Weather authorities have issued warnings for strong wind, high waves, possible landslides, and flooding … as the tropical storm (downgraded from a typhoon from 3 pm Sunday) is approaching off the shore of Kochi Prefecture and moving northeast. Heavy rains and mudslides are expected. Nagasaki University expert says the heavy rain poses the rain poses no threat of radiation from rain. Below please find our latest EDU WATCH news briefs, excerpts and links:

Fukushima Pref. teachers get dosimeters (May.28)

FUKUSHIMA–Teachers were given dosimeters Friday to measure radiation at kindergartens and schools throughout Fukushima Prefecture as the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant continues to release radioactive substances.

The dosimeters were handed to representatives of 1,169 kindergartens, primary, middle, high and other schools during morning and afternoon meetings in a culture center in Tamura in the prefecture on Friday.

At the morning session, an education ministry official showed about 500 representatives how to use the devices.

Teachers carrying the devices will take radiation measurements on their arrival and departure from their schools. Data will be reported to the ministry once a month or so via the prefectural board of education.

“We’re learning about the amount of radiation people are exposed to at school. This is part of our efforts to help make children and their parents feel safe and secure,” a prefectural board of education official said.

(May. 28, 2011)
The education ministry says it has set a new nonbinding target to reduce radiation exposure of Fukushima Prefecture students while they are at school to 1 millisievert or less a year
Law change targets abuse by parents (Yomiuri, May.28) A bill enacted Friday will allow courts to suspend parental rights for up to two years, rather than the indefinite term currently allowed, with the aim of better protecting children from abuse by their parents. The Civil Code currently allows family courts to suspend parental rights for an unspecified period, but the measure has rarely been implemented due to concerns about the potential impact of indefinite suspensions on parent-child relationships. (Yomiuri)

OTSUCHI, Iwate — Construction of a prefabricated school has begun here to accommodate pupils and students of five elementary and junior high schools that were destroyed by tsunami and fires caused by the March 11 earthquake.

The temporary school is being built on the schoolyard of Otsuchi-kita Elementary School, whose first-floor ceilings were submerged by the tsunami.

Otsuchi-kita is one of the five devastated schools out of seven elementary and junior high schools in the Iwate town. The four others were Otsuchi, Ando and Akahama elementary schools and Otsuchi Junior High School.

Some parents expressed concerns about the new school under construction because of its proximity to the ocean but others welcomed it, saying they want their children to be close to home rather than studying at distant schools.

The March disaster destroyed or damaged 133 elementary and junior high schools in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, and many of the schools are now forced to hold classes at non-school facilities.

Construction of the prefabricated school at the Otsuchi-kita schoolyard began on May 16 in front of the two-story school building.

The town scrambled to secure classrooms for about 740 pupils and students after the natural disaster. Town school officials assigned pupils from Otsuchi-kita and two other elementary schools to Kirikiri Elementary School in eastern Otsuchi; first-year and second-year students of Otsuchi Junior High School were sent to Kirikiri Junior High; third-year students of Otsuchi Junior High went to Otsuchi Senior High School; and Otsuchi Elementary School pupils were dispatched to the Rikuchukaigan youth house in the neighboring town of Yamada.

Opening ceremonies were held on April 20. The town operates 21 school bus services because of the spread-out set up, and it takes some children up to an hour to get to school.

Furthermore, hastily-arranged classrooms are inconvenient. Some classrooms are loosely partitioned and noise from nearby rooms bothers teachers and students. Some students cannot attend physical education and music classes due to a lack of classrooms for those subjects.

The city searched for an ideal place to build the temporary school but flat land is in short supply as the town is situated by the coast and mountains.

City officials chose the Otsuchi-kita Elementary School as the construction site because it has enough space and is situated farthest from the ocean among the five destroyed schools. Just behind the school are mountains, which will make it easy for children to evacuate should another big tsunami strike.

But the elementary school is located in a submerged zone. A town education board official said, “It may not be the best place but we have to quickly prepare an educational environment for our children.”

The town will build a temporary elementary school (18 classrooms) and a junior high school (12 classrooms), each two stories high, and a gymnasium by July to accommodate the pupils and students from the five schools.

Reactions from parents and guardians are mixed.

A 66-year-old woman whose granddaughter is a sixth-grader said, “If possible, I want the town to build the school on an elevated spot. But I understand there is no suitable land.”

