What a busy week it has been. Here’s more news updates on the educational scene in Japan:

Breaking news:

Parents are bearing down on the Tokyo metropolitan govt. authorities to check radiation levels in Tokyo (particularly around schoolyards and parks where children play), after finding radiation levels equivalent to a third that in Fukushima in the area around a sludge factory in the Koto ward…

Parents urge Tokyo to rethink radiation monitoring (Japan Times, Jun 8)

A group of Tokyo parents filed a request Tuesday asking the metropolitan government to change the way it determines radiation levels in the capital after their own study found relatively high levels of contamination around Koto Ward.

“No! Hoshano Koto Kodomo Mamoru Kai” (“No! Radioactivity — The Group to Save Children in Koto”) found that some areas in Koto Ward, located in the eastern part of the capital, had a maximum hourly reading of 0.18 microsievert of radiation.

That number is a fraction of the level in Fukushima Prefecture, which hit about 1.6 microsieverts per hour on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, the group warned, their findings indicate that some Tokyo children are in danger of being exposed to more than 1 millisievert of radiation per year, the nonbonding limit set by the education ministry for Fukushima Prefecture students.

“This should be taken as a sign that a grave (contamination) is in progress in Tokyo,” Ayako Ishikawa, the leader of the group, said during a news conference.

The metropolitan government checks levels of radioactivity at an elevation of 18 meters in Shinjuku Ward, where the maximum hourly reading was about 0.06 microsievert on Tuesday.

But Ishikawa insists such readings are unreliable and should be taken at about 1 meter above the ground.

“We request that the Tokyo government and Koto Ward properly check the radiation levels, especially around school areas and parks,” she said.

According to Ishikawa, her group, which has about 35 members, checked the soil and air in Koto Ward for contaminants between May 21 and 25 with the help of Kobe University professor Tomoya Yamauchi.

Yamauchi, an expert on radiation physics, said high levels of contamination were detected in soil, especially around a plant in Koto Ward that produces sludge, an ingredient in cement, where the level reached 2,300 becquerels per kilogram.

That level is about a third of the 6,550 becquerels per kilogram detected at a schoolyard in Fukushima Prefecture in April.

“But I can say that I wouldn’t let my child play baseball at the ballpark, which is located near the sludge factory,” Yamauchi said, adding there is concern the factory itself could be releasing radioactive particles.

“The metropolitan government should reveal the safety measures taken in the factory, and conduct proper radiation level checks at the facility, including the chimney,” Yamauchi added.

While concerns remain over the disabled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, students from elementary schools in the region enjoyed swimming at an indoor pool to avoid possible radiation.

Two elementary schools in Tamura City started swimming classes on Monday using a city-run indoor pool located 20 kilometers from the school.

More than 50 students were taken by bus. They first sprayed water on each other, and then practiced swimming for about 30 minutes.

The city is located within the expanded 30-kilometer zone where residents have been asked to prepare for an emergency evacuation.

After the nuclear accident, 29 local municipalities have banned outdoor swimming classes at elementary and junior high schools to minimize the effects of radiation on children.

Emergency measures urged for Fukushima students (NHK Jun 6)

The opposition New Komeito Party has urged the government to put into practice emergency measures to protect children in Fukushima prefecture from exposure to radiation.

A party official submitted a series of proposals to the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama on Monday.

It criticized the government for its poor judgment and failure to alleviate problems in the prefecture even 3 months after the March 11 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

They also urged the government to take steps that would allow all children in the prefecture to carry radiation monitors.

In addition, the party called on the government to carry out periodic health checks on the children.

It says the government should be responsible for promptly removing contaminated surface soil in school playgrounds and also removing radioactive substances in parks and streets.

Jun 7th CNN.com Video: Orphaned by the tsunami on children orphaned in Japan’s tsunami who are living a trauma that never ends.

‘Attacker, victim’ kept apart | Bpy agrees not to attend same school as girl he allegedly assaulted (Yomiuri, Jun 7) Yamaguchi –A teenager who enrolled in the same high school as a girl he was sent to reform school for allegedly punching will transfer to another school, following complaints by the girl and her parents, it has been learned.

The girl’s guardian complained to the Yamaguchi Probation Office that oversees the case, claiming she would suffer emotional pain if the boy were to attend the same school. The boy was quoted by the office as saying that he did not know the girl was attending the school.

The boy, who never actually attended the school, is considering transferring to another school or changing his career path, according to sources.

The girl discovered his name posted on a class placement list of new students in early April, an official at the probation office said. The girl’s guardian complained to the probation office that it was likely that the girl and the boy would see each other in the school, even though they are in different grades.

When the probation office informed the boy’s guardian of the fact, the boy promised not to attend the school, according to the office. The office said that the boy’s future studies have been discussed with the prefectural board of education and others.

An official at the Justice Ministry’s probation section said, “We’ve never heard of this kind of thing happening in the past.” The reformatory the boyattended did not make inquiries about the girl’s enrollment in the school, according to sources.

An official at the reformatory indicated they had received almost no information about the victim and did not know she was attending the school when the boy took the entrance exam.

According to the ministry’s probation section’s human rights division, there is no problem with the probation office’s handling of the case. “After the office obtained information about the victim’s attendance at the school, the office confirmed the assailant would not attend the school,” an official said.

The alleged assault occurred in autumn last year. According to the prefectural police and other sources, three acquaintances, including the boy, summoned the girl and injured her by punching her in the face and dragging her by her hair.

According to her guardian, the girl was diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after the incident and was hospitalized for about two months. The boy entered the reformatory after he was arrested on suspicion of assault. While in the reformatory, he decided to attend high school to find a better job and took the entrance exam for the girl’s school, according to sources.

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Inadequate system

Tokiwa University Prof. Hidemichi Morosawa, an expert on victimology, said, “The fundamental problem is that the system does not prohibit the assailant from approaching the victim.”

Tadaari Katayama, who represents a Tokyo-based association that supports victims and rehabilitates victimizers, said, “We are concerned about the victim’s mental strain but we are also worried about the assailant at the same time.

“Because the boy has suffered a setback in his rehabilitation efforts, this situation will likely make the boy distrust society and inhibit his further rehabilitation.”

(Jun. 7, 2011)
Camp for Kids in Japan

3 Day/7 Day English Summer Camp Fly fox, River trekking, Art
Next Step is a 3 week high school entrepreneurship summer camp in Shanghai: www​.nextstepconnections​.com The NSC young entrepreneur program offers an unique opportunity for high school students to develop entrepreneurial skills, business acumen and Chinese language abilities at an early age.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s administration said in May it would establish legislation as part of preparations for Japan joining an international convention to prevent cross-border abductions of children by their parents. Despite international pressure to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, Japan had been reluctant amid strong opposition from politicians in the ruling and opposition parties, experts and Japanese mothers who took their children to Japan after failed international marriages.

Constraint on teachers’ thought (Japan Times)

The Second Petit Bench of the Supreme Court on May 30 ruled in a 4-0 decision that a school principal’s order telling teachers to stand and sing the “Kimigayo” national anthem in front of the “Hinomaru” national flag at a graduation ceremony is constitutional.

