Sunflowers in a schoolyard. Sunflowers were used for soil decontamination after Chernobyl. A kind of J. weed called yomogi is said to be even more effective, and which was imported to Russia post-Chernobyl. Nanohana or tenderstem broccoli is the third option commonly used.

Below we bring you our usual EDU WATCH news summary on what’s happening on the educational scene in Japan, as well as around the world. News updates on the Fukushima continuing crisis follows on…

First up, the news briefs on education in Japan:

Japan ranks 4th in PC reading comprehension (NHK, Jun 28)

An international assessment of children’s computer reading comprehension has put Japan 4th among 19 countries and regions surveyed.

The first such survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development covered 36,000 15-year-olds.

The survey assessed the children’s ability to understand online texts and charts, as well as their computer operating skills.

South Korea ranked at the top, followed by New Zealand and Australia.

Japan’s education ministry says Japanese children appear to be adapting well to the computer age, and pledged government support for computer-based education.

Japan fourth in digital literacy test (Japan Times, Jun 29)

Japan finished fourth in a survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on how 15-year-olds use computers and the Internet to learn

South Korea finished first while New Zealand and Australia tied for second, the OECD said Tuesday.Around 37,000 students from 19 countries and regions participated in the 2009 OECD Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, including 3,400 first-year students from 109 high schools in Japan.In the test, designed to produce an overall average of 500 points, students were tasked with evaluating information on the Internet, assessing its credibility and navigating Web pages to test their digital reading performance.The average score of South Korean students stood at 568 points, that of students from New Zealand and Australia stood at 537 points each, and that of Japanese students stood at 519, the OECD said.Results for digital reading in most countries were broadly in line with students’ performance in the 2009 PISA print reading tests, which covered 470,000 students in 65 countries and regions. But students in South Korea scored an average of 28 points more on digital reading than on print.


3 months after disaster, kids in northeast Japan still not getting full school lunches (Mainichi, Jun 28) Excerpts below:

Primary and junior high schools in 11 municipalities in the three prefectures hardest hit by the March 11 disaster — Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima — still cannot provide their students with full school lunches, the Mainichi has discovered.

Many school boards in Japan use centralized lunch kitchens to supply their schools with meals. A number of these lunch kitchens were damaged or destroyed in the earthquake and tsunami and have yet to reopen, leaving the schools they served dependent on non-governmental organization (NGO) support or boxed lunch delivery companies to provide students their midday meal. These stopgaps, however, have raised health and nutrition concerns.

Meanwhile, restarting the lunch kitchens will be no easy task for municipalities devastated by the March disaster, and the return of hot school lunches in these places appears a long way off.

One of these municipalities is Higashimatsushima in Miyagi Prefecture, where the international NGO Save the Children began providing schools with side dishes in June. Lunch at local Akai Elementary School on June 10 consisted of rice balls, boiled eggs and vegetable juice. One second-grader seemed pleased with the meal, telling the Mainichi, “I like boiled eggs.” However, while the improvised lunch may have got smiles from the kids, no one could say it was balanced or plentiful. Restoring the city’s school lunch kitchen to full output by the end of the school term, meanwhile, appears a very difficult task.

The town of Minamisanriku, also in Miyagi Prefecture, lost its lunch kitchen to the disaster as well, and has similarly been depending on an NGO to keep its students fed. The local government is set to start making hot meals at an old lunch kitchen — used by the town’s predecessor before amalgamation with surrounding municipalities — after the summer break. However, the facility’s capacity is just one-third that required to supply all Minamisanriku’s present school lunch needs.

The lunch kitchen in nearby Ishinomaki, meanwhile, must be completely rebuilt, and the city has been giving its public school children vacuum-packed meals in a bag, among other stopgap options.

In Fukushima Prefecture to the south, there are primary and junior high schools in seven municipalities that still cannot offer students a complete lunch. In the city of Iwaki, a number of schools take one-week shifts making complete or partial lunches for the other schools.

One of two primary schools in the inland town of Kagamiishi, meanwhile, has been cordoned off due to earthquake damage, and the local government is now rushing to build a lunch kitchen in a prefabricated building to make up for the one in the damaged school.

“There aren’t many companies that can make meals for some 700 people, while from a health perspective it’s hard to rely on boxed lunches,” according to the town, which has supplemented simple main dishes with fruit and dairy products.

In Iwate Prefecture, the tsunami-devastated city of Rikuzentakata has been serving boxed lunches made by a lunch kitchen run by the prefectural disaster response headquarters, though the city says it has to be careful of food poisoning considering the meals are transported over long distances. Read more here …

INDIRECTLY SPEAKING / Examining university English entrance exams (Yomiuri, Jun.27 – link will expire, permanently linked here)

Mike Guest writes about what the U. entrance exams should not be about and what they should be about. ..excerpts follow :

“…very little is written about how to design such exams so they are valid and reliable. Administrators tend to say little on the matter, merely exhorting test makers to avoid mistakes on the exam. Test makers, meanwhile, rarely reveal their identities, a cloak of secrecy which allows little discussion as to how to make tests better. Yet this is precisely what many test makers need since preparations start as early as June. So, perhaps it would be useful to talk today about what makes a good English entrance exam. …

Let me answer this first by saying what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that the entrance exam should be a measure of real world English competence. The ability to function in the real world in practical circumstances is a vital skill, but entrance exams are for entry into Japanese academic institutions in Japan, not preparation for homestays or work abroad. Nor is it a summary of high school achievement in English. An entrance exam should be forward-looking, more of a placement than an achievement test. Thus it is not a culmination of secondary school education. Nor is it a glorified TOEIC test or a measure of receptive discrete-point knowledge on a topic.

