Hello, and please find below our latest EDU WATCH news updates and links:
Embrace and respect differences: An educator’s lesson Japantoday, May 16th Excerpts below:
“On the second and third floors of a small building in Azabu-Juban in Tokyo, there is a preschool that offers children more than studying: it offers them a home away from home, where learning about respecting differences and appreciating others comes before the ABCs.

Established last August by Shelley Sacks in partnership with Darren Winney, Ohana International School is currently the learning home of seven children from six different countries. The children are taught phonics, math, Japanese and English, as well as community and environmental awareness classes, aimed at building the children’s strength as individuals in a global community.” Permanently linked here

Why English is tough in Japan (The Diplomat) Hiroki Ogawa

In accordance with changes in Ministry of Education standards made back in 2008, Japanese students in the fifth and sixth grade last month began mandatory weekly English lessons. The objective of the programme, dubbed Gaikokugo Katsudo or Foreign Language Activities, is to foster an interest in other languages and cultures generally, although English remains the priority.

But the programme is also a response to international and domestic factors. For one, there’s TOEFL score data from 2004-2005, which placed Japan second to last in Asia in terms of English language skills with 191 points—only one point higher than North Korea.

The Ministry certainly deserves credit for changing the system, however incremental the steps have been. But if the government wants to foster a new generation of internationally viable and competitive Japanese, they would do well to reassess current measures.

For one, the Ministry could address the appalling lack of English discussion in classes in Japan—from elementary to high school, there exists a rigidly structured course that leaves few opportunities for students to apply the English they’ve learned in a practical way. Without such opportunities, Japanese English learners don’t develop vital debate and persuasion skills that are the cornerstone of communication in English. Instead, the English curriculum largely consists of teaching to tests, which is why you’ll see word count guidelines such as ‘1,000 words to be learned during junior high school.’

Modern English, at least in professional settings, is frequently employed in a direct, straightforward manner. This isn’t done to trigger confrontation, but simply out of a desire for efficiency. English isn’t as encumbered with many of the genteel honorifics of Japanese, nor does it rely so heavily on implication. Providing students with more opportunities to study rhetoric as opposed to memorizing vocabulary would therefore go a long way toward producing a new generation of Japanese who are productive—and confident—with English.

Raw beef  poisoning (Japan Times, May 16) News on how the wholesaler and restaurant chain are blaming each other…

Day care centers kept kids safe (Daily Yomiuri, May 15th)

More than 300 day care centers were damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami–including at least 28 that were destroyed or swept away–but none of the children or staffers there died in the disaster, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

Quick thinking by caregivers–some of whom even piggybacked children to higher ground–and regular evacuation drills are being credited with saving the lives of hundreds of children in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures.

According to reports submitted to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, 243 day care centers in Miyagi Prefecture were damaged–including 16 destroyed–in the disaster; 34 (including 12 destroyed) in Iwate Prefecture; and 38 in Fukushima Prefecture.

It was not clear how many of the centers in Fukushima Prefecture had been severely damaged by the quake and tsunami.

Child care centers are obliged to conduct evacuation drills every month.

According to the child-raising support division at the Miyagi prefectural government, some child care centers changed their regular evacuation routes because the shaking of the magnitude-9 earthquake was so extraordinary–decisions that saved children’s lives.

“Holding regular drills and staffers’ sound judgments after the quake saved many children’s lives,” an official at the division said. “We’re thankful the caregivers calmly handled the situation.”

However, not all the children who attended day care survived the disaster. Some who had been taken home by their parents after the earthquake died in tsunami, and some children who were at home due to illness also did not escape.

In Miyagi Prefecture, 21 such children have been confirmed dead.

Families caring for quake orphans tap few benefits (Japan Times, May 16th) Only two of the families who have taken charge of the more than 100 children orphaned by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami have applied for government benefits under the kinship foster care program, welfare ministry officials said Saturday. The number of applicants has not increased presumably because there are still too many people missing from the disaster, which prevents people from defining themselves as foster parents because the children’s real parents haven’t been declared dead, an official said. Another factor, he said, may be the sheer lack of publicity about the benefits.

Twelve-year-old Yuichi Yoshioka from Global Indian International School won a spelling bee Saturday in Tokyo, correctly spelling out a word of Latin origin he did not know by guessing.

Following the first such spelling bee held last year, the 2nd Japan Times Bee for children aged 8 to 15 was held over two months after the initially scheduled March 12 due to the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, with 19 students aged 10 to 14 taking part.

‘‘I can’t believe I won. I feel great,’’ said Yuichi, who went through 35 rounds before taking the top spot with the word ‘‘presentient,’’ meaning a feeling or perceiving beforehand. ‘‘I didn’t know the word, but I was lucky.’’ He said he guessed the spelling from its origin and sound.

The contestants from 19 schools, mostly international ones, in Japan competed to win a ticket to join the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee to be held in Washington in June, where 275 spellers from across the globe will put their skills to the test.

Yuichi, who has a Japanese father and a Filipino mother, has been studying spelling for about a year with his mother, his father said.

