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Shizuoka faces pushback after it delays maglev project over river water concerns

  • October 25, 2019
  • , The Japan Times
  • English Press



Construction of a new maglev line connecting Tokyo and Nagoya has come to a standstill, with Shizuoka Prefecture refusing to give the green light to the full-scale drilling of a tunnel under the Oi River, claiming the project could decrease the amount of water for residents living along the river.


Even with help from the land ministry to try to smooth things out, a solution still looks far off, which could delay the scheduled start of operations for the Chuo Shinkansen line connecting Tokyo’s Shinagawa Station and Nagoya Station by 2027.


Authorities involved in the project have criticized Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu, who has been at the center of the spat. Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura has been engaging in an all-out attack on Kawakatsu, while Mie Gov. Eikei Suzuki is calling on Kawakatsu to respond in a “sincere manner.”


Kawakatsu’s move has also come under fire from within the prefecture.


“Gov. Kawakatsu has been saying that the maglev line construction will cause problems for residents if there is a decrease in the groundwater in the cities of Fujieda and Yaizu located downstream of the Oi River,” said Katsuro Sakurai, former mayor of the city of Shimada in the prefecture, who now serves as a prefectural assembly member.


“But Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Central), conducting the construction, claims they will divert spring water that would come out from the tunnel construction to the Oi River via an aqueduct,” Sakurai said. “If that’s the case, there won’t be a water shortage down the river.”


Sakurai is an independent and is neither for nor against the maglev line construction project.


JR Central’s 2013 report

Meanwhile, Kawakatsu is concerned that the construction of the tunnel upstream may reduce the amount of water flowing downstream, affecting about 620,000 people who use the river water in their daily lives.


Kawakatsu’s sense of crisis was triggered by JR Central’s 2013 report on how the construction project would affect the environment, which estimated that the Oi River’s water flow would decrease by 2 tons per second. If that’s the case, the river will lose enough water to fill the Tokyo Dome each week, or, according to Shizuoka Prefecture, the amount necessary for the daily lives of 620,000 local residents.


However, looking at the 2013 report closely, it states that the water level would drop by up to 2 tons per second only if the tunnel was built without concrete or other waterproofing methods, such as applying membranes or chemical reinforcement, which are commonly used in tunnel construction to prevent spring water from flowing out as much as possible. If such methods are used, and JR Central says they would be, the water flow isn’t likely to decrease by that amount.


Once the tunnel is open, JR Central says it will direct water from springs formed in the tunnel to the Oi River, which means the water supply for local citizens would not decrease as Kawakatsu claims.


What about the Tashiro Dam?

Kawakatsu has been demanding that JR Central direct the entire amount of spring water formed from the Shizuoka portion of the tunnel, called the South Alps tunnel, to the Oi River after it is completed. But recently, he has also started saying that JR Central should give back spring water formed during the construction phase as well.


The focus should be on preventing the Oi River’s water flow from decreasing, not having every drop of water formed during construction returned back to the river.


With Oi’s average water flow of about 75 tons per second, the loss of the about 0.3 ton per second that flows to Yamanashi Prefecture during tunnel construction won’t have a major impact on the river downstream, Toru Konda, professor emeritus at Tokyo Metropolitan University and an expert in tunnel engineering, said in an interview with local daily Chunichi Shimbun.


In fact, the amount of spring water formed from the construction is larger than the amount of water that would decrease due to construction works. That is because a certain amount of water remains in the ground, while the water would flow to Yamanashi and Nagano prefectures via groundwater veins.


While Kawakatsu is making a big deal out of the decrease in water flow from the construction, there is a huge amount of water diverted from the Oi River that the prefecture is being secretive about, says Sakurai of the Shizuoka Prefectural Assembly.


“If they are worried that the construction could cause a loss of up to 2 tons per second and would deprive people living beside the river of ‘water of life,’ why are they discharging 4.99 tons of water per second from Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Tashiro Dam (located upstream on the Oi River) to its hydroelectric power plant on the Yamanashi Prefecture side through an aqueduct and releasing it into the Fuji River?”