This represents the top court’s first judgment on the constitutionality of such an order. In February 2007, the court had ruled that a principal’s order telling a music teacher to play piano accompaniment for the singing of Kimigayo, usually translated as “Your Reign,” at a school ceremony was constitutional.

The lawsuit had been filed by a former teacher of a high school run by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government who received a disadvantageous treatment as a result of his refusal to obey the principal’s order. The ruling in part says that the order “indirectly constrains” the freedom of thought and conscience.

But local education authorities may take the ruling’s conclusion as a seal of approval for forcing teachers to stand up and sing Kimigayo at school ceremonies. Thus the feelings of a minority who have different opinions about Hinomaru and Kimigayo would be ignored and their freedom of thought and conscience infringed on.

In August 1999, the Diet enacted a law officially designating the rising sun flag as the national flag and the Kimigayo anthem as the national anthem. Then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi said that the law would not impose a new duty on people and then Education Minister Akito Arima said that it would not impose a new duty on teachers. But in October 2003, the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education issued a notice telling principals of schools run by the metropolitan government to strictly enforce the hoisting of the flag and the singing of the anthem at school ceremonies.

The plaintiff, Mr. Yuji Saruya, did not obey the principal’s order at a graduation ceremony for the night course at the metropolitan Katsushika High School in March 2004. He was later reprimanded. At school ceremonies in later years, he obeyed the order. But in January 2007, the metropolitan government notified him that it would not reemploy him after his mandatory retirement age, contrary to the usual practice. Mr. Saruya later filed a lawsuit asking for withdrawal of the decision not to reemploy him.

In January 2009, the Tokyo District Court ordered the metropolitan government to pay Mr. Saruya ¥2.1 million in compensation, although it rejected his argument that the principal’s order is unconstitutional. But in October that year, the Tokyo High Court reversed the district court ruling on the compensation payment, saying that it is not unreasonable to reject reemployment less than three years after a reprimand occurs.

In its May 30 ruling, the Supreme Court said that the principal’s order “indirectly constrains” the freedom of thought and conscience of people who do not want to express respect to Hinomaru and Kimigayo because it requires them to take an action not based on their view of history and their outlook on the world. Some people think that the rising sun flag and the anthem were used as a means of promoting Japan’s militarism and imperialism. Mr. Saruya did not obey the order because his conscience did not allow him to do so in view of his Korean and Chinese students who studied the history of Japan’s modern war, according to Tokyo Shimbun.

Then the ruling said that since the principal’s order follows the prescriptions of the education ministry’s official guidelines calling for hoisting of the flag and singing of the anthem at school ceremonies and the national flag and anthem law, takes into consideration the public nature of local public servants’ duties and pays consideration to the feelings of students, it has enough necessity and rationality to make its indirect constraint on the freedom of thought and conscience acceptable. Thus the ruling said that the order does not violate Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of thought and conscience.

The decision that the principal’s order is constitutional automatically led to upholding of the Tokyo High Court’s ruling. It is regrettable that the top court failed to judge whether the metropolitan government’s decision not to reemploy Mr. Saruya only because of his one-time refusal to obey the principal’s order is equitable and justifiable.

After the ruling came out, a local party led by Gov. Toru Hashimoto of Osaka, which controls the prefectural assembly, on June 3 enacted an ordinance to make it mandatory for school teachers to stand and sing Kimigayo at school ceremonies.

Unfortunately, the governor and the party members neglected to consider the fact that the top court ruling said that the principal’s order indirectly constrains the freedom of thought and conscience. Local authorities should pay attention to Presiding Judge Masahiko Sudo’s supplementary opinion that if the coercive element contained in the principal’s order causes unnecessary confusion and the withering of creative activities in the education scene, “the life of education could be lost.

Only six colleges giving credits to students for volunteer activities (Japan Times, Jun 8) These include Yamagata, Iwate, Shiga, Oita, Meiji and Bunkyo universities. Excerpt follows:

“After the massive disaster, the education ministry allowed universities and colleges to give credit to students for volunteer activities to help the victims.

At Meiji University in Tokyo, a volunteer activity course on the disaster was launched and is intended to give credits to students who attended lectures in advance, did volunteer work and filed reports.

A Meiji University official said it is meaningful that students could help disaster victims and that their activities could increase their autonomy and social skills.

Iwate University, in Morioka, the capital of Iwate Prefecture, launched a community support course that gives students credit for five days of volunteer activities and reports on them. But the credits can’t be counted toward graduation.

The University of Tokyo said it will carefully study if it should give credits to students for such volunteer activities, noting that such activities do not necessarily comply with each department’s educational policy.

Aoyama Gakuin University, a private university in Tokyo, said it plans to send students to disaster-hit areas during the summer break but hasn’t decided to give credits for such activities.

Masakiyo Murai, leader of a nongovernment organization on disaster-relief activities in Kobe, said it may be meaningful to give academic credits to students if it motivates them to be involved in volunteer activities. But students shouldn’t do such activities only to gain academic credit, he said.”

Book readings for children capture kids’ imaginations (Japan Times)

“Let me read you a picture book in Dutch,” said Rudie Filon, the Dutch counselor of the Delegation of the European Union to Japan as he began reading the popular picture book “Jip and Janneke” in Dutch. Children and their parents’ eyes lit up, and even the smallest of the kids listened attentively to the words of a language from a country to which they had never been. 

News photo
A picture is worth a thousand words: Nikolaos Zaimis, first counselor of the European Union’s delegation to Japan, reads the Greek tale of “Icarus” in Greek in front of families during a book-reading event at the EU office in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Saturday. MAMI MARUKO PHOTO

About 25 pairs of parents and children, some girls wearing semiformal dresses, participated in the event on Saturday at the EU office in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward. Almost all of the families were Japanese.

At the beginning of the event, three staff members of the EU delegation, including Filon, who is head of the press, public and cultural affairs section, gave explanations of their home countries in English and Japanese and by showing slides. After Filon’s reading, Nikolaos Zaimis, first counselor and head of the trade section from Greece, read the Greek mythological tale “Icarus” in his native tongue. He was followed by Richard Kelner, academic cooperation officer from U.K., reading Raymond Briggs’ best-selling picture book “The Snowman” in English.

“It was the first time for us to listen to Dutch and Greek live,” said Yuko Kimura, who came to the event with her Belgian husband and their 4-year-old daughter, Keira. She said she was grateful to organizers for giving her family the rare opportunity to listen to languages other than English while learning out about the countries and interacting with people from said nations.

The event was part of “The world reads for children” monthly book reading series organized by Global Literacy Group, a nonprofit organization that sponsors activities including book-reading sessions for adults and children, English speaking classes, and web-based activities such as showing samples of book-reading in different languages on YouTube.

The book-reading sessions have so far been held in cooperation with 14 embassies in Tokyo, and embassy staff — in some cases ambassadors, their wives or children — have read picture books from their countries in their mother tongues. The participating countries include Chili, Eritrea, Israel, Hungary, Bulgaria, Sweden and Dominica.

At the beginning of Saturday’s event, eight children from the ages of 3 to 9 spoke in front of the audience, with the older ones giving presentations on nations they researched, including the Netherlands, Greece and U.K. Then came the explanation and the reading, and a small party to interact with delegation members with drinks and snacks. At the end of the event, the EU officials each sang songs from their countries, and children were asked to draw their own version of the cover of the book that they found interesting at the event.

