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5 mars 2015 4 05 /03 /mars /2015 19:45

March 5, 2015


FOUR YEARS AFTER: Blood problems continue to plague residents at temporary housing

Rise in the rate of blood clots in evacuees


Cases of blood clots among evacuees living in temporary housing units in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures have risen significantly in the past four years, research shows.

Local doctors and a team from Niigata University have been examining the health of evacuees who lost their homes in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

The researchers include Shinsaku Ueda, a doctor at the Japanese Red Cross Ishinomaki Hospital, Kazuhiro Sasaki, a doctor at the Morioka Municipal Hospital, and Kazuhiko Hanzawa, a lecturer at Niigata University's School of Medicine.

Diagnoses via ultrasound made shortly after the disaster in the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, revealed that 7.1 percent of evacuees had blood clots in veins in their calves. The rate continued to rise for those who subsequently moved into temporary housing, hitting 18.4 percent in 2014.

However, the rate remained stable at 8.1 percent for those who were able to return home, suggesting a lack of exercise among those who lost their jobs and homes played a major factor in the increase.

In Iwate Prefecture, the ratio of residents with blood clots in 2014 was 12.7 percent, up nearly three-fold from 4.3 percent in autumn 2011. In the coastal town of Otsuchi, the rate tripled to 13.1 percent during the period.

Blood clots often form due to a lack of physical activity, and can result in sudden death if blood vessels in the lungs become blocked, known as pulmonary embolism and commonly called "economy class syndrome."

The study was published on the Japanese Association for Disaster Medicine forum.

Referring to the phenomenon of "lonely deaths" among the elderly at temporary housing communities where there is nobody there to look after them, Ueda said, "The risk of 'kodokushi' and declining health will most certainly be increasing."

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5 mars 2015 4 05 /03 /mars /2015 18:59

March 4, 2015

Fukushima makes 2020 Olympics pitch for baseball, and local food



Fukushima Prefecture, which was hit by one of the world’s worst-ever nuclear disasters in 2011, wants to host baseball and softball games at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — and hopes to convince athletes to eat the local food.

The sports were dropped from the Olympic program after 2008 but are tipped to be voted back in by the International Olympic Committee next year, given their popularity in Japan.

“If baseball and softball return to the Olympics, and preliminary games are played outside Tokyo, then we hope to be able to stage games,” said Hiroaki Kuwajima, an official with the Fukushima Municipal Government.

“We are still in the process of recovery from the disaster and it would be a dream to have world-class athletes play here.”

Fukushima has suffered a lot of financial damage caused by misinformation,” he said. “We would like to be able to sweep away those harmful rumors. Fukushima has venues capable of hosting these games.”

Fukushima Prefecture is also keen on holding Olympic training camps and wants overseas athletes and fans to eat locally produced food, despite concerns over radiation levels. The city of Fukushima is just 60 km away from the crippled nuclear reactors.

“Fukushima’s produce is safe and will be safe,” insisted Kuwajima. “Of course we would like athletes and visitors from overseas to eat our food.”

Fukushima’s sprawling J-Village sports facility, where the Japan soccer team used to train, is also set to be restored in time for the 2020 Olympics after being converted into a base camp for thousands of workers deployed for the massive cleanup operation following the nuclear crisis.

“JFA (Japan Football Association) President (Kuniya) Daini wants the J-Village training camp to be fixed up and as a prefecture we are anxious to restore it,” said Kuwajima. “Some people might be a little concerned about Fukushima, but once athletes and fans come, they will see that it is safe.”

Fukushima has already expressed a desire to be part of the 2020 Olympics, along with Iwate and Miyagi, the two other Tohoku region prefectures that were the worst hit by the 2011 triple disaster.


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5 mars 2015 4 05 /03 /mars /2015 18:57

March 4, 2015

Fukushima fears no longer a drag on tourism


by Anne Beade


The 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster laid waste to Japan’s tourism industry even as it left the Tohoku coastline in ruins, killed thousands and sparking the worst nuclear crisis in a generation.

But four years later, tourism is bouncing back, shattering expectations on visitor numbers largely owing to the weak yen and fading fears about the fallout from Fukushima No. 1.

