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Preparatory home stays set to begin Aug. 21 in evacuated town of Tomioka

23 July 2016

The central government has unveiled a plan to begin temporary home stays on Aug. 21 at the homes of evacuated residents in Tomioka town, south of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant of Tokyo Electric Power Co. in Fukushima Prefecture. The plan, disclosed at a meeting of all town assembly members on July 22, will be limited to a zone preparing to lift an evacuation order and a residency-restricted zone. The government is seeking to remove both zones as early as next April.

The proposed temporary home stay scheme will replace the special lodging system that began on July 23 in line with the start of a summer vacation at schools. The government also told the meeting, held at a temporary town branch office in Koriyama city, it will specify by the turn of the year when the evacuation zones will be lifted, except for a “difficult-to-return” zone.

In the two zones, decontamination work has been almost completed in residential areas. Two convenience stores have opened, and a municipal clinic is scheduled to begin medical services in October. The town’s expert committee discussing the permanent return of residents announced on July 21 that “minimum municipal functions necessary for daily living are expected to be restored by the end of fiscal 2016.” Given the situation, the government has concluded that it is possible to implement preparatory home stays.

At the meeting, government officials said plans are on the table to set up temporary accommodation for evacuees returning under the preparatory lodging scheme and introduce mobile shops. Some assembly members called for the full resumption of the Futaba Police Station’s main office in Tomioka, currently reopened partially, to help dispel anxiety over public safety among townspeople, while others requested the display of a town radiation dosage map, including “hot spots” where radiation levels are high.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

22 July 2016

House demolition in 11 evacuated municipalities to be completed by March 2018

The Environment Ministry is set to have completed by the end of fiscal 2017 through March 2018 the demolition of dilapidated residences in 11 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture where residents have been evacuated since the 2011 nuclear accident, according to ministry officials. It was the first time that the ministry has specified the date for completing work to dismantle evacuated houses in accordance with requests from residents.

The national government has made clear its policy to lift evacuation orders in all the affected municipalities by next March except for areas where permanent returns are deemed difficult due to still high levels of radiation from nuclear fallout stemming from the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Against that background, the ministry sees the need to accelerate the demolition work, step up the restoration of a living environment and pave the way for the homecoming of evacuees.

Covered by the ministry project are the cities of Tamura and Minamisoma, the towns of Kawamata, Naraha, Tomioka, Okuma, Futaba and Namie, and the villages of Kawauchi, Katsurao and Iitate. Evacuees had applied for the demolition of about 8,800 houses as of June this year. Of the total, residences in Tamura and Kawauchi have been dismantled, leaving some 5,600 others yet to be demolished, according to the ministry.

Demolition work is to be finished by the end of fiscal 2016 on a total of 2,230 houses in Minamisoma, Naraha and Katsurao, where the removal of evacuation zones has made progress, and on 400 homes in Futaba, Okuma and Kawamata, where the number of demolition applications is relatively small. The ministry is set to accomplish demolition of 2,970 residences by fiscal 2017 in Namie, Tomioka and Iitate, where applications are in excess of 1,000 each.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

23 July 2016

Machinery maker Kikuchi partners with German firm to develop walking-support robots

Kikuchi Seisakusho Co., a machinery manufacturer running factories in Fukushima Prefecture, has agreed with German medical equipment developer SNAP GmbH on the joint development of walking-support robots that assist patients with walking difficulties such as those suffering Parkinson’s disease. Under a contract signed on July 22, the two companies will set up a joint venture in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) to undertake R&D and eventually sell products in Europe.

It is the first joint venture since the governments of Fukushima Prefecture and the NRW state concluded a partnership agreement involving the medical equipment-related field in 2014. The business community in the prefecture, struggling to recover from the 2011 nuclear disaster, anticipates ripple effects of the joint venture in the form of component supply and other related business opportunities for the manufacturing sector.

The joint venture, Walk-Mate Lab Europe, is to be established in early August in Bochum, a NRW city where SNAP is based. Walking-support equipment to be developed for the European market will be modeled on a prototype being developed jointly by Kikuchi, based in Hachioji, Tokyo, and the Tokyo Institute of Technology. The prototype has a mechanism of stabilizing the gait rhythm of a patient with ambulation difficulties by placing motors on the shoulder and loin portions. SNAP is conducting a demonstration test at a local rehabilitation facility. If its commercial production is decided, Kikuchi will produce the product at its factory in the Odaka district of Minamisoma city, Fukushima Prefecture.

The product is expected to be launched in Germany next year. The joint venture is seeking to sell 1,500 units a year in the first three years. It will be marketed as rehabilitation gear initially, but the Japanese and German partners aim to win a certificate as medical equipment in the European Union. According to SNAP, the number of Parkinson’s disease patients is about 300,000 in Germany alone and 1.2 million in Europe as a whole, prompting the joint venture to foresee a certain level of demand for the new product.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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