A good English entrance exam should tell you something about the academic abilities of a prospective student. Thus, it should be academic, not informal. But “academic” need not imply that it be dry, focus upon arcane detail, or couched in language and tasks that would flummox a PhD. Rather it should aim to measure the candidates’ ability to think and communicate intelligently, manipulating their English skills and knowledge. You should hope to see strategic and problem solving competence–not merely random knowledge of facts about English or awareness of the language’s obscurities. This can also reveal the candidates’ personalities.

A good entrance exam should measure various English skills (After all, there are many learning styles). A good test should attempt to engage higher levels of cognition, such as recall and reproduction. A good test will have as many productive tasks–where the examinees have to create and produce language–as it will passive, receptive items, where the text is fully created and controlled by the test-makers. A good test will measure the students’ abilities to summarize, predict, respond appropriately, create and extrapolate meaning, and paraphrase–not merely translate. A good test will allow room for self-expression, strategic thought, and expansion of content. A good test asks examinees to understand and interpret, not just to skim and scan. There will be focus on comprehending gist as well as specific information.”

EDUCATION RENAISSANCE / Tokyo school kids take the role of leaders in class (Yomiuri, Jun.23) Excerpted below and permanently linked here:

This article features the Tokyo Higashi-Murayama municipal primary school’s unique “Manabukku” method used in six-grader social studies classes to help students to participate more actively in class and to learn independently through discussions with other students.  The teacher refrains from speaking and lets the students take the lead in presenting and group discussion, listening to their presentations, asking various questions and confirming facts, and occasionally writing down comments on the blackboard.

As part of these efforts, the school edited its own textbook, titled Manabukku–combining the words manabu (to study in-depth) and “book”–that teaches students how to look up information in reference materials and textbooks.

Other maverick efforts made by the school to motivate students included a student progress and discovery report notebook; unique competitions for effective note-taking techniques; original arithmetic workbooks; an original exam system to certify kanji ability and after-class tutoring sessions.
The efforts proved effective – as the results of the nationwide scholastic ability exams in the 2010 school year, showed the school’s score exceeding that of the average of the nation and Tokyo. Breaking down the results according to “thinking ability” and “linguistic expression and processing,” the score is about 20 points higher than the national average” according to the article.


Toyama tops list of regional cities making progress with child-raising support measures (Mainichi, Jun 28) Excerpts follow:

Tokyo-based nonprofit organization Egalite Otemae assessed progress of the 10-year action plan for child support programs respectively set by a total of 56 major cities across the country, including those designated by the government ordinance, for the first five years from fiscal 2004 through fiscal 2009.

Each Japanese municipality compiled the action plan under the act on advancement of measures to support raising the next generation of children, providing numerical goals for the number of childcare facilities and other services they aim to achieve over the course of 10 years.

After the first half of the action plan ended in fiscal 2009, regional governments released their respective achievement rates. However, with those with lower targets more likely to achieve their goals easily, Egalite Otemae evaluated efforts and performance by the 56 municipalities, taking into account how challenging their respective goals were.

As a result, the city of Toyama topped the ranking after it successfully cut the number of children waiting to get into nursery schools to zero and increased the number of facilities that offer holiday childcare services from five to 24 centers, followed by the city of Niigata, where no children were on the waiting list for childcare facilities and the number of child-raising support centers nearly doubled over the five years.

Third place was taken by the city of Okayama, which increased the capacity for regular childcare about 20 percent.

Meanwhile, Chiyoda Ward ranked first among Tokyo’s 23 wards, followed by Kita and Shinjuku wards. Chiyoda Ward boasts enough nursery schools to accept all small children in the area thanks to its small population and abundant tax revenues, while Kita Ward was highly evaluated for running the largest number of facilities offering overtime childcare among all wards. …Read more here.

Top scientist in academic row (Japan Times)

An article that helped Tohoku University President Akihisa Inoue win the Japan Academy Award is retracted from a leading U.S. scientific journal after the author violated protocol by reusing his own previously published material without acknowledging it.

A new era for universities Japantoday news on the role of academia and universities as a driving force of industry, internationalization and entrepreneurial activity.  Excerts follow…”Universities and their internationalization are important. Traditional knowledge exporters,such as the United States, Germany, France and England, aim to maintain their high share in the growing international academic market. They recognize the economic benefits of educating students who, when back home, will decide about purchases for infrastructure, engineering and other economic goals.Exporting higher education generates income for universities and encourages them to become global entrepreneurs. The market is growing. Higher education students have increased by 53% since 2000 to more than 150 Million in 2007. In Australia and New Zealand, education is the third and fourth ranking services export. In the United States,  international students and their dependents contributed $ 18.8 billion to the economy during the 2009-2010 academic year.Universities shift their role from a provider of human resources to an innovation engine and entrepreneurial hub. Academic knowledge is transferred to new products and processes.Due to its ability to integrate international students and researchers, academia can commercialize knowledge and research in ways that companies cannot replicate.”

Ainu outside Hokkaido also marginalized: poll (Japan Times, Jun 26)

Ainu living outside Hokkaido had lower income and education levels compared with the nationwide average and some faced discrimination, a government survey released Friday showed.

A government panel to promote Ainu policies held its first national survey on members of the ethnic group living outside the prefecture following the historical 2008 Diet resolution in which the they were officially recognized as indigenous people. A similar poll has been conducted on Ainu living in Hokkaido.

“We found that the Ainu living outside Hokkaido were also placed in very difficult situations, and especially surprising was the disparity in income,” said Wakio Mitsui, deputy transport minister and a member of the panel.