…Filon, the Dutch counselor, said he hopes to tell the children that they should look beyond their borders and “know that the world is bigger than (just) Japan.”

“Younger people are the future generation. What we noticed was that high school students who are moving on to university are not interested in going abroad. I always tell Japanese high school and university students that it is essential for a country like Japan to look abroad, because Japan has built a very large part of its wealth and prosperity on international trade. If you want to be good at international trade, you have to be able to speak (different) languages, and to be able to understand different cultures,” he added.

The next session of the series is scheduled to be held with U.S. Embassy staff on June 18. For more information about events, visit the organizer’s website at worldreadsforchildren.jimdo.com

Fukushima parents furious over radioactive playgrounds (The Crisis Jones Report, May 2) Angry parents in Fukushima have dished out a bag of radioactive dirt to government officials in protest against attempts to water down nuclear safety standards

Related older news: Japanese Parents Assail Government Over Radiation (NYTimes, May 26) |  US doctors say that Japan’s revised radiation rules endanger children (Nuclear News Net)

 

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Elsewhere in the world, the news on education:

Are Finnish schools the best in the world? (The Independent, May 26) They have no uniforms, no selection, no fee-paying and no league tables. Yet Finland’s education system consistently tops global rankings. 

This article highlights that Finland shares the common theme along with the other two top-performing nations – Singapore, South Korea and Finland – they all attract the best talent into the profession by setting high standards for recruitment. England’s Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has been taking a close look at its policies to see if there is anything he can glean from them to improve standards over here.

There is, Mr Gove argues, a second part of the equation: the introduction of a free compulsory education system for all, which goes hand in glove with the recruitment process to create a successful education system. It is illegal to charge fees in the Finnish education system, so even those schools that are run privately take their funding from the state. Its schools are comprehensive in that there is no selection of pupils.

The article notes Finnish schools are “less formal and more relaxed than schools in the UK. Finnish pupils – in common with those in the rest of Finland – do not wear a uniform. Discipline appears good. …

The teachers are not beset by targets, in fear of inspections or how well their schools do in league tables. There are simply no league tables or inspections. “They are academics and well trained, so we trust them,” says Professor Lavonen. “This is an important feeling: they don’t need any inspection. Also, we don’t have a system of national testing. The teachers are trusted to assess their own pupils.” This is presumably because there is no pressure to tweak the results to do well in league tables.

Class sizes are smaller than in the UK.” They are limited to “20 in the first two years of schooling and the sixth and seventh year (12 and 13-year-olds). They are also mixed ability, with educators believing the teachers are well-enough trained to cope with a wider range of ability in their classes. If pupils fall behind, a second teacher can be sent in to help them to catch up.”

It is also noted that Finland has a population of only 600,000 and does not have the vast gap in household incomes of the UK, and so social mobility is not such an issue over there.

Kids in Philippine village swim to school no more (AP) Dozens of dirt-poor children in a Philippine mangrove village no longer have to swim to school, straining to hold their books above the water. More 

Why social mobility should start at school | Social class ‘determines child’s success’ (The Independent)

Should Medical School Be Free? (NY Times)

Gym Class: Samurai Sword Fighting

How Much Do Your Children Sleep?

Singapore teen tops world English examination (Straits Times) SINGAPOREAN student Ho Ren Chun beat students from 127 countries to emerge in top spot in an English examination.

The 17-year-old Anglo-Chinese School (International) student made his mark in the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) English exam, which is designed for students whose first language is English. …

His parents — Mr Ho Kwon Ping and Ms Claire Chiang, who head hospitality group Banyan Tree – encouraged him to read widely and bought him books.

The teen, who is active in drama and debate in school, said he loved reading comics as well as  science-fiction and fantasy books when he was younger.

More in the following excerpt from the Evantage New Paper article: He had neither tuition nor pricey educational gadgets to help him score well. Ren Chun said he sat for the paper last November and studied for it by using only papers from past years. …

He said he had his parents to thank for his solid English foundation.

From the time he was a kid, his father, a former journalist, taught him the “love of the language”, he said.”

TOP 10 UK Universities by subject | (UK) Employment prospects ranked by degree | Starting salaries: What the future holds

Surprise, surprise – it’s state-school pupils who are the real stars When Cambridge University announced last year it was to become one of the first in the country to insist on at least one A* grade at A-level from candidates for places, there was a chorus of disapproval. It was a typically elitist move from an elite university, which would benefit pupils in independent schools – where their teachers would be more likely to drill and push them into getting A*s.

The admission figures appear to belie that, though, by showing that the percentage of successful state school applicants actually went up last October. They show that 59.3 per cent of those admitted were from state schools – up 0.8 per cent from the previous year.

Cambridge University took the decision, now widely followed by others, because it believed it would make it easier for its admission tutors to select the brightest candidates for its more popular courses, such as law and medicine. And the brightest candidates appear to have included a greater proportion of state school pupils.

Only one black mark on the horizon: the number of both state and independent school pupils taken in has dropped slightly compared with the previous year, while the number of international students has risen.

Elite South Korean university rattled by suicides (The Telegraph)

It has been a sad and gruesome semester at South Korea’s most prestigious university, and with final exams beginning Monday the school is still reeling from the recent suicides of four students and a popular professor.

Academic pressures can be ferocious at the university, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, known as Kaist, and anxious school psychologists have expanded their counseling services since the suicides. The school president also rescinded a controversial policy that humiliated many students by charging them extra tuition if their grades dipped.

“Day after day we are cornered into an unrelenting competition that smothers and suffocates us,” the [KAIST student] council said. “We couldn’t even spare 30 minutes for our troubled classmates because of all our homework.

“We no longer have the ability to laugh freely.”

Young people in South Korea are a chronically unhappy group. A recent survey found them to be — for the third year in a row — the unhappiest subset among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Education Ministry in Seoul said 146 students committed suicide last year, including 53 in junior high and 3 in elementary school.

Psychologists at the university said very few students had sought counseling in recent days because of the time crunch brought on by finals. Ironically, during this period of maximum stress, therapists were handling only a handful of cases, mostly for anxiety.

“Remember that the students here are still very young and they haven’t had much experience with unpredictable situations,” said Kim Mi-hee, a staff psychologist at the campus counseling center, who estimated that about 10 percent of Kaist students had come to the center for help. “To deal with problems they tend to lock into rumination mode.

“But they’re so smart and so bright, they actually cope with stress pretty well. They have great capabilities of insight, so once they do get treatment, it can go pretty fast.”

A surprising finding from a study –  Fathers Influence Child Language Development More Than Mothers (Nov. 1, 2006)— In families with two working parents, fathers had greater impact than mothers on their children’s language development between ages 2 and 3, according to a study by the University of North Carolina …read more here.

Brain Calisthenics for Abstract Ideas  (NY Times)

For years school curriculums have emphasized top-down instruction, especially for topics like math and science. Learn the rules first — the theorems, the order of operations, Newton’s laws — then make a run at the problem list at the end of the chapter. Yet recent research has found that true experts have something at least as valuable as a mastery of the rules: gut instinct, an instantaneous grasp of the type of problem they’re up against. Like the ballplayer who can “read” pitches early, or the chess master who “sees” the best move, they’ve developed a great eye.