In the contest organized by the Japan Times, he once had to drop out after the 31st round by misspelling a word but immediately went back to the stage as other two finalists, 12-year-old Hana Kameike and 13-year-old Philsik Chang, also missed their words including ‘‘hospice.’‘

‘‘It was a close call,’’ he said, adding, ‘‘I’ll do my best in Washington.’‘

Yuichi was given the trophy from U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos, who attended the contest supported by the U.S. Embassy and the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan with his wife Susan.

‘‘Win one for Japan!’’ Roos said, patting Yuichi’s shoulder, adding, ‘‘I never felt so nervous in my life, and I never felt so stupid,’’ drawing laughter from the audience.

Before the competition, all spellers, staff members and audience members offered silent prayers for the victims of the quake-tsunami disaster.

Fukushima kids ‘get 10 mSv of radiation a yr’ (Yomiuri, May 14)

The education ministry has estimated children who attend schools in Fukushima Prefecture where radiation exceeds government limits but restrict their outdoor activities will be exposed to about 10 millisieverts of radiation a year, less than the annual limit set by the government due to the nuclear crisis. In the prefecture most affected by the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, radiation levels temporarily exceeded the limit of 3.8 microsieverts per hour at 13 schools and kindergartens. But the ministry did not say how many of these schools would see radiation levels above 10 millisieverts in the estimates released Thursday. (Yomiuri)

How one village defied the tsunami May Japantoday, May 16th

In the rubble of Japan’s northeast coast, one small village stands as tall as ever after the tsunami. No homes were swept away. In fact, they barely got wet.Fudai is the village that survived—thanks to a huge wall once deemed a mayor’s expensive folly and now vindicated as the community’s salvation.The 3,000 residents living between mountains behind a cove owe their lives to a late leader who saw the devastation of an earlier tsunami and made it the priority of his four-decade tenure to defend his people from the next one.His 15.5-meter floodgate between mountainsides took a dozen years to build and meant spending more than 3.56 billion yen.“It cost a lot of money. But without it, Fudai would have disappeared,” said seaweed fisherman Satoshi Kaneko, 55, whose business has been ruined but who is happy to have his family and home intact.The gate project was criticized as wasteful in the 1970s. But the gate and an equally high seawall behind the community’s adjacent fishing port protected Fudai from the waves that obliterated so many other towns.

“However you look at it, the effectiveness of the floodgate and seawall was truly impressive,” current Fudai Mayor Hiroshi Fukawatari said.

The town of Taro believed it had the ultimate fort—a double-layered 10-meter-tall seawall spanning 2.5 kilometers across a bay. It proved no match for the March 11 tsunami.In Fudai, the waves rose as high as 20 meters, as water marks show on the floodgate’s towers. So some ocean water did flow over but caused minimal damage. The gate broke the tsunami’s main thrust. The two mountainsides flanking the gate also offered a natural barrier.The man credited with saving Fudai is the late Kotaku Wamura, a 10-term mayor whose political reign began in the ashes of World War II and ended in 1987.Fudai, about 510 kilometers north of Tokyo, depends on the sea. Fishermen boast of the seaweed they harvest. A pretty, white-sand beach lured tourists every summer.But Wamura never forgot how quickly the sea could turn. Massive earthquake-triggered tsunamis flattened the northeast coast in 1933 and 1896. In Fudai, the two disasters destroyed hundreds of homes and killed 439 people.
He vowed it would never happen again.In 1967, the town erected a 15.5-meter seawall to shield homes behind the fishing port. But Wamura wasn’t finished. He had a bigger project in mind for the cove up the road, where most of the community was located. That area needed a floodgate with panels that could be lifted to allow the Fudai River to empty into the cove and lowered to block tsunamis.He insisted the structure be as tall as the seawall. The village council initially balked.“They weren’t necessarily against the idea of floodgates, just the size,” said Yuzo Mifune, head of Fudai’s resident services and an unofficial floodgate historian. “But Wamura somehow persuaded them that this was the only way to protect lives.”Construction began in 1972 despite lingering concerns about its size as well as bitterness among landowners forced to sell land to the government.Even current Mayor Fukawatari, who at the time helped oversee construction, had his doubts. “I did wonder whether we needed something this big,” he said in an interview at his office.

The concrete structure was completed in 1984. It spanned 205 meters from end to end. The total bill of 3.56 billion yen was split between the prefectural government and the central government, which financed public works as part of its post-war economic strategy.

On March 11, after the 9.0 earthquake hit, workers remotely closed the floodgate’s four main panels. Smaller panels on the sides jammed, and a fireman had to rush down to shut them by hand.

The tsunami battered the white beach in the cove, leaving behind debris and fallen trees. But behind the floodgate, the village is virtually untouched.

Fudai Elementary School sits no more than a few minutes walk inland. It looks the same as it did on March 10. A group of boys recently ran laps around a baseball field that was clear of the junk piled up in other coastal neighborhoods.

Their coach, Sachio Kamimukai, was born and raised in Fudai. He said he never thought much about the floodgate until the tsunami.

