See latest May 13 news Fukushima crisis updates here!

Below is our regular EDU Watch update on what’s happening on the educational scene in Japan as well as elsewhere in the world. At the bottom, we continue to provide news updates and links on the continuing aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami (focusing on news that will impact the lives of our EIJ community resident here in Japan).

Education news in Japan:

Teachers loyal to disaster-area kids (Yomiuri, May 11) Primary school teachers in disaster-hit areas continue to make extraordinary efforts on behalf of their young students. Many teachers took it upon themselves to confirm the safety of their students after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. While also helping the management of evacuation centers, they have paid careful attention to children’s mental conditions. Excerpts below:

“…a teacher who experienced the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake warned that authorities should do their best to avoid placing extra burdens on teachers, such as nonessential clerical work, and let them concentrate on teaching their students.

In Minami-Sanrikucho, Miyagi Prefecture, all public primary and middle schools that did not suffer major damage in the disaster are used as shelters for evacuees. It is true for the Shizugawa Primary School, where almost all of the school’s 33 teachers have helped sort relief supplies and run the shelter.

Relatives of some teachers went missing in the disaster, but Keiichi Kato, 57, principal of the school, said it had not affected the teachers’ dedication to their students.

“All of them have put the children before their private matters,” said Kato. He said three of his teachers had become ill due to overwork.

The teachers have also organized informal study sessions so children do not fall behind in their studies, and make their own original worksheets for their students.”

School resumes for high schoolers evacuated in nuke crisis (May 9) School resumed Monday for high school students forced to evacuate due to the ongoing nuclear crisis in Fukushima Prefecture, with their teachers visiting their new school premises to give lessons. Five of the eight public schools located within 30 kilometers of the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant reopened under the prefecture-wide arrangement more than a month after Japan’s new academic year began in April, the prefectural education board said. The remaining schools will reopen later this week. (Kyodo)
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Like thousands of foreigners, Tony Black recently made the agonizing decision to leave Japan, wife and baby child in tow. Unlike many, he has no concrete plans to return. “I’ve been in Japan for 19 years and feel a lot of loyalty, so it’s very hard for me to make the decision, but we’re worried about the food chain, drinking water, fish, vegetables, even rain,” says the American, who has quit his job teaching English at Tokyo’s Komazawa University. (Japan Times)
Schools in quake-hit town reopen (Excerpt below)

Eight elementary and junior high schools in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, started their new academic year Tuesday, one month later than usual, after the coastal city was hit by the March 11 disaster.

With their buildings severely damaged by the tsunami, three of the eight schools resumed classes at other schools and at a closed school outside the town.

While around 1,000 students have returned to school, 300 to 400 children were killed in the disaster or have been transferred to other schools following evacuations, according to the municipal board of education.

Masks, sleeves in at Fukushima schools as radiation looms (Japan Times, May 12) Excerpts follow:

“Students at Shoyo Junior High School in Fukushima Prefecture are wearing masks, caps and long-sleeved jerseys to attend classes as their exposure to radiation is on pace to equal the annual limits for nuclear industry workers. … Children and teachers at a fifth of the 1,600 schools in Fukushima are receiving at least 20 millisieverts of radiation per year, said Nakate, according to readings from the government. That’s the limit for a nuclear power plant worker, according to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

“We are waiting for the national government’s advice and asking them for appropriate ways to deal with the situation,” said Hisashi Katayose, an official at the Fukushima Prefectural Government’s disaster task force. “We’ve received several phone calls from residents and been asked to reduce radiation levels at schools,” he said in a phone interview.

More than three-quarters of the schools receive radiation readings of 0.6 microsievert per hour, Nakate said. That’s 10 times more than the readings in Shinjuku, central Tokyo, last week. A chest X-ray delivers a radiation dose of about 100 microsieverts, or 0.1 millisievert, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. A millisievert is 1,000 microsieverts. … Readings at Shoyo Junior High reached 3.3 microsieverts an hour on Monday, according to Date’s board of education”…. more here.

