U. N. expert urges Japan to protect rights of foreign students (May 31, Kyodo)
Govt to ease visa rules to lure students (Yomuri, May 31)
1,100 children lost parents in March 11th disaster (NHK, May 31)
March 11th earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.
The scholarship organization Ashinaga says that as of Monday, 1,101 people had applied for one-time payments from its fund for disaster orphans.
The number is nearly twice that for similar payments after the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake in western Japan.
Of the latest applicants, 75 lost both parents, 632 lost only their fathers and 394 their mothers.
Ashinaga says it has raised over 20 million dollars since the disaster.
The payment for junior high school students and younger children is about 6,000 dollars. High school students and graduates preparing for university entrance examinations can receive nearly 10,000 dollars, and university and vocational school students around 12,000 dollars.
Elsewhere in the world the news on education:
Michelle Obama to UK Girls: Work Hard, Don’t Fear Failure (Education News, May 27)
Speaking to 40 girls from Elizabeth Garrett Anderson College, a state school in Inner London during her visit in England, Michelle Obama encouraged them to keep reaching for academic excellence and not to be put off by their origins. The school boasts a student body that speaks 50 languages and was made famous when the then Prime Minister – Tony Blair decided not to enroll his daughter there. She had earlier spoken in the hall of Christchurch College, one of the most prestigious of Oxford University colleges.
Record 700,000 students compete for university places(May 31, The Telegraph)
The number of candidates attempting to get into British universities is set to top 700,000 for the first time, figures suggest, as students race to beat a rise in tuition fees in 2012.
Applications were up by 1.4 per cent at the end of May – the highest total for that point in the academic year.
Demand is strongest for practical courses more likely to lead straight to a job, such as nursing, engineering, the sciences and business and management studies. Fewer students are competing for places in many language and humanities subjects.
The overall rise is being fuelled by a surge in demand from students from mainland Europe who are eligible for the same Government-backed loans as British undergraduates.
More Schools Turn to ‘Pay to Play’ (Education News, May 31)
As schools face economic realities, they’re increasingly asking students and families to pay for school activities themselves.
The Bilingual Advantage(NYTimes, May 31)
One of the benefits experts have found is that bilinguals manifested a cognitive system with the ability to attend to important information and ignore the less important. Excerpted from the article:
“There’s a system in your brain, the executive control system. It’s a general manager. Its job is to keep you focused on what is relevant, while ignoring distractions. It’s what makes it possible for you to hold two different things in your mind at one time and switch between them.
If you have two languages and you use them regularly, the way the brain’s networks work is that every time you speak, both languages pop up and the executive control system has to sort through everything and attend to what’s relevant in the moment. Therefore the bilinguals use that system more, and it’s that regular use that makes that system more efficient.” The article also says bilinguals are better at multi-tasking and that when bilinguals tried to solve the same problem as monolinguals, they used different connections of the brain than monolinguals use and that on certain kinds of even nonverbal tests, bilingual people were shown to be faster.
Over a third of college students need remedial help (Education News, May 31) a report shows that far too many high school students are graduating without being prepared for the academic rigors of college.
Mobile phones ‘may increase brain cancer risk’ (The Telegraph, May 3o)
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organisation, has classified the radiation emitted by handsets as “possibly carcinogenic” although it did not find evidence of a clear link.
Its decision – putting mobiles in the same risk category as lead, the pesticide DDT and petrol exhausts – will put governments under pressure to update their advice to the public on the potential dangers of talking on mobiles for long periods of time.
Christopher Wild, the director of IARC, said that while more research is carried out “it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands-free devices or texting”.
It has long been known that the radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted by mobile phones are absorbed by the body, much of it by the head when the handset is held to the ear. …
Last year a landmark IARC study, known as Interphone, disclosed that making calls for more than half an hour a day over 10 years could increase users’ risk of developing gliomas – a type of tumor that starts in the brain or spine – by 40 per cent.
Although there are arguments over the degree of risk below 100 millisieverts, a panel of experts at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences also supports the hypothesis that a small dose has the potential to increase the risk of cancer in humans. It predicts that approximately 1 in 1,000 people will develop cancer after being exposed to a total of 10 millisieverts.
But even based on such a hypothesis, the chances of developing radiation-induced cancer are very small compared with the risks associated with a high salt diet or lack of exercise, Niwa said.
According to a report by the National Cancer Center, based in Tokyo, the risk of cancer incidence from low exposure to radiation is much smaller than that from smoking or obesity. The NCC notes, however, that the report should be considered a reference to get an idea about the level of cancer risks due to radiation exposure because the percentage changes depending on the individual and also the duration of studies. …
But when it comes to children, experts say extra care is needed, because the younger they are, the more vulnerable they are to radiation.