“It was just always something that was there,” said Kamimukai, 36. “But I’m very thankful now.”

Fudai’s biggest casualty was its exposed port, where the tsunami destroyed boats, equipment and warehouses. The village estimates losses of 3.8 billion yen to its fisheries industry.

One resident remains missing. He made the unlucky decision to check on his boat after the earthquake.
Read more here
Quake ‘hurt reactors before tsunami’ (retr. source: Japan Times, May 16th)

(Kyodo) High radiation readings taken in the No. 1 reactor building the night of March 11 suggest it was the quake rather than the loss of cooling that critically damaged the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, a utility source said Saturday.

The belated disclosure could trigger a review of quake-preparedness at nuclear facilities across the country. Many have been focusing on increasing defenses against tsunami, which knocked out the plant’s poorly placed emergency power generators.

On March 11, the nuclear plant shut down automatically just after 2:46 p.m., when the magnitude 9 quake occurred. Within an hour, it was hit by at least two tsunami. The external power supply then shut down, stopping the emergency cooling system from injecting water into the reactor core at 4:36 p.m.

That evening, Prime Minister Naoto Kan declared the country’s first state of nuclear emergency and residents near the plant were asked to evacuate.

Workers entered the No. 1 reactor building during the night to assess the damage only to hear their dosimeter alarms go off a few seconds later, sources at Tokyo Electric Power Co. said. Since they thought the building was filled with highly radioactive steam, the workers decided to evacuate.

Based on the dosimeter readings, the radiation level was about 300 millisieverts per hour, the source said, suggesting that a large amount of radioactive material had already been released from the core.

The source of the steam was believed to be the No. 1 reactor’s overheated pressure vessel.

But for that scenario to hold, the pressure in the reactor would have to have reached enormous levels ~~~- damaging the piping and other connected facilities. It should have taken much more time to fill the entire building with steam.

A source at Tepco admitted it was possible that key facilities were compromised before the tsunami.

“The quake’s tremors may have caused damage to the pressure vessel or pipes,” the official said.

Core of reactor 1 melted 16 hours after quake The meltdown at reactor No. 1 in Fukushima happened more quickly than feared, a new analysis of the crisis shows.

Meltdown occurred at Fukushima No. 1 reactor 16 hours after March 11 quake (Japantoday, May 16th)A nuclear fuel meltdown at the No. 1 reactor of the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi power plant is believed to have occurred around 16 hours after the March 11 quake and tsunami crippled the complex in northeastern Japan, Tokyo Electric Power Co said Sunday.The reactor, the fuel of which was found Thursday to have largely melted, was already in a critical state at 6:50 a.m. on March 12 with most of its fuel having melted and fallen to the bottom of the reactor pressure vessel, the plant operator said based on its provisional assessment.The reactor automatically halted shortly after the 2:46 p.m. earthquake, but its water level dropped to the upper part of the fuel rods and the temperature began to rise around 6 p.m. The damage to the fuel had begun by 7:30 p.m. with most of it having melted by 6:50 a.m. the following day, the utility said.While the utility is aiming to bring the worst nuclear accident in Japan under control in around six to nine months from mid-April, it has no choice but to abandon a plan to flood and cool the No. 1 reactor’s containment vessel as holes have been created in the pressure vessel by the melted fuel, an adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan indicated earlier Sunday.But the government will keep intact the firm’s timetable for stabilizing the crisis, Goshi Hosono, tasked with handling the nuclear crisis, told TV programs.On the original plan to completely submerge the 4-meter-tall fuel rods by filling the vessel with water, Hosono said, ‘‘We should not cause the (radioactive) water to flow into the sea by taking such a measure,’’ alluding to the holes.

Hosono said that the government will instead consider ways to decontaminate water used to cool fuel in the reactor so that the water can be reused.

The remarks were made after TEPCO found a pool of water over 4 meters deep, which could be highly contaminated and total 3,000 tons, in the basement of the No. 1 reactor building, suggesting water poured into the reactor core may be seeping through holes created by melted fuel. The water is then suspected to have leaked from the containment vessel or suppression pools, which form the vessel, into piping.

In a related revelation concerning one of the major mix-ups after the natural disaster knocked out power at the six-reactor complex, TEPCO and other sources said the same day that the utility had assembled 69 power supply vehicles by March 12 at the plant but to no avail.

The inability to use the vehicles caused a delay in the damage control work at the plant, significantly worsening the emergency.

TEPCO earlier said it had tried to connect the vehicles to power-receiving equipment, a procedure necessary to operate pumps that would pour water into the reactors to cool them. But workers failed to carry out the task because the equipment was submerged in seawater from the tsunami, creating the risk of shorting out.

TEPCO’s account is at variance with the one given by the government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which mentioned the first arrival of such a vehicle on the evening of March 11 but stopped mentioning it the following day as the focus of attention had shifted to how to let out radioactive steam to relieve pressure that had built up inside the containment vessel of the No. 1 reactor.

The different versions of the story given by TEPCO and the agency might come to a head as investigations progress to determine why efforts to immediately contain the crisis failed.