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Elsewhere in the world on education:
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Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) releases study that finds IB Diploma students more likely to enroll within the Top 20 Higher Ed Institutions in the UK. “The study by HESA supports the recent studies released in the United States supporting the IB Diploma as excellent preparation for university and college success,” said Drew Deutsch, Director of IB Americas.

Key findings include:

Achievement – More than double the number of IB entrants attended the top HEIs compared with A Level entrants, when taken in proportion.  91% of IB entrants holding 44-45 exam points  attended one of the top 20 HEIs. Approximately a fifth (19%) of IB entrants with a full-time first degree achieved a first class honors award compared to 14.5% of first degree qualifiers who held A Level or equivalent qualifications. IB entrants are almost twice as likely to study Medicine and Dentistry (5.1%) as A Level entrants (2.9%).

Continuation rates (measure of attrition/dropout) – Results show that across most subject areas IB entrants were less likely to leave their institution in the following year without gaining an award, than entrants holding other types of qualifications. 91.1% of IB entrants continued at the same institution compared to 89.5% for A level entrants.

Activities of IB Diploma students – Six months after leaving tertiary studies, IB students (36%) are almost twice as likely as their A Level and equivalent peers (18.8%) to pursue further study full time, and more likely to be employed in graduate level jobs and in higher paid occupations than A Level and equivalent leavers. A greater proportion of IB than A level leavers are employed within professional, scientific and technical activities.

This study joins a growing body of evidence that the IB Diploma Programme prepares students for success at the university level and beyond, including three recently released studies on the US postsecondary performance of IB students. The complete study, and others, can be downloaded at: www.ibo.org/research/programmevalidation/index.cfm [see related: British education system is our ‘greatest national crisis’ says David Starkey | ]

App Smart: Tutorials and Exercises to Help Students Prepare for the SAT Technology (May 12)  Traditional test preparation services have refined their mobile software to compete with start-ups, resulting in improved apps for students.

What is the most effective autism therapy? This article runs through the different kinds of therapy available for autistic kids, including a description of the Higashi Method or Daily Life Therapy that was developed in Japan. The article states “This autism therapy primarily emphasizes the development of self-care skills in order to improve self-esteem. Then, a high amount of attention is given to physical exercise. Communication, social and behavioral skills are also taught in an encouraging environment”

Death to high school English (May 10, 2011, Salon.com) Kim Brooks addresses the deficiencies of the typical high school language arts program writes that it is time to stress the importance of teaching students proper writing skills over the reading and discussion of literature or canonical texts.

Schools fail to get ‘spoon-fed’ students ready for university(Daily Telegraph, May 11)

Many new undergraduates are unable to write essays, carry out independent research or study on their own, it is claimed.

A study by Cambridge University’s exam board published today found that more than nine out of 10 first-year students felt secondary education “could have prepared them better for the academic rigour” of higher education.

Ann Puntis, chief executive of the Cambridge International Examinations, said: “With so much speculation about how best to prepare students for the rigour of university study, it is telling that young people admit to not having mastered important study skills during their school years.”

Half of the students surveyed said they lacked the necessary study and research skills when they started degree courses.

‘Worthless’ vocational qualifications to be axed (Daily Telegraph, May 12)

The impact of cultural diversity on teaching and learning (Education News, May 11)

“Not only must schools recognize diversity evident among broad racial and ethnic groups (e.g., Asian or Hispanic), but the diversity within these groups must be recognized as well. For example Chinese and Japanese may share common cultural characteristics as a result of being Asian, but will also have distinctly Chinese and Japanese cultural characteristics that differ from each other. …

Teachers have a particular responsibility to recognize and structure their lessons to reflect student differences.  This encourages students to recognize themselves and others as individuals.  It also encourages the appreciation of a diverse school population, and brings a sense of connection between disparate cultural heritages within a single school’s culture. It is certainly in the best interest of students and teachers to focus on the richness of our diversity.  Recognizing and acknowledging our differences is part of treating students fairly and equally.

