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A recovering northeast Japan turns its sights to the ILC

| 23 June 2011

Iwate Prefectural Governor Takuya Tasso. Image: Iwate Prefecture

Three months after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake in early March in northeast area, or Tohoku, of Japan, more than 90 thousand people are yet suffering at the shelters and almost 7,500 people are still missing. But people have kept up the strength to recover, and are slowly but surely working to overcome the disaster.

The devastated area includes Tohoku University, one of the major players of R&D for the International Linear Collider. “Unfortunately, Tohoku University lost two students because of the earthquake, and endured severe damage to the school buildings and facilities. The graduation ceremony scheduled on 25 March was cancelled, and some research departments are suffering from destruction to their key facilities or equipment, which affects their research activities,” said Hitoshi Yamamoto, professor at the Tohoku University and Asian regional contact for the ILC Research Directorate. Now almost all lifeline utilities at the university are back to normal, and both academic and research activities are being restored to their usual working order. On 6 May, newly enrolled students celebrated the start of their school life at Tohoku University in a one-month-belated entrance ceremony.

“Our research laboratory, fortunately, suffered less damage,” said Yamamoto. “I think the location of the lab, which is at the semi-basement level, saved the day.” Generally, underground buildings are known to be much more tolerant to earthquakes than those built on the ground surface, and in this case it was proven true in many places. “The earthquake forced us to suspend ILC-related activities at Tohoku University for one month. But other than that, our research activities are the same as before,” Yamamoto said. He experienced another situation brought on by the earthquake: a few of the students at his lab were almost headhunted by other universities. “I am very happy to see them back in my lab,” Yamamoto smiled.

Tohoku University is carefully monitoring the radiation level due to the accident at Fukushima nuclear plant with the university’s own measurement system. “The university is some 80 kilometres away from the plant, and we do not observe any abnormal measurement results,” reported a university official.

Tohoku also has a stake in the ILC from another point of view.

A month-and-a-half after the devastation in northeast Japan, the Reconstruction Design Council in Response to the Great East Japan Earthquake, an advisory panel set up by the government of Japan, held its second meeting. The Council is engaged in broad discussions towards Japan’s recovery and will provide opinions and recommendations to the government that will be applied to formulate a national blueprint of the reconstruction.

Tohoku recovery logo says: "Let's get together towards Tohoku recovery." Image: Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport

In the meeting, the governors from the three prefectures of Iwate, Fukushima and Miyagi, which were severely affected by the earthquake, reported to the council’s members, including Naoto Kan, Prime Minister of Japan, and the Cabinet ministers, on the status of damage and conditions of sufferers in each prefecture, and presented their vision for recovery.

One of those local governments, Iwate prefecture, administrates Kitakami Hill, one of the Asian candidate sites for the International Linear Collider. Takuya Tasso, Iwate prefectural governor, stated at the conference that they requested the government’s support to invite the ILC to make its future home in Iwate prefecture as a central infrastructure for its recovery. “To recover from the situation we face, we should have a long-term vision for people in Tohoku to prosper, taking pride in where we live,” said Tasso. It is important for people to recover the everyday life they had before earthquake. “But I don’t think that is enough. The ILC can provide hope and pride to the people in Tohoku. We can also expect significant impact from the ILC on the economy and employment in the area,” he said.

One might question the safety of the site where this scale of earthquake struck. “Most of damage was caused by the tsunami, not by the earthquake itself,” said Tasso. The candidate site sits inland of the prefecture, so “there is no possibility for a tsunami to reach that far. Actually, the stability of the site was proven by the earthquake. There is another underground research facility near the site, and it was reported that there was no damage to the tunnel bedrock, facilities or equipment installed in the tunnel,” he said.

Since Japan has poor natural resources, science and technology policy is the key for its future. “The Fukushima nuclear plant accident brought the public mistrust in Japan’s abilities in science and technology. To work in an all-out effort to realise the ILC can help restore the public and worldwide confidence in Japan, sending a message that we are committed to the science and technology policy which will contribute to the future of mankind,” Tasso said, expressing his expectations for the future of the ILC.

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