompting local residents to demand swift fuel removal.

In the work to take out the last four unspent fuel rods, a crane lifted a cask containing them out of the pool about 12 meters deep. TEPCO is poised to relocate all eliminated fuel rods to another spent fuel pool in the undamaged No.6 reactor building by the end of the year.

The No. 4 reactor was offline for regular checkups at the time of the earthquake-tsunami disaster and had no fuel inside. But there were a total of 1,535 fuel rods (1,331 riskier spent fuel rods and 204 unused ones) in the pool, the largest amount of fuel among the four reactor buildings wrecked by explosions.

TEPCO began removing fuel from the No.4 reactor pool in November last year. It plans to launch work to remove melted fuel from inside the No.3 reactor in the first half of fiscal 2015 beginning next April.

Tomioka to preserve tsunami-wrecked police car as symbol of bravery, fukushima minpo, 12/17/14

 Tomioka town authorities will preserve a police car wrecked by the massive tsunami caused by the 2011 earthquake as a symbol of bravery displayed by two off-duty police officers who died as they rushed to save residents. Mayor Koichi Miyamoto announced the decision on Dec. 16 at the start of a municipal assembly session. The town plans to begin preparations for the car’s preservation within the current fiscal year ending next March.

The officers were superintendant Yoichi Masuko, then 41, and assistant inspector Yuta Sato, then 24. They have been posthumously promoted by two ranks in honor of their dedicated service. The two were believed to have been engulfed by the tsunami while guiding residents to safety.

Debris removal begins in Tomioka town 3 years, 9 months after disaster, fukushima minpo, 12/12/14

Work began to remove broken houses and other wreckage left over in Tomioka on Dec. 11, three years and nine months after the Fukushima Prefecture town and other parts of northeastern Japan were devastated by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. The town is close to the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant of Tokyo Electric Power Co. and remains a no-go zone due to high levels of radiation, leaving all residents evacuated.
The Environment Ministry project is aimed at moving about 7,500 tons out of an estimated 34,000 tons of debris left in Tomioka by the tsunami to a temporary storage facility in the town by the end of fiscal 2014 through next March. The remaining 26,500 tons will be removed in fiscal 2015.
On the first day of the project, workers sorted out debris in the Kegaya district after measuring radiation levels to find items of sentimental value to residents such as family albums, ornaments and children’s stationery.

Elderly woman’s death linked to 2011 disaster, court rules, asahi shinbun, 12/10/14

SENDAI–A district court here ordered the city government to retract its earlier decision not to pay special condolence money to the family of an 85-year-old woman who died after the 2011 earthquake disaster.

In its Dec. 9 ruling, the Sendai District Court acknowledged that the woman’s death was linked to the Great East Japan Earthquake that struck the Tohoku region.

“(The woman) was unable to swallow after her living conditions worsened because of the disaster,” Presiding Judge Kenji Takamiya said. “As a result, she developed pneumonia and died.”

It is the first court ruling related to the disaster in which a local government has been ordered to rescind its decision to refuse a special payment for the death of a victim by denying the correlation, according to lawyers representing the plaintiff.

The magnitude-9.0 earthquake on March 11 destroyed the home she lived in with her partner. The woman’s health deteriorated in April that year when she was admitted to a special nursing-care home. She died in August after developing pneumonia twice, and other illnesses.

Medical records submitted to the court showed that she had difficulty swallowing food by April.

The case against the Sendai municipal government was filed by Hayao Abiko, 72, the deceased’s common-law husband.

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