EDU WATCH: Fukushima’s students with special needs give back to community through story-reading club; Most parents think Science can wait until Junior High; MyCloud for “seamless” learning of science, and other stories

Windchimes are a familiar sight at summer festivals, photographed at Kawasaki Daishi

Hi all, the summer holidays are in full swing and many kids have made their dates to meet up for the natsumatsuri (summer festivals) in the area…but now, we bring you our regular EDU WATCHERS’ report.

First up … here are our  updates on the local educational scene:

“Rather than being on the receiving end, a group of students with special needs at a school here are giving something back to their community–a rare opportunity at schools like theirs.

The students are in a reading club at the Fukushima Prefectural Sukagawa Yogo School (school for children with disabilities). They meet twice a week to practice reading aloud to hone their language skills.

The club’s name is “Mi Corazon,” Spanish for “my heart.” At present, there are 10 members, all senior high students with mental or physical disabilities.

They also go out to other schools and other places to read to people in the community.

They visit nearby nursery schools, museums and other places about 50 times a year to read to eager audiences.

The group also entertains people with dances and puppet shows to illustrate the stories they read.

The club was launched four years ago when teacher Kaoru Kobayashi, 51, was transferred to their school after teaching at a regular high school.

“Students of this (Sukagawa Yogo) school have few opportunities to meet students from other schools. I thought, why not let them do what they can (for others), instead of always just being recipients of other people’s activities?” Kobayashi said.

By reading to other people, several of the students have become more mentally stable and calm. Some graduates have gone on to jobs in child and nursing care.

The March 11 earthquake left about half of their school buildings unusable.

However, the school received about 600 picture books donated from throughout the country. The club is planning to read those books to others in the coming years.” End of excerpt, read the rest here.

Books on Wheels” Photo Journal: A mobile library carrying 800 books (15,000 books were donated to Shanti Volunteer Association) makes its way to children and adults at evacuation centers of Rikuzentakata, Ofunato and Yamada at Iwate Pref. Photo of

Support needed for children who lost parents in disaster(Asahi, July 30) The number of children who lost at least one parent in the Great East Japan Earthquake is estimated at more than 2,000. Of them, slightly more than 200 are orphans who lost both parents.

We must not allow the disaster to deprive these children of their future possibilities.

Iwate and Miyagi prefectures are preparing to establish a system to provide bereaved children with monthly payments for schooling through donations. There are also various moves in the private sector to support the children. We hope the generosity for their education and development will continue over a long period.

The mental support for children is just as important as financial aid.

Families around them are beginning to return to their lives as they were before the disaster. Watching them, children who lost their parents may feel they are being left behind.

Hundreds of children have been unable to properly say goodbye to their parents because the bodies are still missing. ..

Sendai Griefcare Association, which has supported families whose loved ones committed suicide, started a program to train mainly students to care for children who lost their parents in the March 11 disaster. Ashinaga, a private nonprofit organization that supports children who lost their parents due to suicides or other reasons, is advancing plans to build a facility in the Tohoku region where children who have the same experience can stay.

Such private organizations and the administration should cooperate and establish teams to support bereaved children, for example, in municipalities in the stricken areas.

… we need to take a step forward and create a system to support children who lost their parents in disasters. Such a system could also serve as a model for communities to support child care for poor homes.

Young volunteers can act as big brothers and sisters to watch over the children on a daily basis. They can refer difficult cases to school counselors and child consultation centers. They should also provide counseling to guardians and help children with schoolwork. …” – End of excerpt.

See also: Juvenile reform school students volunteer to help survivors of earthquake and tsunami (Mainichi)

American teacher who refused to evacuate soldiers on (Asahi, Jul 31) Excerpted below:

“Lehne came to Japan in 1996 and has taught at elementary, junior high and senior high schools in Miyagi Prefecture. He currently teaches at Onagawa No. 1 and Onagawa No. 2 elementary schools. Onagawa No. 2 Elementary School now houses the town hall that lost its building in the disaster and also provides temporary classrooms.

On March 11, the tsunami reached almost to the level of the school playground, forcing Lehne and the students and school staff to flee to higher ground….

Lehne’s apartment was also swamped by the tsunami, and he was forced to stay in an evacuation center for some time.

But today it’s back to school as usual, as he uses games to entertain and teach a class of 21 fourth-graders at Onagawa No. 2 Elementary School in collaboration with Chiharu Doteuchi, 22, the class teacher. …” Read the whole article here.

310 children transferred to schools outside Fukushima city (Yomiuri, Jul 28)

In Fukushima city, 310 schoolchildren were transferred to schools elsewhere by the end of the first semester due to radiation fears, according to a survey by the city education board. Fukushima, whose center is about 60 kilometers from the crisis-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, is currently not included in any designated evacuation zones. The survey is the first revelation that schoolchildren in areas under orders to evacuate are being relocated over radiation fears.

Fukushima teacher muzzled on radiation risks for school children  (sfgate, Jul 30) As temperatures soared to 100 degrees Fahrenheit on a recent July morning, school children in Fukushima prefecture were taking off their masks and running around playgrounds in T-shirts, exposing them to a similar amount of annual radiation as a worker in a nuclear power plant. Toshinori Shishido, a Japanese literature teacher of 25 years, had warned his students two months ago to wear surgical masks and keep their skin covered with long-sleeved shirts. His advice went unheeded, not because of the weather but because his school told him not to alarm students. Shishido quit this week.

The Game Goes On (NYTimes)

Tohoku High School’s pursuit of the prestigious national baseball title in Japan carries extra meaning this year after the earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan four months ago | See also In the Wake of Disaster, Baseball Endures : In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, three high schools from affected areas came together to create a baseball team.

“With the University of Tokyo considering the possibility of switching to a school year that begins in the fall — as opposed to the current schedule that starts in spring — the debate on fall enrollment is gaining momentum. We hope that the involved parties flesh out the details to prevent the idea from ending up as mere talk. This will likely provide an opportunity to progress to further university education reforms.

Several big challenges lie ahead, however. First, there is the issue of whether the University of Tokyo will adopt the schedule change on its own. If the school chooses to maintain its current entrance exam schedule (taken by applicants in February and March), what will students do for half a year until they start classes? Will this negatively affect their chances of finding employment later in life, considering most business years begin in April?” Read on here

Attracting best foreign students vital to future (Yomuri, Aug 3)  Excerpts follow: “Although  many foreign students reportedly left for home after the Mar 11 Great East Japan Earthquake…a survey conducted by the education ministry showed that more than 90 percent of them had returned to Japan to resume their studies.

This gave the impression that the drop in the the number of foreign students was not as bad as feared. But a look at Japanese-language schools will show the situation is more serious than it appears.

According to the Association for the Promotion of Japanese Language Education, about 13,000 foreign students were scheduled to enter Japanese-language schools in fiscal 2011, starting in April, but about 22 percent of them did not enroll. By region, Tohoku accounted for 38 percent of all those who failed to enroll, the largest portion followed by Tokyo at 28 percent.

