Here are our EDU WATCH news updates on the educational scene in Japan:

School casualty questions / Parents seek answers for high death toll at primary school (Jun 3, Yomiuri)

-Some of the parents of students at the municipal Okawa Primary School in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, have requested that the municipal board of education reexamine why nearly 70 percent of its students were killed by the March 11 tsunami. Seventy-four of the school’s 108 students were killed or went missing in the tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake, while a total of 13 students at four nearby schools were killed or went missing… [Related news:  Reaching out to stressed kids (Yomiuri, 3 Jun 2011) Schools try to ease transition for students who moved due to quake. After being forced to change schools in the aftermath of the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, many students suffer psychological stress and schools are going out of their way to help them.]

Kyodo – Despite the education ministry’s recent move to set a new nonbinding target to reduce the radiation children in Fukushima Prefecture are exposed to at schools, experts, local educators and parents don’t feel reassured.

On May 27, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry said it will strive to limit the radiation exposure of students to 1 millisievert or less a year while they are at school.

The move came after a barrage of criticism from parents in the prefecture who fear radiation leaking from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant could increase their kids’ chances of developing leukemia or cancer. Some, supported by activists, lodged a protest outside the ministry on May 23.

But the new limit is only a “best effort” target, and an earlier — and binding — radiation limit is still intact. In April, the ministry set a limit of 3.8 microsieverts per hour for playground use at schools in the prefecture. Together with estimated exposure from outside of school grounds, total annual exposure could grow to 20 millisieverts.

“The way the ministry is handling the school radiation issue makes me feel like it’s someone else’s problem,” said Junko Matsubara, a former member of the Nuclear Safety Commission. “Just setting the 1 millisievert target doesn’t get anywhere.”

The former member of the state nuclear watchdog urged the education ministry to take real action instead of playing with figures and lead local authorities as they try to remove contaminated soil from school grounds.

So far, the ministry has provided no specific guidance or instructions to help local governments reduce radiation levels at schools. It took until Tuesday simply to organize a hearing in Tokyo attended by radiology and education experts.

During the session, radiology expert Shigenobu Nagataki of Nagasaki University introduced what he called a “globally shared view” that radiation exposure must exceed 100 millisieverts to affect human health, adding that the impact of lower levels remains unknown.

Instead of challenging science, Hidenori Tomozoe, an expert in sports education at Waseda University, warned that limiting school exercise hours could have a negative impact on children’s growth.

Takashi Eto, vice president of the Japan Child and Family Research Institute, blasted the ministry’s handling of the issue.

“Announcements by the education ministry never help parents grasp what is really going on,” he told the session.

Whatever steps the ministry may come up with, many schools in Fukushima have already banned students from using their school grounds over fears of radiation exposure.

In late April, the city of Koriyama became the first to remove soil from school grounds on a voluntary basis.

Koriyama was followed by the cities of Nihonmatsu and Motomiya and the village of Otama, which decided to scrape up the surface soil at their schools.

Initially, the central government had brushed aside such efforts, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano saying, “Based on the guideline of the education and science ministry, there is no need for (soil) removal.”

Motomiya Mayor Gigyo Takamatsu was disappointed and said the central government lacked accountability, noting that his “confidence in it had waned.”

Now the ministry plans to cover most of the soil-removal costs for public schools, with local governments saddled with the remainder. The state hasn’t decided how much it will help private institutions.

The May 23 protest by Fukushima parents may have pushed the ministry to amend its policy, but it was dealt a body blow weeks earlier.

In what government officials call a “shocking incident,” Cabinet adviser Toshiso Kosako, a radiation safety expert, questioned the ministry’s previous radiation yardstick and on April 29 said he was stepping down.

The University of Tokyo professor told a news conference that day, “I just cannot tolerate requiring such figures for infants, toddlers and elementary school pupils.”

Even if school grounds are decontaminated to some degree, the land beyond their borders will remain tainted.

Having seen the difficulties the cities of Koriyama and Date have experienced in finding places to dump removed soil, Otama, roughly 60 km from the crippled nuclear plant, dug holes to dispose of tainted dirt and covered them over. Where the radioactivity goes from there is anyone’s guess. The method was proposed by Kunikazu Noguchi, a 59-year-old specialist on protection against radiation at Nihon University.

On May 14, Noguchi gave a speech at a meeting sponsored by the village. The audience was keen to hear what he had to say and many were also eager to seek his advice on issues such as safe clothing for children or whether they can play barefoot. Noguchi told the audience they should not be overly concerned, but added he does not think he can remove all their concerns with the soil method he proposed.

