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Work to decommission the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in the Tohoku region is drawing keen attention from local businesses aiming to revive the regional economy, which has been hit hard by the nuclear meltdowns seen 10 years ago.

Initially, major heavy machinery-makers and general contractors mainly engaged in the decommissioning work at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holding Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant, which experienced a triple meltdown after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Now companies in Fukushima Prefecture, where the power plant is located, are showing interest in joining the decommissioning project, which is estimated to cost some ¥8 trillion.

In July, the prefectural government, Tepco and others opened a support center tasked with helping match local companies with prime contractors in the decommissioning work.

The center offers a wide range of assistance to local companies, including coordination for business meetings and workshops on the current situation surrounding decommissioning work.

With the decommissioning work attracting huge attention, more than 100 local companies registered for business meetings in the six months since the launch of the support center.

“We local businesses appreciate the opportunity made available, as there was no room for locals amid the strong presence of big companies,” said an official of the chamber of commerce in the town of Futaba, where all residents remain evacuated due to high radiation levels.

An exhaust stack for the Nos. 1 and 2 reactors of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is cut off in April. | TEPCO / VIA KYODO
An exhaust stack for the Nos. 1 and 2 reactors of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is cut off in April. | TEPCO / VIA KYODO

Even 10 years after the nuclear accident, projects to decontaminate areas tainted by radioactive substances released from the stricken plant and demolish houses are ongoing in Fukushima.

Still, the official said “many companies have a sense of crisis, as decontamination and reconstruction work is set to end in the not-too-distant future.”

“Decommissioning work is attractive as it generates stable jobs,” said an official of a metal-processing company in Iwaki that joined a business meeting in October.

The company hopes to win a contract for decommissioning work if certain conditions are met, such as the value of the contract, as its clients are cutting capital spending due to the fallout from the coronavirus crisis.

Tepco cites plant construction company Able Co. in the town of Hirono as a successful example.

Able developed a remote control system utilizing an existing robot, allowing it to succeed in cutting a 120-meter exhaust stack at the Tepco plant in April, an unprecedented job believed to be difficult even for major companies.

“The strengths of small and midsize companies are quick decision-making and low costs,” said Isamu Okai, an executive of the company.

But only a handful of local companies have seen similar success.

Most have concerns about the skills necessary for decommissioning work, such as those required to handle hazardous materials. Many businesses are hoping to acquire know-how from big companies.

“The power of local companies is necessary for the reconstruction of Fukushima. We’ll actively seek cooperation with them,” said an official of Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd., based in Hitachi, Ibaraki Prefecture.

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