TEPCO: No.4 blast due to hydrogen from No.3  (NHK, May 16th)

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant says the March 15th explosion at the No.4 reactor building may have been caused by hydrogen from the No. 3 reactor.

Tokyo Electric Power Company has been investigating the cause of the explosion and fires.

It was initially thought that the March 15th explosion was triggered by hydrogen produced by damaged spent fuel rods in a pool inside the No.4 reactor building. But photographs of the pool taken in April show no damage to the rods.

TEPCO focused on ducts from the No.4 and neighboring No.3 reactor buildings that join into a single duct before an exhaust pipe.

The company says that when it vented gas from the No.3 reactor through the duct, hydrogen may have seeped into the No.4 reactor building. Hydrogen that accumulated in the upper part of the No.4 reactor building may have caused the explosion.

Some experts had suggested that oil in the reactor building could have been one of the reasons for the blast.

By assessing damage to the building, TEPCO says the blast was likely due to a hydrogen explosion, and that oil may have triggered fires after the blast.

The operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says it will increase the amount of water being injected into the Number One reactor in a study of how to stabilize the reactor, whose fuel rods are believed to have melted down.Tokyo Electric Power Company says the water level in the reactor is now extremely low and that the pressure vessel protecting the reactor core has a hole and cracks as a result of the meltdown.It says the containment vessel was also damaged, and has been leaking a large amount of highly radioactive water into the reactor building.TEPCO is now reviewing its effort to cool the reactor by filling the containment vessel with water. It says it decided to increase the amount of water being injected into the reactor from 8 tons per hour to 10 tons per hour.The company says it will monitor the water level, temperature, and pressure inside the containment vessel for 2 days.The utility says if a certain water level is maintained inside the containment vessel, it is possible to set up a cooling system that circulates water from the containment vessel to a heat exchanger and back to the reactor.

The company says after studying data obtained from the operation, it will come up with a specific cooling method on Tuesday when it reviews the roadmap.

The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says it may take a number of years to remove damaged nuclear fuel rods from the Number 1 reactor.The Tokyo Electric Power Company announced on Saturday, that most of the fuel rods in the Number 1 reactor have melted and fallen to the bottom of the reactor where they are submerged in water.

The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says the amount of highly radioactive water in the basement of the Number one reactor is increasing. The water is leaking from a hole or cracks in the containment vessel.On Friday, Tokyo Electric Power Company workers found that the water in the basement is 4.2 meters deep.The company intends to measure radiation levels of the water as it tries to find ways to deal with the leakage.Also on Friday, a robot detected a maximum of 2,000 millisieverts of radiation per hour on the first floor of the reactor building.The radiation level is the highest since the March 12th accident.
The company says the water is leaking from the pipes leading to the reactor, which were probably damaged as a result of a meltdown.The utility has been forced to revise its original plan before submitting it to the government on Tuesday.

Tokyo Electric Power Company will fix gauges in two of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to determine precise water levels.It appears there was a problem with the gauge in the No.1 reactor that showed the level of cooling water at about half the level of the fuel rods. The gauge was fixed on Thursday and then revealed that the rods were completely exposed and melted down.TEPCO says the gauges at the No.2 and 3 reactors might not be showing the actual water levels, and that the worst case is that the rods have melted down.The company says the temperatures of the two reactors are stable, so it can proceed with cooling them even if finds that meltdown took place.
TEPCO says workers will go into the reactor buildings and fix the gauges, getting the precise data on water levels needed to continue cooling the reactors.But conditions inside the buildings are not known and the operation will be difficult

TEPCO: Years needed to remove damaged nuclear fuel (NHK, May 16th)TEPCO announced in April that it was aiming to get the reactor stabilized and cooled down in 6 to 9 months.
However, no timeline has yet been proposed for the removal of the nuclear fuel.The company plans to study measures taken at the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the US, where a meltdown of nuclear fuel rods also occurred.There it took almost 10 years to remove melted fuel at the bottom of the reactor, which resembled hardened lava.