Now a small group of cognitive scientists is arguing that schools and students could take far more advantage of this bottom-up ability, called perceptual learning. The brain is a pattern-recognition machine, after all, and when focused properly, it can quickly deepen a person’s grasp of a principle, new studies suggest.  More… 

Why not leave school at 16? (The Independent) 16 successes who left school at 16.

When the children leave home (The Independent)

High fee UK universities fail to make grade (The Independent) More than 20 universities planning to charge the maximum £9,000 fee for students next year have failed to make the top 200 of an influential international higher education league table.

All work and no play makes for troubling trend in early education (Science Daily, Feb. 12, 2009) — Playtime for children is a “fundamental avenue” for learning. Parents and educators who favor traditional classroom-style learning over free, unstructured playtime in preschool and kindergarten may actually be stunting a child’s development instead of enhancing it… more

Background TV Found To Have Negative Effect On Parent-Child Interactions (Sep. 16, 2009) — A new study looks for the first time at the effect of background TV on interactions between parents and young children.

Daycare May Double TV Time for Young Children, Study Finds (Nov. 24, 2009) — In a new study, the amount of television viewed by many young children in child care settings doubles the previous estimates of early childhood screen time, with those in home-based settings watching more on average than those in center-based daycare.

Miracle material’  Could graphene fuel a technological revolution?

The material graphene was touted as “the next big thing” even before its pioneers were handed the Nobel Prize last year. Many believe it could spell the end for silicon and change the future of computers and other devices forever. Graphene has been touted as the “miracle material” of the 21st Century.

Said to be the strongest material ever measured, an improvement upon and a replacement for silicon and the most conductive material known to man, its properties have sent the science world – and subsequently the media – into a spin.

After 90 Years, a Dictionary of an Ancient World

The encoding of the language of ancient Mesopotamia in a 21-volume dictionary, a language that Hammurai used around 1700 B.C. to proclaim the first known code of laws, has finally been completed by scholars at the University of Chicago.  

Hominid females roamed, while males waited (NewsDaily) According to findings by an international team of researchers published in the Nature journal, females from two hominid species that roamed the South African savannah more than a million years ago left their families and struck out on their own, while their male counterparts tended the home fires.

Right tools unleash creativity on an iPad (NY Times)

The School Bully is Sleepy (NYTimes Jun 2)

School bullies and children who are disruptive in class are twice as likely to show signs of sleep problems compared with well-behaved children, new research shows.

The findings, based on data collected from 341 Michigan elementary school children, suggests a novel approaching to solving school bullying. Currently, most efforts to curb bullying have focused on protecting victims as well as discipline and legal actions against the bullies. The new data suggests that the problem may be better addressed, at least in part, at the source, by paying attention to some of the unique health issues associated with aggressive behavior.

The University of Michigan study, which was published in the journal Sleep Medicine, collected data from parents on each child’s sleep habits and asked both parents and teachers to assess behavioral concerns. Among the 341 children studied, about a third were identified by parents or teachers as having problems with disruptive behavior or bullying.

The researchers found that children who had behavioral issues were twice as likely to have shown symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing, like snoring or daytime sleepiness. Among children whom parents specifically identified as school bullies, the finding was similar.

English classes use Facebook, social media to teach writing (Education News, Jun 2) The growth of social media and online publishing tools has helped innovative teachers align curriculum and instruction with new technology.

An inner city school fights to save its orchestra (Mainichi, Jun 6 /Inner city school fights to save orchestra (The Independent)) An excerpt follows:

These are difficult times for arts programs in schools. Across the country, and not just in low-income districts, music programs are often seen as expendable.

“85 students … play in the after-school string orchestras at the Lafayette Specialty School, a public school in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, where more than 90 percent of the students come from poverty.

Though gentrifying with occasional upscale condominium buildings, this is a place where it’s not always easy to be a kid, where gang members are often seen standing on street corners, and where too many students are witnesses to violence.

“They live in one of the wealthiest cities and wealthiest nations in the world, and some of these students have barely anything,” principal Trisha Shrode says. “Some of them don’t have clean clothes. They don’t have items for school.”

Here, a music program is not just a music program. For many students, it is a way out of the neighborhood, to a better high school and, in some cases, a better life.

Autism May Have Had Advantages in Humans’ Hunter-Gatherer Past, Researcher Believes (ScienceDaily) Though people with autism face many challenges because of their condition, they may have been capable hunter-gatherers in prehistoric times, according to a paper published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology in May.

The autism spectrum may represent not disease, but an ancient way of life for a minority of ancestral humans, said Jared Reser, a brain science researcher and doctoral candidate in the USC Psychology Department.

New research may lead to improved diagnosis of autism (May 31, 2011) Functional magnetic resonance imaging may provide an early and objective indicator of autism, according to researchers who used the technique to document language impairment in autistic children.

Related older articles:

Attention Problems, Except for Screens

Dr. Perri Klass, a pediatrician, explores the issue in the latest 18 and Under column. A child’s ability to stay focused on a screen, though not anywhere else, is actually characteristic of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. There are complex behavioral and neurological connections linking screens and attention, and many experts believe that these children do spend more time playing video games and watching television than their peers. The kind of concentration that children bring to video games and television is not the kind they need to thrive in school or elsewhere in real life, according to Dr. Christopher Lucas, associate professor of child psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine. “It’s not sustained attention in the absence of rewards,” he said. “It’s sustained attention with frequent intermittent rewards.” To learn more, read the full report, “Fixated by Screens, but Seemingly Nothing Else,”

New research tool can detect autism at 9 months of age (Science Daily, May 21, 2008) — The ability to detect autism in children as young as nine months of age is on the horizon. The Early Autism Study has been using eye tracker technology that measures eye direction while the babies.

Autism caught on tape (Science Daily)

Computer scientists have devised two tools to help people interact with autistic children. Videotaping interactions allows teachers or parents to replay situations and evaluate the cause of particularly good or bad behavior. Cataloging actual data, rather relying on memory or interpretation, proves to be a more accurate measure of a situation.BACKGROUND: Technologies such as CareLog and Abaris are particularly applicable to the monitoring, diagnosis, and intervention treatments of behavioral and learning disabilities in children, such as autism. Behavior and learning data are pieces of information that can be captured, measured and analyzed over time.HOW IT WORKS: CareLog is a mobile application for recording behavioral data in informal settings. The child wears a small device, the Intel Personal Server, which holds a database with all of that child’s information and acts as a wireless application server for the CareLog application. Members of the caregiver network can record behavioral data about that child through any nearby device outfitted with Bluetooth, Java, and Web browsing capabilities. The application does not need to be installed, and does not rely on a major network, increasing the likelihood that a caregiver interacting with the child will actually be able to record information about that interaction.Abaris is a fully functioning prototype application to support therapists who perform Discrete Trial Training therapy, a current best practice intervention for autistic children. It uses a digital pen and voice indexing technology that allows for easy indexing of trials into a video session. The format mimics the paper forms currently used by therapists. Captured sessions enable therapists to review those sessions, look for inaccuracies, and determine problem areas to show other therapists for evaluation.Computer scientists use technology To help children with autistism  | Cognitive neuroscientists use sound training to help dyslexic children read Also see: Children with autism may learn from ‘Virtual Peers’ (March 5, 2008) — Researchers are developing an intervention using “virtual peers” — technology driven, animated life-size children — to help develop communication and social skills in children with autism.An Objective Test for Attention Problems | Testing a Child for Learning Disabilities
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The news on the Fukushima nuclear crisis and disaster situation:
Nuclear fuel in three reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant has possibly melted through pressure vessels and accumulated at the bottom of outer containment vessels, according to a government report obtained Tuesday by The Yomiuri Shimbun.A “melt-through”–when melted nuclear fuel leaks from the bottom of damaged reactor pressure vessels into containment vessels–is far worse than a core meltdown and is the worst possibility in a nuclear accident.