Out of 132 households, 44.8 percent lived on an annual income of under ¥3 million, while the nationwide level was 33.2 percent. Also, 7.6 percent lived on welfare, while the national average was a mere 2.3 percent.

There was also a clear difference in education: only 31.1 percent of Ainu who are 29 years old or younger went to college, whereas the percentage was 44.1 percent for the same age group nationwide.

The government survey also showed that 20.5 percent said they faced ethnic discrimination, many saying they were “made fun of for being Ainu” or were “called out on their physical characteristics.” The panel members said the rate of discrimination was higher than expected.

“These Ainu left Hokkaido because of discrimination, but I heard that they still face strong discrimination in various areas, including education and employment,” Mitsui said.

UNESCO adds Hiraizumi to World Heritage list (NHK, Jun 26)

UNESCO has added the Hiraizumi district in northeastern Japan to its list of World Heritage sites.

Related news: Ogasawara Islands join World Heritage family (Japan Times, Jun 26)

Somali students dream big as they enter Tokyo school (Asahi, Jun 24)  The story of two Somali students who have come to study in Japan on scholarship support.


Elsewhere, the news briefs and article links on education:

The Development of a Modern Educational System in Thailand

An introduction to the way in which a modern educational system has been created in Thailand and its importance. (Sep 29, 2005 – by John Walsh)

Excerpted from When is too late to start training?

“As a note to parents, I always encourage the parents in our gym to allow their kids to play many sports and not specialise till about age 14 or later. Play some soccer, basketball, softball, swimming, gymnastics, martial arts and some dance. This huge array of physical skills will allow your kid to excel at any sport he/she chooses when they mature physically. Yes it means less chance of medals at primary school, but more chance of medals at international level when they are fully grown! “

British education: Wanted: a schools revolution (Jun 24, Economist)

“What Lord Adonis, a former Labour schools minister close to Mr Blair, called the “educational DNA” of the best private schools—independence, restless innovation, an impatience with excuses for failure and the unabashed pursuit of excellence—can be seen in a growing number of new academies.A thousand flowers are at last blooming in English education, and the most imaginative private schools want to play their part. Educational apartheid is one of the craziest aspects of modern England. Even if the private-state divide can only be narrowed, the country would be changed greatly for the better.If Mr Gove can improve the worst state schools, he will go down as a great reformer. But he should be braver still. If he can detach academic excellence from the national obsession with poshness, he will be remembered as a revolutionary.”

UC Academic e-Book Usage Survey Interesting study done by University of CA Libraries on ebooks versus print books which indicates that while the ebook is a useful tool, “many undergraduate respondents commented on the difficulty they have learning, retaining, and concentrating
while in front of a computer.”  Print still seems to be preferred overall with ebooks and print serving different purposes. (Submitted by Mindy H.)

Shukla_Bose:_teaching_one_child_at_a_time Ted Talks (Submitted byLottie)

Msian schoolgirl rakes 10k selling body (The Star, Jun 24)

A secondary school student in Malaysia made 30,000 ringgit (US$9,955) during the year-end school break last year by selling her own body, Malaysian newspaper China Press reported.

It said the student from Kuala Lumpur charged customers 250 ringgit to 800 ringgit each so that she could indulge in luxury items.

“I have sex at least five times a day. However, I take a week’s break each month,” she told the paper.

The girl said she was cutting down on her sexual services this year as she wanted to prepare for the SPM examinations.

According to the daily, the girl was among many students who used Facebook to earn money through sex and buy luxury items they covet and one even said she had listed her sex service on a website to earn money to buy an iPhone. More


Next, the news on the radiation contamination situation and the continuing crisis in Fukushima:

Circulation system tried on reactors (Japan Times, Jun 28)
Tokyo Electric starts circulating  decontaminated water to cool the three damaged reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 power complex. More here.

High school ball teams in Fukushima struggle with radiation (Yomiuri, Jun.29)

FUKUSHIMA–With the all-important summer high school baseball tournament set to begin soon, all teams in Fukushima Prefecture want to do is focus on fielding grounders and shagging flies, but worries over radioactive pollution have put a damper on their preparations.

Ahead of the start of the prefectural portion of the All Japan High School Baseball Championship Tournament on July 13, players have not been able to practice fully because of prohibitions against sliding and the need to seek cover when it rains. The restrictions were put in place to reduce radiation exposure from contaminated soil and air from the damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant run by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

High school ball clubs have even had requests for practice games rejected by high schools in other prefectures.

Hobara High School in Date, Fukushima Prefecture, is about 60 kilometers northwest of the crippled nuclear plant. Players on the team have been wearing masks when they groom the field after fielding and batting practice. “We want to cut down on the amount of radioactive substances we inhale, even by a little bit,” said team manager Toshihiro Nagasawa, 39.

Radiation measurements taken on the field were about 0.9 microsieverts per hour, lower than the government’s provisional safety limit of 3.8 microsieverts per hour.

The team has shortened its daily practices from four hours a day to three, even with the prefectural meet so near. The winner of this tournament goes on to the national championship at Koshien Stadium in Hyogo Prefecture.

“I want to let them practice longer, but I have to think about their health,” Nagasawa said.

Health concerns over radioactive dust are common for high school baseball teams in the prefecture this season. At Soma High School in Soma, players were prohibited from sliding into base or making diving catches until mid-May. “The practices lacked oomph because the players couldn’t give it their all,” said head coach Osamu Kuwana, 42.