Sakurai said that the amount of water released to Yamanashi was reduced to 3.5 tons per second from May through August due to negotiations between municipalities and Tepco. Still, the 4.99 tons discharged per second from Tashiro Dam to outside Shizuoka Prefecture is 2.5 times the amount of JR Central’s water reduction estimates for the tunnel construction, he said.


“The local media aren’t reporting about it even though they are well aware about water released from the Tashiro Dam,” Sakurai said. “That’s strange.”


Hostility toward JR Central?

On Dec. 7 last year, Sakurai asked Kawakatsu about the Tashiro Dam during a regular session of a Shizuoka Prefectural Assembly meeting.


“Governor, you’ve been telling JR Central that you won’t give them a drop of Oi River waters because it’s a necessity for local residents. But at the same time you’re allowing 4.99 tons per second to flow out to the Yamanashi side from Tashiro Dam to generate power for Tepco’s plant. Doesn’t this water come from the same Oi River that you’ve been claiming is essential for us to live?


“You never mention anything about the water discharged from Tashiro Dam — it’s the same water,” he said. “You are hostile against JR Central but are mum against Tepco. Why is this?”


Neither Kawakatsu nor Deputy Gov. Takashi Nanba responded to Sakurai’s question. Instead, the head of the prefectural government’s infrastructure bureau merely explained that officials came to an agreement through negotiations with Tepco to decrease the amount of water released from the Oi River.


However, that decision was made after mayors of towns and cities located alongside the river and then-Shizuoka Gov. Yoshinobu Ishikawa lobbied against Tepco long before any details of the project on the Chuo Shinkansen line came to light.


In other words, it wasn’t the Kawakatsu administration that led to the decrease of water released by Tepco.


When asked why Shizuoka Prefecture appears to not be making a big deal of the water released to the Yamanashi side, the prefecture’s public affairs division simply explained in a written statement about the history of negotiations between authorities and Tepco.


The statement, however, did not elaborate on whether Shizuoka Prefecture believes releasing 4.99 tons of water per second to Yamanashi Prefecture is a problem.


‘Questions not welcome’

It was learned that officials from Shizuoka Prefecture had told local assembly members and media outlets not to ask questions about the Tashiro Dam during assembly meetings and news conferences. When asked whether such claims were true, the prefecture said in the same statement that they could not verify the information. They didn’t deny that such a move actually occurred.


By 2027, the Chuo Shinkansen is scheduled to connect Shinagawa and Nagoya stations on a 285.6-kilometer stretch in 40 minutes, and along the 438-km stretch between Shinagawa and Shin-Osaka stations in 67 minutes by 2037 at the earliest.


If everything goes as planned, the project is expected to create a “super mega-region.” This means the Tokyo metropolitan region, the Chukyo region centered on Nagoya and the Kinki region centered on Osaka will be within commuting distance of each other, integrating the three into one gigantic region of some 70 million people — more than half of Japan’s population.

The integrated region would become one of the world’s leading economies, with the economic boost having ripple effects on rural areas.


If the Chuo Shinkansen and the Tokaido Shinkansen line become the two main arteries connecting eastern and western Japan, they would be effective in times of disaster, including projected earthquakes in the region, in ensuring means of transportation.


The project will also be beneficial to Shizuoka Prefecture, making Shizuoka more accessible from Japan’s east and west.


Also, once the Chuo Shinkansen is completed, it will take over the role of the Nozomi bullet train, which connects Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka in the shortest travel time.


That would result in the increased frequency of lower-speed Hikari and Kodama shinkansen trains on the Tokaido Shinkansen line. If that would mean a Hikari bullet train stops in Shizuoka Prefecture once every 30 minutes, up from the current once every hour, it would be convenient for local residents.


One wonders if measures taken by Shizuoka Prefecture led by Kawakatsu will be beneficial for local residents.


The Japanese version of the story can be read on ITmedia Business Online at

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