Oct. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Japan’s government should turn Osaka’s old airport into a site to handle administrative functions and economic activities in the event an earthquake or other disaster knocks out Tokyo, a group of lawmakers said.
The lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and opposition parties are proposing a National Emergency Management International City at Itami airport northwest of Osaka, they said at a press conference in Tokyo yesterday.
The March 11 earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan, which left nearly 20,000 people dead or missing and caused the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986, highlighted the need for an alternative seat of government, the lawmakers said. The earthquake knocked out trains and power around the capital, stranding millions of commuters.
“The idea of being able to have a back up, have a spare battery for the nation’s functions, isn’t this a really good idea?” Hajime Ishii, a lawmaker for the DPJ and a proponent of the plan, said.
The 500-hectare (1,236-acre) site in Itami would feature resorts, offices, parks and what would be the world’s tallest tower, as well as offices for ministries to carry out critical government operations, Ishii said. The lawmakers also touted casinos should Japan’s gambling laws change and allow them.
Former trade and industry minister Banri Kaieda, Ichiro Aisawa, a member of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, and Shizuka Kamei of the coalition People’s New Party were also at the presentation of the plan. More than 100 lawmakers, including former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, are members of the group supporting the idea.
Lawmakers said they don’t have an estimate for the cost of the project, which may accommodate 50,000 residents and draw 200,000 workers during business hours. As much as 90 percent of the construction costs would be covered by private industry, they said. The rapid development in cities such as Shanghai and Dubai could serve as a model for construction of the backup capital, Ishii said.
The idea is probably too optimistic, said Yasushi Hamao, a finance and economics professor at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.
“You need to have a rapidly growing economy to attract that kind of investment and I’m not sure if Japan is in a position to sell that,” Hamao said.
Japan’s government won’t be able to contribute funds without adding to what is the biggest public debt burden among the world’s industrialized countries, Hamao said.
The budget currently being considered in Japan’s parliament includes 14 million yen ($184,000) for research into the plan, Ishii said.
Itami airport has been used as a domestic airport since Kansai International Airport was built on an artificial island in Osaka Bay, opening for business in 1994.
The government has no intention of closing the airport, said Takao Hattori, a deputy director for planning at Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, which operates Itami.
“Ishii’s group is thinking about this but the government isn’t considering it,” he said.
Past efforts to shift some of the country’s economic and governmental clout away from Tokyo have failed.
Ishii led a committee about 20 years ago that sought to place some governmental functions in another city. The effort was thwarted due to conflict among regional leaders who wanted their jurisdictions to be selected, he said.
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