Meanwhile, Asaka Reimei High School in Koriyama, located around 60 km from the leaking nuclear plant, has been publishing detailed radiation data about the school premises on its website since March 11. The website has drawn up to 4,000 hits per day.

Koji Ito, a 43-year-old teacher at the school, said: “Data published by the state do not showed the details of the situation. We thought it important to gather information on our own.”

On the school grounds, radiation was 50 times higher than normal, while inside school buildings and the gymnasium, it was up to 10 times higher, he said. These data were first posted on the website on April 18.

He said that based on the data collected, he anticipates no major decline in radiation in the days ahead. “It’s necessary to remove soil or take other steps for soil conditioning.”

Data are updated roughly once a week and their coverage has been expanded. A school premises map has also been added to show radiation differences by location.

Despite local efforts to mitigate children’s radiation exposure, however, some frustrated parents are opting for the last resort: leaving Fukushima.

According to education ministry data released Tuesday, a 9,998 students in Fukushima Prefecture had enrolled in other schools as of May 1. Although the data provided no breakdown for the reasons, radiation fears are believed to be the leading cause, along with the difficulties of living in disaster areas.

A youth hostel in Okinawa Prefecture is inviting children in Fukushima Prefecture to spend time there this summer free of charge, away from fears of radiation from the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Up to 100 children, from elementary to senior high school age, can apply for the program, which runs from July 26th to August 23rd at Okinawa International Youth Hostel.

During their stay, the children will get help with their school work from local university students, and have opportunities to experience traditional Okinawa arts and culture.

The organizer of the program, the Okinawa Youth Hostel Society, says all the expenses will be covered by a donation from a German organization for people affected by the March 11th disaster.

The society says it will offer free stays for children in Fukushima beyond the summer vacation, if they continue to live in fear of radiation.

10,000 children flee Fukushima over nuke fears (NHK, Jun 1) Japan’s education ministry says about 10,000 children have moved out of Fukushima Prefecture following the March 11th disaster and crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.On Wednesday, the ministry announced that the number of school-age children who have left Fukushima — from kindergarteners to high school students — reached 9,998 as of May 1st.They include 974 kindergarten pupils, 5,785 elementary school children, 2,014 junior high school students and 1,129 senior high school students.The prefectures of Saitama, Niigata and Tokyo have each welcomed more than 1,000 children from Fukushima. The other children relocated elsewhere across the country.

Long sleeve uniforms urged in Fukushima (NHK, Jun 1)

Some schools near the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are urging that children continue to wear long-sleeves in summer, to limit their exposure to radioactive fallout.
The schools issued the advice on Wednesday, the day many students switch to summer uniforms. The move is a response to parents’ concerns about radioactivity.Radiation exceeding levels permitted by the government has been found at some schools in Fukushima Prefecture. The schools have been removing topsoil in their playgrounds and limiting outdoor activities.At Koken Junior High School in Koriyama city on Wednesday, almost no students were seen wearing short-sleeves.The school says students can choose to wear their long-sleeved gym wear or the long-sleeved summer uniform.

Bread, milk make up post-quake school-lunch (Jun 1, Yomiuri) Synopsis:

Some public schools in areas stricken by the Great East Japan Earthquake can only provide school lunches consisting of bread and milk, increasing concerns that students may suffer from malnutrition. While many schools in the disaster-ravaged prefectures managed to resume serving regular lunches before Golden Week in May, more than 40 percent of 69 towns, cities and villages were unable to do so, citing reasons such as disaster-related damage to school lunch caterers. At present, three cities and three towns in Miyagi Prefecture–Ishinomaki, Higashi-Matsushima, Tome, Onagawacho, Minami-Sanrikucho, Rifucho–and two cities in Iwate Prefecture–Kamaishi and Rikuzen-Takata–are unable to offer regular school lunches. Some parents asked if their children could also bring rice balls and other food items from home. But the school was reluctant because 10 percent of its students commute from evacuation centers and are therefore unable to supplement the school’s lunches with extra food. However, school lunches are expected to improve next month when retort pouch food items such as hamburger and cooked fish are added to the menu. The earliest full return of pre-earthquake menus is expected in July. According to MEX, the standards for caloric intake by age children aged 6 to 14 should consume 560 to 850 kilocalories per meal. … read the whole article here

UN expert urges Japan to protect rights of foreign students (May 31, Breitbart)