A 34-year-old local woman who has sixth-grade and first-grade daughters said she welcomes the new school. “My daughters sometimes got sick because of long bus rides, and I was worried about sending them to a distant school,” she said.

:::

Hashimoto steps up anthem fight (Japan Times, May 26)

Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto has stepped up his long-running feud with teachers opposed to the “Kimigayo” national anthem by pushing his political group to propose an ordinance that would force them to stand when the song is sung at school ceremonies. Hashimoto’s Osaka Restoration Group, which consists of socially conservative politicians and older, former members of the Liberal Democratic Party, sent the proposal to the prefectural assembly Thursday. With Osaka Restoration holding 57 of the assembly’s 109 seats, the proposal is expected to be approved by the end of this month. (Japan Times)

See also related news: Extreme nationalism may emerge from the rubble of the quake (Japan Times, May 22)

Below are excerpts of the Japan Times review of new movie ‘My Back Page’ 1960s Japan: Violence reigns as students take up arms

“The Japanese student-protest movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s had much in common with its American counterpart, from its massive street demonstrations to its taste in music (The Beatles and Bob Dylan) and movies (anything with Dustin Hoffman or Jack Nicholson).

But it was also quite different, …

to Nobuhiro Yamashita’s new “My Back Page,” a rambling but grippingly nuanced drama based on autobiographical nonfiction by essayist, translator and film critic Saburo Kawamoto.

For one thing, the influence of the American counterculture was understandably weaker here. Hair was longer among the protestors than the short-cropped mainstream male norm, but the concept of politics as theater of the absurd (as seen in the career of jokester-cum-revolutionary Abbie Hoffman) was less in evidence than on the streets of Berkeley. Japanese radicals were extremely serious types and, on occasion, murderous.”

“Yamashita tells his story from a more oblique angle. His hero is Sawada (Satoshi Tsumabuki), a naive young journalist writing for a weekly magazine and feeling out of place among his harder-headed (if not hard-hearted) seniors.

In the opening scenes, we see him getting bloodied at a rally in 1969 while being initiated into the magazine’s style of gonzo (and barely legal) journalism. We also see him awkwardly starting a relationship with a disconcertingly doe-eyed but sharply perceptive magazine cover girl (Shiori Kutsuna).

The story proper begins in 1971 as the mass-protest era is ending—and the remaining activists are becoming more extreme. One is Umeyama (Kenichi Matsuyama), a young radical who coolly informs Sawada and an older colleague that his group is planning an action in April with stolen weaponry. The colleague contemptuously dismisses Umeyama as a fake, but Sawada is not so sure, especially after he discovers that Umeyama also likes Kenji Miyazawa (a famed poet and children’s literature author) and hears his soulful rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” (whose lyrics about “a calm before the storm” make it an appropriate choice).

Most films set in this turbulent era of Japanese history, including Anh Hung Tran’s 2010 adaptation of “Noruwei no Mori (Norwegian Wood),” in which Matsuyama also starred, miss the queasy ambivalence of the time that “My Back Page” nails precisely—the fiery rage at the establishment versus the dawning realization that real revolution would require real blood on the streets, not just a march or two around the Pentagon or Diet Building.”

“Yamashita, who is best known abroad for the dryly funny, rousingly energetic teen dramady “Linda Linda Linda” (2005), is not the most obvious director for this material, but … has been good at capturing not only grubby absurdities but also morally gray complexities.  Yamashita take his sweet time detailing period atmospherics and building to a climax that is uncharacteristically dramatic in a political/police thriller sort of way. But that was also the reality of the era, whose violent passions and acts now look as distant as the Warring States Period.”

***

In the news on the Fukushima nuclear crisis and Tohoku disaster:

Radioactive level up again at reactor water intake (NHK, May 30)

The operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant says it has detected higher levels of radioactive materials in seawater samples taken near the water intake at one of the reactors.

Tokyo Electric Power Company says it detected 24 becquerels of radioactive iodine-131 per cubic centimeter in samples collected near the water intake for the Number 2 reactor on Saturday.

The figure is 600 times higher than the national limit, though levels at the spot had been falling. A day earlier, a level 130 times the limit was detected.

TEPCO says the level of radioactive cesium is also rising at that spot, though the level of that substance had been falling, too.

The samples were taken at the same site where iodine-131 at a level 7.5 million times the limit was detected on April 2nd.

TEPCO says the reason for the upward trend is not yet clear, and that it will monitor the situation closely.