Worries about radiation sent the number of visitors coming to Japan into a steep dive and the thought of attracting new tourists seemed an impossible goal in the days and weeks after the catastrophe struck.

But last year Japan logged a record 13.41 million international visitors, double the number of 2011 and more than half of the 20 million the government hopes to attract in 2020 when Tokyo hosts the Summer Olympics.

Receding fear over radiation and a sharp drop in the value of the yen — which has toned down Japan’s reputation as a pricey destination — are helping to draw people like Buenos Aires native Jorge Santillan and his wife.

“That really influenced our decision,” he said, referring to the exchange rate.

Since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched efforts to resuscitate the economy in early 2013, the yen has dropped 20 percent against the euro and about 40 percent against the dollar — making everything from sushi and sake to hotels and bullet trains a lot cheaper for visitors.

“We were checking the Internet and saw it was getting cheaper than before, and so we said ‘Let’s go!’ ” said French visitor Arnaud Cornillet.

Japan has come a long way from the televised images of tsunami-battered communities and workers in biohazard suits struggling to bring reactor meltdowns under control.

The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) says the stigma of the Fukushima disaster has dropped significantly, though it has yet to fade completely.

But “we have said many times that radiation levels are absolutely insignificant in Tokyo and the main tourist areas,” said JNTO official Mamoru Kobori.

“People understand that traveling, eating and living here don’t pose a problem, as long as you avoid the restricted area around the Fukushima nuclear plant.”

Industry minister Akihiro Ota believes 15 million visitors this year is a “realistic” target, aided by a pickup in regional tourism as visitors from Taiwan, South Korea and China flood luxury boutiques in Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district.

That has been helped by the relaxation of visa restrictions despite often-tense diplomatic relations between Japan and its neighbors.

Japan’s cuisine, traditional ryokan inns and the famous hot springs found in every corner of the country are top draws for visitors, said Mika Hatakeyama, Japan product manager at top-end French tourism agency Voyageurs du Monde.

“People who are delighted with (the country’s) friendliness and hospitality are going back and (telling) others, so there is a word-of-mouth effect,” she said, adding that Japan’s reputation as a safe destination helped boost sales by 40 percent in 2014 from a year earlier.

But the surge in visitors is also straining key tourist spots to capacity, including in Kyoto, where hotels are often fully booked months in advance, Hatakeyama said.

As a result, efforts are being made to persuade tourists to head to less-visited areas of rural Japan.

“We recognize that further efforts have to be made to strengthen infrastructure” ahead of the Tokyo Games, said the JNTO’s Kobori. “Building permit applications are booming and, according to our numbers, there should be 10,000 additional hotel rooms in Tokyo alone by 2020.”

While Japan is aiming for tourism numbers similar to Britain or Turkey, at around 30 million annually, it would still remain a shadow of world leader France with its 80 million visitors.

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5 mars 2015 4 05 /03 /mars /2015 18:56


March 5, 2015

Workers still scarce at factories in village near Fukushima No. 1


KAWAUCHI, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – A labor shortage has been plaguing new factories in areas near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Thanks to efforts by the central and prefectural governments to create jobs to prepare for the return of locals who evacuated because of the nuclear crisis, businesses opened factories in the village of Kawauchi, close to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s shattered facility.

But the factories are suffering from a lack of workers due chiefly to delays in the return of evacuees, especially young people. In addition, some workers quit after finding themselves unsuited for the new jobs.

All areas of Kawauchi were warned to evacuate soon after the March 2011 nuclear catastrophe started. An evacuation advisory is still in place in part of the village.

In November 2012, Kikuchi Seisakusho Co. of Hachioji, western Tokyo, started operations at a factory converted from a high school in an area of Kawauchi where the evacuation advisory has been lifted.

As the factory is only about 20 minutes by car from the Tomioka interchange on the Joban Expressway, which connects the Tokyo metropolitan area with the Tohoku region, it is convenient in terms of bringing in materials and shipping products.

The biggest problem, however, is the shortage of labor.

The factory hired about 30 Kawauchi residents at the start of operations to support reconstruction, a senior official of Kikuchi Seisakusho said. Before the crisis, many of them had agricultural jobs or worked at supermarkets.