The possibility of the situation at the plant’s Nos. 1 to 3 reactors was raised in a report that is to be submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

If the report is released as is, it would be the first official recognition that a melt-through has occurred.

It was revealed earlier that sections of the bottom of the pressure vessels where control rods go through have been damaged. Highly radioactive water from inside the pressure vessels was confirmed to have leaked out of the containment vessels, even outside the buildings that house the reactors.

Greenpeace: Japan nuclear plant radiation accumulating in marine life May 26, CNN

Tokyo – High levels of radioactive substances were found in seaweed and other seafood products near a damaged nuclear power station in north-eastern Japan, environmentalists said Thursday.

Greenpeace Japan said it found radioactive substances above the legal limits for consumption in 14 of 21 samples of products that included seaweed, shellfish and fish caught 22 to 60 kilometres from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

Since the plant was crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, it has leaked radioactive substances into the environment. In early April, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co started to dump low-level radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean to make room for even more contaminated water that had been leaking into the sea.

Greenpeace found 127,000 becquerels of iodine-131, more than 60 times the legal limit, per kilogram of seaweed near Ena port, 50 kilometres south of the plant, and 20,000 becquerels of iodine-131 per kilogram in seaweed in Nakoso port, about 60 kilometres south of the plant.

The group detected 608 becquerels of caesium-134 and 611 becquerels of caesium-137 in whitebait caught off Nakoso port. The legal limit is 500 becquerels.

It also found 646 becquerels of caesium-134 and 639 becquerels of caesium-137 in sea cucumber in Hisanohama port, about 30 kilometres south of Fukushima Daiichi.

Jan van de Putte, a Greenpeace radioactivity safety expert, said he was worried about the ‘very high concentrations of iodine’ found in seaweed.

He urged the government to release information on the amount of radioactivity and kind of radioactivity released into the ocean from the plant, located 250 kilometres north-east of Tokyo, and the migration mechanism of radioactivity into the sea.

Related news: JAPAN detects high radiation in seabed (The Telegraph, May 28) Japan has revealed radiation up to several hundred times normal levels has been detected on the seabed off the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. The science ministry announced highly radioactive materials were detected in a 300km north-south stretch from Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture to Choshi in Chiba Prefecture, the Kyodo news agency reports.

The ministry warned that the contamination could affect the safety of seafood, the report said, without giving figures for the radiation levels detected.

The science ministry said it detected iodine and caesium on the seabed at 12 locations 15km to 50km from the coastline between May 9 and 14.

The news followed an announcement by Greenpeace that marine life it had tested in waters more than 20km off the Fukushima nuclear plant showed radiation above legal limits.

The anti-nuclear group, which conducted the coastal and offshore tests this month, criticised Japanese authorities for their “continued inadequate response to the Fukushima nuclear crisis” sparked by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Greenpeace said it detected seaweed radiation levels 50 times higher than official limits, which it charged raised “serious concerns about continued long-term risks to people and the environment from contaminated seawater”.

It also said that tests, which it said were independently verified by French and Belgian laboratories, showed above-legal levels of radioactive iodine-131 and caesium-137 in several species of fish and shellfish.

In the aftermath of the quake small amounts of radiation from Fukushima spread across Asia, deepening concerns for millions of people in countries which had already imposed bans on Japanese produce from near the nuclear plant.

The governments of China, South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam reported that radiation had drifted over their territories, although they emphasised the levels were so low that there was no health risk.

Fukushima prefecture has said that no fishing is going on at the moment in its waters.

Officials from Japan’s fisheries agency and several prefectures have been checking marine products at different spots, and the government has prohibited fishermen from catching some species found to have elevated radiation levels.

Related news: Monitoring of beach radiation begins in Ibaraki (NHK Jun 7)

Experts: Seabed off Miyagi sank before March 11  (NHK, Jun 8) Researchers have found that the seabed off Japan’s northeastern coast had been gradually sinking days before the March 11th earthquake.

A team from Tohoku University analyzed data taken at 2 monitoring sites 80 kilometers off the Oshika Peninsula in Miyagi Prefecture. In late May, the team recovered monitoring devices from the seafloor at a depth of 1,200 meters.

The data shows that the sea bottom subsided 15 centimeters in a magnitude 7.3 quake on March 9th and one meter in a magnitude 9.0 quake on March 11th.

The data also indicates that the seabed had been sinking at a rate of several centimeters per day between the 2 tremors.

Radiation levels likely exceed safety standard outside evacuation zone (Asahi 06/07) Residents outside the planned evacuation zone near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant are trying to lead normal lives, but radiation levels exceeding the safety standard are posing an increasing threat.

A report released June 3 by the science ministry said annual accumulated radiation levels are estimated at 20.1, 20.8, 23.8 millisieverts in the Ishida and Kamioguni areas of the Ryozen-machi district in Date city, and the Ohara area of the Hara-machi district of Minami-Soma, respectively.

The government’s safety standard is 20 millisieverts of annual accumulated radiation.

These areas lie beyond the planned evacuation zone, which is just outside the off-limits area within a 20-kilometer radius of the plant.

The ministry’s calculation assumes current radiation accumulation rates will remain static over one year.

The central government and the Date city government held meetings June 5. About 80 local residents attended the one held in the Ishida area and asked for supplies of feed for their livestock. But they also expressed concerns about the possible effects of radiation on expectant mothers.

Government officials in charge of nuclear disaster control measures tried to reassure the residents by telling them that the standard of 20 millisieverts is among the lowest in the world.

But when asked by residents to present specific measures to lower the radiation levels, the officials only repeated that they would continue to monitor the situation…

Ministry failed to publish some radiation data (NHK, Jun 8)

The science and technology ministry says it did not release radiation monitoring data from March 16th through April 4th and radiation measurements for soil on March 16th and 17th. The data was taken by the Fukushima prefectural government outside a 20-kilometer radius of the plant.
The ministry apologized for not disclosing the data.
It says it thought the Fukushima government had already released it.

Radioactive substance found in breast milk of five Japanese women (Japan Today, May 20)

Small amounts of radioactive substances have reportedly been detected in the breast milk of five women in Japan.

Online newspaper Japan Today said that in samples taken from 41 women across five prefectures, the tests found cesium in the breast milk of four women in Tokyo, Fukushima and Ibaraki, and radioactive iodine in the breast milk of a woman in Fukushima.

According to the New York Post, the study was conducted one month after a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami rocked Japan’s northeast coast, triggering a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant which saw radiation leak into the ground, sea and soil.

