Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (Tepco), the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, is hoping the 2019 Rugby World Cup will provide an opportunity to revitalize the area around the disaster-stricken power station as evacuation orders continue to be lifted.
“We have a responsibility for the accident and a responsibility for decontaminating the plant and the area. That responsibility involves compensation, damages and the revitalization of the local society and economy,” Tepco vice chairman Naomi Hirose told Kyodo News this week at the company’s headquarters in Tokyo.
The 64-year-old — who was president of Tokyo Electric Power Co. from June 2012 to April 2016 and then president of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. from April 2016 to June 2017 — is hoping the reopening of the J-Village in the summer of 2018 will take a lead role in that revitalization.
Opened in 1997 as Japan’s first national training center for soccer, the J-Village — built and donated to Fukushima Prefecture by Tepco — has played host to a number of different sports and was Argentina’s official training camp for the 2002 soccer World Cup.
But following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, and subsequent nuclear disaster, the facility was used as an operational base for workers at the crippled power plant.
“It was where the workers parked up, got showered, changed into their decontamination suits and got bussed into the plant,” said Hirose.
However, in March of this year following a further reduction in the evacuation area, the base camp functions were moved closer to the plant, allowing work to begin on not just renewing the J-Village to its former glory but improving it for the hosting of teams at RWC 2019 and the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics a year later.
Hirose said the J-Village is set to reopen in the summer of 2018 with the full resumption of operations beginning in the spring of 2019, four months before Rugby World Cup teams start arriving in Japan.
“We have been in touch with a number of embassies who have conveyed the information to their respective rugby unions,” he said.
Much of that information has centered on radiation levels in the village and surrounding areas, with the current readings the same as in London and Seoul — around 0.11 microsieverts per hour.
“We want people to use the training camp so they can know the real situation of the area. There are a lot of false rumors,” Hirose said.
“It’s been six years and nine months since the accident and the situation is now stable and under control,” he said. “The decommissioning work will still take a further 30 to 40 years but that is all inside the buildings and reactors. Outside, things are very regular and normal and the locals are looking forward to teams using the facility.”
Japan Rugby 2019, the local organizing committee for the tournament, will also be hoping the facility can be used.
The location of training camps has been a source of concern for Rugby World Cup Ltd., with many of those put forward by JR 2019 not meeting required standards.
With its plethora of fields — both grass and artificial — that include a stadium and indoor facility, fitness club, pool and accommodation facilities, the J-Village has no such problems.
An informed source at World Rugby confirmed that the village has “been approved to be shown to teams as an option but won’t be confirmed as a team camp until the conclusion of the team camp allocation process in April 2018, once team site visits have concluded.”
Hirose is hopeful, though he does not want a decision made from pity.
“The Japan Rugby Football Union knows the importance of revitalizing Fukushima but it can’t treat us any differently,” he said.
Further up the coast, work has already begun on the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium, which will host two pool games at the World Cup.
In the past year, All Blacks legends Richie McCaw and Dan Carter as well as other stars have visited the Iwate Prefecture city, which was heavily damaged by the tsunami.
Hirose highlighted the positive effects such events have on people in the city, particularly schoolchildren, saying he hopes teams training at the J-Village will have a similar feel-good effect on the people of Fukushima and allow the media to give the area some positive attention.
“We built it and we made it dirty,” he said. “We feel a responsibility to cheer up people here, especially the young people. This is a great opportunity and I hope the (20 teams that qualify for RWC 2019) understand the importance of that.”
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