Given that more than 70 percent of Japanese-language school graduates go on to schools of higher education, the drop in the number of foreign students at Japanese-language schools will inevitably lead to a decline in the number of foreign students at universities. Thus, the association’s survey revealed that foreign students’ aversion to Japan has definitely been growing.”….

Anthony Salcito’s writings retr. from Education Insights (excerpts follow below) will particularly interest our community because he takes a different view to our overall consensus on the backward state of ICT use in Japanese schools:

Japan’s progress on infusing technology into the classroom

“… Japan, Russia and France have had very consistent models. I think they’re all somewhat in the same place, and for a large period of the last 20 years, they have been somewhat resistant or skeptical on technology’s role in school…and frankly because of that reason they’ve fallen behind with regards to technology usage in most cases.

Russia was actually one of the countries that brought computers into schools, and to math and science classes earliest, but because of a lot of changes, including the Cold War, and the economy, that started to decline. I think all three countries are starting to really see the role of technology more aggressively in education, and in all three of those countries technology is a part of everyone else’s daily life, and kids and families are using computers and cell phones, etc…but the education systems have been less open to change.

Even in one year since I last visited…I see much more of an open attitude in Japan. The curiosity I felt last year with regards to looking at other school models around the world is still holds true…schools and the leaders I talk to in Japan are definitely looking at best practices on a global basis, the higher ed systems are listening to and valuing the connection with groups like EDUCAUSE, they’re looking at other school models and university models beyond just the elites to community college setups, and also thinking about how we can create online learning environments eventually and more.

And where technology has been most resistant to change in the K-12 system, the “School New Deal Plan” in Japan started out last year buying a laptop for every teacher, and that’s had a lot of the desired output the country has been looking for.  Teachers have done more exploration around technology’s role, and it’s provided more pressure on school officials to think about how technology can be transformational for their kids. Students are also getting excited about the way in which their classrooms are starting to change.

After visiting Kyoto UniversityKeio University and Ritsumeikan Primary School, I’m excited about the potential in Japan. Although technology adoption in schools and the classroom may be happening here more slowly…I think in many ways Japan will be best enabled to deliver the innovations of tomorrow, because they’ll be able to fuse all the greatest ideas with some of the newer realities. They will almost have a fresher perspective and hopefully be able to use the lessons of the past to avoid making the same mistakes.

One of the other things I had a chance to do when I was in Japan was to spend some time with our partners in Japan. Of course, I was excited to see the enthusiasm of the adoption of Microsoft platform technologies, but also encouraged to see how Japan is starting to think about how the cloud can enable solutions for their students and teachers. The cloud conversations were met with significant enthusiasm but also some skepticism of practicality of security and safety…all the product requirements we’ve been working very closely to optimize for. I also see the potential of Microsoft CRM solutions and Microsoft SharePoint Server making an impact and becoming very much a part of the way in which the partners are thinking about building solutions for schools.”

A Japanese Legal Exam That Sets the Bar High (NY Times, July 11, 2011)

Students and professors say a tough examination process is hurting the government’s goal of creating more lawyers.

Tefl careers: Japan needs skilled English teachers

While there is a shortage of English teachers in Japan at present, recruitment organisation Interac are only recruiting teachers that they are confident will be able to contribute. As I mentioned in my previous blog, the right character is often as important as the right certificate in Tefl. An entry-level weekend Tefl course is the only teaching qualification required to teach in Japan with Interac, however, an applicant’s main asset for these teaching jobs is their personality.

Even more than in other Tefl jobs, teachers who want to work in Japan at the moment need to be sensitive and able to show extra attention to children dealing with difficult situations. They should be open-minded, cheerful and energetic people, who understand that they are guests in Japan and they must accept the culture as it is.

Resiliency and industriousness are also important and, as in any Tefl job, having some immunity to culture shock and homesickness would be a great asset. Teachers will also get ongoing support, training and relocation assistance in return for their efforts at this difficult time

See also Teach English in Japan or ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) Jobs in Japanese Public Schools


Elsewhere in the world, the highlights of the news on education are:

I’m so glad I had the chance to take the international baccalaureate  (Jul 21) Budget cuts mean fewer state schools will offer the International Baccalaureate. But it would be a shame if this tough but stimulating course was only available to the children of the wealthy, argues student Nastassia Dhanraj, who’s just completed hers…

Kevin Brennan, Labour’s shadow schools spokesman, gave an interesting insight into the Government’s motives for introducing its English Baccalaureate at a Labour party seminar last week.

It was, he said, “an inevitable success story” for ministers. Schools always followed the Government’s urging when it came to league tables. “They will steer resources and children into the selected subjects whether or not it is appropriate to study them,” he said.

The result will be that more pupils will be studying languages, sciences and history and geography, three areas to be included in the baccalaureate, by the end of this Parliament than are at present. He argued that Labour should tap into unhappiness on the government backbenches about the effect all this was having on subjects such as arts, drama and religious education – where teachers are facing the sack as their subjects suffer a demotion in importance.” Read more here

The famous winged and feathered fossil Archaeopteryx has been knocked off its perch as the oldest known bird, according to new research…. see China discovery knocks ‘early bird’ off perch, study says (LATimes)

Three science education articles last week looked at a summer camp for gifted middle school mathematicianstrouble Massachusetts high school seniors are having with the MCAS science section now required for graduation and a study that found preschool children spontaneously invent experiments in their play.

Universities may ‘buy’ top A-level students ( Guardian 31 Jul) The highest performing A-level candidates could be tempted with cut-price deals on tuition fees from next year, as some English universities face increased pressure to maintain student numbers. Middle-ranking universities may offer scholarships to lure AAB-grade students or higher away from elite universities.

Cheltenham Ladies’ principal leaves behind ‘a happy environment’ (Guardian)

Cheltenham Ladies’ principal leaves behind ‘a happy environment’

(Guardian, 1 August 2011)  Under Vicky Tuck’s leadership, Cheltenham Ladies’ College became a school to which former pupils finally want to send their daughters.

An interview with Vicky Tuck the principal of Cheltenham Ladies’ College who is deemed “the most successful girls’ school head of her generation, strengthening the college’s reputation and keeping up the numbers when neither single-sex education nor boarding is in fashion”. The school, “charges nearly £28,000 for boarders and nearly £19,000 for day girls and is sometimes called “the girls’ Eton”, without a few prejudices. Founded in 1853, it has ivy-clad buildings, a 95-metre marble corridor and more stained-glass windows than most cathedrals…. Before Tuck, Cheltenham had never had a married principal.
“It has a reputation for developing English roses,” said a male headteacher.  “If Cheltenham Ladies is supposed to be the girls’ Eton, the parallel is false in at least one respect: it has never been a training college for future rulers, because, however privileged the girls, they are in one sense members of an underprivileged group. Alumnae that include two ministers, a deputy governor of the Bank of England and one national newspaper editor (Rosie Boycott) constitutes a good record by girls’ school standards, but nothing compared to Eton, Westminster or Winchester.