One reason for seeking out and acknowledging cultural differences among students is related to Piaget’s notions that learning involves transfer of information from prior knowledge and experiences.  To facilitate this transfer process, it is important to acknowledge the students’ background, and to validate and incorporate their previous knowledge into the process of acquiring new information.  All students begin school with a framework of skills and information based on their home cultures. This may include a rudimentary understanding of the alphabet, numbers, computer functions, some basic knowledge of a second language, or the ability to spell and write their names. It also includes a set of habits, etiquette and social expectations derived from the home.
If a student cannot relate new information to his own experiences, or connect the new material to a familiar concept, he may perceive the new information as frustrating, difficult or dismiss it completely, believing it to be in conflict with his already tenuous understanding of the world.  Teachers have the responsibility to seek out cultural building blocks students already possess, in order to help build a framework for understanding.  Some educational pedagogy refers to this process as “scaffolding.”  Recognition of a student’s cultural differences provides a positive basis for effective learning, and a “safe” classroom environment.”

On science:

Seas could rise up to 1.6 meters by 2100 (Scientific American ,May 9) Excerpts:

Such a rise — above most past scientific estimates — would add to threats to coasts from Bangladesh to Florida, low-lying Pacific islands and cities from London to Shanghai. It would also, for instance, raise costs of building tsunami barriers in Japan.

“The past six years (until 2010) have been the warmest period ever recorded in the Arctic,” according to the Oslo-based Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), which is backed by the eight-nation Arctic Council.

“In the future, global sea level is projected to rise by 0.9 meters (2ft 11in) to 1.6 meters (5ft 3in) by 2100 and the loss of ice from Arctic glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland ice sheet will make a substantial contribution,” it said. The rises were projected from 1990 levels.

“Arctic glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland ice sheet contributed over 40 percent of the global sea level rise of around 3 mm per year observed between 2003 and 2008,” it said.

‘Green curtains’ block heat save energy (Daily Yomiuri, May 10)

A growing number of people are turning to nature to help them save electricity this summer, creating so-called green curtains of climbing plants.

According to the Energy Conservation Center, Japan, a key element in power conservation is reducing the use of air conditioners, which consume the most electricity in homes. A green curtain helps block the sun and keep room temperatures from rising through transpiration of the plant’s leaves.

Green curtains can be easily set up at home, and Tokyo’s Itabashi Ward Office has been promoting them as an effective way to battle global warming.

With power shortages expected this summer as a result of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the ward office has received an increasing number of inquiries from local residents about growing green curtains.

… Likewise, Katsushika Ward of Tokyo distributed free goya bitter gourd seeds to residents in late April. All 500 packets were taken by the second day.

A Katsushika Ward official in charge of distributing the seeds said, “Interest is higher [in growing goya] than usual. Many people are trying to grow it for the first time.”

Tsuneo Kobayashi of Itabashi Ward, 79, has grown goya since 2009. He said the plant can make a four-meter high and three-meter wide green curtain as its vines grow.

Plants suitable for making green curtains include goya, bottle gourd, morning glory and others.

Accordnig to Koichi Sugawara, secretary general of the Tokyo-based nonprofit organization Midori no Curtain Oendan (green curtain cheering squad): “You can save money on electricity by making green curtains, which also give you the joy of growing and harvesting something.”

Ichiro Awano, public relations director of Sakata Seed Co. in Yokohama, recommended goya for green curtains because it is easy to grow. People who want to use planters should purchase one that can contains at least 36 liters of soil, Awano said.

Goya seedlings should be planted 20 centimeters apart in a planter filled with soil for growing vegetables. It is important to fix a garden net firmly under the eaves, which goya vines could twine around. A net with a mesh of 10 to 18 centimeters should be used, Awano said.

When goya has seven or eight mature leaves, the tip of its stem should be nipped off to help lateral buds grow. Provide additional fertilizer after goya begins bearing vegetables, he added.

“If you want to make a thick leafy curtain, you should give extra nitrogen fertilizer,” Awano said. “But this will result in a slightly smaller harvest.”