“Children have higher rates of cell division than adults. So when they are exposed to radiation, it can result in more damage than adults,” Ishikawa of Hokkaido University said.
Experts estimate that children have two to three times more risk of cancer mortality than adults.
Children’s vulnerability was manifested in the 1986 Chernobyl accident.
Among people exposed to radiation while they were age 18 or under, more than 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer were diagnosed. Of those, 15 people had died as of 2005, according to a 2008 report by the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation.
The thyroid cancer cases were believed to be caused by drinking milk contaminated with high levels of iodine-131. When ingested, iodine-131 accumulates in the thyroid gland. Because children’s thyroids are smaller and because they absorb iodine much more actively than adults, they have a much higher chance of developing thyroid cancer, experts say.
Considering these factors, the annual upper limit of 20 millisieverts set by the government for schoolchildren in Fukushima Prefecture is too high, experts say.
“Twenty millisieverts a year is a level that should prompt a country to start instituting safety measures. It is too high, especially for children,” said Ishikawa of Hokkaido University.
In response to strong criticism from parents and activists about the 20-millisievert annual upper limit, the education ministry last Friday set a new nonbinding target to reduce radiation exposure of children in Fukushima Prefecture while they are at school to 1 millisievert or less per year. However, the ministry has not changed the binding upper limit of 20 millisieverts for Fukushima children both in and outside schools.
Anzai of Ritsumeikan believes what people should do now is make an extra effort to reduce the intake of radioactive materials as much as possible, especially among children, rather than keep discussing dose limits.
As the level of radioactive materials detected in the air across Japan has declined and stabilized since hitting a peak in mid-March shortly after the hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima plant, what the public should look out for now is how much cesium-137 fell from the sky. That has a much longer half-life than iodine-131, Anzai said.
Removing surface soil from school playgrounds, as has been done in Fukushima Prefecture, is a very effective way of reducing exposure, both internally and externally, he said.
As for food, people should not be too worried, because foodstuffs contaminated with radioactive materials that exceed recommended levels are currently not being sold to consumers, experts say. Vegetables, including cabbage and turnips, and milk and “konago” sand lance fish from Fukushima Prefecture, excluding some areas, as well as spinach from Kitaibaraki and Takahagi in Ibaraki Prefecture, were still banned as of Monday, according to the agriculture ministry. Any bans on using tap water had been lifted as of Monday, according to the health ministry.
If people want to take extra precautions, washing vegetables or boiling them can remove some radioactive materials. For rice, most of the radioactivity can be removed by milling the grains, Anzai said. Read the entire article here…
Tokyo Electric Power Company says it took soil samples on May 9th at 3 locations about 500 meters from the No.1 and No.2 reactors and analyzed them.
The utility detected up to 480 becquerels of radioactive strontium 90 per kilogram of soil. That’s about 100 times higher than the maximum reading recorded in Fukushima Prefecture following atmospheric nuclear tests carried out by foreign countries during the Cold War era.
TEPCO reported detecting 2,800 becquerels of strontium 89 per kilogram of soil at the same location.
This is the second time since April that radioactive strontium has been found inside the plant compound.
The substance was also detected in soil and plants more than 30 kilometers from the Fukushima nuclear power station in March.
When people inhale radioactive strontium, it accumulates in bones. Scientists say that strontium could cause cancer.
Tokyo Electric Power says it believes that radioactive strontium was released from the damaged plant and it will continue to monitor radiation levels.
Yoshihiro Ikeuchi of the Japan Chemical Analysis Center says strontium tends to accumulate in bones, like calcium. But he also says its levels in the air are thought to be lower than those for soil and even if people inhale the substance, no health problems will be caused by such internal exposure to radiation.
The operator of the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has started operating a system to effectively cool water in a spent fuel pool in the plant’s No.2 reactor building.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company on Tuesday set up at the building the first circulatory cooling system to be installed at the plant since the accident in March.
The utility has been pumping about 50 tons of water into the pool every few days.
The pool’s temperature is around 70 degrees Celsius, apparently producing steam that has filled the building and resulted in a humidity level of 99.9 percent.
The humidity and high radiation levels have been hampering repair work at the site.
The new system is to pump water out of the pool to a heat exchanger and return the water to the pool as coolant.
The firm says it plans to lower the pool’s temperature to around 40 degrees Celsius in a month and hopes to reduce the humidity level before installing equipment to remove radioactive substances in the building.
The firm says it will start operating similar systems at the plant’s No.1 and 3 reactors in June, and at the No.4 reactor in July.
See related article: TEPCO starts system to cool spent fuel pool at Fukushima plant (Mainichi, June1)
At around 2:30 PM on Tuesday, workers reported hearing a loud noise like that of an explosion at the south side of the plant’s No. 4 reactor.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company says unmanned heavy machinery removingdebris at the site damaged the cylinder, causing it to burst