“In this school,” says Tuck, “girls have this great sense that everything is what girls do. We have really strong chemistry, physics, economics and maths. We have girls playing wind and brass instruments. We can’t justify our existence if girls aren’t learning to be adventurous and intellectual risk-takers. I get annoyed when parents say: I want to send her to a single-sex school because it’ll be nice and safe. Of course, it’ll be safe in some ways, delaying all the stuff teenagers deal with. But this isn’t a pink, frilly school.”

Do we need a British Ivy League? (28 Jul 2011)

Prep school head turned education consultant Peter Dix advises readers on whether we need an Ivy League for British universities.

Don’t write off schools just yet, Lord Jones (Telegraph, 27 Jul 2011)

The education system is still the best place to teach young people about the world of work, writes Katharine Birbalsingh.

‘Let children leave school at 14’ (Telegraph, 26 Jul 2011)

Children should be allowed to leave school at 14 and start work to boost Britain’s economy, the former head of the Confederation of British Industry has said.

Related: Children should leave school at 14 to work? Not on my watch (By Katharine Birbalsingh, Telegraph Blog, 28 Jul 2011)

Putting your university holidays to good use  (Telegraph)

‘Slow Down and Savor Middle and High School’ (NY Times Blog, July 22, 2011)

Dutch Education Will Have a Three-Pronged Approach (The IHT, July 11, 2011)

Educating students more efficiently, better preparing students for the job market and fostering research ties with the industry are priorities.

A history of college grade inflation (NY Times, Jul 14, 2011)
“… As we have written before, private colleges and universities are by far the biggest offenders on grade inflation, even when you compare private schools to equally selective public schools….public and private school grading curves started out as relatively similar, and gradually pulled further apart. Both types of institutions made their curves easier over time, but private schools made their grades much easier.

By the end of the last decade, A’s and B’s represented 73 percent of all grades awarded at public schools, and 86 percent of all grades awarded at private schools, according to the database compiled by Mr. Rojstaczer and Mr. Healy. (Mr. Rojstaczer is a former Duke geophysics professor, and Mr. Healy is a computer science professor at Furman University.)

Southern schools have also been less generous with their grading than institutions in other geographic regions, and schools that focus on science and engineering tend to be stingier with their A’s than liberal arts schools of equal selectivity.

Parents are failing to teach their children how to speak because they spend too much time on the internet and watching television, experts claim.

The problem is most acute in deprived areas, where researchers found half of youngsters have communication difficulties when starting school.

In the worst cases, many children are unaware they even have a name at the age of four. Toddlers should be familiar with their own name by the age of two, teachers say.

…in around 10 per cent of cases, parents were not to blame because their children had language and communication difficulties caused by disabilities.

Jean Gross, the government’s communication champion for children, said she discovered the problem while speaking to head teachers in Hull and London.

However, the remainder could be avoided if families spent more time teaching their children to speak from an early age.

“They told me that they had seen a number of cases of children arriving for their first day at school who did not know their name or that they even had a name. …

Concern over secondary pupils’ reading ability (Telegraph, 29 Jul 2011)

One in seven secondary pupils has a reading age two years lower than their actual age, a study has found. 30 Jul 2011) Researchers from York University warned that secondary teachers could be failing to notice reading difficulties suffered by their students.

The study of 857 pupils across 28 state schools also found that 53 per cent of pupils who had serious reading problems were registered as having special educational needs (SEN).

Surge in Number of Indian Students Heading to Canadian Colleges (NY Times)

Lower tuition fees, a more liberal visa policy and decent job prospects are making Canada an increasingly popular higher-education destination.

Millions of families forced to dip into private school savings ‘to fund lifestyle’ (Telegraph) A survey found nearly three million families were forced to withdraw more than a third of their saved “educational funds” in order to fund day-to-day living costs.

Researchers found that just one in five parents were in a position to replace the money as a growing number of households face unprecedented financial pressures.

The ICM survey found a quarter of families have reduced the amount they spend on their children’s private education while 109,000 parents have pulled their children out of public school altogether.

Christian and atheist children least likely to go to university (Telegraph, 22 Jul 2011)

Hindu, Sikh and Muslim teenagers are more likely to go to university than Christians or atheists, Department of Education figures show.

Visiting one of Singapore’s most innovative schools (Education Insights, Nov 30) Anthony Salcito writes:

“When I traveled to Singapore the other month and I had the chance to visit Nan Chiau Primary School and join the school’s celebration for the launch of My Cloud. My Cloud is a project in partnership with Microsoft Research in Beijing where Nan Chiau is providing access to Chinese-based learning…”

The Magic of Mobile Learning has more:

“For pupils at Nan Chiau Primary School, such experiences are part and parcel of Seamless Learning, one of several programmes that use mobile digital technology to enrich learning at Singapore’s newest FutureSchool. Offering a peek into new frontiers for education in Singapore, FutureSchools such as Nan Chiau Primary School lead the way in exploring how learning and teaching can be enhanced through the meaningful use of technology.


Explaining how Seamless Learning opens up multiple avenues for independent learning, Science teacher Ms Jenny Lee said, “This platform engages all their senses. The pupils can draw pictures, take photographs, create mind maps, produce videos and animations and submit these online to a class server. Throughout all this, I can keep close track of their progress.”

“Science became our favourite subject with Seamless Learning,” recalled Leong Yi Wei of her class’s encounters with the programme when she was in Primary 3. Now in Pri 5, Yi Wei added, ‘”It was so much fun!” Recounting an assignment that involved recording a video of her giving a “lesson” to her family on the digestive system, she said, “We shared our videos in class and gave each other feedback on how we could explain this process better.”

Nan Chiau Primary School’s forays into Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and e-learning enjoy the support of partners such as the Singapore Centre for Chinese Language, Microsoft Singapore and Temasek Polytechnic. The school’s strong culture of innovation, along with sustained efforts to equip teachers with new media teaching skills, have also been recognised by Spring Singapore through Innovation Class Awards (I-Class) in 2007 and 2010 as well as three National Innovation Quality Circle Gold Awards since 2008.

What clinches it, it seems, is the mobility that lightens the pupils’ schoolbag load and frees up their imagination. “Instead of carrying so many worksheets, I just need to bring a mobile phone and my schoolbag is so much lighter,” stated Shaun Lim, a Pri 5 pupil.”