Radioactivity levels have been falling at other spots, such as offshore areas and the water intake at the Number 3 reactor.

No.5 reactor temperature rises after pump failure (NHK, May 30)

The operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says temperatures in the Number 5 reactor and its spent fuel storage pool have risen due to pump failure. The reactor has been in a state of cold shutdown.

Tokyo Electric Power Company says it found at 9 PM on Saturday that a pump bringing seawater to cooling equipment for the reactor and pool had stopped working.

TEPCO says temperatures have been rising since then.

The water temperature in the reactor rose by about 24 degrees Celsius to 92.2 degrees at 11 AM on Sunday. The temperature in the fuel storage pool increased to 45.7 degrees from 41 degrees.

On Sunday morning, TEPCO installed a new pump that started operating shortly after noon.
The company suspects failure in the pump motor caused the malfunction. It is now working to detect the cause of the failure while monitoring temperatures in the reactor and pool.

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has now successfully restored cooling systems to the spent fuel pools of reactors 1, 2, 3 and 4.
On Saturday, TEPCO injected about 5 tons of water to the spent fuel pool of reactor 1 on a test basis. It was the last system to be restored.

The power company is also working to install new water-circulating systems that will more efficiently cool all the fuel pools. The new systems for reactors 1 through 4 are scheduled for completion by July.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Radioactive materials found off Miyagi and Ibaraki (NHK, May 28, 2011))

Japan’s science ministry has detected extraordinarily high levels of radioactive cesium in seafloor samples collected off Miyagi and Ibaraki Prefectures.
Experts say monitoring should be stepped up over a larger area to determine how fish and shell fish are being affected.

The ministry collected samples from 12 locations along a 300-kilometer stretch off Fukushima prefecture’s Pacific coast between May 9th and 14th. It hoped to get an idea about the spread of nuclear contamination caused by the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Radioactive substances were found in all locations, including those off Miyagi and Ibaraki Prefectures, which had not been previously investigated.

Radioactive cesium 137, measuring 110 becquerels per kilogram or about 100 times the normal level, was found in samples collected from the seabed 30 kilometers off Sendai City and 45 meters beneath the surface.

Samples collected from the seabed 10 kilometers off Mito City and 49 meters beneath the surface measured 50 becquerels or about 50 times the normal level.

Professor Takashi Ishimaru of the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology says plankton most probably absorbed the radioactive substances carried by the current near the sea surface, and then sank to the seabed.

He said monitoring must be stepped up over a larger area, as radioactive materials in the seabed do not dissolve quickly, and can accumulate in the bodies of larger fish that eat shrimp and crabs that live on the seafloor.

Power outages, downed communication lines knocked out most radiation monitoring systems in disaster areas (Japan Times, May 29) 

Most radiation monitoring systems in Fukushima, Miyagi and Ibaraki prefectures broke down temporarily after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, preventing local authorities from gauging the ensuing nuclear crisis, prefectural officials said. Monitoring systems in other prefectures with nuclear power plants also face similar risks of a breakdown, requiring an urgent review, analysts say…

Measuring radiation levels accurately is difficult for laypersons and they shouldn’t panic if their devices show much higher levels than the figures announced by the government, radiation experts say.

In the next article, volunteer radiation experts who have formed group to monitor radiation levels, confirm accuracy of MEXT data readings…

Experts: Leave radiation checks to us (Japan Times, May 28)

News photo
Risk assessment: A teacher monitors radiation levels at the entrance of a high school in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, on May 11.KYODO

“Cheap and easy-to-handle devices sold on the Internet can sometimes show abnormally high radiation levels. Figures change on such devices even if you hold them still, and thus margins of error by 20 or 30 percent would be no surprise,” said Genichiro Wakabayashi, a professor of radiology at Kinki University.

“The important thing is to keep monitoring at the same place over a long period of time to check changes in radiation levels. Thus, the figures from the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry are, after all, reliable,” he said.

Wakabayashi stressed that parents should feel safe letting their small children play in the sandboxes at their neighborhood parks everywhere except Fukushima Prefecture, where they should heed the advice of local authorities regarding the ever-changing fallout situation stemming from the crippled nuclear plant.

Wakabayashi is part of a group of radiation experts who use the Internet to publish radiation levels at various places across Japan.

The group aims “to prevent false rumors from being spread by nonexperts who have monitored radiation levels on their own,” according to its website. “Alarming the public (by challenging the credibility of) the government’s announcements is not our purpose, as some media apparently are attempting.”