A U.N. expert on migrants’ human rights criticized the Japanese government’s discrimination towards foreign schools and urged it to do more in guaranteeing the rights of foreign migrants’ children, in his report presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday. Jorge Bustamante, U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, compiled the report on his findings during his visit to Japan in March last year. During the week-long visit, he interviewed migrants and their families, including Filipinos and Brazilians in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, and met Noriko Calderon, a Japanese-born daughter of a Filipino couple who was granted special permission to stay in Japan, while her undocumented parents were deported to the Philippines. (Kyodo)

Performers at the 17th annual “Shunsho no Hibiki” (sound of spring nights) Japanese music concert play flutes, the piano, and a hand-drum on a stage at Omori 6th Junior High School in Ota Ward, Tokyo, on May 17. The concert celebrates the completion of Ikezuki Bridge on the nearby Senzoku Pond

Elsewhere in the world, the news on education:

A revolutionary idea has been developed by young visionary leader, Blake Boles…Zero Tuition College: http://ztcollege.com/!

ZTC is a free college for self-directed learners. It’s a vibrant community of students and mentors retaking the college experience from the grips of ever-increasing tuition fees. It connects students with experienced mentors, with each other, and with inspiring assignments. The ZTC website was just launched today, so check it out!

By the way, Blake Boles will be my guest on the next Free Homefires’ Homeschool Teleconference on June 23rd. The topic will be…
College Without High School & Zero Tuition College!  Remember, the LIVE teleconference is free. Register now by clicking on this link: http://www.homefires.com/teleconference

From Diane Flynn Keith, Owner of the Homefires.com list

Some Schools Replace Desk Chairs With Ball Chairs (Education World)
Teachers say ball chairs engage students’ brains and help them focus on lessons

Classrooms Are Growing Greener (Education World)
Making classrooms greener” can have a positive impact on student health and learning.

Open University app to help reading (BBC May 25)

Our Story has been developed by child psychologists and education specialists at the Buckinghamshire based university for use on mobile devices. The free application allows parents to create personalised picture books, stories and games. Professor David Messer from the OU says reading together helps children develop vital language and social skills.

Half of kids at 5 not ‘school ready’ (The Telegraph, Jun 1)

Up to half of five-year-olds are not ready for school as working parents increasingly abandon traditional games, nursery rhymes, bedtime stories and lullabies, according to research

Cambridge academics seek ‘no confidence’ vote (BBC Jun 2)

Cambridge University academics are joining their counterparts in Oxford by calling for a vote of no confidence against the government’s handling of higher education in England.

About 150 academics have signed a motion – known as a “grace” – on the issue.

This could lead to a vote by the thousands of academics at the university.

The government says its changes are needed to create a sustainable system.

From next year, universities in England will be able to charge up to £9,000 a year for undergraduate degree courses….

“If Oxford and Cambridge and other academics across the country speak out against the changes, it’s possible that will force government to re-think,” he said.

“The policies seem to have been badly thought-through and are unravelling as they proceed,” he added.

“We’re only really beginning to understand the implications of the new government policy as it unfolds over time. And the more we see of it, the more damaging it appears to be.”

The “grace” urges the university to tell the government it has “no confidence in the policies of the Universities Minister” (David Willetts).

The president of the Cambridge University Students’ Union Rahul Mansigani said: “This is an important symbol of Cambridge academics voicing their opposition to disastrous government policies, including fees…

Fear over universities fee rise (BBC, Jun 1)

A senior academic says she doubts the Welsh Government can continue to afford to help all students from Wales pay for their university fees

Related news: LSE will not charge maximum fees (BBC)

English classes use Facebook, social media to teach writing (EducationNews.org) The growth of social media and online publishing tools has helped innovative teachers align curriculum and instruction with new technology

Related news:

AEE wants ‘deeper learning’ in classrooms (Jun 2, Education News) The Alliance for Excellent Education wants to see children not just knowing academic content but communicating it effectively and working with others.

The Alliance for Excellent Education has released a policy brief that argues students need “deeper learning” than they’re currently experiencing. According to Bob Wise, AEE’s President:

“Deeper learning is simply what highly effective educators have always provided: the delivery of rich core content to students in innovative ways, allowing them to learn and then apply what they have learned.”

The brief says that deeper learning consists of 5 elements:

  1. Know and master core academic content.
  2. Think critically and solve complex problems.
  3. Work collaboratively.
  4. Communicate effectively.
  5. Be self-directed and able to incorporate feedback.