Picture this: after learning Chinese idioms in class, Primary 5 pupils armed with Smartphones head out to take photos of real-life scenes. They then select pictures that best illustrate the Chinese idioms and create sentences using these photos and phrases. Uploaded onto a class wiki website, the text and image combination provide fodder for discussion, after which the teacher rounds up the session by pointing out common mistakes and highlights efforts that hit the mark. “Most children do not see the relevance of Chinese idioms to their lives because they seem ‘ancient’,” related Mr Heng Liak Kia, a Chinese Language teacher. “However, the photo-taking activity helps them realise that these idioms are applicable to their modern lives and builds up their vocabulary.” ”

Singapore school to launch Chinese language cloud services: Called MyCLOUD, this interactive platform based on relevant content and capabilities plans to enhance the teaching and learning of the Chinese language—integrating real life use of the language into the curriculum…..

Jessica Tan, Managing Director of Microsoft Singapore, said: “Our objective is to base this (MyCLOUD) on relevant content and capabilities so that students can benefit from a rich and interactive learning journey, and integrate real life use of language into the curriculum.”

Principal of NCPS, Tan Chun Ming, told FutureGov Asia Pacific that MyCLOUD would enable students to learn Chinese with interest and curiosity while having fun with the language in their everyday lives.

“For this to happen, it is critical that the tools and technology make it possible for their learning to take place beyond the classroom,” he said.

Students will be coached in reading Chinese passages, learning vocabulary and idioms, as well as assessed on their understanding of the language.

Wong Lung Hsiang, NIE Research Scientist, called the four-way partnership “exciting”. He said the programme meets “a key objective in the third masterplan for ICT in education where access to and use of ICT supports new teaching approaches”.

“The use of mobile and cloud computing technologies makes it easier to customise learning to suit students’ needs,” Wong said.

With MyCLOUD, students will be able to:

  • Click on words or sentences for text-to-speech reading;
  • Access a highly personalised e-dictionary is designed to accompany and support students’ language learning journey;
  • Use a camera phone or digital camera to take photos that best describe a particular vocabulary or idiom and integrate their definition with the e-dictionary

To find out more about Nan Chiau’s sophisticated integration of ICT into classroom learning, click read more about MyCloud at work in Nan Chiau’s classrooms,  here

Desire2Learn (the 2011 Microsoft Education Partner of the Year) is recognized as a global eLearning solution provider of a complete web-based suite of easy-to-use tools and functionality built exclusively on Microsoft Windows and SQL Server. Other Microsoft technologies integrated—or soon to be integrated—in their products include: Live@edu, Windows Phone 7, Lync, Office 365, and SharePoint Server.  Desire2Learn delivers a broad range of solutions that connect a range of Microsoft technologies in real ways that schools want to use them in terms of providing flexible connections to learning management applications, providing a very collaborative stack, and building it on affordable and flexible technology that scales with schools.

Amazon to Start Renting Out Electronic College Textbooks (NY Times, July 25, 2011)

Tens of thousands of textbooks will be available for the 2011 school year, offering savings of up to 80 percent, the company says.

Report Estimates Cost to U.K. of Fewer Student Visas (NY Times, June 20, 2011)

Three months after Britain announced that it would limit foreign students, it has released a report trying to measure the economic impact.

4 Out of 5 in Community College Want to Transfer, Report Says (NY Times, July 14, 2011)

France Reinvesting in Universities, Education Minister Says (NY Times, May 23, 2011)

Valérie Pécresse, France’s minister of education and research, talks about her efforts to overhaul the French system of higher education, including trying to create more cross-disciplinary studies.

Indifference as a Mode of Operation at China Schools (NY Times, May 19, 2011)

Parents of children at a Beijing school where a car ran over a child called the dispassionate reaction typical of the lack of openness and responsiveness at many state-run institutions in China.

Prepare for university places chaos, admissions chief warns (Independent)

Richard Garner: More than 200,000 university applicants will fail to get places this year, the head of the admissions service has warned, in a repeat of last summer’s chaotic scramble following the publication of A-level results

High-School Seniors Predict Their Future The New York Times asked 18 students about their 10-year plans. Hear the answers.

Degrees are not for everybody (Independent, 1 Aug 2011) It is significant that Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of Ucas, the University and College Admissions Service, says that many youngsters will have to consider whether their university applications are “strong enough” this year. The case for considering an alternative is, of course, stronger this year because record numbers are applying in the hope of beating the rise in tuition fees to £9,000-a-year next year. Many will be disappointed this September. But they may end up pursuing courses more suitable to their needs.

The myth of the extraordinary teacher (LATimes, Jul 31)

A Progress Report on Geography (NY Times, Jul 31) The Department of Education recently released the results of its national geography survey of students in grades 4, 8 and 12. The good news is that students did not do all that poorly: Fifty-six percent of high school seniors knew, for instance, that glaciation formed the Great Lakes. The bad news is that students have not shown much improvement from previous exams and that only about one in four fourth graders was able to identify all seven continents correctly. Dr Driscoll has this to say: “We’re seeing a bit of a trend of the floor being raised. Poor kids are showing a modest improvement. But it also shows that kids just aren’t curious. They aren’t reading about these things and therefore they don’t have the knowledge. They don’t work hard enough. Kids know the lyrics to their favorite song but can’t for some reason remember who the vice president is. Schools didn’t cause the problem, but I think America should be raising standards, and the education system is not doing what it should to counteract it.”

Something Else to Worry About on Energy: Most Parents Think Science Can Wait Until Junior High Excerpts follow:

President Obama declared that we’re going to solve our energy problems by “out-innovating” the rest of the world. But there’s a key question we’ve got to figure out:  who’s going to be doing all this innovating?

The President made it clear what he thought the answer should be, namely a new generation of American scientists and engineers. But the day after his speech, new test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the so-called “nation’s report card”, showed how far we’ve got to go. Only 21 percent of American high school seniors are rated “proficient” at science.

That’s bad for the country’s ability to find energy solutions, and frankly, it’s not good news for democratic government overall. We’re living in an era when making sound public decisions in many areas—energy, environment, health care, and others—depends on having an electorate that can grasp basic scientific issues.

In his speech, President Obama suggested recruiting better teachers and setting higher standards, and he’s not alone in backing that approach… It’s certainly part of the problem.

But another hurdle is complacency among parents, and for some perhaps, over-confidence in how good local schools really are.

Our organization, Public Agenda, recently surveyed parents on science and math education, and here’s the picture:

Despite what some commentators believe, very few parents reject the importance of science in the modern world. In fact, more than half (54 percent) say they want their children to take advanced science in high school.

But most parents also believe their children are doing better than they really are in this area. Six in 10 parents with high-school age children say they believe their child will be ready for college-level science – and, of course, the nation’s report card results suggest a lot of those parents are mistaken.

About half of all parents (52 percent) also say that the amount of math and science their child is getting is “fine the way it is.” Even more (70 percent) also say science can wait until middle and high school. On the whole, American parents are much more worried about basic skills and school discipline than whether students are getting world-class science and math skills.”