Magazines and Internet content, including personal blogs, articles and postings of monitoring results by individuals sometimes slam the science ministry for publishing results deemed meaningless.

But Wakabayashi said monitoring over short periods is meaningless. The science ministry measures radiation levels every day, while Wakabayashi’s group has been taking measurements at least every other day since late March, and he has concluded that people can live normal lives.

“If people are worried, they can ask municipalities and universities to check radiation levels at parks or other locations in order to feel relieved,” he said.

The science ministry currently publishes two sets of monitoring results on its website.

For one, it has been gauging radiation levels at one point at least 10 meters above the ground in all 47 prefectures since 1957 with large, expensive and high-quality equipment, ministry official Hirotaka Oku said.

For the other set, it has been taking measurements since March 30 at 54 points locations 1 to 1.5 meters above the ground in 40 prefectures. These readings are taken with small, less-expensive equipment in cooperation with universities and other educational institutions, Oku said.

“To check effects of radiation on people, monitoring points should be lower” than 10 meters, he said, explaining why the ministry began monitoring 1 to 1.5 meters above the ground.

Radioactive substances come in the form of particles and travel on the wind. They eventually fall to the ground and thus radiation levels are considered higher at places near the ground. Parents are worried because small children play on the ground and may inhale or put in their mouth dust or sand contaminated with radioactive substances.

Oku said the ministry had to place equipment as high as 10 meters off the ground when it began monitoring in 1957 in order to have the equipment work correctly. This was during the time when the U.S. and the Soviet Union were conducting atmospheric nuclear tests.

“We wanted to know radiation levels in normal times so that we would know as soon as something abnormal happens. Therefore, we set the equipment at a high place where it can show stable results,” he said.

Big and expensive monitoring equipment determines radiation levels more precisely than small, cheap devices, said a spokesman for Hitachi-Aloka Medical Ltd., a maker of large equipment.

Large devices cost at least several million yen, while hand-held devices of lower quality are much cheaper, the spokesman said.

There are even cheaper devices, sold online for ¥30,000 to ¥100,000, which experts say are no better than toys.

The science ministry’s two monitoring methods yield roughly similar results, though a simple comparison may not be appropriate due to the differences in the two methods.

For example, the spot at an elevation of 18 meters in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, had a maximum hourly reading of 0.07 microsievert of radiation in the 24 hours leading to 9 a.m. Monday. With its other method, the ministry had figures for five places at 1 to 1.5 meters in Tokyo indicating 2 or 3 microsieverts per day, which would be interpreted as 0.08 or 0.13 microsievert per hour, for the 24 hours to 2 p.m. Sunday.

The group of volunteer radiation researchers publishes on the Internet radiation levels in 19 different places, 1 meter above ground, in Tokyo as well as many places in other prefectures.

The science ministry’s two monitoring methods yield roughly similar results, though a simple comparison may not be appropriate due to the differences in the two methods.

For example, the spot at an elevation of 18 meters in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, had a maximum hourly reading of 0.07 microsievert of radiation in the 24 hours leading to 9 a.m. Monday. With its other method, the ministry had figures for five places at 1 to 1.5 meters in Tokyo indicating 2 or 3 microsieverts per day, which would be interpreted as 0.08 or 0.13 microsievert per hour, for the 24 hours to 2 p.m. Sunday.

The group of volunteer radiation researchers publishes on the Internet radiation levels in 19 different places, 1 meter above ground, in Tokyo as well as many places in other prefectures.

A point in Katsushika Ward shows the highest level in Tokyo. A volunteer has been checking there since March 25 and the level has been roughly between 0.3 and 0.5 microsievert per hour and has not exceeded 0.4 so far this month. That compares with other places in Tokyo that have marked roughly 0.1 microsievert in May.

Assuming that the figure will be 0.4 microsievert per hour constantly in the next 12 months and a person stays at that spot, which is outdoors, 24 hours a day, the cumulative exposure would be 3.5 millisieverts a year, exceeding the government’s recommended maximum intake of 1 millisievert a year during normal times, but smaller than the 20-millisievert recommendation in times of a nuclear accident. …

— snip — (read the entire article here)

Wakabayashi said even Katsushika is safe. The government’s recommendation is conservative and the standard 20 millisieverts a year is in line with the International Commission on Radiological Protection, he said.

To be sure, some radiation experts differ from Wakabayashi, insisting children should not be exposed to more than 1 milisievert a year.

