A boy in Fukui has become the second to die after eating at a barbecue chain that has been linked to dozens of food-poisoning cases across Toyama Prefecture since mid-April, the health ministry said Sunday.
Foods Forus Co., a chain of “yakiniku” (Korean-style barbecue) restaurants based in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, has been closing all 20 outlets in Toyama, Fukui, Ishikawa and Kanagawa prefectures since a separate boy died Friday after dining at one of its outlets.
Foods Forus runs the Yakiniku-zakaya Ebisu chain, which is the same the boy who died Friday ate at.
The Toyama Prefectural Government determined the same day that a raw beef dish served at one of the chain’s outlets in Tonami, where the first boy dined on April 21, was inedible. The dish is suspected as being the cause of the food-poisonings.
The boy in Fukui, meanwhile, was found to be infected with a highly toxic strain of E. coli bacteria known as O-111. This strain was also found in the boy in Toyama, who began vomiting April 24 and died Friday at a hospital, the officials said.
The tally of food-poisoning complaints tied to the chain is at 38, including people who ate at another of the chain’s outlets in the Toyama city of Takaoka, the prefectural government said late Saturday.
Minute levels of radiation detected in breast milk (NHK) Japan’s Health Ministry says it has detected a minute amount of radioactive materials in breast milk in 7 mothers in central and northeastern Japan. The ministry says the amount does not pose a danger to their babies’ health.
The ministry on Saturday released the results of a study conducted in Fukushima, Tokyo and other 3 prefectures in Kanto region from last Sunday through Thursday.
The ministry says breast milk samples from a mother in Iwaki City of Fukushima Prefecture contained 3.5 becquerels of radioactive iodine per kilogram and 2.4 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram.
Up to 2.8 becquerels of radioactive materials per kilogram were also detected in 6 mothers in 2 other prefectures.
Japan has no regulatory levels to determine the health risk from radioactive substances in breast milk. But it sets the safety levels for babies’ consumption of milk and drinking water at 100 becquerels of radioactive iodine per kilogram and 200 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram.
The detected amount in the samples was much lower than the regulatory levels and the ministry says it is too minute to have any impact on babies’ health. It also says mothers who are breast-feeding should not be overly concerned.
Professor Nobuya Unno of Kitasato University says it is necessary to carefully analyze how and for how long radioactive materials will affect breast milk when mothers drink water and eat food that contain such substances.
Sunday, May 01, 2011 09:02 +0900 (JST)
Additional link & excerpt:
Shunichi Yamashita, dean of the Nagasaki University Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, was not surprised by the survey findings but said there was no need for alarm. “Radioactive material has been dispersed into the air and water and will be absorbed by the human body, so I expected tests on breast milk would reveal traces of radiation,” said Yamashita, an authority on radiation exposure. “However, the levels detected were very low and can be ignored. There’s no health risk, so I urge mothers to keep breast-feeding their babies,” Yamashita said. – Source: Radioactive traces found in Tohoku, Kanto breast milk (DY, May 2, 2011)
Foreign students return to Japan to help out (Asahi May 2, 2011) While many foreigners fled the country in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, some exhibited more fortitude–returning to Japan to help in the crisis….read more here
Quake seen as ‘teachable moment’ in U.S. (DY) Earthquakes, tsunami and nuclear power technology have become trending topics in middle and high school classrooms in the United States in the wake of the March 11 disaster in Japan.
Teachers are actively exchanging ideas online for lesson plans, showing great interest in teaching students about the natural disasters and the situations being experienced by survivors.
During a third-year high school class at the East-West School of International Studies in New York’s Queens borough, students asked this reporter, “How long will it take Japan to recover completely?” and “Why did they build nuclear power plants where earthquakes were expected to occur?”
Rather than a place of one-sided instruction, the classroom was filled with lively discussion.
“The school has an emphasis on Japanese, Korean and Chinese languages and cultures,” said Paul Allison, 51, an English teacher. The school has about 550 students, and about half are of Asian descent.