It is now the season for planting seedlings in Japan, but the best time differs slightly by region.

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Tohoku tsunami disaster and Fukushima nuclear crisis news updates:

Care of children affected by disaster (Yomiuri, May 7) Colorful carp streamers have been flying all over the country in honor of Children’s Day (May 5), even in regions affected by the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami. For instance, special carp streamers are flying at a former high school building in Kazo, Saitama Prefecture, to which 1,200 disaster victims have been evacuated from Futabamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, due to the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Number of children in Japan slips to new low (The Economic Times, May 3)

TOKYO: The number of children aged under 15 in Japan has fallen to the lowest level since records began in the 1950s, as the population as a whole gets older and smaller, the government said Monday.

There were an estimated 16.93 million children as of April 1, down 90,000 from a year earlier, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said.

The estimate was based on 2010 national census data.

Children accounted for 13.2 per cent of the population, the ministry said. In contrast, the ratio of people aged 65 or older was a record-high 23.2 per cent.

Read related article:

Local wisdom a lifesaver for kids (Yomiuri, Mar 29)

The above-linked article outlines

The message, “A house on a high land brings peace and happiness to your children and grandchildren – Remember the ravages of the great tsunami – Do not build any houses below this point” is engraved on the great tsunami disaster monument that stands in the Aneyoshi area of Miyako City (Photo 1). According to a survey conducted by the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, this huge tsunami reached 38.9 meters above sea level in height, exceeding the height of the tsunami that struck during the Meiji-Sanriku Earthquake, which had been the highest ever recorded in Japan. According to the report by curator Masayuki Oishi of the Iwate Prefectural Museum, this stone monument was built about sixty meters above sea level, and the tsunami reached a distance of about ninety meters short of the stone monument. No houses were built below this monument, so the Aneyoshi area was not afflicted by the tsunami.

The wisdom known on the Sanriku coast–the Pacific side of the Tohoku region–as “tsunami tendenko” saved the lives of many children in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, when the massive earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11.

Of 2,900 primary and middle school students in Kamaishi–where more than 1,200 people died or are missing–only five children who left school early or were off sick on March 11 were confirmed dead. However, nearly all the other students were confirmed safe.

Since 2005, the Kamaishi city government has invited disaster management education experts to offer advice, and among the lessons’ important points was “tendenko”–a word coined from the city’s long history of repeatedly being hit by tsunami.

The word means to “go uphill independently at the time of tsunami caring only for your own safety, not thinking of anyone else, even your family.

The word “tendenko” was developed in Sanriku as a lesson from such disasters.

Katada has taught tendenko’s importance since 2005 in Kamaishi, offering a special class at 14 primary and middle schools in the city.

“You might feel bad escaping tsunami alone. However, trying to confirm families’ safety and whereabouts is the most dangerous thing one can do in such a situation. It’s important that you mutually believe that ‘They must’ve evacuated somewhere,'” Katada said.

Kamaishi schools conduct disaster drills to go uphill, teach tsunami velocity calculation methods in math class and discuss tsunami experiences during ethics lessons. The schools also encourage students to look for higher ground where they can evacuate on foot, and include evacuation routes in a disaster management map.” …read more here.]

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In the next article Hideo Takagi, a Professor of the Department of Earth Sciences with the Waseda University, writes on the importance of …

Preserving the Remains in Areas Struck by the Tsunami -Applying the Aftermath of the Tragedy to Disaster Education and Enlightenment Excerpts follow:

The Greatest Tsunami in Hundreds of Years

The 2011 off the Pacific coast of Tohoku Earthquake recorded a moment magnitude (Mw) 9.0—fourth largest in recorded history—caused a major tsunami caused disaster that strikes only once every few hundred years. According to the information provided by various research institutes, a reverse fault with a very loose slope crumbled severely at the top surface of the subducting Pacific plate about twenty-four kilometers depth, and this is what is thought to have caused a vertical motion of the ocean floor across a very broad range.