Nihonmatsu Technical High School in Nihonmatsu is about 55 kilometers from the nuclear plant. On rainy days, the baseball team holds running drills in the school’s corridors and stairways because of radioactive substances in the rain. But with other sports clubs forced to do the same, the hallways are as crowded as a train station during rush hour. Read more here

Fukushima starts internal radiation checks (Jun.28) Fukushima Prefecture began checking the internal radiation dose levels of selected residents Monday, the first step in its plan to examine the health of all its 2 million residents amid the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.About 28,000 residents of Namiemachi, Iitatemura and the Yamakiya district of Kawamatacho were to receive the initial checks.All of Namiemachi was designated as part of the no-entry zone within a 20-kilometer radius of the plant, while Iitatemura and the Yamakiya district of Kawamatacho were designated as planned evacuation areas. People in planned evacuation areas were asked to leave by the end of May.Ten men and women, aged from 31 to 67, visited the National Institute for Radiological Sciences in Chiba on Monday. They were examined with a whole body counter (WBC) to check internal radiation levels throughout their bodies, and received urine checks in the afternoon. A total of 120 people, chosen randomly from the three municipalities, will receive such examinations. Based on the institute’s findings, the prefectural government plans to establish simple methods to check dosages of internal radiation, a Fukushima prefectural official said. Read more here

The Cannus organization of volunteer nurses is urging police officers in disaster-hit areas to set an example for local residents by wearing masks to protect against dust.

The organization hopes that seeing the masks on public servants involved in restoration efforts will help make disaster victims more aware of the importance of wearing such masks in devastated areas.

Cannus was established in March 1997 and is based in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture. Its motto is “do as much as we can.” It has about 1,600 members, mainly nurses, across the nation who provide home nursing and postdisaster support.

Member Harumi Sato, 29, worked in disaster-hit Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, earlier this month. During that time, she saw many people in evacuation centers with throat pain and persistent coughs.

She was surprised to see pregnant women and children not wearing masks in areas full of dust and the foul odor of fish.

When she recommended to a police officer who was directing traffic that he wear a mask, the officer said he hesitated to do so because he did not want local residents to think he was more concerned with his own safety than with theirs.

Sato persuaded the officer to wear a mask by saying she hoped police would take the initiative in wearing masks to raise awareness among disaster victims.

The number of police officers and Self-Defense Forces members wearing masks in the area gradually began to increase, she said.

An official at the Japanese Red Cross Society said infection could spread in devastated areas.

“Dust masks are relatively airtight. If people wear them properly, they will prevent infection,” the official said.

More than 3 millisieverts of radiation has been measured in the urine of 15 Fukushima residents of the village of Iitate and the town of Kawamata, confirming internal radiation exposure, it was learned Sunday.

Both are about 30 to 40 km from the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, which has been releasing radioactive material into the environment since the week of March 11, when the quake and tsunami caused core meltdowns.

“This won’t be a problem if they don’t eat vegetables or other products that are contaminated,” said Nanao Kamada, professor emeritus of radiation biology at Hiroshima University. “But it will be difficult for people to continue living in these areas.”

Kamada teamed up with doctors including Osamu Saito of Watari Hospital in the city of Fukushima to conduct two rounds of tests on each resident in early and late May, taking urine samples from 15 people between 4 and 77.

Radioactive cesium was found both times in each resident.

Radioactive iodine was logged as high as 3.2 millisieverts in six people in the first survey, but none was found in the second survey.

The data indicate accumulated external exposure was between 4.9 and 13.5 millisieverts, putting the grand total between 4.9 to 14.2 millisieverts over about two months, they said.

“The figures did not exceed the maximum of 20 millisieverts a year, but we want residents to use these results to make decisions (to move),” said Kamada.

TEPCO finds minor leaks in reactor cooling system (NHK, Jun 29)

Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, resumed the operation to cool damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on Tuesday. But it says it found minor water leaks in a newly-installed cooling system.

TEPCO said it traced the leak to a joint connecting plastic hoses near a pump injecting water.

Earlier news:

Radiation forecast data for health research  (NHK, Jun 29)

The Japanese government plans to help Fukushima Prefecture conduct health research for all local residents with estimates on the spread of radioactive substances from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The Fukushima Prefectural Government is scheduled to conduct the research for more than 2 million residents of the prefecture.

Some experts say the level of residents’ radiation exposure cannot be estimated precisely as no radiation data immediately after the March 11th accident is available due to blackouts at the plant.

The government’s nuclear disaster taskforce now says it will provide data from its computer forecasting system, called SPEEDI.

SPEEDI predicts the spread of radioactive substances based on the levels of radiation observed in each area and forecasts of wind and other weather conditions.

The system will be used to calculate radiation levels in areas within 20 kilometers of the plant between March 12th and 18th. The calculation will be based on the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency’s analysis of data on the timing and volume of radioactive substances released.

Data on radiation levels are expected to be released to the public around mid-July. The data will also be given to the National Institute of Radiological Sciences which is compiling estimates of radiation exposure.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency says the residents’ exposure levels for the first week after the Fukushima accident will be clarified to a certain extent, by combining the presumed radiation levels and a survey of their activities.

Other related news: TEPCO injects nitrogen into No.2 reactor (NHK, Jun 28) |  TEPCO starts covering No.1 reactor building (NHK, Jun 28)

The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has begun building a giant polyester shield over the damaged Number 1 reactor building to contain the spread of radiation.

One of the largest cranes in Japan has been brought to the site for the construction. It has a 140 meter-long arm that can lift up to 750 tons.

The crane will be used to install a fabric cover around the reactor building. Before that, it will be used to remove debris from the top of the building, which was shattered by a hydrogen explosion one day after the earthquake and tsunami on March 11th.