“So when the [March 11 earthquake and] tsunami happened, a lot of [teachers] decided they wanted to bring it into the classroom,” he said.
Stimulus materials for the classes include articles from The Daily Yomiuri, NHK’s Web site and The New York Times, which provides online teaching materials on a range of current topics. According to Times editor Katherine Schulten, two of the five most popular sets of teaching materials are related to events in Japan.
“That’s extraordinary,” Schulten said. “I think it shows a real hunger on the part of teachers to find ways to work this big event into their regular lessons.”
Teachers are exchanging information on how they teach students about the disaster via Web sites. Some have introduced first-hand accounts to their classrooms by having guests speak from Japan via Skype.
Current events are commonly discussed in U.S. classrooms. In 2010, for example, the Haiti earthquake and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico were used as the basis for many lessons.
The Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent events makes good fodder for teaching because they encompass various topics, from natural disasters to nuclear power to humanitarian crises.
Doctor, kids plant trees, pledge to meet 20 yrs on (May 2) A volunteer doctor and children in the tsunami-hit Yuriage district of Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, have pledged to meet again in 20 years to view the cherry trees they recently planted as a symbol of hope for the future. ..
The first group of foreign tourists has arrived in the Tokyo Metropolitan area since the March 11th earthquake and tsunami.
More than 20 people from Singapore flew into Tokyo’s Narita Airport on Saturday morning where they received a warm welcome from Japan transport bureau staff and others.
The Japan Tourism Agency says it is the first group from abroad to visit the Tokyo area since the quake.
The tourists traveled to the hot-spring resort of Hakone where they got to view cherry blossoms around Lake Ashi.
One of the tourists posted a message on his Facebook page which said that attractions in the Tokyo area are as crowded as ever.
He said tourists can get around Tokyo with no problems and that he saw no damage from the earthquake.
He said he wants to tell many friends that Japan has returned to normal.
The manager of the hotel where the tourists ate lunch said he hopes they will spread the word that Hakone has not changed since the quake.
The tourists are staying at a hot-spring resort in Yamanashi Prefecture near Mount Fuji. On Sunday, they will return to Tokyo to visit an electronic district and a cultural site.
Sunday, May 01, 2011 09:02 +0900 (JST)
Enjoying life’s darker side / Energy-saving steps highlight appeal of keeping lights low (May.2)The Yomiuri Shimbun
The March 11 earthquake and tsunami and the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have forced people in Japan to fundamentally reconsider many aspects of daily life.
While people in disaster areas are struggling to cope in extremely harsh circumstances, those living in Tokyo and other relatively unscathed regions can hardly expect to continue their essentially unrestricted consumption of electricity and access to luxury items.
Disaster has provided a precious opportunity to examine the way we live, which will hopefully lead to long-term changes for the better.
To save electricity, railway companies have turned off some of the electric lights in stations and on trains in the Tokyo metropolitan area.
One example is the underground concourse of Seibu Railway Co.’s Ikebukuro Station in Toshima Ward, Tokyo, which was illuminated by 82 fluorescent tubes before March 11. It now uses just 33.
The sight of empty lighting fixtures may strike some as bleak, but even though less than half as much artificial light is being used, the difference is not especially noticeable.
Department stores, supermarkets and convenience stores have made similar efforts.
The major convenience store chain Lawson has turned off more than 50 percent of lights during daytime hours at all outlets nationwide, except for those in disaster-hit areas.
Lawson stores within the service area of Tokyo Electric Power Co., which has been struggling to meet electricity demand, no longer switch on their electric signboards at any time.
The disaster in March has been the catalyst for a dramatic change in the visual atmosphere of Japan’s streets, which have long made vibrant use of illumination.