Safety levels of radioactive substances in breast milk have not been set by the Japanese government but readings — 5.5 becquerels of iodine and up to 10.5 becquerels of cesium — in all five cases were well below the safe levels — 100 becquerels of radioactive iodine and 200 becquerels of cesium — for tap water consumption by infants.

The group has called on health authorities to make testing available to concerned parents.

Related news: Grass not always greener in Japan (ioL Scitech May 19)

Japan may face green tea shortage due to radiation leaks from Fukushima plant | Radiation, food and water, and evacuating the area around the Fukushima nuclear plant

A group of scientists at Fukushima University is urging the prefectural government to take stronger precautions in reducing radiation exposure to citizens.

The croup comprises 12 associate professors at the university, including Hazuki Ishida, an environmental engineering specialist. On Monday they presented the Fukushima Governor with a 7-point request in connection with the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

A health risk management expert for the prefecture said that radiation exposure of up to 10 microsieverts per hour causes no health problems.

But for those remaining outdoors in such conditions for only 5 days, the total radiation exposure will exceed 1 millisievert, the annual limit for ordinary people, as recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.
The professors called for reducing exposure to radioactivity as much as possible and urged the prefecture to establish guidelines toward this purpose.

They also asked that prefectural government radiation experts who say that even relatively low levels of radioactivity are harmful be included as health risk management advisors.
They also requested that the prefectural government draw up and make public a concrete plan to remove contaminated topsoil.
Ishida says the prefectural government should take measures to protect its residents, on the premise that even low levels of radiation exposure are dangerous.

Govt. document shows offsite center dysfunctional An internal document from Japan’s nuclear safety agency reveals that an emergency response office was nearly dysfunctional at the time of the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant on March 11th.

NHK has obtained a document from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency that shows how the office, called an “off-site center” failed to function properly due to a rise in radiation levels in the wake of a power outage.

Off-site centers were established at 22 locations near nuclear power plants throughout the country after a criticality accident in 1999 at a nuclear fuel processing plant in Tokai Village in Ibaraki Prefecture.

Officials of the national and local governments, police and Self-Defense Forces were to gather at these offices in the event of nuclear power plant accidents to formulate plans to evacuate residents.

A Nuclear Safety and Industrial Agency log shows that an off-site center 5 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi plant was barely functional after the March 11th earthquake.

It reveals that after the power outage, an emergency diesel generator did not work at all, communications were down, and other critical functions were lost.

The document reveals that officials from only 3 out of more than 20 organizations assembled at the off-site center at around 10:00 PM on March 11th, 7 hours after the earthquake.

On the following day, the document shows that radiation levels were rising inside the center after an explosion occurred at the Number One Reactor building. It is believed that the off-site center was poorly equipped and unable to prevent radioactive materials from getting in.

Later, as radiation levels continued to rise, the authorities decided to relocate the functions of the off-site center to the Fukushima Prefectural Government office, 60 kilometers from the nuclear plant, on March 16th.

Plutonium found in soil at Okuma (Japan TImes Jun 7 )

Plutonium that is believed to have come from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant has been detected in the town of Okuma about 1.7 km away from the plant’s front gate, a Kanazawa University researcher said Sunday.

It is the first time plutonium ejected by the stricken facility has been found in soil beyond its premises since the March 11 megaquake and tsunami led to a core meltdown there.

Professor Masayoshi Yamamoto of Kanazawa University said the level of plutonium detected in soil in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, is lower than the average level observed in Japan after nuclear tests were conducted abroad.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has found plutonium in soil on the nuke plant’s grounds, but it was believed to have been fallout from bomb tests abroad.

By analyzing the ratio of three types of isotopes in the plutonium, Yamamoto was able to determine that it was emitted by Fukushima No. 1 and not past bomb tests.

The soil samples were collected by a team of researchers from Hokkaido University before April 22

Related news: High levels of strontium at damaged Japan nuclear plant (Asia-Pacific News, Jun 1) | Radiation, Life, Limits and Dangerous Levels

Breaking news: Radioactive debris outside No.3 reactor removed (NHK, Jun 8) Workers have completed the removal of radioactive debris that was outside the No. 3 reactor building at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Tokyo Electric Power Company finished removing the debris near the entrance to the building on Tuesday.
Work began last month to clear up the debris created by the March hydrogen explosion.

Under TEPCO’s plan to bring the plant under control, nitrogen gas will be injected into the No.3 reactor containment vessel to prevent hydrogen explosions.
It will also install a circulatory cooling system at the reactor. The large equipment for these tasks will be brought into the building.

But last month, high radiation levels of 160 to 170 millisieverts per hour were detected near the door of the containment vessel.

TEPCO says workers will soon go into the reactor building to check the debris inside and to monitor radiation levels in the area.

The company says it will consider installing devices to remove radioactive substances in the atmosphere and setting up lead panels to block radiation.

Earlier related news: Highly radioactive debris found at Fukushima plant (NHK, Jun 6) Highly radioactive debris is still hampering the operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant from bringing its reactors under control, almost 3 months after the March 11th earthquake and tsunami.

On Monday, a piece of debris about 5 centimeters in diameter with radiation levels of 950 millisieverts per hour was removed from the west side of the Number 3 reactor building. It had been found on Saturday.

In May, debris with a radiation dose of 1,000 millisieverts per hour was discovered in the area, while rubble contaminated with 900 millisieverts per hour was found in April.

Tokyo Electric Power Company has so far removed about 280 containers of radioactive debris, but radiation levels still remain high near the reactor building that was badly damaged by a hydrogen explosion.

TEPCO is also struggling to handle highly radioactive water. More than 100,000 tons of contaminated water is believed to have accumulated in the basements of the reactor and turbine buildings.

TEPCO plans to begin a decontamination process on June 15th. Preparations are under way. The utility tested a device on Monday that will filter radioactive sediment from the water.

Fukushima radioactive water could overflow soon(Asahi, Jun 5) Raising fresh concerns about its ability to bring the nuclear crisis under control, Tokyo Electric Power Co. announced June 3 that highly radioactive water pooled in underground pits could start rising above ground in less than three weeks.

The company said there were 105,100 tons of stagnant water with high levels of radioactivity within the power plant as of the end of May.

The water contained an estimated 720,000 terabecquerels of radioactivity (1 tera is 1 trillion), according to the operator of the plant battered by the earthquake in March. That is more than the amount of radioactivity released from the plant into the atmosphere in the wake of the accident, which is estimated at 370,000 to 630,000 terabecquerels.

TEPCO warned that the contaminated water pooled in the basement of the buildings could start flowing out as early as June 20.

The company plans to treat the radioactive water in a new facility to be completed June 15 to prevent the overflow of polluted water, but it will also consider reducing the amount of fresh water being injected into the reactors.

Radioactive water is flowing into the basement of facilities within the compound as well as the buildings housing the Nos. 1 and 4 reactors, their turbine buildings, and the radioactive waste treatment facility, according to a report submitted by TEPCO to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The total radioactivity of the pools of contaminated water is equivalent to one seventh of the 5.2 million terabecquerels released into the atmosphere from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in 1986.