Robot pics show damage in reactor building (Yomiuri, May.16) See also related articles on why Japan hasn’t introduced its own robots for the crisis:
Los Angeles Times – Japan’s technology not up to this task (Daily Yomiuri, May 16th) Excerpts follow:
In recent weeks, two 510 PackBot robots and two other machines made by the same U.S. company have assessed the damage, measuring temperature and oxygen levels inside the reactors, often recording radiation levels that would soon kill a human engineer. …More than 3,500 Packbots have been delivered to Afghanistan and Iraq for U.S. military use in detecting and disarming homemade bombs. 
They’ve been employed by police bomb squads and were used to help search for bodies after the Sept. 11 attacks. But they’ve never been used in such a charged atmosphere, where temperatures reach 110 degrees in sauna-like conditions. …
But in a nation renowned for its robotics research, many here are asking why the machines had to be imported.
Critics say Japanese scientists have wasted too much of their expertise developing gimmicky technology such as robots that can sing, dance and play musical instruments rather than more practical versions that could have been put to use in a national emergency.
Even after a 1999 accident at a nuclear plant in which two workers died of radiation exposure, Japan’s nuclear power industry has been slow to invest in the development of radiation -resistant robots, research scientists here say.
“In the U.S. the Department of Defense buys sturdy robots like PackBots for military use, and French law makes it mandatory for its government to spend money on technology such as robots for nuclear emergencies as a precautionary measure,” says Hirohisa Hirukawa, director of the Intelligent Systems Research Institute at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. “Japan doesn’t have that.”
Following the deaths of the two workers, officials had considered the building that housed the nuclear reactor was safe, authorities said, “There won’t be an accident and we won’t need such robots,’ and efforts to develop to develop such robots have been scrapped,” said Masahiro Sakigawara general manager of the Future Robotics Technology Center at the Chiba Institute of Technology.
Trainer lauded officials at Fukushima for their quick decision to use his company’s machines. “Sometimes,” he said, “you’ve got to go to war with what you’ve got and not what you want to have.”
Trainer said the company provided four robots after learning of the disaster, dispatching them within 24 hours of arranging for delivery with the Japanese government. “…
Other foreign companies have sent robots as well. The British defense contractor Qinetiq Group provided six mobile robots, ranging from lightweight surveillance machines to heavy construction vehicles, including a remote-controlled Bobcat pay loader with night-vision cameras, thermal -imaging systems and radiation detectors.
“They can be used to remove heavily contaminated debris outside the facility so the smaller robots can make their way inside and find out when and where people can be reintroduced to the cleanup effort .”said Ed Godere, Qinetiq’s senior vice president for unmanned systems.
Several Japanese firms soon open to introduce their own robots to the effort including what they describe as smaller and more versatile models that can handle stairs and small s@aces much easier than the PackBots. About 20 different robots are being evaluated.
Until then, the four robots runabouts will do most of the heavy radioactive lifting. Then Trainer said, the machines will most likely be retired.

“In a foyer of the engineering department of Tohoku University in Sendai stands a handsome yellow robot with claws and caterpillar tracks. It was built at huge public expense to deal with nuclear disasters. But for all the good it is doing, it might as well be in a broom cupboard.

According to Satoshi Tadokoro, a specialist in robotics at the university, it is one of a family of robots financed by the government after a nuclear accident in 1999 killed two workers in a uranium-reprocessing facility. The robots can perform emergency work when radiation levels are too high for humans. Useful, you might think, especially now. Instead, one ended up at a children’s summer camp.

Since March 11th when disaster struck the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, it has become clear that most of that effort has gone to waste. Japan’s much-vaunted robots may violins and build cars, but the only ones now doing emergency work in its biggest-ever nuclear disaster are foreign, such as the PackBot, previously used in Afghanistan, which is made by Massachusetts-based iRobot … the government failed to provide proper disaster preparedness. And the utilities failed to build up expertise in certain areas, such as robotics. So TEPCO was allowed to spurn the rescue robots built with public money. Commercial robot makers such as Tmsuk, based in south-western Japan, say they were shut out too.

Even after March 11th, decisions on which rescue robots to use have been made haphazardly. Japanese robotic specialists say American robots were used partly because of pressure from the foreign ministry, out of gratitude for United States troop support after the tsunami.

Japanese robots, such as “Quince”, built by Mr Tadokoro and the Chiba Institute of Technology, may be at least as good as American ones. Quince is being tested to see if it can operate at Fukushima. But not before the robotics industry has been left looking red-faced and unprepared—even though the real fault lies with TEPCO and the government.”

Original plan to cool Fukushima nuclear reactor to be scrapped (Japantoday, May 16th)

An adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan indicated Sunday that a plan to flood and cool the No. 1 reactor’s containment vessel at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant with water will be abandoned as holes have been created by melted nuclear fuel at the bottom of the pressure vessel.

Goshi Hosono, tasked with handling the nuclear crisis, told TV programs, however, that the government will keep intact the ‘‘road map’’ devised by plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co to bring the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors under control within six to nine months.

On the original plan to completely submerge the 4-meter-tall fuel rods by filling the vessel with water, Hosono said, ‘‘We should not cause the (radioactive) water to flow into the sea by taking such a measure.’‘

Hosono said that the government will instead consider ways to decontaminate water used to cool fuel in the reactor so that the water can be reused.

Hosono made the remarks after TEPCO found a pool of water over 4 meters deep, which could be highly contaminated and total 3,000 tons, in the basement of the No. 1 reactor building, suggesting water poured into the reactor core may be seeping through holes created by melted fuel. The water is then suspected to have leaked from the containment vessel or suppression pools, which form the vessel, into piping.

Related news: TEPCO to review cooling operation (NHK, May 15th)

TEPCO rethinking roadmap (NHK, May 15th) Tokyo Electric Power Company, the operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, says it will revise the method it is using to cool down the No.1 reactor, whose fuel rods are believed to have melted. But TEPCO says it is still aiming to achieve a stable cold shutdown of the reactor by July as planned.