The report argues that more affluent students in the United States have more opportunities to engage in deeper learning than lower-income students.

Record numbers of overseas university students (BBC, may 24)

It could become “impossible” for young people in England to study music GCSE, if the English Baccalaureate is kept in its current form, a professional body for musicians says.

Music is not included in the proposed English Bacc list of GCSE subjects.

And the Incorporated Society of Musicians is writing to the schools minister to say teachers are reporting the subject is being “squeezed out”….But critics say this will undermine the teaching of other subjects and limit the choices for GCSE…”Without music GCSE being given the weighting it deserves, our cultural and creative economy will be put at risk, and young people who want to be involved in the music sector will have their efforts hampered,” said Ms Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Society of Musicians.

Should Kids Spend More Time in School?(Education World)
Many people — including President Obama — are pushing for longer school days or school years.

Kid Heroes Use the Heimlich Maneuver(Education World)
Three youths made headlines last month by saving kids who were choking on food.

On our forum, we are currently discussing Finland’s education system, here’s what we are reading:

The Global Search for Education: More Focus on Finland (Education News, Jun 1) | Related article: The Finland Phenomenon: Learning from the new Tony Wagner film  | Here’s an interesting blog The Campbellgates in Finlandia by someone doing a fellowship in Finland to see why they use public libraries so much compared to the U.S. (I wonder how many Japanese use public libraries?).  (courtesy of Mark S.) | Finland is #1! | Why Finnish schools are tops… | Finnish teacher writes math book for Japanese kids |CS Monitor takes a look at the Finnish education system

Can You Last a Week Without ‘Screen Time’? (Education World)
A new report says the average American spends 151 hours a month in front of a screen

Three-year-old girl with IQ of 140 applies to join Mensa (Telegraph, Jun 1) A three-year-old girl is on the verge of becoming one of the youngest members of Mensa, the high-intelligence society, after being judged as having an IQ of 140 in tests.

Saffron Pledger is the daughter of an eight-times champion of Countdown, the television game show.

Danny Pledger, a 23-year-old web designer, said his daughter had learned her alphabet by watching him on the programme.

She has now taken an IQ test which is in the process of final accreditation by Mensa. If her score of 140 is accepted she will become one of the society’s youngest members.

Despite her tender years, Saffron can write, read stories, count up to 50 and even do simple mathematics – all before attending a single lesson at school.

Private schools preparing to ‘dump the National Curriculum’ (May 30, Telegraph)

Parents are choosing smaller prep schools (May 27, 2011)

traditional values and homely atmospheres of small prep schools such as Belhaven seem to appeal to the post-credit crisis generation of parents. While the recession has prompted a fall in pupil numbers across the independent sector as a whole, Belhaven has grown by 5 per cent over the past year – to a grand total of 118 pupils. Figures from the Independent Schools Council show that almost 75 per cent of its 154 small prep schools are either maintaining their numbers or expanding.

In terms of fees, the ISC’s small prep schools (with a maximum of close to 150 pupils) are cheaper than their larger counterparts.

Katherine Birbalsingh in defense of middle-class parents attitudes towards education …I have only admiration for the ‘sharp-elbowed’ parents who seek the best for their children (Excerpts follow:

“…having done a much better job in spreading our social housing than our American counterparts, the beady-eyed middle classes are everywhere… always looking out for the best for their children. I will never understand why these people come under the line of fire. They should be commended for such interest in their children’s welfare. But our politics say otherwise. Now, we are ensuring that the very people free-school opponents hate, will be discriminated against when it comes to getting their child into a good school. …

I only have admiration for those middle-class people who seek out the best schools for their children, (not all of them do) and I feel a sense of shame that our country should want to denigrate such people. Free School Meal children come from families who earn less than 16 thousand a year and can now be given priority admission to what might be the best school in the area. But what of the single mum who works two jobs, manages to bring in 17 thousand, and is too proud to allow her children to be fed by the state? In some London boroughs, if academies decide to prioritise FSM children, this woman’s children might very well not get a place at any school at all. Unlike her middle-class neighbours who can just move to Wiltshire, her only choice will be to work’ less hard, to depend more on the state, and to teach her children values that will only ensure they are more than likely to join the dole queues later on.”