As TEPCO continues injecting water into the reactors at the Fukushima plant to cool their nuclear fuel, the amount of highly radioactive water leaking from the reactors is expected to continue increasing.

The utility made estimates of when the contaminated water in buildings’ basements could leak aboveground, under several different scenarios, suggesting that it could happen as early as June 20.

It has been confirmed that highly radioactive water was leaked into the sea twice during the crisis: first 500 tons containing 4,700 terabecquerels gushed out, with 250 tons containing 20 terabecquerels following later.

TEPCO is building a new facility to treat the highly radioactive water while storing it in equipment located within the turbine buildings.

The expected overflow could take place earlier if there is heavy rain in the area, the utility said. In that case, the company will buy time by cutting the amount of water being injected into the reactors. The polluted water in the turbine buildings of reactors 2 and 3 had been transferred to the radioactive waste treatment facility until the company stopped this operation May 26 as the total amount approached the planned capacity of 14,000 tons.

Levels of contaminated water have since been rising, partly because of rainfall.

Radioactive water in the pits to the underground tunnels coming from the reactors 2 and 3 was 21.8 centimeters from the surface of the ground as of 7 a.m. on June 3, according to the company.

The water level in the pits had been rising at a daily rate of 5.9 centimeters for the No. 2 reactor and 2.1 centimeters for the No. 3 reactor.

Work continues to support No.4 reactor pool (NHK, Jun 7)

At the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, work is continuing to shore up a pool containing spent nuclear fuel at the No.4 reactor.

Engineers are concerned that a wall supporting the pool, which holds 1,535 spent fuel rods, was damaged in an explosion on March 15.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company plans to build a new structure with concrete walls and 30 steel pillars to support the pool.

The pillars, each 8 meters long, are to be placed under the pool, on the second floor of the building housing the nuclear reactor by the end of June.

By the end of July, a concrete wall is expected to be in place to complete the structure. A circulating cooling system will be built to stably cool the pool water, which had heated to 89 degrees Celsius.

Tuesday, June 07

More hydrogen produced than TEPCO’s estimate (NHK, Jun 7)

Japan’s nuclear safety agency says about 800 to 1,000 kilograms of hydrogen was produced in each of 3 reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant soon after the March 11th earthquake.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency studied data provided by Tokyo Electric Power Company last month.

The agency says about 1,000 kilograms of hydrogen was produced at the No. 1 reactor when the fuel rods began to be exposed 2 hours after the quake and the metallic fuel containers oxidized one hour later.

The same phenomenon took place at the No. 3 reactor some 43 hours after the quake, resulting in the production of 1,000 kilograms of hydrogen.

Hydrogen explosions blew the top off the No. 1 and 3 reactor buildings.

A smaller explosion at the No. 2 reactor damaged the suppression pool. The agency has not determined the cause of the blast, but calculates that about 800 kilograms of hydrogen was formed there 77 hours after the quake when fuel rods were damaged.

The agency’s calculations are 1.3 to 2.3 times more than TEPCO’s original estimate.

The agency says the hydrogen is likely to have damaged the reactor buildings and containment vessels.

Related: Japan doubles radiation release estimate (Jun 6) – The Japanese government more than doubled its estimate Monday for the amount of radioactivity released from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station and warned it could extend the exclusion zone around the stricken plant.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said released radioactivity was believed to have totaled 770,000 terabecquerels over the period March 11 to March 16.

This was up from the 370,000 terabecquerels estimated in early April when the accident level was raised to 7, the worst level, putting it on par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine. More...

TEPCO backs off cause of explosion at nuclear plant (Asahi Jun 7)  Contrary to what it said last week, TEPCO now believes that it is unlikely the March 12 hydrogen explosion at the No. 1 reactor building of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was caused by the reverse flow of hydrogen gas from the containment vessel into the reactor building.

The utility said that on June 4, it found records saying that one of two valves in an exhaust pipe was designed to shut down automatically when a power source was lost, and probably did close. That would have prevented the flow of hydrogen from the containment vessel into the reactor building.

TEPCO has yet to confirm whether the valve actually shut down automatically, company officials said.

When the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit the nuclear power plant on March 11, all power was cut off.

In the No. 1 reactor building, the exhaust pipes from the reactor building and the containment vessel were joined into a single pipe that then vented all exhaust gases from both to the outer atmosphere.

On March 12, authorities attempted to release hydrogen gas that had built up inside the containment vessel to prevent an explosion. The gas was supposed to be released to the outer atmosphere.

Earlier, TEPCO officials theorized that hydrogen gas from the containment vessel had instead flowed down the pipe into the reactor building through two open valves. As a result, hydrogen would have accumulated inside the reactor building, leading to the explosion.

On June 3, the utility reported that theory to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

On June 4, however, TEPCO officials rechecked their records from last year’s regular inspections. They discovered then that one of the two valves was designed to seal itself automatically when power was lost.

As it is contained in a simple automatic system, officials think it likely that the valve shut down properly.

TEPCO is continuing its investigation into the cause of the explosion.

TEPCO faces prolonged battle against radioactive debris, water(Asahi Jun 7)

As workers struggle to bring the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant under control, signs are increasing that the eventual cleanup of the disaster will take much longer than previously thought.

Containers of rubble, unwanted and of unknown levels of contamination, line the roadside near the plant. Pools of radioactive water at the plant, a constant problem since the March 11 disaster, may pose even longer-term challenges. And full studies on how to remove nuclear fuel and eventually decommission the four troubled reactors have yet to start.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s operator, started using remote-controlled, unmanned heavy machinery in late April to put radioactive debris into containers each with a capacity of about 4 cubic meters.

By June 5, 279 containers had been filled.

“We don’t know where we can take the containers,” said a TEPCO spokesman.

In fact, the spokesman said the company has no idea about the aggregate volume of the debris nor the amount of radiation for each container.

TEPCO planned to complete work to remove the rubble within three months, but officials now say that no end is in sight.

One plausible receiver is Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., which accepts low-level radioactive waste from electric power companies at its facility in Aomori Prefecture.

But an official said the company cannot decide on whether to accept radioactive debris unless the amount of radiation and the types of radioactive materials are known.

The debris at the Fukushima plant includes concrete fragments of reactor buildings that were blown off in hydrogen explosions as well as rubble washed ashore by the March 11 tsunami.

Radiation levels of some pieces measured more than 1,000 millisieverts per hour, a level that could cause acute disorders if workers are in close proximity for a long time.

While workers at the Fukushima plant may be exposed to an accumulated maximum of 250 millisieverts, radiation of up to 20 millisieverts per hour was observed in the atmosphere around the No. 1 to 4 reactors as of May 27.

What to do with highly radioactive water is also a growing concern for TEPCO. Such water at the Fukushima plant is expected to increase to 200,000 tons in December, nearly double the 105,100 tons as of the end of May.

The water currently contains radioactivity of 720,000 terabecquerels, more than the 370,000-630,000 terabecquerels estimated to have been released into the atmosphere.

The central waste treatment facility, which is capable of holding 14,000 tons of water, is nearly full.

The capacity at the facility and other containers will be increased by 4,300 tons, but the increased space will be filled by June 20.

TEPCO is injecting a huge amount of water to cool the reactors and the storage pools for spent nuclear fuel rods. Radioactive water is believed to be leaking from holes in the pressure vessels and containment vessels of the reactors.