Masao Inui, professor emeritus at Tokyo Institute of Technology and an expert in environmental design, said: “Delegations sent from Japan to Europe in the late Edo period [1603-1868] and early in the Meiji era [1868-1912] were fascinated by the bright gas lamps they saw in European streets. From that time, brilliant lighting came to be seen as a symbol of prosperity in Japan.”
According to the Japan Electric Lamp Manufacturers Association, in Europe artificial light is generally used only when and where it is considered necessary. In Japan, though, there is a widespread tendency to illuminate entire buildings instead of just the sections in use, and electric lighting is often used when natural light is sufficient.
In Japan, per-person consumption of electricity-generated light is about 40 percent higher than in Europe, according to JELMA.
Even after the bubble economy burst in the late 1980s, electricity consumption in this country continued to increase, with urban streets becoming ever brighter.
An Environment Ministry study measured light levels above Nakano Ward, Tokyo, in summer from 2006 to 2009. According to the study, the sky at night during that period was on average twice as bright as it was from 1988 to 1991.
Quick to adapt
There has been little apparent public outcry about reduced lighting in public places.
Some railway companies are considering keeping their lighting cuts in place, even after TEPCO’s electricity supply capacity is fully restored.
A Seibu Railway official said, “Some passengers say they feel a bit scared on the stairs at stations at night, but there are plenty who say they’ve become accustomed to the dimmer lighting and would prefer it to stay as is.”
Feedback received by East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) has also been mostly positive, the firm said.
“We’ve had few complaints from passengers about our reduced lighting,” a company official said.
Some retailers are also making permanent changes to their lighting set-ups. Department stores including Mitsukoshi and Isetan plan to replace their electric lights with LED lamps, which are much more energy-efficient, while also cutting the number of light sources in use.
Digging the dark
Japan is experiencing “its first period of lighting restrictions since World War II,” Inui said.
“The circumstances have given people a chance to gain a new appreciation for dim lighting,” Inui said.
Some have been actively promoting the appeal of muted lighting.
Tokyo restaurant Giag Giolo Ginza staged a candlelit charity dinner on April 13. The event was a big success, with a full house turning out to enjoy what the restaurant described as “an environment divorced from the everyday.”
Mikiko Kishi, a 36-year-old company employee who enjoyed the Italian cuisine at the charity dinner, said, “I feel comfortable and calm in low lighting like this.”
Many people are making changes to their daily lives in the name of reducing electricity consumption.
Rie Otani, 45, who runs a cake store in Asakusa, Tokyo, said she has made a point of cutting out all wasteful use of electricity in the shop, and has begun unplugging appliances in her home when they are not in use.
Her family of four tries to spend more time in the same room, to avoid using extra lights and air conditioners. Rie and her middle school-age daughter have begun taking baths together, as have her husband and their high school-age son.
“My daughter and I share plenty of laughs in the tub,” Otani said. “She talks a lot about her extracurricular club activities and we sing songs.”
Rie said her family was “getting back into enjoying being together.”
As the nation’s cities have grown darker, it is heartening to see so many people focusing on the bright side.
Kan: safety measures insufficient (NHK) Prime Minister Naoto Kan says the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company failed to fully address safety issues that had come to light before the March 11 disaster.
An accident last June at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant caused by the loss of outside power and the subsequent drop in the water levels of a reactor was taken up at Sunday’s Upper House Budget Committee meeting.
In response to a question on whether sufficient safety measures had been taken, Kan said nuclear plants operate on the assumption that emergency diesel generators will maintain a reactor’s cooling functions when outside power is cut off.
He said the fact that such a back-up system failed to work properly has serious implications.
Kan said measures were not taken despite previous accidents and warnings, and that he must admit that the utility and the government failed to fully deal with the situation.
He also suggested that he will study the possibility of setting up an alternative capital to take over Tokyo’s role in an emergency, saying that measures must be taken to secure the continuity of the capital’s central functions.