More than 10 workers quit within about two years.

“Many left as they couldn’t get used to the factory work,” said Kenichi Sato, the factory manager.

The factory casts high-end aluminum products using cutting-edge equipment. Finishing processes are done by hand.

There are few people with manufacturing experience in Kawauchi, and “it takes five to six years to train newcomers,” Sato said.

Although the factory hopes to eventually operate at full capacity, the current rate is about two-thirds.

Four businesses, including Kikuchi Seisakusho and a furniture maker, launched operations in the village after the central government began lifting evacuation advisories in September 2011.

Six companies have decided to open new bases in a Kawauchi industrial park, whose construction will start in fiscal 2015 thanks partly to government subsidies.

The industrial park is expected to create at least 150 jobs as four more firms are likely to launch operations there.

A village official in charge of reconstruction voiced concerns, however, saying it is unclear if the full 150 workers can be secured.

As of the beginning of last month, 1,584 residents, or 60 percent of the total population, had returned to the village. Of them, 70 percent are 65 or older.

The village official underlined the importance of a comprehensive approach, noting that not only efforts to build new factories but also decontamination work, support in changing careers and help in finding homes are necessary.

Against this backdrop, the Kawauchi Municipal Government plans to build new homes near the industrial park in a bid to accelerate the return of residents and attract newcomers.

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5 mars 2015 4 05 /03 /mars /2015 18:55

March 5, 2015

Fukushima photos on exhibit in Ukraine


Mar. 5, 2015 - Updated 08:46 UTC+1

An exhibition of pictures of a disaster-stricken area in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, after the March 2011 nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant has opened in Ukraine.

About 60 pieces by Japanese photojournalist Kazuma Obara are on display at a museum in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, from Wednesday. The exhibit focuses on reconstruction efforts in Fukushima.

One photo shows workers cautiously packing large amount of soil in a bag, allowing a glimpse into the large-scale decontamination work.

Another shows 3 workers in white full protective gear at a severely damaged facility of the nuclear plant.

Since the accident, Japan has deepened its post-nuclear disaster cooperation with Ukraine, which experienced the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident. They have worked together in areas such as measures against health damage to residents.

A man at the exhibition said he felt people in Fukushima live with the same kind of anxiety that Ukrainians experienced. He said he hopes people in Fukushima can overcome the disaster.

Obara said at the exhibit that learning about the situation in Fukushima could lead to some kind of cooperation between Ukrainians and Japanese.


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5 mars 2015 4 05 /03 /mars /2015 18:39

March 4, 2015

Fukushima evacuees to tell their stories through picture boards at Tokyo event

Kamishibai stories of disaster

Yoshihiro Ozawa, pictured here in Koori, Fukushima Prefecture, tells stories of his hometown, a no-go zone in Fukushima, through the "kamishibai" storytelling art form. (Mainichi)


A group of Fukushima Prefecture residents who are still living away from their homes as a result of the March 2011 nuclear disaster will tell their stories through "kamishibai" -- a storytelling technique using large pictures and verbal narration -- at an event this month in Tokyo. Their goal: to prevent their experiences and ongoing hardships from being forgotten.

Titled "Fukushima Hisaichi Machi Monogatari Tokyo 7 Days" (literally Fukushima disaster area community stories Tokyo 7 days), the event will feature seven kamishibai performances across four days. Among the performers will be a group based in Koori, Fukushima Prefecture, whose members are victims of the ongoing nuclear disaster intent on keeping stories about their hometown of Namie, near the stricken nuclear plant, alive.

Yoshihiro Ozawa, 69, who was living in temporary housing in Koori after fleeing his home in Namie, founded the group in April 2014.

The impetus for organizing the group goes back to the spring of 2012, when a Hiroshima citizens' group called Machi Monogatari Seisaku Iinkai (Committee for community story production), which aims to invigorate communities through kamishibai, approached residents at the temporary housing facility. The Hiroshima group said it wanted to recreate an essay written by one of the housing facility's female residents in the traditional storytelling art form of kamishibai. Ozawa, who was the housing facility's community leader at the time, helped to arrange the project. The group went on to also make kamishibai from Namie's folk tales, which eventually led to the founding of a kamishibai performance group centered on Ozawa.