Nearly twenty thousand people lost their lives in the Sanriku region in a huge tsunami during the 1896 Meiji-Sanriku Earthquake. The tsunami that struck is known to have reached a maximum of 38.2 meters above sea level. Furthermore, at least three thousand people lost their lives in the 1933 (Showa) Sanriku Earthquake. In addition, the tsunami from the Valdivia Earthquake (Mw9.5), which was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded, raced across the Pacific Ocean for a day and killed a hundred and forty-two people on the Sanriku coast and throughout Japan in 1960. Other major tsunamis have also been recorded on the Sanriku coast in 1611, 1677, 1793, 1835, and 1856. This means that the region is struck by tsunamis every few decades. When looking further back in history, the Sendai Plain was entirely engulfed during the Jogan Earthquake of July 13th, 869, and it has been pointed out that the tsunami back then resembles in nature the tsunami of March 11th this year. It has been geologically proven that major tsunamis also strike Sendai Plain every several hundreds to one thousand years.

Because of its geomorphic characteristics of being on a deeply indented (rias) coastline, the Sanriku region was equipped with preparations such as coastal levees in Kesennuma which were considered the world’s foremost tsunami breakwater. However, they were destroyed by the last tsunami. Although the people in the coastal areas there had the highest awareness of tsunamis in the nation, many of them could not run in time from the tsunami that far exceeded their expectations, reaching more than ten meters in height, claiming the lives of many victims, and leaving nothing but piles of rubble.

The Region Protected By the Monument of Its Predecessors

Photo 1: The grand tsunami monument in Aneyoshi, Miyako City built after the Showa-Sanriku Earthquake. Provided by Dr. Masayuki Oishi

The message, “A house on a high land brings peace and happiness to your children and grandchildren – Remember the ravages of the great tsunami – Do not build any houses below this point” is engraved on the great tsunami disaster monument that stands in the Aneyoshi area of Miyako City (Photo 1). According to a survey conducted by the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, this huge tsunami reached 38.9 meters above sea level in height, exceeding the height of the tsunami that struck during the Meiji-Sanriku Earthquake, which had been the highest ever recorded in Japan. According to the report by curator Masayuki Oishi of the Iwate Prefectural Museum, this stone monument was built about sixty meters above sea level, and the tsunami reached a distance of about ninety meters short of the stone monument. No houses were built below this monument, so the Aneyoshi area was not afflicted by the tsunami.

The Sanriku coast had been seeking recognition from Geopark (parks supported by UNESCO that promote the connection between people and the earth) for a year. Geoparks are parks that not only conserve geologic and topographic assets, but also enjoy the connection between the ecology and people’s cultures, history, and traditions, as well as the stimulating of education and sightseeing in their regions. Currently, there are fourteen locations (including four in the Global Geoparks Network) in Japan that are officially recognized. Disaster education is also an important theme in Geoparks, and an important theme in this particular region was the battle against recurring tsunami disasters.

Hideo Takagi urges the government to preserve remains from the Tohoku tsunami-struck disaster area to raise awareness and education on tsunami disaster prevention for the world. He writes that …

“The tsunami disaster is likely to gradually fade from the memories of the townspeople when the town is restored and several decades have passed. We are now entering an age where university students do not know about the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. Many visitors including students on their school excursions go to see the remains of natural disasters such as those at the Nojima Fault Preservation Museum, which preserves the active faults that appeared on the surface of the ground during the Southern Hyogo Earthquake in 1995, along with the Mount Usu Eruption Memorial Park to which I annually lead the students of the Department of Earth Sciences, which I belong to (Photo 3) and the site of the elementary school building that disappeared with the pyroclastic flows from Mount Unzen. The latter two locations are also included as the members of the Global Geoparks Network, and the remains of the volcanic disasters are internationally recognized as important geosites as well. Preserving the sites of disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and showing how they truly are greatly contributes to education and raising awareness on disaster prevention, the revitalization of the local areas, and so on. Materials such as written documents, photos, and images alone do not provide enough of a sense of reality because it is meaningful only when it actually exists at the local sites.