Tokyo Electric Power Company says that when the shield is installed, the entire structure will be about 54 meters high.

Meanwhile, offsite at Onahama Port about 50 kilometers from the nuclear plant, the utility is preassembling 62 steel components that will be joined to create a rigid frame. The frame will support one millimeter-thick polyester fiber panels.

The components will start arriving at the plant in July. Work to assemble them will be done by the crane. The utility says the process will minimize the number of workers who must spend time at the site and lessen their radioactive exposure.  TEPCO hopes to complete the cover by late September.

Researchers discover how human cells take in nuke-crisis contaminated plutonium (Mainichi, Jun 28)

A United States research has discovered how the toxic radioactive element plutonium — detected in and around the grounds of the crisis-stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant — is taken up by human cells.

The research team led by Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) in Illinois has been working on ways to stop the uptake of the synthetic element — a byproduct of nuclear fission and also the fissile material in many nuclear warheads. However, the team has at the same time emphasized the extreme difficulty of expelling plutonium once taken up, and the necessity of preventing nuclear accidents that could introduce the element into the environment.

The researchers used special x-rays among other techniques to analyze plutonium uptake in the body. They found that the element — which has a half-life of some 24,000 years — was being brought into cells by binding to a protein responsible for iron uptake. There are two binding sites for iron uptake and at least one of them must still bind to iron for the other to bring in plutonium. The process also has a preference for iron ions even in the presence of plutonium — a preference that could lead to new plutonium poisoning treatments.

The team also said, however, that complete prevention of plutonium uptake was not realistic.

Normally, plutonium produced during nuclear power generation is locked inside the reactor. However, the element was released from Fukushima plant when hydrogen explosions destroyed reactor buildings there in March. Plutonium contamination of 0.54 becquerels per kilogram of soil has been detected within the plant grounds — an amount that plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. insists has no influence on human health.

The ANL team’s results were published in the June 26 issue of the U.S. scientific journal Nature Chemical Biology.

Sunflowers to clean radioactive soil in Japan (AFP, Jun 24)

Campaigners in Japan are asking people to grow sunflowers, said to help decontaminate radioactive soil, in response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster that followed March’s massive quake and tsunami.

Volunteers are being asked to grow sunflowers this year, then send the seeds to the stricken area where they will be planted next year to help get rid of radioactive contaminants in the plant’s fallout zone.

The campaign, launched by young entrepreneurs and civil servants in Fukushima prefecture last month, aims to cover large areas in yellow blossoms as a symbol of hope and reconstruction and to lure back tourists.

“We will give the seeds sent back by people for free to farmers, the public sector and other groups next year,” said project leader Shinji Handa. The goal is a landscape so yellow that “it will surprise NASA”, he said.

The massive earthquake and tsunami left more than 23,000 people dead or missing on Japan’s northeast coast and crippled the Fukushima nuclear power plant that has leaked radiation into the environment since.

Almost 10,000 packets of sunflower seeds at 500 yen ($6) each have so far been sold to some 30,000 people, including to the city of Yokohama near Tokyo, which is growing sunflowers in 200 parks, Handa said.

Handa — who hails from Hiroshima, hit by an atomic bomb at the end of World War II — said the sunflower project was a way for people across the nation to lend their support to the disaster region.

“This is different from donations because people will grow the flowers, and a mother can tell her children that it is like an act of prayer for the reconstruction of the northeast,” Handa said.

“I also hope the project will give momentum to attract tourists back to Fukushima with sunflower seeds in their hands. I would like to make a maze using sunflowers so that children can play in it.”

Japan parents launch nuclear ’emergency petition’ (AFT, Jun 21)

Japanese parents living near the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear plant issued an “emergency petition” on Tuesday, demanding the government do more to protect their children from radiation exposure.

A coalition of six citizens’ and environmental groups called for the evacuation of children and pregnant women from radiation hotspots, stricter monitoring and the early closure of schools for summer holidays.

They voiced concern that authorities had focused on testing for radiation in the environment and not on people’s internal exposure through inhaling or ingesting radioactive isotopes through dust, food and drinks.

“Since atmospheric radiation levels show no sign of abating, the inhabitants of heavily contaminated areas will continue to endure high radiation doses, both externally and internally,” they said in the petition.

“To minimise such exposure, residents should be evacuated promptly to areas where radiation is less severe. Top priority must be given to infants, children and expectant mothers — all highly susceptible to radiation effects.”

Japan has struggled to bring the Fukushima plant under control since it was hit by a tsunami that knocked out cooling systems, leading to three reactor meltdowns, explosions and radiation leaks into the air, soil and sea.

Following the March 11 disaster, Japan has raised the exposure limit for adults and children from one to 20 millisieverts per year, matching the maximum exposure level for nuclear industry workers in many countries.

The move has stoked anger and fear among many in Fukushima prefecture towns outside the 20-kilometre (12-mile) evacuation zone around the plant that have been exposed to lower levels of radiation for more than three months.

The education ministry has since pledged to keep radiation in schools below one millisievert per year for the current school year from April 1 to March 31.

Medical experts agree that high doses of radiation raise the risk of cancers such as leukaemia and genetic defects, especially for foetuses and children, but they disagree on the risk of lower doses over longer periods of time.

On Tuesday the six protest groups — including local citizens, anti-nuclear activists, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth — launched their “Emergency Petition to Protect the Children of Fukushima” at the Japanese parliament.

In a separate petition, one of the groups demanded the sacking of a radiation health risk management adviser to Fukushima prefecture, Nagasaki University Professor Shunichi Yamashita, alleging he had downplayed the threat.