Members of the newly founded group were all volunteers trying to preserve Namie's community bonds by performing kamishibai for the town's residents, who were scattered across the prefecture. Their performances enjoyed a good reputation and the group was soon invited to tell their stories in other prefectures such as Miyagi and Wakayama.

Wherever the group went to perform, Ozawa found that he was asked by audience members whether decontamination work had been completed in Namie, and how much longer he expected to stay in temporary housing. In fact, radiation levels are still high in much of Namie, which for the most part has been designated a "difficult-to-return" zone.

"People are starting to forget the reality that those of us who want to return to our homes are still unable to do so," lamented Ozawa. Meanwhile, the Hiroshima-based organization had begun to feel growing unease that the situation in Fukushima was fading in the minds of the general public. The concern of the Hiroshima group, which organized the upcoming event, synchronized with the angst felt by Ozawa and his fellow evacuees.

Kamishibai performed at the event will be set in a variety of areas in Fukushima Prefecture, and will involve the participation of groups comprising 2011 disaster victims in addition to Ozawa's. They will tell the stories of the aforementioned essay by a female evacuee, the town of Okuma when the troubled nuclear plant was first built there, and the efforts being made by the city of Iwaki to rebuild from tsunami damage.

The event will be held at the Rodo Kinko Kaikan building in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. There will be two performances each on March 7, 8 and 14, and one performance on March 15. Admission is 500 yen per performance. For more information, contact Machi Monogatari Seisaku Iinkai at 070-5527-3661 (in Japanese only).

March 04, 2015(Mainichi Japan)


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5 mars 2015 4 05 /03 /mars /2015 18:36

March 5, 2015

Gov't considering having local gov'ts shoulder post-disaster reconstruction costs


Reconstruction Minister Wataru Takeshita has said that the government will consider having local governments in disaster-hit regions shoulder some of post-disaster reconstruction expenses in fiscal 2016 and thereafter.

The government planned to foot all the bills to rebuild Japan's northeast, which was hit by the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, ensuing tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear accident, during the so-called "intensive reconstruction period" between the 2011 and 2015 fiscal years. As to what should be done after the intensive reconstruction period ends, Takeshita said, "It will be difficult to continue the rebuilding projects (solely on government funding)."

With respect to government-led decontamination work in the "difficult-to-return zones" where yearly radiation levels are above 50 millisieverts due to the outbreak of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, Takeshita said that the government will place priority on decontaminating those areas with important infrastructure. On whether to decontaminate the entire "difficult-to-return" zones, he said, "That's impossible."

Takeshita revealed the plans during an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun and other media outlets ahead of the fourth anniversary on March 11 of the triple disasters.

The government set the overall reconstruction period for 10 years through fiscal 2020, and is shouldering all expenses for reconstruction projects during the intensive reconstruction period -- the first half of the 10-year-reconstruction period -- out of consideration for the scale of the earthquake disaster as well as the fact that many local governments in the affected regions are on weak fiscal footing. Takeshita characterized this as "the most extraordinary of extraordinary measures." Regarding principal reconstruction projects such as land development and building disaster restoration housing and embankments, he said, "There is sufficient meaning in doing these projects (completely at government expense)."

Meanwhile, Takeshita said the government would hold talks with local governments in the disaster-stricken regions on ways of distributing expenses and securing financial resources because it would be difficult for the government to cover costs for all projects in fiscal 2016 and thereafter. In light of the harsh fiscal conditions, the government is apparently aiming to streamline reconstruction projects by asking local governments to shoulder some of the costs. But the talks are expected to run into rough waters as Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate prefectures are seeking that the central government continue to foot the bill for all reconstruction projects.

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5 mars 2015 4 05 /03 /mars /2015 18:30

March 5, 2015


Towns protest over nuclear plant water leak


Mar. 5, 2015 - Updated 08:01 UTC+1

Towns hosting nuclear plants in Fukushima have lodged a protest with the operator of the plants over failing to disclose some radioactive water leaks from Fukushima Daiichi into the sea.