Restoration plans that focus on tsunami disaster prevention are expected to be formulated immediately and it would be desirable for them to include the preservation of the remains of the tsunami-afflicted areas in a way that provides a sense of reality with a long-term view. They should also be applied to raising awareness and education on tsunami disaster prevention throughout the world and for those on the Pacific coast of western Japan, where the probability rate of getting hit by the Nankai, Tonankai, and Tokai earthquakes during the first half of this century is high. As a supporter of Geoparks, I present this proposal as those who have been affected are leading very restricted lives, there are still many people who are missing, and because I feel that it is only a matter of time before the rubble is removed or collapses.” Read the entire article here.

Radiation-contaminated area spans 800 square km, new map shows (Asahi, May 12)

“The total area contaminated with radiation from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is estimated at about 800 square kilometers, or about 40 percent the size of Tokyo, according to a radiation map created by the science ministry and U.S. Department of Energy.

The report uses the same level of contamination (555,000 becquerels or higher of cesium-137) that was used to issue compulsory evacuation orders in the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986.

To determine whether the current evacuation zone is appropriate or when residents can return home, the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan plans to set up focal sites to heighten its monitoring of the possible further spread of radioactive contamination.

The report’s radiation levels were determined in April by measuring, from about 150-700 meters above ground, levels of accumulated radiation on the ground. The areas measured were divided into 1- to 2-square-kilometer zones.

According to the map, about 800 square kilometers are contaminated with accumulated cesium-137 of 600,000 becquerels or higher per square meter. The substance has a half-life of about 30 years.

This area is largely the same as the Fukushima no-entry zone and planned evacuation zone designated by the central government. The total area is about one-tenth the size of the contaminated area in the Chernobyl nuclear accident.” More here

Hamaoka shutdown could trigger chain of power shortages (Asahi 05/11)

Given the routine electricity exchanges among power companies, the shutdown of all reactors at Chubu Electric Power Co.’s Hamaoka nuclear power plant could lead to dwindling power supplies of other regional utilities.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), already facing huge electricity shortages mainly because of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, is counting on other utilities, including Chubu Electric, for 1 gigawatt in power supply.

But with the Hamaoka reactors offline, Chubu Electric will have no surplus power to provide to TEPCO.

“With 1 gigawatt evaporating, how are we supposed to make up for it?” asked a clearly irritated TEPCO executive.

The Kan administration, which asked Chubu Electric to shut down all Hamaoka reactors until additional anti-disaster measures are in place, will likely postpone its policy decision on supply and demand of power in eastern Japan. That decision was originally scheduled for May 10.

Although their coverage areas are separated, regional power companies exchange power under a chain-like system.

Tsunami robbed many children of the chance to say, ‘Thank you, Mom’ (Asahi, 05/10) Excerpts below:

” … More than 100 children under 18 have been orphaned. If we also count those who lost one parent, their number is estimated at more than 1,000.

The calendar has no heart. Children’s Day came as usual on May 5, and Mother’s Day on May 8. For children who lost their mothers, a damaged washing machine or mud-stained apron or lunchbox is perhaps a painful reminder of the reality. They are no longer able to thank their mothers.

Losing one’s mother after a long illness is hard enough to get over. I cannot even begin to imagine how much those kids must miss their mothers, who suddenly disappeared from their lives.

There are also mothers whose children can no longer thank them on Mother’s Day. Losing beloved family members is painful under any circumstance. A follow-up survey after the Great Hanshin Earthquake found that many young people did not like being continuously referred to collectively as “shinsai iji,” or disaster orphans. Society must have the sensitivity to refrain from singling them out unnecessarily.

Survivors of the March disaster, who are struggling with their daily lives, also need time to mourn their loved ones in private. This is all the more important for impressionable young people.

It is crucial that we do our utmost to help these children heal their emotional scars and ensure that their education is not disrupted. And all of us must keep rooting for them as they grow, so they will feel as if someone with a kind face is always watching over them from above.”