One of the organisers, Seiichi Nakate, told a news conference: “As a father of two children, I cannot forgive him for having told us that there is no problem and that we should let our children play outside as usual.”

“Parents who believed what he said are now feeling guilt towards their children,” said Nakate, head of the Fukushima Network for Saving Children from Radiation, adding: “Are we guinea pigs or livestock?”

Professor Yamashita’s office declined comment on the claims to AFP.

Meanwhile, Fukushima prefecture said Tuesday it would test washing walls, garden shrubs and roads in and around three elementary schools with high-pressure hoses to reduce radiation levels, Jiji Press news agency said.

In earlier news: Radiation ‘hotspots’ hinder Japan response to nuclear crisis (AFP, Jun 14)

KANAGAWA, Japan (Reuters) – Hisao Nakamura still can’t accept that his crisply cut field of deep green tea bushes south of Tokyo has been turned into a radioactive hazard by a crisis far beyond the horizon.

“I was more than shocked,” said Nakamura, 74, who, like other tea farmers in Kanagawa has been forced to throw away an early harvest because of radiation being released by the Fukushima Daiichi plant 300 kilometers (180 miles) away.

“Throwing way what you’ve grown with great care is like killing your own children.”

More than three months after the Fukushima nuclear plant was hit by a quake and tsunami that triggered the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, Japanese officials are still struggling to understand where and how radiation released in the accident created far-flung “hotspots” of contamination.

The uncertainty itself is proving a strain.

“Stress has serious health effects. The Japanese people no longer trust the nuclear industry and the government. People do not know whether their food and their land is safe,” said Kim Kearfott, an expert on radiation health risks at the University of Michigan, who toured Japan in May.

Fukushima is estimated to have released just 15 percent of the radiation at Chernobyl, but a complicated software modelling system created by the government to predict where the radiation would drift proved useless.

Under pressure to provide a more accurate picture of the contamination, the Ministry of Education has promised to complete a detailed survey of the evacuated area by October.

Since last week, local governments have been enlisted to provide daily reports of radiation.

Irradiated food poses moral dilemmas (Japan Times, Jun 26)

News photo

“In order to address public concerns over post 3/11 food safety, the government should be more forthcoming in the monitoring and disclosure of data regarding radiation contamination of soil, Akira Sugenoya, mayor of Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture, told this reporter recently.

Sugenoya, a medical doctor, speaks from experience, having spent 5½ years from 1996 in the Republic of Belarus treating children with thyroid cancer. He was there because the incidence of that disease in children surged after the Chernobyl disaster in neighboring Ukraine in 1986. In that April 26 event, which involved an explosion and a fire at the nuclear power plant there, large amounts of radioactive substances were released into the atmosphere.

Consequently, due to his unique experience, Sugenoya — who has held his position as mayor since 2004 — was asked by Japan’s Food Safety Commission to share his opinion as an expert at a series of meetings convened in late March to set emergency radiation limits for domestic food.

Commenting on these to the JT, Sugenoya said it is his understanding that the current limits set by the commission (see table) are “relatively stringent” by international standards.

However, he added that infants, children up to the age of 14 and pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid eating food contaminated with even the small doses of radiation. In fact he said that adults should leave safer food for these more at-risk segments of the population even if it means they will eat contaminated food themselves.

Sugenoya also pointed out that what is fueling people’s concerns in particular is the slow disclosure of soil contamination data, despite the fact that it is only through such data that it becomes clear where, and even whether, safe vegetables can be grown. Instead, he said, the government has been occupied only with monitoring radiation levels in the air.

“I think some municipal governments have only recently begun to release soil data in response to mounting calls from the public,” he said. “But the central government should have taken the initiative to release them much earlier … . What the central government must do now is release all data, no matter how bad, because if it doesn’t it can only add to people’s suspicions that it is manipulating information. Read more here…”

An Edogawa ward plant, which handles general household garbage, detected 9,740 becquerels of radioactive materials per kilogram of ash.The ash was collected from a device to filter exhaust fumes.The plant’s operator, an organization jointly set up by Tokyo’s 23 wards, believes that radioactive cesium built up through the incinerating process.But it says there is no danger of the toxic substances escaping into the environment as they were trapped by the filter.Legally, the plant can only bury ash registering 8,000 becquerels or less per kilogram.But ash contaminated with more than 8,000 becquerels must be stored until the government determines a safe disposal method.Following the latest findings, Tokyo consulted the central government and decided to temporarily store the contaminated ash inside the plant. Read more here

Survey spotlights kids who lost parents in quake (Yomiuri, Jun 29)

About 40 percent of children who lost at least one parent in the Great East Japan Earthquake are primary school students or younger, a nonprofit orphan-aid organization said.

The survey was conducted by Tokyo-based Ashinaga (daddy long legs) on about 1,100 children who have been left without at least one parent by the March 11 disaster.

According to the survey, 714 children lost their fathers, who were their family’s breadwinners, accounting for more than 60 percent of the total.

“There is reason to believe that those children face a dire financial situation. We need to provide them with long-term support,” an Ashinaga official said Monday.

Ashinaga provides financial aid to children whose parents died or remain missing due to the earthquake, as well as to those whose parents were left disabled by the disaster. Children covered by the aid program range from infants to university students.

The assistance comes in the form of a special lump-sum payment of up to 1 million yen per child.

Ashinaga screened applications from 1,120 people in 707 households requesting financial assistance as of the end of May. They showed that 346, or 30.9 percent, of the children are primary school students, while 137, or 12.2 percent, are preschool age.

Another 242, or 21.6 percent, are middle school students, and 252, or 22.5 percent, are high school students.

Of the affected children, 73 lost both of their parents, and many now live with their grandparents or uncles and aunts.