We all love technology but are not so sure about science/ (Great Energy Challenge Blog) “…somewhere along the line we seem to have lost our appetite for science–in fact, some even look on it with disdain. In developed countries, far fewer students today engage in science or science-based subjects in schools and universities than 20 or 30 years ago. Yet those same people crave the products that a science-based education system can ultimately deliver.

I can recall a newscast I was watching when the iPad was first launched where an excited correspondent was telling the audience about the new device. Not two minutes later, the same person was salivating at the prospect of “the whole global warming story collapsing like a house of cards because of the bogus science.”

But the approach to this science is no different than that behind the iPad, the scientists no less diligent, the papers they produce no less reviewed. Yet because we either don’t want to know about or can’t accept the findings, we choose to attack the science and the scientists–not with any intellectual rigor or scientific discipline, but with slander and sometimes even abuse.”

Free schools will not teach creationism, says Department for Education (Guardian, 21 Mar 2011)

Government spokesman says the education secretary is ‘crystal clear’ that teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact…

Students given tips to stop gap year travel being ‘a new colonialism’ (Guardian, 30 Jul) is about how not all volunteering experiences turn out to be fruitful or learning experiences.

A series of schools and HE institutions have come up with notable innovations or achievements:

Students reach for stars with own satellite (Straits Times Indonesia)

It will be a big lift for Singapore when the second locally made satellite – and the first to be built by students – is launched in 2013.
Called Velox-I, it is being put through its paces by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) engineering students in the Undergraduate Satellite Programme (USP) that was started in April last year.
Unlike a typical satellite that can weigh more than 1,200kg, Velox-I is made up of two tiny satellites, one weighing 3.5kg and the other 1.5kg.
Barely an arm’s length, it looks like an over-sized Lego block with solar-paneled wings that will spring open in space.
Slated to be launched in India or the United States in early 2013, it will have an NTU-designed camera with high-resolution, image-capturing capabilities and be able to conduct quantum physics experiments during its orbit.
The Velox-I project, which includes a student-built ground station on campus that picks up signals from space, has a budget of more than US$300,000 (S$366,000)….

The first made-in-Singapore satellite – the 105kg X-Sat – was launched on April 20 after a nine-year collaboration between scientists and engineers from NTU and Singapore’s defense research body DSO National Laboratories.
X-Sat has been monitoring environmental changes with images of erosion, forest fire and sea pollution.
The USP, which takes in about 50 second- to final-year students annually, is the only space program of its kind in Singapore as space science is a relatively unexplored field. NTU is considering developing the nation’s first space engineering courses if interest grows, said Prof Low.

According to Hi-tech bionic glasses could help the blind to see (Huffington Post, Jul 11, 2011):

“”…Oxford University researchers have developed glasses that use technology such as video cameras, face recognition, position detectors and tracking software to help people with impaired vision to see objects in front of them, The Telegraph reports.
“The glasses should allow people to be more independent -– finding their own directions and signposts, and spotting warning signals,” Dr. Stephen Hicks, of the department of clinical neurology at Oxford University, told The Telegraph.” – End of excerpt.  Find out how they work here.

NTU eco-car clinches top spot (TODAYonline, Jul 11) Nanyang Technological University’s latest eco-car (picture), the Nanyang Venture IV, clinched top spot for the diesel fuel category at this year’s Shell Eco-Marathon Asia 2011.  The three-day international competition, held at Sepang International Circuit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, saw a total of 94 student teams from 12 countries taking part. The NTU team also won the Off-Track Award for Safety, thanks to its innovative safety features, such as a crumple zone to protect the driver in an event of a crash. Read more here

The famous winged and feathered fossil Archaeopteryx has been knocked off its perch as the oldest known bird, according to new research…. see China discovery knocks ‘early bird’ off perch, study says (LATimes)


For our Book Nook, we have our eye on the following reviews:

Not Just for Kids: ‘Cleopatra’s Moon’ (LA Times)

Guardian books podcast: Crime fiction and children’s summer reading  (Audio) Julia Eccleshare reveals the best new summer reads

Thursday’s Children by Rumer Godden is reviewed at – a book for the 10-13 yr olds’ set, about making life choices and a determined youngster’s journey in the face of opposition…


Last but not least are our regular updates on the Fukushima crisis:

Consumers burned by solar salesmen (Yomiuri Mainichi Jul.27) Excerpts follow:”Amid the power shortage following the Great East Japan Earthquake, there has been an upsurge in cases of households being forced to buy overly expensive solar power generation systems by high-pressure salesmanship.Some strong-arm sales representatives have reportedly forced consumers to sign a contract on the day of the rep’s first visit. Others have reportedly stayed put in the genkan entry halls of homes, refusing to leave for several hours.Since the current fiscal year began on April 1, the number of households or individuals asking the National Consumer Affairs Center for advice on solar power systems has risen 30 percent, compared to the same period a year earlier. …According to the center, there were 756 consumer complaints related to solar power systems from April 1 to July 25, or 181 more than the same period last year. About 80 percent of the cases involved unhappiness with door-to-door sales.The center quoted a man in his 20s living in the southern Kanto region as saying: “I ended up signing the contract as the salesman stayed put at my house for four hours. It cost as much as 2.8 million yen, so I want to have it canceled.”A housewife in her 30s in the Chugoku region also wondered if she had been duped.”I signed the contract because the salesman told me I can have a system installed even on the north side of the house that doesn’t get much sunshine. But that doesn’t sound reasonable, does it?” she asked the center.Many consumers have used such systems for a few months only to find a large gap between the system’s actual power-generating capacity and what salespeople had claimed….”

Highest radioactivity level detected at nuke plant (NHK, Aug 2)

The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says it has detected 10,000 millisieverts of radioactivity per hour at the plant. The level is the highest detected there since the nuclear accident in March.

Workers of Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, on Monday measured the extremely high level of radioactivity near pipes at the bottom of a duct between the No.1 and neighboring No.2 reactor buildings.

According to the science ministry’s brochure, if a human received 10,000 millisieverts, they would likely die within a week or two.

TEPCO has restricted access to the site and the surrounding area.

The utility says the workers taking measurements on Monday were exposed to up to 4 millisieverts.

The utility says the high level of radioactivity was detected because the pipes were used to vent air containing radioactive substances from the crippled No.1 reactor on March 12th.

The utility had detected a maximum of 1,000 millisieverts per hour outdoors in debris, and also found a maximum of 4,000 millisieverts per hour indoors in one of the reactor buildings.

Update: Record radiation at Fukushima N-plant / More than twice previous peak level (Yomiuri, Aug.3) “Record-high radiation levels of more than 10 sieverts (10,000 millisieverts) per hour have been detected on a pipe at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, according to Tokyo Electric Power Co. …

According to TEPCO, the pipe connects the containment vessels of the Nos. 1 and 2 reactors to a main exhaust stack. No work was scheduled to be conducted in the area, and TEPCO has prohibited anyone from coming within three meters of the pipe. The flow of air through the pipe had been turned off, the utility said.

