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Few universities have equipment protection plans for feared Nankai Trough quake: poll

(Mainichi)

Only 25 percent of universities in areas expected to suffer heavy damage from a potential Nankai Trough earthquake in central to southern Japan have plans to protect their research equipment and historic records, a recent Mainichi Shimbun survey has found.

The poll covered 37 national universities in 24 prefectures that are expected to be affected by a mega earthquake along a fault under the Nankai Trough, which runs between the subducting Philippine Sea tectonic plate and the rising Amurian plate.

The study was conducted in response to a major earthquake that hit northern Osaka Prefecture in June. An Osaka University research facility in the city of Ibaraki was damaged by a temblor with a lower 6 intensity on the 7-point Japanese scale in the earthquake. Thirty-six universities, with the exception of Shizuoka University, responded to the survey.

When asked if they have plans to protect research equipment or unique historic documents with seismic isolators or fire prevention measures in case of earthquakes, tsunami or fires, nine universities, or 25 percent, answered yes. Those without such countermeasures numbered 24 schools, or 67 percent. Two said they are considering implementing such steps.

Of the nine universities with those disaster prevention measures, many introduced anti-disaster plans after they experienced earthquakes and other natural disasters. Nagoya University introduced guidelines to prevent damage to important equipment or historic papers after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Kumamoto University revised its manual describing responses to major disasters following the 2016 earthquakes. Osaka University, which was hit by the earthquake in June, said the school "plans to consider implementing" a program.

Many of the 24 universities without equipment and record protection plans do have programs to save people or avoid secondary damage. Schools such as Kobe University and Hiroshima University, both in western Japan, have countermeasures to prevent equipment or records from falling or catching fire at laboratories or departments. Others, like University of Yamanashi in central Japan, say estimating the damage for such items is difficult.

Twenty-eight universities mentioned financial support from the government as a necessary support measure when hit by natural disasters. Dispatching experts on the treatment of secret documents or other universities accepting researchers who became unable to use equipment at their own universities were also mentioned as desirable.

Meanwhile, the Mainichi Shimbun asked the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology regarding the existence of the government's plan for the protection of equipment and historic records at national universities, but it was not confirmed.

The earthquake that hit northern Osaka and surrounding areas on June 18 damaged two electronic microscopes costing roughly 2.3 billion yen each, and it will take more than one year for the equipment to be repaired. In addition, cell culturing in the world's first project to use iPS cells in heart disease treatment had to be restarted from scratch because nutritional control was suspended.

(Japanese original by Shinpei Torii, Osaka Science & Environment News Department)

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