Sunday, May 01, 2011 23:20 +0900 (JST)
Child-rearing allowance to be reviewed (DY May.1)
The three largest political parties in the Diet have signed an agreement that includes a pledge to abolish the child-rearing allowance program, a key piece of the DPJ’s campaign platform, to secure funds for rebuilding from the Great East Japan Earthquake.
The Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito agreed Friday to put fresh eyes on programs from the DPJ’s manifesto for a 2009 election. To compile a second supplementary budget for fiscal 2011 to finance reconstruction measures, the parties also agreed to issue special government bonds provided they have secure revenue sources for redemption.
Under the agreement, the child-rearing allowance program would be abolished and the three parties would likely revise and introduce a previous allowance system that was in place when the LDP and New Komeito were in power. … Temporary legislation passed in March allows the current child-rearing allowance of 13,000 yen a month to be paid until September.
TEPCO to install device to reduce radioactivity (NHK) The operator of the troubled Fukushima nuclear power plant has decided its workers will enter the Number 1 reactor building to carry out work.
Monday will see the start of preparatory work to install a device that can reduce radioactivity by filtering the air in the building.
Tokyo Electric Power Company says the density of air contamination in the building will be reduced by 95 percent. The firm says its workers will install the device in the reactor building within a few days.
It will be the first time its workers enter the building since the hydrogen explosion on March 12th.
TEPCO increased the amount of water injected into the Number 1 reactor on a trial basis for two days starting on Wednesday. It wanted to examine the feasibility of its plan to cool the fuel rods by filling the containment vessel with water to their height in the pressure vessel.
But because TEPCO could not determine the water level in the containment vessel, there’s a need for new measures including installation of a water gauge.
TEPCO says filling the containment vessel with water won’t be enough to steadily cool down the reactor. The company is considering installing a heat exchanger that cools the water inside the reactor, though checking pipes would also be needed.
NHK’s correspondent says it would be a step forward if TEPCO does install a device that reduces radioactivity, but there will still be the issue of establishing a system to steadily cool the reactors.
Monday, May 02, 2011 06:47 +0900 (JST)
The operator of the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant plans to begin transferring highly radioactive water accumulated near the Number 6 reactor to a temporary storage tank.
Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, is expected to start moving the water in the turbine house of the No. 6 reactor to the tank on Sunday afternoon.
At the Number 2 reactor, TEPCO continues to pump out highly radioactive water that has accumulated in a tunnel connected to the reactor to an on-site waste processing facility.
TEPCO says about 2,560 tons of the water has been moved into the facility since work began on April 19th.
The company says the surface of the water in the tunnel was 84 centimeters below ground level as of 7AM on Sunday, down 4 centimeters since the work began.
The utility adds that radioactive water in the tunnel of the Number 3 reactor facility has been rising for several days, and reached 90 centimeters below ground level at 7AM, 2 centimeters higher than the figure a day before.
To prevent the water from overflowing from the tunnel, TEPCO is preparing to transfer the water to the waste facility by connecting the 2 locations with a hose.
TEPCO also says that a woman employee in her 40s was exposed to radiation of 7.49 millisieverts, 1.5 times the national legal limit, while she was working at an in-house medical office of the Fukushima plant.
The woman continued to work there until March 15th, 4 days after the disaster, then she was moved to another office within Fukushima Prefecture. She is described as having no apparent health problems resulting from the exposure.
TEPCO says it is the second case of a woman worker being exposed to radiation exceeding the legal limit, and that no woman has been allowed to work at the plant since March 23rd.
Sunday, May 01, 2011 12:56 +0900 (JST)
Tokyo Electric Power Company is preparing to transfer radioactive water from the Number 3 reactor of the disaster-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Restoration work at the plant has been hindered by highly radioactive water that has been accumulating in the Number 1 to Number 4 reactors.
The utility has given priority to transferring the most highly contaminated water in the Number 2 reactor to a temporary storage site.
The operation was suspended for maintenance on Friday, but resumed shortly after 2 PM on Saturday.
TEPCO dropped a plan to add another pump to quicken the transfer.