The previously highest level detected at the plant was 4 sieverts per hour inside the No. 1 reactor building.

TEPCO said workers noticed the high radiation levels Sunday while using a camera that detects gamma rays to check the area from some distance away.

A further check Monday of the pipe that passes just above the ground revealed the extent of the radiation concentration.

The three workers who measured the radiation were exposed to up to 4 millisieverts per hour, the utility said.

Junichi Matsumoto, acting director of TEPCO’s Nuclear Power and Plant Siting Division, said the pipe might have been “hot” since the day after the March 11 quake and tsunami knocked out the plant’s cooling functions.

“It’s possible that radioactive substances released when the No. 1 reactor vents were opened on March 12 might have accumulated inside the pipe,” Matsumoto said Monday.

However, Kenzo Miya, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo and an expert in nuclear engineering, suggested another possible explanation.

“As well as radiation spilling out when the vents were opened, we can’t rule out that radioactive substances poured into the pipe during the hydrogen explosion” that damaged the reactor on March 12, Miya said.

“Radiation levels also could be high in the exhaust stacks of the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors. This should be closely checked to ensure the safety of workers at the plant,” he said.” — End of excerpt

Highest radiation to date at Fukushima plant another hurdle for TEPCO(Asahi, Aug 2) Excerpts follow: “Tokyo Electric Power Co. was struggling to determine the cause of the highest radiation levels detected at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant since the disaster started March 11….Monitoring posts around the plant have not detected higher levels of radiation, officials say. But that is no cause for reassurance.

The fact that such high levels of radiation were detected near piping connected to the outer atmosphere is further evidence that radioactive materials have spewed from the crippled reactors at much higher levels than previously believed.

It is possible similar high levels of radiation may be found on the plant grounds. TEPCO workers will have to carefully test for radiation levels, meaning further delays before the plant is brought under control.

Explosions at the No. 1, No. 3 and No. 4 reactors left rubble scattered around the reactors, creating hurdles for plant workers. Unmanned heavy equipment had been used to remove that rubble to reduce the possibility of workers becoming overexposed.

The extremely high level of radiation was detected when workers were testing for radiation near the piping after rubble had been cleared away.

On July 31, a gamma ray camera was used to determine which areas had unusually high levels of radiation. A further test on Aug. 1 found radiation levels of 10 sieverts per hour on the outside of piping that connects to the main exhaust tower.

The three workers tested for radiation, using measuring equipment with a maximum measure of 10 sieverts, which means the actual level of radiation was likely higher.

Because that level of radiation was detected on the outside of the piping, the level inside the piping could be even higher….

The piping was used immediately after the accident at the Fukushima plant to vent gases from within the reactor containment vessel to the outside atmosphere.”

Highly radioactive water flows into another place (NHK,  August 2, 2011) Highly radioactive water has been found in the basement of a building at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant near the storage facility for contaminated water.Tokyo Electric Power Company said on Monday that it discovered about 700 tons of contaminated water on Saturday in the basement of an on-site building.The utility said the water contained 19,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium 134 per cubic centimeter, and 22,000 becquerels of cesium 137 — both very high levels. Until June, the building was connected by a hose with another building where highly radioactive water is now being stored. The buildings are located next to each other and are part of the plant’s waste disposal facility. The utility is investigating how the leak happened. But it says it that there is no danger of the contaminated water leaking out of the building.
[Related news: TEPCO to build seawater containment wall off Fukushima plant(Aug 2) Excerpts: “Tokyo Electric Power Co. will install an 800-meter-long wall off crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to prevent radioactive groundwater from flowing into the sea….Steel plates will be set up several meters off the existing shore protection, and the area inside the new perimeter will be reclaimed.The wall will be sunk about 30 meters deep through the permeable strata–where groundwater flows–to the bedrock below.the company decided to advance the schedule to ease concerns among foreign countries and fishery officials about contaminated groundwater flowing into the sea….”Surveys of groundwater and other data show there is a low possibility that radioactive water is leaking into the sea,” said Junichi Matsumoto, acting general manager of TEPCO’s Nuclear Power and Plant Siting Division. “But we decided to install the wall because we cannot rule out that possibility.”TEPCO is considering whether it should eventually install steel plates on the other side of the plant to surround the four reactors where explosions occurred.The company plans to investigate designs and construction methods for the ground-side wall before Step II ends.]

Fukushima No. 4’s cooling system up and running(Asahi, Aug 2) The temperature in the nuclear fuel storage pool at the No. 4 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant fell 2 to 4 degrees on July 31 in the first seven hours that a circulating cooling system began operating, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said July 31.Construction to reinforce the No. 4 reactor building was completed July 30, TEPCO said….The utility ran a test trial of the circular cooling system early July 31 by pumping water out of the pool and returning the water to the pool after cooling it.In the afternoon, full operations commenced, bringing the water temperature–which stood at 86 degrees before the full operation–down to between 82 to 84 degrees in seven hours. During earlier repair work, pipes ruptured in the explosion were replaced.The storage pool, which cools the intense heat that constantly arises from used fuel rods, became incapable of cooling after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami knocked out its water circulating system.Initially, it was suspected that the stored fuel rods had melted due to the evaporation of coolant from the pool.TEPCO plans to start up a similar circulating cooling system at the No. 1 reactor in early August. Cooling systems at the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors started operating on May 31 and July 1, respectively….On March 15, the No. 4 reactor building that houses the storage pool exploded, raising suspicions that the fuel rods had been damaged and produced hydrogen that triggered the explosion.However, it was later found by water analysis, after water was pumped into the reactor, that the cooling pool’s radiation levels were relatively low. No significant damage to the fuel rods was detected by remote observation using cameras.

Nuclear plant workers developed cancer despite lower radiation exposure than legal limit (Mainichi, Jul 27)

Of 10 nuclear power plant workers who have developed cancer and received workers’ compensation in the past, nine had been exposed to less than 100 millisieverts of radiation, it has been learned.

The revelation comes amid reports that a number of workers battling the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant were found to have been exposed to more than the emergency limit of 250 millisieverts, which was raised from the previous limit of 100 millisieverts in March.

According to Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry statistics, of the 10 nuclear power plant workers, six had leukemia, two multiple myeloma and another two lymphatic malignancy. Only one had been exposed to 129.8 millisieverts but the remaining nine were less than 100 millisieverts, including one who had been exposed to about 5 millisieverts.

Earlier: Cesium leveling out at the Fukushima reactor No.3 (NHK, Aug 1)

The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant said on Sunday that the level of radioactive cesium in seawater around the Number 3 reactor has shown no signs of increasing since Saturday. ..
TEPCO says it conducted investigations at 4 other spots in coastal waters. It also said that radioactive cesium was detected in one of the coastal waters but was below the legal limit.