As for the ages of those with whom the orphaned children live, 285, or 43.2 percent, are in their 40s, 22 are 70 or older, and 29 are in their teens or 20s.

Of about 200 people who look after quake orphans who attend high schools or higher education facilities, 32.2 percent are unemployed or looking for a job.

A Japanese non-profit group says more than 60 percent of children who lost one or both parents in the March 11th disaster lost their fathers.

The scholarship organization Ashinaga surveyed 1,120 people who had applied for one-time payments from its fund for disaster orphans by May 31st.

The group says 714 people, or 64 percent of the total, lost their fathers. Most of the fathers are believed to have been the family breadwinners.

It says 285 guardians are in their 40s, about 43 percent of the total. But 22 guardians are in their 70s, and 22 are under 30 years of age.

The group also surveyed the guardians of orphans 15 years and older.

Of 202 guardians, 65 people, or 32 percent, were unemployed or currently seeking jobs, while 35 people, or 17 percent, had part-time or other irregular jobs.

The survey was conducted by Tsukuba University Professor Yoshiya Soeda. He says many households supporting these children are facing financial difficulties. He says the guardians need financial assistance so the children can live without fear.


Water treatment system at Fukushima plant achieves decontamination (Kyodo) — The glitch-plagued water decontamination system at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex has been able to lower the concentration of radioactive substances in highly contaminated water to the targeted level, the plant’s operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Friday.

The successful trial run of the water treatment system paves the way for the start, possibly by the end of June, of operations to cool the damaged nuclear power reactors using water recycled in the decontamination system to establish a circulating cooling system as part of efforts to contain the crisis triggered by the earthquake and tsunami in March.

The utility known as TEPCO said the level of both radioactive cesium-134 and cesium-137 in the toxic water had dropped to one hundred-thousandth, achieving the target of 100 becquerels per cubic centimeter or less.

The treated water was sent to a desalination device which TEPCO started operating Friday.

Robot, drone fail on nuclear plant missions (NHK)  Excerpts follow:

“Two high-tech machines intended to help workers at Japan’s tsunami-hit nuclear plant malfunctioned Friday, including a long-awaited Japanese robot making its first attempt to take important measurements in areas too dangerous for humans.

The other machine that failed was a drone helicopter that made an emergency landing on a reactor roof at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. …

The Quince robot, developed by Chiba Institute of Technology for nuclear and biological disaster relief activity, had ventured out into the Unit 2 reactor building to set up a gauge to measure the contaminated water pooling in the basement. Radioactivity inside the reactor buildings is too high for workers to take measurements there.

The machine got stuck at a staircase landing and failed to go downstairs, TEPCO spokesman Junichi Matsumoto said. A cable that was supposed to drop a gauge into the basement also malfunctioned.

The workers retrieved the robot and were going to make adjustments before sending it back in for another try …

The other machine that malfunctioned Friday was a T-Hawk drone helicopter, made in the U.S. by Honeywell, that is used to inspect hard-to-access areas of the plant.

The drone developed engine trouble during a radiation sampling flight and made a remote-controlled emergency landing on the roof of Unit 2—the only one of the four damaged reactor buildings that still has a roof, Matsumoto said.

Matsumoto said photos taken by a camera installed on a water pumping vehicle showed the drone was lying on its side, but neither the aircraft nor the roof suffered major damage.

The cause of the engine failure was under investigation. Matsumoto said it was not immediately known when or how the drone may be retrieved, but a backup drone can take over the mission…”

Radioactive strontium detected in seabed (NHK, Jun 28) Radioactive strontium has been detected for the first time on the seabed near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Tokyo Electric Power Company says it found strontium-89 and -90 in the seabed soil. The company conducted a survey on June 2nd about 3 kilometers off the coast at 2 locations, some 20 kilometers north and south of the nuclear complex.

The substances pose a serious health risk because they can accumulate in the bones if inhaled, which could cause cancer.

Up to 44 becquerels per kilogram of strontium-90 were detected, which has a half-life of 29 years.

The substances had been detected before in soil on land and in seawater following the nuclear accident in March.

Related topic:  Fukushima Radiation in the Pacific (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

The need to understand the amount, type, and fate of radioactive materials released prompted a group of scientists from the U.S., Japan, and Europe to organize the first multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional research cruise in the northwestern Pacific since the events of March and April. A group of 17 researchers and technicians will spend two weeks aboard the University of Hawaii research vessel R/V Kaimikai-O-Kanaloaexamining many of the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the ocean that either determine the fate of radioactivity in the water or that are potentially affected by radiation in the marine environment.

This site will chronicle their work on the June cruise and offers more information about the technology they will employ and radiation in the ocean.


Only two out of 64 beaches in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures plan to open this summer, the other 62 remaining closed for reasons stemming from the March 11 disaster, according a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.

About 1.85 million people visit the 64 beaches every year. However, only two in Iwate Prefecture–Funado beach in Kuji and Jodogahama beach in Miyako–are scheduled to open this summer.

Officials in Iwate and Miyagi prefecture are struggling to remove piles of debris on beaches there. Some areas have even lost their beaches after land sank in the March 11 earthquake.

Shipping containers washed up on Shobuta beach in Shichigahamamachi, Miyagi Prefecture, after the March 11 tsunami. More than three months after the disaster, they can still be seen littering the beach.

All 16 beaches in Fukushima Prefecture, including five in the no-entry zone within 20 kilometers of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, will be closed this summer.

Even the iconic Nakoso beach, considered representative of the entire Tohoku region, will remain off-limits. Officials said residents are especially concerned about letting children swim at beaches near the power plant, even those outside the no-entry zone.

