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[en] Highlights: • Emission rates can be estimated sequentially as a nuclear accident progresses. • Measurements can be made full use of to improve source estimation. • Strategic advices regarding monitoring networks are provided. - Abstract: An inverse source estimation method is proposed to reconstruct emission rates using local air concentration sampling data. It involves the nonlinear least squares-based ensemble four-dimensional variational data assimilation (NLS-4DVar) algorithm and a transfer coefficient matrix (TCM) created using FLEXPART, a Lagrangian atmospheric dispersion model. The method was tested by twin experiments and experiments with actual Cs-137 concentrations measured around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP). Emission rates can be reconstructed sequentially with the progression of a nuclear accident, which is important in the response to a nuclear emergency. With pseudo observations generated continuously, most of the emission rates were estimated accurately, except under conditions when the wind blew off land toward the sea and at extremely slow wind speeds near the FDNPP. Because of the long duration of accidents and variability in meteorological fields, monitoring networks composed of land stations only in a local area are unable to provide enough information to support an emergency response. The errors in the estimation compared to the real observations from the FDNPP nuclear accident stemmed from a shortage of observations, lack of data control, and an inadequate atmospheric dispersion model without improvement and appropriate meteorological data. The proposed method should be developed further to meet the requirements of a nuclear emergency response.