Tokyo Electric Power Company is facing heavy criticism over its handling of tainted water that collected on the rooftop of the No.2 reactor building at the Daiichi plant. The water is believed to have been spilling into the sea through a drainage channel.

Tokyo Electric was aware that the levels of radioactive substances in the channel rise whenever it rains. But it didn't make the information public until last month.

Naraha Town Mayor Yukiei Matsumoto, who is also the representative of the 4 towns hosting the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini plants, visited Tokyo Electric's head office on Thursday.

Matsumoto told the utility's president Naomi Hirose it's extremely regrettable that the latest development has profoundly undermined trust in the company among locals.

Matsumoto said securing the overall safety of the nuclear plants, including the issue of contaminated water, is the first step in efforts to rebuild from the 2011 nuclear accident.

He handed Hirose a letter of protest, in which the municipalities demand the company swiftly disclose information and enhance the awareness of its employees.

Hirose offered his apologies for repeatedly causing concerns among local people. He vowed the company will take thorough measures to prevent a recurrence.


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5 mars 2015 4 05 /03 /mars /2015 18:25

March 5, 2015

Court battles are sole remaining obstacle to nuclear restarts


by Mari Saito and Kentaro Hamada


The fight over restarting the nuclear industry is moving to the courts, where power companies face the risk of further delays in firing up idled reactors if judges side with local residents worried about nuclear safety.

Four reactors owned by two utilities cleared regulatory safety checks in recent months, opening up the possibility of ending more than a year without atomic power in Japan, the first such spell in the four decades it has been using nuclear energy.

And while ruling politicians and Japan’s bureaucracy are pushing for restarts, the judiciary — which typically sided with power companies before the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster — may be shifting its attitude.

Judges are now considering injunctions that could halt the restarts and indefinitely extend the countrywide shutdown of Japan’s 48 reactors that followed Fukushima, posing a threat to power companies already surviving on government support.

Japan’s courts have always been hesitant to properly check the state and its legislative process,” but the shift in public opinion against nuclear power may have turned some judges in favor of residents, said Hiroshi Segi, a former judge turned critic of Japan’s judicial system.

The court decisions, which might come this month — four years after the earthquake and tsunami that knocked out the Fukushima reactors — could mean months, even years of delays and hundreds of millions of dollars in losses for Kansai Electric Power Co. and Kyushu Electric Power Co.

Many citizens were shocked when Tokyo Electric Power Co. repeatedly mishandled and misreported on the Fukushima meltdowns and explosions, which led to a decontamination and decommissioning process that will take up to 30 years and cost billions of dollars. National opposition to restarts remains about two-to-one over support, polls have consistently shown.

“Now that we are drawing closer to restarts, there is no other entity but the judiciary to realistically stop it,” said Yuichi Kaido, a lawyer involved in cases to stop restarts at the Sendai and Takahama nuclear plants and who has been battling utilities in court for three decades.

The plaintiffs contend the utilities are underestimating the earthquake risks at Sendai, in Kagoshima Prefecture, and Takahama, in Fukui, and are not meeting tougher post-Fukushima standards. Residents also say the government has not drafted credible evacuation plans for use in case of another nuclear event.

Kaido’s team of anti-nuclear lawyers is planning to seek injunctions on every plant that wins regulatory approval.

“Judges must know that their decision could stop the next nuclear accident,” Kaido said.

Ten utilities have so far submitted reactors at 13 nuclear facilities nationwide for restart. Electric Power Development Co., or J-Power, is also seeking approval for its Ohma plant, which is still under construction.

The costs of halting the restarts are high. Every day the Sendai reactors sit idle costs Kyushu Electric more than $4.6 million, the operator estimates.

Kansai and Kyushu Electric, the utilities most reliant on nuclear power before Fukushima, have amassed more than $10 billion in combined losses over the past four years.

Both are also on track for their fourth straight year of losses, Kyushu Electric after receiving a government bailout in 2014. Kansai Electric said last year that its corporate survival was at risk.

Halting restarts would also further complicate Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to reduce imports of more expensive thermal fuels by reinstating nuclear power, which previously supplied nearly a third of Japan’s energy.