The meltdown is believed to have created holes in the pressure vessel protecting the reactor core and damaged the containment vessel. As a result, highly radioactive water may be leaking from the containment vessel to the basement of the reactor building.

This situation is making it virtually impossible to fill the containment vessel with water as planned, forcing TEPCO to come up with an alternate method of cooling the reactor.

The firm is now considering pumping water out of the containment vessel before it is filled and circulating it back into the reactor through a heat exchanger.

Another method under study is pumping water from the basement and sending it back to the reactor after removing radioactive substances.

In order to assess changes in the water levels and temperatures of the reactor and the containment vessel, TEPCO increased the amount of water being injected into the reactor on Sunday afternoon from 8 to 10 tons per hour.

The power utility plans to study the data it obtains to review its method of cooling the reactor.

TEPCO said at a news conference on Sunday that it may take longer than 3 months to bring the reactor under control. But the company said it wants to choose a method that will ensure the swift shutdown of the No.1 reactor.

On Tuesday, the firm plans to review its schedule for achieving cold shutdowns of the plant’s reactors.

Sunday, May 15

Govt preparing N-crisis road map (Yomiuri, May 16th) | TEPCO desperately needs a ‘Plan B’ (Asahi, May 15th)

Massive floating platform heads for Fukushima  (NHK, May 15th)

A massive hollow floating platform is being transported to Fukushima to hold radioactive water from a troubled nuclear power plant.

The steel platform is 136 meters long and 46 meters wide and can store up to 10,000 tons of water.
It was provided to Tokyo Electric Power Company from Shizuoka city, where it was used as a fishing park.
It was made water-tight and rust-resistant during one month of refitting at a Yokohama shipyard. A large crane was mounted and pipes attached.After final inspection at a nearby port, the platform is scheduled to arrive off the coast at Fukushima Daiichi power plant in one to two weeks.

The Japanese government says in a draft report to be presented to the U.N. nuclear watchdog that it took appropriate action immediately after the crisis emerged at the Fukushima nuclear power plants following the March 11 earthquake, describing generally in a favorable light the responses of itself and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co, a gist of the report showed Sunday.

Although the government came under fire for not releasing sooner a forecast using its SPEEDI emergency estimate system for the impact of radiation in areas around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the draft report to the International Atomic Energy Agency says estimates are ‘‘made public in sequence,’’ according to the gist obtained by Kyodo News.

But the report concerning the crippled Fukushima Daiichi and adjacent Daini nuclear power stations notes ‘‘inadequate responses having been pointed out’’ with regard to the government’s inability to foresee that the crisis could be prolonged.

The report is being produced by the government for an IAEA meeting of ministers in charge of nuclear safety scheduled for June 20-24 in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The government has formed a team, comprising staff chiefly from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, the Japan Atomic Energy Commission and TEPCO to compile the report after consulting with IAEA officials visiting Japan later this month, but it has withheld information about the team.

Critics say the report ‘‘will likely reflect the views of only limited sources such as the government and TEPCO.’‘

The gist of the draft report includes details regarding the massive earthquake on March 11 and ensuing tsunami, the situation regarding the nuclear accident and its evaluation, emergency responses and their evaluations, and releases of radioactive materials.

On initial responses to the crisis, the gist says, ‘‘Basic responses such as evacuation instructions were generally implemented as desired’’ and ‘‘from the perspective of emergency evacuation, necessary responses were attempted generally.’‘

On the SPEEDI data that the atomic commission was reluctant to make public, the gist says radiation doses have been ‘‘made public as needed since March 23’’ while forecasts regarding the proliferation of radioactive substances have been ‘‘publicized in sequence after May 5.’‘

The crisis is classified in the gist as a ‘‘severe accident’’ that went sharply beyond the design criteria assumed for safety measures. It cites inadequacies in assessing the potentially prolonged nature of the crisis.

Evacuation begins from widened no-go zone near Fukushima plant Excerpts below:

Residents in Kawamata and Iitate began leaving their homes Sunday after their living areas were included in an evacuation radius the government widened last month around the radiation-leaking Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Kawamata Mayor Michio Furukawa met with some 50 residents in the first group of evacuees, including babies and toddlers, telling them, ‘‘I know you are worried but we will overcome difficulties together.’‘

The government designated Kawamata and Iitate on April 22 as part of the area from which residents would be required to leave in roughly one month’s time, as cumulative radiation exposure is expected to exceed the yardstick of 20 millisieverts during the course of a year.

Two-thirds back Kan over Hamaoka closure (Japan Times, May 16th)

Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s decision to request the closure of the Hamaoka nuclear power plant was supported by 66.2 percent of the public, according to the results of a poll released Sunday.

At the Hamaoka nuclear power plant in central Japan, seawater has been found in coolant at one reactor.Five nuclear reactors at the Hamaoka plant in Omaezaki City, Shizuoka Prefecture, were all shut down on Saturday due to concern that a massive earthquake might hit the area. The move was in line with a request by Prime Minister Naoto Kan.In the course of shutdown, plant operator Chubu Electric Power Company found impure substances in coolant water at the No.5 reactor.The company reports damage to a duct connected to a condenser, a system that turns the steam generated by a nuclear reactor to water through the use of seawater.
Chubu Electric Power Company says 400 tons of seawater may be mixed into the cooling water that goes through the reactor.