Using technology of France’s Areva SA, a system will be completed on June 15 that can reduce the radioactivity of contaminated water to one-1,000th by removing cesium and strontium. The water can then be reused to cool the reactors or be stored at tanks for water with low radioactivity.

But the system is capable of treating only up to 1,200 tons a day.

The water treatment system and another system to remove radioactive materials, developed by Japanese and U.S. companies, are expected to cost a total of 53.1 billion yen ($662 million).

However, it is still undecided how to dispose of the radioactive substances removed from the water.

“We will consider treatment technology and regulations,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a senior official at the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. “It will take years (to treat radioactive materials).”

Another huge challenge is how to dispose of nuclear fuel that remains in the reactors and the storage pools.

The No. 1 to 3 reactors contained 1,496 fuel assemblies, or clusters of fuel rods, while the storage pools for the No. 1 to 4 reactors held 3,108 fuel assemblies.

An estimated five to 10 years are needed to remove the nuclear fuel from the reactors after they reach a stable cold shutdown state.

TEPCO said it plans to decommission the No. 1 to 4 reactors.

“We have not made full-fledged studies on how to decommission the reactors,” said Junichi Matsumoto, acting general manager of TEPCO’s Nuclear Power and Plant Siting Division.

Toshiba Corp., which designed the Fukushima plant, announced plans in April to remove fuel in five years and decommission reactors in slightly more than 10 years.

But a paper carried in the online edition of Britain’s Nature magazine soon after Toshiba’s announcement said decommissioning work would take decades, even 100 years.

The paper quoted “veterans of cleanup operations” as saying that many more years will be needed at Fukushima than the 11 years required to remove fuel after the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant.

It also pointed out that following a fire in 1957 at a nuclear facility in Sellafield, Britain, the reactor remained as it was for 20 years.

But TEPCO will be under pressure to remove the fuel quickly because another major earthquake or tsunami could cause the release of radioactive materials from the reactors.

Japan restricts green tea shipments and additionally a ban on plums grown in the region of the Fukushima plant.

Breaking news: Govt to test vegetable radioactivity / Data on cesium absorption from soil aimed to help Fukushima farmers (Yomiuri, Jun.8)

Retired nuclear workers ready for duty (PocketCPR) A group of retired Japanese nuclear and civil engineers are hoping to report back for duty for one last mission — to stabilise the radiation-leaking Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. More than 160 engineers, including many former atomic plant workers, aged 60 or older say they want to set up a “Skilled Veterans Corps” to help restore the cooling systems crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. “We shouldn’t leave the work only to young engineers,” said Yasuteru Yamada, who made the proposal after hearing that young subcontractors, some of them unskilled workers, were engaged in the high-risk salvage effort. [Related: Lionizing and understanding the work of the Fukushima Fifty]

Tokyo city office begins daylight saving time (NHK, Jun 6) A group of scientists at Fukushima University is urging the prefectural government to take stronger precautions in reducing radiation exposure to citizens.

Environment white paper promotes renewable energy (NHK, Jun 8) The report says households consume 30 percent of the nation’s power so energy conservation in this area will have a great effect.

It says that power-guzzling air conditioners and refrigerators should be used efficiently. It also suggests starting the working day earlier to reduce the time that the lights are on.

Disaster victims manning front lines in struggle to tame Fukushima nuclear crisis | 30,000 temporary houses to be completed (NHK Jun 7) Japan’s land and infrastructure minister Akihiro Ohata says that over 30,000 temporary homes for evacuees from the disaster in March will be completed on Wednesday, about 1 week behind a government target.

Radioactive gas leak at Tsuruga nuclear plant caused by holes in piping

Japan to separate nuclear bodies | Related news: Premier: Japan nuclear regulators need greater independence

On health matters:

Harmful health effects of nuclear radiation exposure: resources for prevention Notes by the National Academies Press

Scientists have suggested, according to this article  Natural protection against radiation that that a substance similar to resveratrol — an antioxidant found in red wine, grapes and nuts — could protect against radiation sickness [see also Plant Antioxidant May Protect Against Radiation Exposure |  Antioxidants could provide all-purpose radiation protection] but another article suggests that the benefits of antioxidants are still uncertain.

Call to ban cellphones and wireless networks in schools (The Telegraph) An influential European body has called for mobile phones and computers with wireless Internet connections to be banned from schools because they pose a health risk. A Council of Europe committee examined evidence that the technology has a “potentially harmful” effect on humans, concluding that immediate action was required to protect children. The committee reported that it was crucial to avoid repeating the mistakes made when public health officials were slow to recognise the dangers of asbestos, tobacco smoking and lead in petrol. The report also highlighted the potential health risks of cordless telephones and baby monitors, which rely on similar technology and are widely used in British homes. Fears have been raised that electromagnetic radiation emitted by wireless devices can cause cancers and affect the developing brain.

Related news: Piercing the fog around cellphones and cancer (NY Times, Jun 6) addresses the controversy surrounding the connection between the two:

The human studies all are observational, showing only an association between cellphone use and cancer, not a causal relationship. Some of the research suggests links to three types of tumors: cancer of the parotid, a salivary gland near the ear; acoustic neuroma, a tumor that essentially occurs where the ear meets the brain; and glioma, the aggressive brain tumor whose victims have included Senator Edward M. Kennedy. All these tumors are rare, so even if cellphone use does increase risk, the risk to any individual is still very low.

The largest and longest study of cellphone use is called Interphone, a vast research effort in 13 countries, including Canada, Israel and several in Western Europe. The results, published in The International Journal of Epidemiology last year, found no overall link between cellphone use and brain tumors. But the investigators reported that study participants with the highest level of cellphone use had a 40 percent higher risk for glioma.

Another study, in The American Journal of Epidemiology, published data from Israel finding a 58 percent higher risk of parotid gland tumors among heavy cellphone users. A Swedish analysis of 16 studies in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed a doubling of risk for acoustic neuroma and glioma after 10 years of heavy cellphone use. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported on research from the National Institutes of Health finding that less than an hour of cellphone use can speed up brain activity in the area closest to the antenna. The study offered a hypothetical mechanism for harm from low levels of nonionizing radiation: Perhaps it sets off free radicals or an inflammatory response in the brain.

While all of the humans studied so far began using cellphones as adults, the hottest issue however, concerns the risks posed to children.. With an entire generation having now been exposed to cellphones since childhood, the health effect of a lifetime of exposure is yet to be ascertained…especially now that today’s children are going to use a cellphone or cellphone-like devices for most of their lives… Read more here.

Fighting E.coli with smart machines and soap

Breast-fed babies end up better behaved than those who are not Todayonline

Eating To Keep Your Bones Strong: 6 Surprising Bone Builders

A Memory Tonic for the Aging Brain This article focuses on the differences in memory abilities of young and old, and suggests that research so far shows that exercise may have benefits:  “Exercise is one of the things that might directly change this process [deteriorating connectivity in the dentate gyrus] … experiments, exercise has been found to jump-start neurogenesis, or the creation of new brain cells, especially in the dentate gyrus, he said, potentially improving that area’s health and functioning.”

That’s all folks for today …

Aileen Kawagoe