Schools hit by quake, tsunami struggling to provide proper lunches for children (Mainichi, Apr 30)

Psychiatrists aid traumatized foreigners (Japan Times, Apr 30) A group of psychiatrists who have been providing mental health support for foreign residents has set up an emergency committee to aid non-Japanese suffering from stress and trauma from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. “Those who are suffering the most are the elderly, children, the handicapped and foreigners. And foreigners are particularly prone to become isolated, suffer from a lack of information in their mother tongue, easily become confused by false rumors and suffer from growing anxiety,” said Fumitaka Noda, president of the Japanese Society of Transcultural Psychiatry and professor of psychiatry at Taisho University in Tokyo. (Japan Times)

80% of survivors feel mental and physical strains (NHK, May 11)

An NHK survey shows that nearly 80 percent of the survivors of the March 11th earthquake and tsunami are suffering sleeplessness, tiredness or other forms of mental or physical disorders.

NHK interviewed 435 people, aged 17 to 88, in the hardest-hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima.

Asked about their mental and physical conditions after the disaster, 77 percent of respondents said they are having some kind of difficulty.

44 percent of them cited sleeplessness, 33 percent oversensitivity to sounds and tremors, and 31 percent tiredness or listlessness.

Many of the respondents said they are stressed by the uncertain outlook on jobs and housing.

A 62-year-old evacuee in Kesennuma City, Miyagi Prefecture, complaining of insomnia and headache, said he feels depressed when thinking about the future, including where he will live.

35 percent said their stress is relieved when they talk with family and friends, while 17 percent said nothing helps them feel better.

Evacuees from Fukushima to other prefectures suffer most, with 83 percent saying they feel unfit. 20 percent of them said their suffering is never eased.

A disaster psychologist, Professor Emeritus Hirotada Hirose at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University, said the unprecedented multiple disasters of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis combined have caused survivors’ concerns to intensify.

He called for survivors to talk together about their experiences and concerns for the future, as well as for professional help for them. [See related Survivors’ lives two months on ]

TEPCO: Highly radioactive water flowed into sea (NHK, May 11)

Highly radioactive water has been found seeping into the ocean near one of the reactors at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Workers found that contaminated water was flowing from a pipe into a pit near the Number 3 reactor’s water intake on Wednesday morning.

The workers then used a camera to film near the water intake pipe. They found contaminated water was also leaking from the wall of the pit into the ocean.

Tokyo Electric Power Company says that water in the pit contained 37,000 becquerels of cesium-134 per cubic centimeter. That represents 620,000 times above the safety limit set by the government.

TEPCO also found that seawater between the intake and a nearby special barrier had the same radioactive substance at 32,000 times the limit. The barrier was set up to prevent radioactive water from spilling into the ocean.

The firm says it managed to stop the leak later in the day after it blocked the pipe and buried the pit in concrete.

TEPCO is looking into the possibility that radioactive water in the reactor’s turbine building may have leaked through a tunnel connecting to the pipe because water levels in the turbine building had fallen since Tuesday.

Last month, TEPCO confirmed that radioactive water had leaked into the ocean from a crack in a pit outside the No.2 reactor. It later stopped the leak.

Government was hours late with radiation map (Japan Times, May 11)  Synopsis: Due to the destruction of a dedicated line and data-receiving terminal in the prefecture by the tsunami, it took the central government more than 8 hours after the quake had struck to send out a map that had been created at 3:30 pm Mar 11, detailing the potential levels of exposure for nearby areas to radioactive materials released in the disaster. The map was eventually received at around 11:50 pm via e-mail. However, the prefectural government had to conduct its first evacuation order without sufficient radiation data at 8:50 to and the delay was likely to have impeded the prefecture’s evacuation of residents, according to government sources.

Toyota moves up to normalize production in Asia (NHK, May 12) Toyota Motor intends to normalize production at its factories in Asia later this month, ahead of other overseas factories. ….

Toyota says the factories will be able to secure enough parts from Japanese suppliers by the end of May to resume full production. It also says they will use substitute parts for some models.