When did school trips become so fancy? (Telegraph, 31 May 2011)

Michael F. Shaughnessy’s book review on Carol Dweck’s “Nurture Shock” says the book makes for thought-provoking and challenging reading in depth  exploration of the new research  about children. He also says it is an “examination of parenting, teaching and learning issues” and that “the authors foray into some murky, treacherous research waters and address some issues about parental responsibility and how much and how intensely parents should intervene in the psycho-social development of their kids”. He suggests however that the book is difficult and recommends it for graduate school use, but syas that “insightful, perspicacious parents who are sincerely interested in their children’s development would benefit from reading and discussing the issues”.

First images of Breaking Dawn wedding Popular teen novel saga ‘Twilight’ fans have received an early treat due to a leak to the Web of a new clip of the wedding between Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Bella (Kristen Stewart) has hit the Web. In the 15-second promo from Breaking Dawn: Part 1, Bella in an Austen-styled wedding dress, is seen from behind walking down the aisle in the middle of the forest as Edward waits at the altar under a stunning arch of flowers. More here

News updates on the continuing crisis in Fukushima:

TEPCO cools storage pool in No.2 reactor building (June 03, NHK)

The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says it has succeed in lowering the temperature in a storage pool for used nuclear fuel at the No.2 reactor after it started operating a cooling system there.
Tokyo Electric Power Company says the temperature in the pool dropped to 38 degrees Celsius on Thursday from about 70 degrees previously.
TEPCO had anticipated that it would take about one month to lower the temperature to about 40 degrees.
In the No. 2 reactor building, steam released by the storage pool has been pushing up the humidity level to 99.9 percent. Such excessive humidity has prevented recovery efforts so far.
The company installed a circulatory cooling system to lower the pool temperature in order to reduce humidity and began operating the system on Tuesday.
Since the temperature has sharply decreased TEPCO plans to inspect the interior of the building as it suspects humidity has also declined. If the situation has improved, it will install systems to remove radioactive substances.The company plans to start operating similar cooling systems at the storage pools in the No.1 and 3 reactor buildings in June, and in the No.4 reactor building in July.
Radioactive water level plunges in No. 1 reactor (Yomiuri, June 3)The water level, which had risen 376 millimeters in the 24 hours from 7 a.m. on Monday, fell one millimeter in the following 24 hours, and plunged 79 millimeters from 7 a.m. Wednesday to 7 a.m. on Thursday. The underground water level around the No. 1 reactor facility is higher than the water level in the reactor building. TEPCO is checking whether the water is leaking from the No. 1 reactor building into the turbine building of the No. 2 reactor.

Fukushima to check internal radiation exposure

Snow in the mountains in Fukushima Prefecture is showing radioactive contamination at levels above the safety limit for drinking water.

Researchers from Fukushima University performed the analysis with a local environmental group. They sampled snow in 31 locations and at different altitudes from 7 peaks around Fukushima city, from mid-April through early May.
The results showed that snow in 14 locations contained more than 200 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium, the adult safe limit for drinking water.
A sample of snow from an altitude of 1,300 meters contained 3,000 becquerels of cesium.
Fukushima University Vice-President Akira Watanabe specializes in meteorology and says the data support his team’s analysis that radioactive substances scattered at an altitude of 1,300 meters.
He is urging mountain climbers not to drink river water or gather edible wild plants, now that high levels of radioactivity in the snow have been confirmed.

TEPCO plans to plug all potential leaks (Jun 2, NHK) The Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, plans to plug all potential leaks of highly radioactive water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in June.

TEPCO submitted its plan to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency after finding in April and May that highly radioactive water was flowing into the sea via seaside concrete maintenance pits. The water apparently came from turbine buildings of the plant’s No.2 and 3 reactors.
The utility says it identified 5 concrete tunnels and 39 pits around the plant as possible points from which radioactive water could flow out to the sea.
The firm says it filled all the tunnels and some of the pits with concrete, and that it will finish work at 17 of the pits and repair cracked seawalls in June.
TEPCO is under pressure to also find places to store an increasing amount of contaminated water in the turbine buildings, as the current rainy season is raising fears of overflows. The utility plans to install a water purification system to recycle the water.

Wastewater rises, fears mount (Jun 2, NHK) The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is struggling to remove pools of highly radioactive wastewater as fears of an overflow get more intense.