The utility says it believes that radioactive water is no longer leaking since levels of radioactive substances have stayed relatively flat.

The pool holds 1,535 fuel rods, the most for any of the plant’s reactors. The wall supporting the pool was damaged in a blast on March 15th.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company reinforced the wall with steel pillars and concrete, and installed a cooling device with a heat exchanger to set up a circulatory cooling system.

TEPCO conducted a test-run of the cooling device at the Number 4 reactor’s spent fuel pool on Sunday morning. It gradually increased the volume of water flowing into the device before shifting to full operation in the afternoon.
TEPCO says the water temperature of the pool remained above 86 degrees Celsius in the morning and it was around 82 to 84 degrees as of 5 PM.

The company plans to lower the water temperature to around 55 degrees within a month to cool the reactor in a stable manner.

TEPCO is already cooling the water in the spent fuel pools at the Number 2 and 3 reactors. It plans to do the same for the Number 1 reactor soon.

Related news:  TEPCO: No. 3 reactor’s cooling pipes withstood March 11 quake (Asahi, Jul 30)  |  TEPCO installs new decontamination unit  (NHK, Aug 1)

The new equipment, called SARRY, is made by Japanese manufacturers. It consists of 14 cylindrical tanks. Each tank is about 3.5 meters high and 1.4 meter in diameter.

The equipment is designed to reduce radioactive substances in water, such as cesium and strontium, to about one millionth of the starting level.

TEPCO plans to use the new equipment, along with the existing system, for dealing with radioactive substances. After carefully going over pipe connections and conducting a test run, the utility aims to put the new system into operation around early August.

Over four months have passed since the onset of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, and many people across Japan, including those still living in shelters, are eagerly waiting for the situation to be brought under control…
In editorials on June 20, newspapers in Japan questioned whether the goals of Step 1 of the roadmap had been achieved, and whether the itinerary of Step 2 to bring the crisis under control was feasible.

Dishing out the most praise for the achievements of Step 1, which aimed to stabilize the cooling of nuclear reactors at the plant, was the Sankei Shimbun, which has often severely criticized the government administration.

“Stable cooling of the plant was realized within the goal of three months,” the paper said, adding, “We would like to praise this achievement, which was made after overcoming difficulties.”

The Mainichi Shimbun gave credit for the launch of a circulating injection cooling system, but pointed out that the system is a hastily arranged provisional measure, and said officials must start carefully considering construction of a sustainable cooling system.

The Nihon Keizai Shimbun, meanwhile, said it is certain that contaminated water continues to leak from the plant, presenting the view that stability has not yet been reached.The Tokyo Shimbun also pointed out a series of problems including leaks, and stated, “The results have not matched expectations.” …The Yomiuri Shimbun stated, “As before, the essential concrete measures lack workability.” The daily raised doubts about a statement from Kan in the Diet that an end to the nuclear crisis had come into view, and called for the government to clearly explain the current situation and provide a clear outlook.

The Mainichi Shimbun, meanwhile, said planning and construction of a barrier to block contaminated underground water from the nuclear plant should be initiated promptly, and pointed out that “residents have not yet been given any guidelines on their future lives,” criticizing the lack of consideration for residents.

The Nihon Keizai Shimbun also called for efforts to enable evacuated residents to return to their homes.

People in Japan, particularly residents around the plant, want the crisis to be brought under control, and want support for victims, but with the exception of the Sankei Shimbun other Japanese papers take a harsh view of the current situation.

Weighing economic growth against nuclear risks makes no sense (Mainichi Japan) August 1, 2011 | Govt eyes Fukushima Pref. as R&D center (Yomiuri, Jul 28)

Reactor age now in question amid METI restart push (Japan Times, Aug 3): Excerpts here:  “…According to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, it took about 80 hours for the fuel rods of the 36-year-old reactor 2 at Fukushima No. 1 and 34-year-old reactor 3 to melt down to the bottom of their pressure vessels after the March quake and tsunami struck the plant. Meanwhile, it took only five hours for the nuclear fuel in 40-year-old reactor 1 to do likewise.

In Fukui, reactor 1 at the plant in the town of Mihama started operations in November 1970, making it the oldest commercial pressurized water reactor in Japan.

“Among the reactors in east Japan hit by the disaster, it was only those at the Fukushima No. 1 plant that experienced serious troubles,” said Mihama Mayor Jitaro Yamaguchi. “We want more explanation on whether the reactors’ deterioration was the problem.”

NISA officials have repeatedly denied that reactor age played a part in the accident…”

Related topics:

On the importance of proper disaster management procedures … Town beats floods with lessons of 7 years ago (Yomiuri, Aug.2)

“Torrential rain that hit Niigata and Fukushima prefectures last week claimed the lives of four people and forced more than 400,000 to evacuate. Houses, roads and farms were damaged by floods, and residents are still struggling with water outages and other problems.

Even so, compared with a similar disaster that hammered the two prefectures in July 2004 and killed 16 people, far less human suffering has been reported.

Credit for this has been given to no-frills, commonsense efforts by communities that acted on the lessons from the previous disaster and moved to protect places considered most vulnerable to natural disaster.

In Sanjo, Niigata Prefecture, about 100,000 people from about 34,000 households were advised or ordered to evacuate last week.

Everyone in Sanjo escaped safely–unlike in 2004, when the Ikarashigawa river flooded and nine people were killed after evacuation orders did not reach them.

In 2005, the Sanjo city government compiled a manual for flood situations. The criteria for issuing evacuation directives–which were formerly issued at the mayor’s discretion–were clearly defined: An evacuation preparation warning will be given when the water level reaches 1.5 meters below the dike near the Watarasebashi bridge on the river near the city’s center, and an evacuation order will be issued when the water reaches 1 meter below.” Read the rest here

PET bottles can be used to make dosimeters (Jul.7) The Yomiuri Shimbun

A plastic compound commonly found in PET bottles has turned out to be radiation fluorescent and could be used to make dosimeters at about one-tenth of the price of current models, according to a research team affiliated with Kyoto University.

The team, led by Kyoto University Asst. Prof. Hidehito Nakamura, announced the result in a digital publication of the European Physical Society on June 29.

Conventional dosimeters used for radiation contamination checks on ordinary people–and the plastic compounds used to make them–are expensive.

The sensors alone cost tens of thousands of yen.

This is because a single company dominates the know-how to produce the dosimeters and thus monopolizes sales.

But dosimeters using the new compound can be produced at about one-tenth the price of current models.

The compound used in dosimeter sensors emits a weak blue light when exposed to ionizing radiation. The light is converted into electrical signals to measure radiation levels.

After_Quake_Japanese_Choose_Peace_of_Mind_Over_Great_View CNBC 20 Jul 2011 second thoughts about high-rises and waterfront properties in Tokyo and other cities are casting a shadow on Japan’s $29 trillion real estate market.