The automaker plans to begin raising output at factories in Malaysia, Indonesia and India on May 23rd. It says it will take about one month to reach pre-disaster levels.

Toyota appears to be focusing on restoring production in Asia, with the goal of maintaining its competitiveness against foreign rivals in the region.

[See also related: Toyota supply chain improving;  Toyota warns it could exit Japan]

Japan to inject 5 trillion yen into TEPCO nuclear compensation fund (Daily Telegraph, May 11)

The scheme, set to be approved by the cabinet as early as Thursday, is designed to protect bondholders and will keep Tokyo Electric shares listed, although the utility will be forced to forgo dividend payments for several years, ruling party lawmakers briefed on the plan said on Wednesday.

The plan is the result of weeks of wrangling among government officials, bankers and Tokyo Electric executives over who should foot the bill for the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which was crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan and is leaking radiation.

Tokyo Electric and creditor banks have pushed for hefty state aid, warning that problems at Japan’s largest corporate bond issuer — accounting for 8pc of the ¥70 trillion corporate bond market — could destablise financial markets.

The utility’s main creditor bank Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp and other lenders provided ¥1.9 trillion in emergency loans to the company in the immediate aftermath of the nuclear crisis.

Many politicians and bureaucrats, on the other hand, are keen to hold shareholders and management accountable for the crisis.

Nuclear energy at a crossroads (Japan Times, May 12) Excerpted below:

The choice Japan must soon make over the future of its energy policy will determine whether it will develop safer nuclear power plants, expand reliance on other energy sources or remain in power-save mode for decades to come….

Atsushi Kasai, a former researcher at the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute and a member of the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, said Tepco and the government will be forced to review the entire program and scrap the current blueprint.

“In the end, building a nuclear power plant (in Japan) with absolute safety is impossible,” Kasai told The Japan Times last month.

Statistically, the chance that one of the Japan’s 54 reactors will malfunction is about a tenth of an airplane crash occurring, he said. But once the statistically unlikely happens, as is the case in Fukushima, the damage is “way more excessive,” the expert explained. …

But even those like Kasai agree that terminating the nuclear power program won’t happen overnight. Reactors will take years to completely cool off and shut down, and additional years to properly bring the operations to a close. In addition to the money and time to abort the program, pundits say there are two major obstacles that may keep nuclear power generation a practical option for the government….

“Our country is short on energy resources,” a pamphlet promoting Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s nuclear program says. The utility points out that since Japan is an archipelago, it is difficult to trade electricity or energy resources with other countries.

“There are hopes over the prospect of renewable energy sources,” but their output is unstable and inefficient, Tepco adds.

Under such circumstances, nuclear power has come to provide approximately 30 percent of Japan’s energy supply….

Pushing to abort the program without first finding viable substitutes will be difficult, pundits say.

For example, Tepco is expected to restart some of its thermal power plants within months to generate up to 55 million kilowatts, but the utility saw demand of 60 million kilowatts last summer when temperatures peaked. To avoid a regional blackout, Tokyo residents will be asked to cut power use as much as they can while the government has requested that companies reduce their demand by 15 percent.

Keiji Miyazaki, professor emeritus of Osaka University and a specialist in the study of nuclear accidents, points out life without nuclear power generation would not be practical.

Miyazaki, who has studied the capacity of other energy sources including geothermal, solar and wind power generators, concluded that each option lacks the capability of nuclear power in efficiency, cost performance and environmental protection.

Another reason nuclear power is unlikely to go away is the surprisingly high support it gets from the public regardless of the current crisis.

A survey of 1,131 people by NHK last month found that 42 percent feel nuclear power reactors should remain as they are, while 7 percent called for more to be built.

Only 32 percent said the government should reduce the dependency on nuclear power, and 12 percent said all nuclear power stations should be abolished.

A separate survey by the Nikkei financial newspaper in April saw 56 percent of the respondents say they either wanted the dependency on nuclear power to grow or remain at the same level, despite the Fukushima accident