It says 400 tons would not severely affect the reactor, and that no radioactive substances were detected outside the building.But in order to prevent the reactor being eroded by seawater, the operator will take measures to remove salt from the cooling water

Trouble delayed cold shutdown of Hamaoka nuclear reactor (Japantoday, May 16th)

Chubu Electric Power Co said Sunday that cooling system trouble delayed the cold shutdown of the No. 5 reactor at its Hamaoka power plant in Shizuoka Prefecture for about two hours earlier in the day, while ruling out any external release of radioactive substances.

Seawater leaked into a steam condenser at the reactor, which cools and turns steam from the turbines into water, apparently due to damage to its piping, prompting the utility to switch to another system to cool and stabilize the reactor and complete the work shortly past noon, it said.

The Nagoya-based firm said it had found Saturday evening, after a measuring instrument indicated abnormalities around 4:30 p.m., that around 400 tons of seawater had flowed into the condenser of the No. 5 reactor.

The water also found its way into the reactor, making it necessary to desalinate it, the company said.

The No. 5 unit was the last active nuclear reactor at the plant located in the Pacific coastal city of Omaezaki to come to a stable condition with an internal temperature below 100 C, the benchmark for cold shutdown.

Seawater leaked into a steam condenser at the reactor, which cools and turns steam from the turbines into water, apparently due to damage to its piping, prompting the utility to switch to another system to cool and stabilize the reactor and complete the work shortly past noon, it said.

The No. 5 unit was the last active nuclear reactor at the plant located in the Pacific coastal city of Omaezaki to come to a stable condition with an internal temperature below 100 C, the benchmark for cold shutdown.

Can 15% power-saving goal be met? (Yomiuri Shimbun, May 16)  Chiaki Toyoda and Fukutaro Yamashita

Despite taking steps to help companies and households cope with predicted electricity shortages during summer in areas covered by Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co., there are doubts whether the government’s power-saving goals can be met.

The government has ordered major companies and other large-lot users to restrict power use to achieve its central goal of a 15 percent cut from electricity consumption last summer.

But the government cannot force households and smaller companies to do the same. If it is extremely hot this summer, it is uncertain whether households will stick with efforts to use less power.

In March, TEPCO predicted that its output capacity during summer would reach up to 46.5 million kilowatts.

But it later revised the figure upward to 55.2 million kilowatts as of the end of July because thermal power plants damaged during the March 11 disaster will be restored.

It has also become possible to raise output from pumped hydroelectric power plants, where water is pumped to upper tanks during the night and used to generate power during the day.

As TEPCO will provide 1.4 million kilowatts to Tohoku Electric Power, TEPCO’s actual supply capacity in its service areas will be 53.8 million kilowatts. Because the forecasted peak for summer is 60 million kilowatts, power consumption needs to be reduced by 10.3 percent.

Companies affected by the government’s plan have begun adopting energy-saving measures at plants, offices and sales outlets, while at the same time trying to avoid decreased production and other negative impacts.

Many companies have dimmed the lights in offices, stopped elevators and plan to raise air conditioner temperature settings in summer.

Some also plan to extend summer vacation periods to reduce work hours at a time when electricity consumption is expected to rise.

An increasing number of manufacturers are changing the days when they work.

Major automakers belonging to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association have rescheduled workers’ days off to Thursdays and Fridays so that plants will operate on weekends when total power demand is lower.

Meanwhile, some electric appliance makers are using their own power generators to operate data processing centers and other facilities that need to continue running and have shifted semiconductor production to western Japan.

Business circles expressed relief when the government lowered the required power-saving goal for large-lot users from 25 percent to 15 percent.

“We can avoid making drastic changes to production and work shifts,” said an official of Mitsubishi Electric Corp.

Maruetsu Inc., a major supermarket chain, initially planned to turn off two-thirds of the lights in its stores and set air-conditioner temperatures to 30 C. But the company has said it will now act more flexibly.

Department store chains were also initially shocked at the initial goal for power cuts, with an executive of a major department store chain saying at the time, “We’ll have to close some of our suburban stores.”

But after the power-saving goal was revised, retailers said they would be able to achieve cuts of 15 percent by reducing the number of lights and elevators used in their stores.

However, the electricity crisis is expected to continue after summer.

Seven-Eleven Japan Co. will invest about 10 billion yen to replace its store lighting with light-emitting diode lighting tubes, which are more energy-efficient.

Lawson Inc., Takashimaya Co., Daimaru Matsuzakaya Department Store Co. and other firms also plan to introduce LED lights.

Companies are keeping a close eye on the government’s energy policy.

Honda Motor Co. has decided to shift production of its new Fit Shuttle model from Sayama, Saitama Prefecture, to a plant in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture.

