Japan picks eight tsunami-battered regions for smart city projects

A government project will allocate ¥8 billion to building "smart communities" as part of the region's rebuilding efforts

The Japanese government will provide assistance to eight cities that were heavily damaged in last year's earthquake and tsunami to rebuild using "smart city" technologies that use IT to cut dependence on traditional power sources.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said it will provide a total of ¥8.6 billion (US$100 million) for coastal cities in Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures along Japan's northeastern coast. The cities, which teamed up with major domestic companies like Fujitsu, Toyota and Toshiba to apply for the project, now have until September to submit final proposals for projects that are up and running by March 2016.

Japan is investing heavily in infrastructure projects that seek to use advanced networking technology along with power grids to efficiently track and control electricity use. Such infrastructure, which includes Internet-connected power meters in homes, and giant electricity "routers" that control where power is sent, is considered a key building block before alternative energy sources like solar panels and wind turbines can be used on a large scale.

The project calls for the cities to come up with plans for using such technologies in their local communities, with budgets of at least ¥500 million. Those approved by the government can receive up to two-thirds of the cost from government funds. One city, Kesennuma, which has a large commercial fishing industry, proposed to implement a system to help power its seafood processing plants.

The island country has few natural resources of its own and has increasingly relied on nuclear power until last year's magnitude-9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunamis caused meltdowns at a key nuclear plant. Since then nearly all of the country's nuclear power reactors have been shut down for safety checks and many local communities are against starting them up again, leading to government-mandated blackouts to cut national electricity use.

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