German state leader to visit Fukushima to see recovery and renewable energy efforts

10 October 2019

[Translated by the Japan Times]Minister President Armin Laschet of North Rhine-Westphalia, a state located in western Germany, is set to pay a visit to Fukushima Prefecture in January to evaluate the progress being made to implement renewable energy sources and the region’s recovery following the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent nuclear power plant disaster in 2011.

North Rhine-Westphalia is interested in Fukushima Prefecture’s efforts to use renewable energy following its own endeavors to divest from nuclear and coal energy, according to the prefecture.

Fukushima hopes to strengthen ties by inviting the leader of North Rhine-Westphalia, which boasts the largest economy of all 16 states in Germany, to the prefecture and foster connections through joint projects with universities and cultural exchanges, among other things.

It will be the first visit by the minister president to Fukushima. Laschet revealed his intention to visit during a meeting with Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori on Oct. 8 in the city of Dusseldorf, the state’s capital.

Fukushima Prefecture and North Rhine-Westphalia signed memorandums in 2014 to promote renewable energy and investment in better medical equipment, both of which were renewed in 2017. In July this year, the two were combined into one new memorandum.

Located in the central part of the country’s western region, North Rhine-Westphalia has a population of 17.8 million people - the largest among the German states - and a gross domestic product of about \81 trillion as of 2017, amounting to roughly 24 percent of the country’s GDP.

Laschet is expected to tour the Fukushima Renewable Energy Institute under the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in the city of Koriyama. He may also visit locations that are serving as focal points of Fukushima Prefecture’s plans to become an innovation hub, such as the Fukushima Robotics Test Field in the city of Minamisoma and the Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field, which will become the world’s largest hydrogen production facility upon its completion next spring.

“I want to connect with residents in Fukushima Prefecture who are working hard to recover from the earthquake and nuclear disaster, and strengthen the relationship between our two states,” Laschet said.

Uchibori said the two had been trading letters and hope to continue building their friendship.

Prior to the October meeting, Uchibori gave him several akabeko, a common toy inspired by a legendary cow from the Aizu region in Fukushima, adorned with the flags of Fukushima Prefecture, North Rhine-Westphalia and Germany.