But production may still be affected because power shortages are also predicted in Chubu Electric Power Co.’s service areas now that the Hamaoka nuclear power plant has stopped operating.

Some members of the business world have said it will be difficult for companies to compile business strategies until future power supplies are stabilized.

(May. 16, 2011)

Chubu Electric looking to thermal power (Yomuri Shimbun, May 16) Excerpts follow:

“Now that Chubu Electric Power Co. has shut down the reactors at its Hamaoka nuclear power plant, it is working to boost its thermal power generation capability to meet peak electricity demand in summer, utility officials have disclosed.

Power generation at Hamaoka–Chubu Electric’s only nuclear power plant–was suspended Saturday morning. The plant is located in Omaezaki, Shizuoka Prefecture, about 180 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, and Prime Minister Naoto Kan made an unprecedented request for its operations to be halted due to fears of a major earthquake possibly hitting the Tokai area.

As part of its efforts to make up for reduced electricity supply capacity due to the shutdown of the 3.6 million-kilowatt Hamaoka plant, Chubu Electric has decided to reboot the No. 3 generator at the Taketoyo thermal power station in Taketoyocho, Aichi Prefecture.

Operations at the No. 3 generator had been suspended for regular inspections shortly before the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 11.

Even if the generator resumes operation, Chubu Electric’s maximum power supply capacity in July is estimated to reach no more than 26.15 million kilowatts, only 550,000 kilowatts higher than the expected peak demand–25.6 million kilowatts–for electricity in the utility’s jurisdiction during summer.

Under these circumstances, the Nagoya-based firm is looking into relaunching six generators at five thermal power plants currently out of service, including the No. 2 generator at Taketoyo.

If all of those generators resume operation, Chubu Electric’s power supply capacity will increase by 1.8 million kilowatts, according to utility officials. But, officials have said it will be at least one year before they can resume functions because repairs are needed and some parts need replacing.

There also are concerns over whether the company can secure enough fuel to continue with thermal power generation, they said”….more here

Contaminated nuke plant workers going back on job as safety regs go by wayside (Mainichi May 14)

Drawing lessons from Japan’s nuclear disaster (Japan Times, May 16th)

Handling the big exodus out of Japan (Japantoday, May 16th)

The foreign media created a panic not just on a local basis but on a global basis and this was unconscionable. They should be brought to task over that. I had friends in the States calling me up asking me what was really going on and if I was leaving. The foreign press did a large disservice to Japan and sensationalized some information that was going to get everybody crazy.

I guess you saw a similar exodus after the Lehman Shock in 2008.

This is different. After the Lehman Shock, everybody said, “Let’s get rid of the expensive expats,” which they did. Then a year or 18 months later, they thought about it and realized they needed to send them back here.

I don’t think we’re going to see that happen this time. You have to look at it on a regional basis. The yen is strong; you’ve got this nuclear crisis and ongoing quakes which are forefront in the minds of many families. You’ve also got one of the highest costs of living in the world. Another couple of hours from here are Vietnam, China, South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia, which are less expensive. Expat execs can get maids and drivers and all the perks that many have become accustomed to. Why would they want to be stationed here?

For many people, moving under these circumstances can be traumatic. How do you deal with it?

Moving just in itself, without natural disasters or without getting fired, is stressful and disruptive. This whole situation brings out the best and worst in people. We have always had to act the part of counselor at some level. Some of our best people come from the hospitality industry where they have a certain level of empathy. I have a great staff with very little turnover. My longest-serving employee has been with us for 37 years.

How do you market the company?

We support the international schools and the various chambers of commerce. However, the business has changed over the last 10 years. Companies have refocused on global control and we are now dealing with a single point of contact in London, New York or wherever. The HR departments control the moving. It used to be that you would get a phone call informing you of your transfer from A to B. And you would call a moving company. Now, the HR department says you are going from A to B and here is the company that’s going to do it and this is the day you will do it. Most of my business is through global contracts.

Media starting to tally the economic effects of foreigner flight (Japan Times, May 15th)

Annual star festival in Sendai to be held Aug 6-8 despite quake damage May 16th

Recovery of fallen device from Monju reactor slated for June  

In books:

All About Japan: Stories, Songs, Crafts and More

All About Japan: Stories, Songs, Crafts and More (Japantoday, May 16th) A book for families to treasure together, “All About Japan” offers not only the most important facts about Japan, but also reflects the spirit that makes Japan one-of-a-kind. You’ll dive into stories, try new crafts, play some games from Japan, learn Japanese songs … it’s the next best thing to being there.

—Learn the steps of Coal Miner’s dance, a nighttime highlight of the O-bon festival.
—Try making your own samurai helmet, folding a leaping origami frog or singing the “sakura” (cherry blossom) song.
—Make “nengajo” (New Year greeting cards), create your own haiki, learn to use chopsticks and more.
—Enjoy stories like “The Creation of Japan” and “The Star-Crossed Lovers.”
—Make tasty treats like “mochi” (sweet rice cakes popular at New Year) and “okonomiyaki” (Japanese-style pancakes).

Compiled by Aileen Kawagoe