The ICRP recommends the target level of human exposure to radiation can be between 1 millisievert and 20 millisieverts per year in case of nuclear accidents, with the long-term goal of reducing it to 1 millisievert.

“The Katsushika Ward Office consulted with me and I told them it’s absolutely safe,” he said.

Also, radiation levels are unlikely to increase for now, Wakabayashi said.

Radioactive substances that were blown into the air by hydrogen explosions and fires at reactors 1, 2, 3 and 4 at the Fukushima No. 1 plant have probably already fallen to the ground, he said. Radioactive substances keep being released into the air from fuel rods no longer covered in water, but the amount is far smaller than when the explosions occurred, he said.

As nuke workers wait, tainted water climbs (Japan Times, May 29)

While Tokyo Electric Power Co. plans to set up a water treatment facility in mid-June to decontaminate the thousands of tons of radioactive water being generated at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, the utility must also find a safe place to store it before it leaks into the ground or finds its way to the sea.

Compounding the problem are the reactors, which are believed to be ridden with cracks, holes or damaged pipes that are allowing the water being used to cool what’s left of the reactor cores to escape.

With the rainy season approaching, speed is of the essence. But experts say plugging the leaks is extremely difficult because of the high radiation, which means Tepco could be stuck with the water for years.

“The tainted water needs to be processed as quickly as possible,” said Kenji Takeshita, a professor at the Research Laboratory for Nuclear Reactors at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and an expert on nuclear waste disposal. “If the amount continues to increase, there will be nowhere to store it. And if it overflows, the water could leak into the sea, which will be a big problem.”

The tainted water is becoming such a big problem in fact that it is interfering with the beleaguered utility’s main task of securing the stricken reactors.

So far, the basements of the turbine buildings of all six reactors have been flooded by about 100,000 tons of radioactive water. That’s enough to fill roughly 40 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Tepco started pumping out unit 2 in April and unit 3 last week after leaks in cracked utility pits were found draining into the sea after being filled via trenches linked to the turbine buildings. But these operations had halted by Friday because the temporary storage facility set up for the water is nearly at its full capacity of 14,000 tons.

Now Tepco must wait for the water treatment facility. In the meantime, it has cut the water flow to unit 3 to 14.5 tons per hour from 15.5. Unit 2 continues to get 7 tons per hour.

The water will only rise, but the act of keeping it in the turbine buildings presents the risk of a leak somewhere making it to the Pacific, experts said. As of Saturday morning, water levels had risen to 3.382 meters in unit 2 and 3.570 meters in unit 3, up about 16 mm since 5 p.m. Friday.

The extracted water put in the nuclear waste disposal area is already a problem: It is leaking into a corridor connecting the two buildings storing it.

“The water is not stored in tanks but in the building, so there is the possibility of it leaking from somewhere” to the outside and flowing into the sea, said Akio Koyama, professor at Kyoto University’s Research Reactor Institute and an expert on managing radioactive waste.

Tepco said the water in the waste disposal area is not entering the sea and that daily radioactivity tests show that ground water has not been affected. This may change as the rainy season gets under way and starts filling the trenches around the plant, which could overflow.

Much of Tepco’s hopes have been pinned on the water treatment facility being set up by Areva SA. The facility removes radioactive substances from water, canceling out the danger.

But it’s not cheap. Tepco said the filtering costs ¥210,000 per ton, which means it might cost about ¥53.1 billion to treat 250,000 tons of radioactive water. The utility said its target for this year alone is 200,000 tons.

The utility plans to keep the filtered water in a closed system so it can be recirculated as the main coolant for the reactors. But as long as the breaches in the pressure and containment vessels do not get fixed, any water that touches the melted fuel will flood the facility unless it can be trapped or stored.

“The first thing is to make a circulating cooling system by processing the water, and then Tepco will have to wait until the fuel gets cooled,” said the Tokyo Institute of Technology’s Takeshita. “I think the only option is to process and circulate it” because of all the leaks.

Since this process will likely have to continue for some years, Tepco has to spend htat time looking for other methods to secure the reactors, he said.

But Koyama said time is not on Tepco’s side.

“Because of the high radiation, I’d assume the workers won’t be able to build the cooling system that strongly,” he said, confirming that it might not be able to hold up if big aftershocks occur.

Related news: Stabilizing reactors by year’s end may be impossible (Japan Times, May 29)

 

Extreme nationalism may emerge from the