The utility says it needs to set aside capacity in the temporary storage site to transfer contaminated water from the Number 3 reactor, as the water level in its underground tunnel has risen by 12 centimeters in one week.
The power company plans to start transferring water from the Number 3 reactor if the water level continues to rise, and is installing a hose that connects the tunnel with the temporary storage site.
Sunday, May 01, 2011 09:02 +0900 (JST)
The Tokyo Electric Power Company says it going to implement new measures at the disaster-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to protect it from any other tsunami or aftershocks. The work will be completed by late July.
A utility official told reporters on Saturday that it is going to build 12-meter-high temporary levees consisting of stone-filled baskets to protect the plant from any tsunami.
The power company will also fill in the pits leading down to the 4 tunnels on the ocean side of the Number 2 and Number 3 reactors with concrete to prevent highly radioactive water from leaking into the sea.
As a measure to protect the plant from aftershocks, TEPCO will set up a steel pillar at the bottom of the spent-fuel storage pool of the Number 4 reactor, and reinforce it with concrete.
A hydrogen explosion last month damaged the wall of the reactor building, weakening its quake resistance.
An advisor to the prime minister and a senior member of the government’s nuclear taskforce, Goshi Hosono, says a magnitude 8 aftershock may happen off the coast where the plant is located.
He says aftershocks and tsunami pose a big threat to the work being done to stabilize the situation at the plant.
Sunday, May 01, 2011 09:02 +0900 (JST)
Tokyo Electric Power Company will implement new measures at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to protect it from any other tsunami or aftershocks.
It will build temporary levees on the ocean side and fill part of the tunnels with concrete.
Q: This is the video image taken near the nuclear power plant on March 11th when the massive earthquake hit northeastern Japan.
Tsunami more than 20 meters high hit the cliff.
Q: Aftershocks occur frequently in the area of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. There is concern that aftershocks and tsunami will hinder restoration of the cooling functions of the reactors.
Q: Officials of the power company held a news conference on Saturday.
“The company will build levees on the southeastern side of the plant to protect it from tsunami.”
Q: The temporary levees against tsunami will be built at these locations.
Q: They will be on the ocean side of Number 3 and Number 4 reactors.
Q: How are the levees going to be made?
Q: Steel baskets will be used.
Q: The baskets will be filled with rock.
Q: And the rock-filled baskets will be piled up.
Q: The levees will be 12 meters high. The work will begin within several days and is expected to be complete in mid-June.
Q: The second measure against tsunami is to reinforce the underground tunnels of the Number 2 and Number 3 reactors.
Water in the tunnels is contaminated with highly radioactive material.
Q: Work is needed to prevent the water from leaking into the sea at the time of a tsunami.
Q: TEPCO plans to fill in the pits leading down to the 4 tunnels on the ocean side of the reactors with concrete.
Q: This is the cross-sectional view.
Q: The work will be done by late May.
Q: Next is a measure against aftershocks.
A hydrogen explosion damaged the walls of the Number 4 reactor building, and weakened the quake resistance of the spent fuel storage pool.
TEPCO will set up steel pillars underneath the storage pool and reinforce it with concrete by the end of July.
Advisor to prime minister Goshi Hosono
“Aftershocks and tsunami will hinder the work to control the critical situation at the plant. Each measure will be verified for its validity against aftershocks and tsunami as it is put into place.”
Sunday, May 01, 2011 11:01 +0900 (JST)
Level now 3300 times limit at No. 2 reactor intake (NHK) The operator of the troubled Fukushima nuclear power plant says it has detected higher levels of radioactive materials in seawater samples from near the water intake at one of the reactors.
Tokyo Electric Power Company says it detected 130 becquerels of radioactive iodine-131 per cubic centimeter in samples collected near the water intake for the Number 2 reactor on Saturday. The figure is 3,300 times the national limit and 30 percent higher than the level detected on Friday.
