Annual cost of 10 bil. yen eyed to operate int’l education & research hub in Fukushima

The central government is considering spending a sum to the tune of 10 billion yen per year to operate an international education and research hub planned to be built in the Hamadori coastal region in Fukushima Prefecture, officials involved in the project said on June 8. The project is part of a government blueprint for reconstruction of the prefecture hit hard by the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. The government sees the need to secure a long-term research budget spanning every 10-year period to develop new technologies and industries. Based on such a master plan, it is set to work out details such as funding sources. The government plans to set up a national research and development institute as an entity that will operate the hub as a commanding center of the "Fukushima Innovation Coast Framework" initiative, a national project. The hub is intended to inaugurate new technologies, industries and business ventures that will be world leaders in the five research spheres of (1) robotics, (2) primary industry (agriculture), (3) energy, (4) decommissioning of nuclear reactors, and (5) radiation safety, health and risk communication. The operating cost of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) is about 20 billion yen a year. OIST is being used as a model for the planned hub by a panel of experts commissioned by the Reconstruction Agency and, as its mission, calls for "world standard" research and education, like the hub, in the science and technology sector. The school has about 1,000 people, including noted foreign teachers as well as students and management staff. The size of staff at the Hamadori hub is presumed to be around half the OIST staff. If five research labs are to be set up for each of the five spheres, the hub will have about 600 people, including researchers from home and abroad, technical specialists, postgraduate students and clerical staff. An estimated sum in the range of 10 billion yen at least is said to be necessary to cover the annual operating expenses of the hub, based on rough calculations from research spending, personnel costs for researchers, expenses of facilities newly established or improved, and other costs at OIST, which has about 1,000 people. The Hamadori facility is expected to start with research functions, with future establishment of undergraduate and graduate schools set for consideration. Therefore, the hub's annual operating cost is likely to be left adjustable so that it can be increased in accordance with expansion of the form and size of the facility. Among existing national R&D institutions, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) has an annual budget of about 100 billion yen and the New Energy & Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) some 150 billion yen, for example. Apart from operating costs, expenses for the hub's establishment will be another focal issue. The Reconstruction Agency, tasked with work to restore regions devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake, ensuing tsunami and nuclear disaster, will soon look into the location of the hub, the method of establishment, and the size of the facility’s organization and staff for inclusion in a government policy to be put into shape later this year. But opposition is likely to arise to long-term fiscal spending for every decade, possibly requiring a political decision in the long run. ■Locate hub in ex-evacuation area: expert panel A panel of experts commissioned by the Reconstruction Agency compiled a set of recommendations for the government on June 8 over establishment of the proposed international education and research hub. As to the hub's location, the group proposed that "its place be picked in principle from among areas where evacuation orders were in place" following the nuclear accident. It also called for consideration of such factors as the living environment and means of transportation for researchers and other people concerned, with emphasis on partnership with facilities related to the Innovation Coast Framework initiative and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The government is set to draw up a broad policy outline of the hub possibly within this year and decide its location soon at the same time. Discussions on the place are expected to be centered on the Futaba-gun (county) district that includes two towns straddled by the nuclear plant. The hub will be a centralized type rather than a distributed one. Partial opening is targeted for the spring of 2023 and full opening for the following fiscal year beginning in April 2024. Tohoku University and Fukushima University have expressed willingness to transfer some of their research functions to the planned hub. Other colleges, including the University of Tsukuba and Ochanomizu University, are considering participating in the project. "We will develop the hub as a base for nurturing human resources in partnership with many universities in a manner leading to the establishment of a new university and other institutions," Reconstruction Minister Kazunori Tanaka told a meeting of the panel. ※"Fukushima Innovation Coast Framework" initiative: A scheme designed to rebuild the industrial foundation of the Hamadori coastal region as an advanced area of new industries such as reactor decommissioning, robotics and renewable energy. The region’s industrial infrastructure was destroyed by the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Inaugurated in January 2014 by Kazuyoshi Akaba, then state minister of economy, trade and industry (currently minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism), a research panel compiled the initiative in August that year and presented it to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The scheme was given the status of a national project by the Act on Special Measures for the Reconstruction and Revitalization of Fukushima, enforced in May 2017. (Translated by Kyodo News)