Tokyo Electric Power Company says wastewater levels rose around 6 centimeters inside the No.2 reactor turbine building, and in its utility tunnel, during the 24-hour period through Thursday morning.
Increases were also seen inside the No.3 and 4 reactor turbine buildings.
The water level in the utility tunnel is now just 28 centimeters from the surface outside the No.2 reactor, and 24 centimeters from the surface outside the No.3 reactor.
Tokyo Electric plans to start using a water purifier by the middle of this month. But as an emergency measure it’s preparing to remove wastewater pooled inside the No.3 reactor turbine building to its turbine condenser.
The utility is also considering using 2 additional buildings inside the compound as storage…
Tokyo Electric is measuring the level of radiation in groundwater near the plant …

Earthquake hits Niigata, no tsunami alert (NHK, Jun 2)

March 9 foreshock should’ve led to Big One alert: expert  (Japan Times)

Kyodo – Authorities could have issued a warning over the March 11 earthquake had they treated an earlier quake as a foreshock and closely analyzed the aftershocks that followed, according to a Tohoku University associate professor.

The foreshock, which occurred at 11:45 a.m. on March 9 near the focus of the March 11 quake, some 50 hours before it struck, registered a magnitude of 7.3, rocking Miyagi Prefecture and sending a tsunami of up to 60 cm to Iwate Prefecture.

The Meteorological Agency said this quake might have been a foreshock of the March 11 magnitude 9 quake, whose tsunami ravaged northeastern Japan’s Pacific coast, including Miyagi and Iwate.

Tomoki Hayashino at the university’s Research Center for Neutrino Science analyzed 43 earthquakes with a magnitude of 7.0 or above that occurred around Japan over the past 80 years and checked the number of aftershocks occurring within 20 hours of each.

His research found that the main quakes were followed by zero to two aftershocks with a difference in magnitude from the main shock of less than 1.5 on the scale, and zero to five shocks with a difference of less than 1.7.

Risk of tsunami underestimated: IAEA (JT, Jun 2, 2011)

Japan underestimated the risks of tsunami that led to the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a preliminary summary Wednesday, while pointing out the need to reinforce the independence of its nuclear regulators.

“The tsunami hazard for several sites was underestimated. Nuclear designers and operators should appropriately evaluate and provide protection against the risks of all natural hazards,” reads the IAEA summary.

The IAEA team of experts — which arrived in the country May 23 — visited the Fukushima Nos. 1 and 2 plants, as well as the Tokai No. 2 plant in Ibaraki Prefecture, to investigate the sites in an effort to glean lessons on nuclear safety from the ongoing crisis.

The summary hints that the government needs to review the current nuclear regulatory structure, saying the system “should ensure that regulatory independence and clarity of roles are preserved in all circumstances in line with IAEA Safety Standards.”

Since the March 11 twin disasters that triggered the nuclear accident, calls have been growing for more independence for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, with some saying it should be divorced from the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, which overlooks the utilities industry. At present, NISA is part of METI.

There are also concerns that the roles of NISA and the Nuclear Safety Commission, an independent government panel of experts, remain unclear.

The government “needs to make sure that not only they are independent in structure but also independent in the resources and expertise that they have available,” said Mike Weightman, leader of the IAEA team, after submitting the report to the government at the prime minister’s office.

Weightman said the direct cause of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant was the tsunami that damaged the cooling system of the reactors.

He also said the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. were cooperative in disclosing information, which he said contributed to identifying lessons that could be taken from the nuclear crisis.

Japan firm develops ‘sun-chasing’ solar panels (AFP) A new Japanese solar power device can generate twice the electricity of current models thanks to moving mirrors that follow the sun throughout the day … more here.

Plan outlines 10% hike in sales tax (Japan Times, Jun 3)

The government outlines its social security reform plan, proposing doubling the consumption tax to 10 percent in stages by fiscal 2015 to finance Japan’s swelling welfare costs at a time when the population is aging.

Double the standard of toxic materials detected along coast of Miyagi Prefecture (Mainichi, Jun 3)

Professor Atsushi Iizuka and other researchers with Kobe University found that up to 2.2 times the national standard of arsenic compounds and two other types of toxic materials were detected along the coastal region of central Miyagi Prefecture.

In particular, researchers detected higher concentrations of toxic materials in the soil near petrochemical complexes and chemical plants. The Ministry of the Environment also plans to conduct an emergency survey of the soil contamination.

In the course of their studies, Iizuka and other researchers collected soil at some 10 locations in Miyagi Prefecture, including Sendai and Ishinomaki, starting in late April and analyzed the elution amount and contained amount of specified toxic substances stipulated in the Soil Contamination Countermeasures Law.

The harmful materials found in the region had apparently leaked from chemical plants and other facilities hit hard by the tsunami, requiring restoration workers to wear masks and gloves to protect themselves. It is the first time that tsunami-triggered soil contamination has been confirmed.

By Aileen Kawagoe