Jodogahama beach, which was severely damaged in the disaster, is now busy preparing to open. …  Jodogahama beach has been named by the Environment Ministry as one of the top 100 beaches in the country.


Osaka’s plains at trisk of Nankai tsunami, expert (Japan Times)

Most of the plains in Osaka Prefecture could be submerged by tsunami if an earthquake as strong as the 9.0-magnitude temblor on March 11 hits western Japan, an expert warned.

The damage estimate for the so-called Nankai quake, which is projected to clobber western Japan before 2050, was presented by Yoshiaki Kawata, head of the Faculty of Safety Science at Kansai University, in a lecture in Osaka on Thursday.

Kawata, speaking at an event sponsored by K.K. Kyodo News, a unit of the news agency, said tsunami as high as 5.5 meters could inundate Osaka Bay if a magnitude 9.0 Nankai quake occurs in the region.

He said preparation for a worst-case scenario is needed for the country’s second-largest metropolitan area, and called for measures to cope with the flooding of subway lines and underground malls, as well as improved breakwaters.

According to Kawata and the science ministry’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion, there is about a 60 percent probability of a Nankai earthquake occurring in 30 years with an estimated magnitude of 8.4.

Monju reactor unclogged for restart (Japan Times, Jun 25)

A device that fell last August into the vessel of the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, was finally retrieved Friday, paving the way for resumed test runs by fall, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency said….

In a procedure that took about eight hours, a crane was used to remove the 12-meter-long, 3.3-ton device together with part of a vessel lid where it got stuck.

The cylindrical device, used to load fuel, fell inside the reactor vessel while it was being lifted out after completing a fuel exchange.

Read more here

The retrieved device, called an “in-vessel transfer machine” (46 centimeters in diameter, 12 meters in length), is used to handle plutonium fuel rods. The retrieval work started at 8:50 p.m. on June 23, nearly seven hours later than initially planned. The device was hauled up with a crane, together with the fuel throat sleeve, a casing surrounding an opening in the reactor, because the impact of its initial fall had deformed the device. The retrieval was finished at 4:55 a.m. on June 24 after about eight hours of work.

The reactor contains coolant sodium that ignites on contact with air. The device was therefore accommodated in a special container filled with inert argon gas directly on retrieval from the interior of the reactor. The retrieval of the device means that plutonium fuel rods in the reactor can now be removed.


Reports on Fukushima reactors made public (NHK, Jun 25)

Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has made public on its website documents revealing what happened at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after the March 11th earthquake and tsunami.

The agency on Friday posted on its website Tokyo Electric Power Company’s reports, which were submitted to the agency between March 11th and May 31st. The documents totaled 11,000 pages.

It says the government used these documents as reference material when it compiled a report on the nuclear crisis, which was submitted earlier this month to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Documents submitted to the government were handwritten up to March 19th, during which the Fukushima Daiichi plant was left without electricity. …

[Gososhi] Hosono also said their release was delayed due to the volume of the reports.

The agency says documents submitted after June 1st will also be made available on its website.

Sharp to build solar power stations in Japan(Asahi, Jun 25)


In addition to the radiation-related article links above, here are some notes from this morning’s Asaichi programme addressed the fears of letter-writers, mostly nursing mothers and parents, which focused upon irradiated foods, and fears of internal contamination (basically those fears on our EIJ forum as well).

The programme followed one of the Tokyo-based studio guests on a radiation screening test to determine the extent of internal radiation suffered. The test results for iodine and cesium turned up negative, the charts showed only a spike for kalium…(studio participants expressed visible relief).
Then the programme took viewers through the process and stages for food product testing for cesium. It takes 2 kg of a food product, costs 20-30,000 yen per sample testing each time, and 4 hours of processing within the test equipment per sample before the results can be obtained – which illustrates the cost to farmers and authorities – of food sample testing and given the few equipment available (such as the one the Hiroshima U has) in the nation, the testing all foods is unpractical.
The test results of Ibaraki-based spinach samples was followed daily over time, and shown to Asaichi viewers — to the effect that the high amounts of cesium tested of the spinach within the first weeks after the 311 hydrogen blasts, dwindled drastically after a month to the current largely safe levels or non-detectable levels.
60 km from Fukushima, one of the farmers was shown to have been growing all his tomatoes in a sealed glasshouse, and to be daily inspecting every inch of his glasshouse for radiation with (I think what was a dosimeter). In one spot of his glasshouse, as the cameraman followed him around the glasshouse, his dosimeter went beeping loudly. Upon inspection, the contamination was easily traced to a small leak in the roof where rainwater fell on the soil.  The farmer was shown to remove his soil. He sells his produce via the internet, with the radiation-free label.
Other farmers were shown to have removed 5 cm of the top soil and to be sowing sunflowers this year to de-contaminate their fields.
The show’s expert and video clips averred that there were no contamination dangers for Tokyo residents (internal or external) excepting the hotspot areas where the same measures for decontamination for Fukushima will have to be taken. The programme then focused on measures that those of us still concerned can further take as precautions:
– Washing and removing skins of root vegetables and fruit
– Washing leafy vegetables thoroughly.
– Cooking leafy veggies in water, removing water. Cesium is water-soluble and boiling it in water further removes traces by 40-60%.
– All of the above plus adding vinegar to cooking or pickling
Chernobyl studies showed levels of cesium in children living in the contaminated areas who ate apples, went down by 63.7%, compared to those who did not. Pectin in apples is shown to be effective in removing the toxic substances from the body through the moving of the bowels.

– News updates by Aileen Kawagoe