Abe’s government wants the first restarts, of Kyushu Electric’s Sendai reactors in Kyushu, by around June, people familiar with the matter said last month. The industry had initially hoped the first reactors would be back online by last summer.

With judges appearing more sympathetic to anti-nuclear activists, though, the utilities face tougher prospects before the judiciary.

The lead judge in the Takahama case, Hideaki Higuchi, ruled against restarting Kansai Electric’s Ohi plant in May last year, a rare victory for activists.

“I think residents could win the (Takahama) shutdown in Fukui District Court,” said Akihiro Sawa, a former official with the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry, which oversees electric power companies.

Sawa, now a research director at the 21st Century Public Policy Institute, affiliated with the nation’s biggest business lobby, said he has been warning utility executives to take the lawsuits seriously.

A Kansai Electric representative said the company will continue telling the court its plant is safe. Still, “Kansai Electric believes there is a significant possibility that they will lose,” said a person familiar with the utility’s thinking.

Kyushu Electric has asked the court to dismiss the injunction request against its restart at Sendai, saying it has taken additional safety precautions after Fukushima and that there is no danger of an accident that would release large amounts of radiation.

In the Ohi decision last May, the Fukui court judge said protecting residents’ health from a potential nuclear accident was more important than any financial gains the country may get from restarting stalled plants.

“I am hopeful that the Sendai judge will feel the same,” Kaido said.


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5 mars 2015 4 05 /03 /mars /2015 18:24

March 3, 2015

We want to buy Japanese nuclear reactors': Iran atomic energy official


TEHRAN -- In multiple interviews with the Mainichi Shimbun, the Deputy Head and Spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Behrouz Kamalvandi said his country would be happy to buy Japanese nuclear reactor technology in the future.

"We look forward to nuclear power plants becoming an area where we cooperate with Japan," he said.

Japan is currently cooperating with economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the U.S. and Europe, and Kamalvandi's comments appear to be envisioning a period after the lifting of such sanctions. Iran and six nations including the United States and European nations are working to reach a framework agreement regarding Iran's nuclear program by the end of this month, with a final agreement to be reached in June.

Currently, the only operating commercial nuclear reactor in Iran is a Russian-made reactor in Bushehr, along the Persian Gulf coast. In November last year, Iran and Russia agreed to the construction of two new reactors. According to Kamalvandi, these three reactors combined will have an output of 3,100 megawatts. Iran has also reached a broad agreement with Russia for the construction of six other nuclear reactors.

Kamalvandi said that assuming new reactors are of the same power output scale as the Bushehr reactor, which outputs 1,000 megawatts, "We will need nine reactors' worth of power, in addition to the three reactors (that will exist after the two new ones are built)."

"In 10 years, Iran's power demand is predicted to be 120,000 megawatts (which is over twice the current power demand.) In every analysis, we end up covering 8 to 12 percent of this with nuclear power. If we assume 10 percent, not counting the three Russian-made reactors, we will need 9,000 megawatts of nuclear power," he said.

He added, "We have been on good terms with Japan for a long time, and if the matter of constructing nuclear power plants here comes up, we will be glad to accept. Japan has technology and knowhow for large-scale nuclear power plants."

Currently, due to its participation in the economic sanctions, Japan is not in a position to conduct nuclear technology exchange with Iran. Kamalvandi expressed understanding of Japan's situation, and said, "If circumstances change, and Japan gets in a position where it can sell us nuclear reactors, we would like to buy."

Kamalvandi is a close aide to the head of the AEOI, Ali Akbar Salehi. When Salehi was foreign minister, Kamalvandi was chosen to act as his deputy foreign minister. Kamalvandi has also served as ambassador to Zimbabwe and Indonesia. He has held his current post since August 2013, when Salehi became head of the AEOI. At the AEOI, in addition to being spokesman, Kamalvandi handles dealings with the Iranian parliament and the AEOI's foreign affairs. He was a participant in nuclear talks held in Geneva in late February this year. (Interviewed by Ryuji Tanaka, Tehran Bureau)

March 03, 2015(Mainichi Japan)

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