It’s the same site where iodine-131 at a level 7.5 million times the limit was detected on April 2nd. TEPCO says it detected radioactive cesium-134 at 120 times the limit and cesium-137 at 81 times the limit at the same place on Saturday. But the readings taken for these 2 substances were down for the third straight day.
There was a 90 percent drop in levels of iodine and cesium to the south of water intakes for reactors 1 through to 4.
The level of highly radioactive water in the sea rose to three to four times the level of the previous day along the coast 10 kilometers south of the power plant.
TEPCO says it’s continuing to monitor the level, though there has not been a fresh leak of highly contaminated water.
Monday, May 02, 2011 05:45 +0900 (JST)
The decontamination of radioactive water at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant could begin in June, according to the unified command headquarters in charge of dealing with the nuclear crisis.
The headquarters, set up by the government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., announced its plan to process the highly radioactive water Wednesday. Equipment for the waste processing facility will be moved to the power station in May, a headquarters official said.
According to the plan, radiation-contaminated water will be moved to the waste facility, where a separator will remove oil and another device will absorb radioactive cesium using zeolite. The process using the absorbent mineral is expected to reduce radioactive cesium to 0.001 percent of its original level. In the next stage, other radioactive substances will be removed through precipitation using special chemicals. By the end of the process, radioactivity in the water will be reduced to 0.0001 percent of its original level, the official said.
The water will be then be returned to the reactors and used to cool them after going through a desalination process. Part of the contaminated water is seawater TEPCO has been using to cool the reactors.
The facility can process about 1,200 tons of contaminated water a day. According to the headquarters, the facility could clean the 87,500 tons of radioactive water currently at the Nos. 1 to 4 reactors in 73 days. “Even if all 500 tons of water being injected into the reactors every day leaked, the facility could decontaminate all the contaminated water this year,” the official said.
TEPCO will store radioactive materials and other waste from the cleansing process at the Fukushima plant. The official said the headquarters had yet to decide how the waste will finally be disposed of. Kurion Inc., a U.S. nuclear waste management company, Areva SA, a French nuclear power company, and some domestic firms will provide equipment and technology.
The headquarters official said it is planning to install an underground tank that can store up to 10,000 tons of water in case the facility cannot process the amount of water anticipated.
Of all the contaminated water at the nuclear plant, TEPCO has prioritized transferring water leaked from the No. 2 reactor to the waste processing facility, as this water is the most radioactive. But so far the water level at the No. 2 reactor has not declined significantly, the official said.
Goshi Hosono, secretary general of the headquarters, said, “We also need to figure out what to do with the highly radioactive waste produced in the decontamination process.”
Goshi also serves as a special adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
Emergency safety measures for reprocessing units Japan’s nuclear safety agency has told two reprocessing units for spent nuclear fuel to take emergency safety measures in preparation for a possible suspension of external power.
If all power lines were knocked out at reprocessing units, cooling of the spent fuel would be interrupted and hydrogen would be produced.
The facilities are the Japan Atomic Energy Agency in Ibaraki Prefecture in eastern Japan, and a nuclear reprocessing plant in Rokkasho village in Aomori, northern Japan. The agency is calling on those units to prepare mobile generators and pump trucks, as well as equipment that can get rid of hydrogen.
After the accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Japan’s nuclear safety agency told all nuclear power plants to prepare emergency safety measures to secure power sources.
The agency is asking the reprocessing facilities to present their safety measure plans as soon as possible. It says it will assess if their measures are appropriate by the end of May.
Monday, May 02, 2011 05:45 +0900 (JST)
Cesium found in sludge (NHK) Relatively high levels of radioactive cesium have been detected in the sludge from a waste water treatment plant in Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture.
The prefectural government is tracking some of the sludge that has been shipped out of the prefecture to be used in making cement.
The prefecture’s investigation found that the sludge contained 26,400 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram.
The solidified slag made from it contained 334,000 becquerels per kilogram, which is 1,300 times the level before the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
The prefecture says rain likely washed radioactive substances from the surface of the ground into the sewer, and they became concentrated through processing.
The sludge from the facility is transported out of the prefecture and used to produce cement.
The prefectural government will suspend the recycling and track the sludge that has been shipped since the accident to determine how it has been used.
More workers to be sent to Fukushima (NHK) The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is studying the possibility of sending more employees and former employees to the plant.
People who have previously worked at the plant and who have been trained in nuclear-related matters, such as radiation monitoring, are the potential candidates. About 3,000 people are believed to qualify.
About 1,000 workers of Tokyo Electric Power Company and its contract companies are currently working at the power plant to bring it under control
The investors are demanding that the utility state in its agreement with shareholders that it will close its nuclear power plants and end its investment in a reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture and similar projects.
The shareholders say the problems at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was a warning that accidents at any nuclear plant can lead to dangers that cannot be contained by any one company.
They will deliver documents on the demand to the company on Monday. The subject is expected to be discussed at this year’s shareholders’ meeting
Quake-hit railway lines in reconstruction limbo (May.1) Railway companies have yet to develop a clear plan for the restoration of tracks and stations along the coast of the Tohoku region that were swept away by the tsunami that followed the massive quake in March.
Tohoku Shinkansen bullet trains resumed full operations between Tokyo and Shin-Aomori stations on Friday, but railway lines operated by East Japan Railway Co. and semipublic companies remain crippled nearly two months after the disaster.
Plans for rebuilding the railways are in limbo because if the reconstruction of disaster-hit residential areas sees them relocated to higher ground, the railway routes might also have to change.
The JR East properties in the region that are currently not operating are: the Senseki Line between Higashi-Shiogama and Ishinomaki stations; the Ishinomaki Line between Maeyachi and Onagawa stations; Yanaizu and Kesennuma stations on the Kesennuma Line; Watari and Yotsukura stations on the Joban Line; Kesennuma and Sakari stations on the Ofunato Line; Kamaishi and Miyako stations on the Yamada Line; and Kuji and Hashikami stations on the Hachinohe Line.
The lines affected run along the Pacific coast between Aomori and Fukushima prefectures.
JR East is running buses in place of the disabled train services.
But Masayuki Satomi, president of JR East’s Sendai branch, said it will take several years to fully restore all train services in the region.
The Senseki Line is an important means of transportation for businesspeople and students who commute to Sendai and areas nearby.
“We want [JR East] to do whatever they can, and as soon as possible,” said Hiroshi Kameyama, mayor of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture.
Some devastated towns might implement major urban planning changes as part of their reconstruction plans, including the relocation of residential areas and roads to higher, inland locations that are less vulnerable to natural disasters.
In such cases, it would clearly be inconvenient if railways were to remain along the coast.
Satomi said, “We’ll adapt [our reconstruction] plans in accordance with town planning by local governments.”
The local governments, however, have their hands full dealing with the aftermath of the March 11 disaster amid personnel shortages, and do not have the time or resources to integrate the various opinions of residents and JR East into their urban reconstruction plans.
Securing necessary funds for the reconstruction is another problem.
Sanriku Railway Co., a third-sector, or semipublic, railway company funded by Iwate Prefecture and other entities, suffered significant damage to its facilities on March 11.
Shimanokoshi Station on the Kita Rias Line between Miyako and Kuji stations was destroyed, and many bridges and other sections on the Minami Rias Line between Sakari and Kamaishi stations were damaged.
The company, which has managed to resume services on parts of the Kita Rias Line, hopes to resume full operations in the region within three years, but is struggling to find the necessary funds. The company tentatively estimated its reconstruction costs at 18 billion yen.
“Because of a shortage of funds, we can’t continue work to repair the lines,” the company said.
Under the current subsidy system for the reconstruction of railway infrastructure, the railway operator is supposed to cover 50 percent of the cost, with the central government and the local government concerned covering 25 percent each.