Tsunami data facilities need urgent repair(Yomiuri Jul 28)  | Shake-up for tsunami warning system (Yomiuri, Jun.30) Although tsunami warnings were issued ahead of the giant wave generated by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, more than 20,000 people on the coast of the Tohoku and Kanto regions were killed by or went missing in the water. It would be hard to claim, then, that the tsunami warning system was successful.

The Meteorological Agency plans to identify the shortcomings of the current warning system and compile a report on possible improvements by autumn.

Home survivability threshold: 4-meter tsunami (Japan Times, Aug 3)

“A recent study by building experts on the tsunami-hit structures in the Tohoku region has found that 4-meter waves were enough to completely destroy and wash away wooden houses.

Waves less than 2 meters high didn’t have that much power. In areas hit by the weaker waves, almost all wooden structures survived, according to the study by the Architectural Institute of Japan….

In the Arahama district of Wakabayashi Ward, Sendai, some 650 wooden structures were hit by 4-meter tsunami or higher. Of them, only 3 percent survived and the rest were crushed, detached from their foundations and swept away, the study showed.

But almost all of the roughly 190 wooden houses in inland areas of the same ward survives, the study found.”

Quake-volcano links probed (Yomiuri, Jul 28)

It is not unusual for dormant volcanoes to erupt several months or years after a great earthquake. But is there a causal relationship between massive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions? Will the Great East Japan Earthquake affect volcanoes in this country? Researchers have been trying to answer these questions.

Manned submarine to troll seabed for M9 quake clues (Yomiuri, Jul.30) Excerpted: “A manned deep-sea submarine will conduct research focused on the seabed around the epicentral area of the Great East Japan Earthquake starting Saturday… It will be the first attempt in the world to send a manned submersible vessel for the purpose of studying the area around the focus of a magnitude-9 earthquake within six months of its occurrence.”

10% of foreign residents have left disaster-hit prefectures (Japan Times, Jul 31)

Related energy issues:

Nuclear disaster evacuee helps shine light on solar power  (Asahi Japan Watch, Jul 30)

“Living near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Hisayuki Sakagami might have once been seen as a bit odd, generating his family’s electricity through solar power and small windmills.

Today, he is seen as prescient, becoming alarmed at the risks of nuclear power following the Chernobyl disaster and dedicating his life to renewable energy.

Although Sakagami was forced to evacuate from his home after the nuclear crisis unfolded in March, he has been busy helping victims in ways only he and his peers can.

They recently installed 24 solar panels at no charge at evacuation centers in the stricken areas in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures.

Sakagami awoke to the enormous risks involved in nuclear power when he heard about the 1986 Chernobyl incident. Back then, he was 19 and working as an auto mechanic….

He embarked on research to find out what approaches other countries took toward meeting their energy needs.

After arming himself with a vast knowledge of an alternative sustainable way of life, he decided to make his living through sales and installations of solar power equipment. He also became self-sustaining on the home front, supplying his family’s electricity, water and other basic necessities through renewable energy sources….”

This next article’s contents reflect a number of rumours and debates that have been circulating the social media networks for several weeks now:  Dodgy data led to overestimate of electricity demand (Asahi Aug 2) Excerpts follow:

“… TEPCO officials estimated that all households would use 18 million kilowatts of electricity, out of total expected usage of 60 million kilowatts.

Those figures are considerably higher than the amount of electricity that was actually used, however.

According to an agency study into the relationship between electricity rates and usage volume, last summer’s peak usage hours showed that households where someone was home used 1,000 watts, about 200 watts less than the estimate figure.

Think-tank Jyukankyo (living environment) Research Institute also conducted a study commissioned by the energy agency of electricity demand between fiscal 2004 and 2006. That study found the household average for peak summer usage was 670 watts, with the total usage by all households reaching 12 million kilowatts. However, the energy agency did not use those figures in compiling its estimate of electricity demand.

Under the agency’s estimate of 1,200 watts per household, cutting 15 percent, or 180 watts, would require reduced use of air conditioning.

However, if the figure of 1,000 watts was used for electricity demand, a 15-percent reduction would have meant cutting use by 150 watts. That can be achieved by turning off lights instead of the air conditioning.

TEPCO officials said that because actual electricity usage data is only available for large-volume users, figures from the energy agency were used in drawing up various scenarios.

One official admitted that the estimates may have been higher than actual household usage.

Energy agency officials said they used TEPCO data without verifying its validity because it was all related to estimates of usage.

When the agency requested data on electricity usage, TEPCO officials insisted that data existed only for those large-volume users contracted for at least 500 kilowatts of electricity.

TEPCO estimated that total demand among small-volume users would be 25 million kilowatts at 2 p.m. in midsummer. That was calculated by estimating that all households would use 18 million kilowatts, while small-volume companies would use 7 million kilowatts.

However, even TEPCO officials realized the estimate of 18 million kilowatts for households was somewhat high, since most would not have anyone home during the day.

The energy agency used the figure and came up with the average amount likely to be used by the 19 million households served by TEPCO.

While TEPCO provided the initial figures used, in pamphlets the utility distributed to households, the source for the estimated figures was stated as the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.

The company urged households to conserve energy while also warning that there could be problems in securing a stable supply of electricity if demand shot up due to unusually hot days.

The energy agency also drew up a picture of an average household that was far removed from reality in order to produce an exaggerated estimate of electricity usage….

Although electric power companies have conducted studies on electricity usage, they are very hesitant about releasing such data.

When Setagaya Ward Mayor Nobuto Hosaka asked TEPCO to release electricity consumption figures for neighborhoods rather than individual households, the company refused.

An electric power industry expert said, “They want to prevent new companies from entering the sector and do not want to provide information to households–which are their cash cows–that would allow consumers to know the actual costs of their electricity.”

TEPCO has released figures for total electricity usage for this summer–all considerably lower than last summer.

This year’s peak usage to date occurred on July 15, hitting 45.27 million kilowatts, which was about 20 percent lower than the highest figure for 2010.

While the usage ratio reached 93 percent of TEPCO’s electricity supply on June 29, there was no day in July when the ratio exceeded 90 percent.

Demand has also been low in the area served by Tohoku Electric Power Co., with the highest ratio being 94.6 percent on July 9.

The lower electricity usage is due both to fewer days when daily highs exceeded 35 degrees in eastern Japan and to efforts by companies to conserve energy.”

Asahi EDITORIAL: Energy debate requires objective data(Asahi, Jul 31)

Govt drafts path to less reliance on nuclear energy (Yomiuri, Jul.31)

‘Credibility shot to pieces’ / Latest utility scandal also sullies govt nuclear safety agency (Yomiuri, Jul 30)

An attempt by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency to stifle public opposition to a plutonium-thermal power generation project at the Hamaoka nuclear power plant during a 2007 community symposium is the latest scandal to involve a nuclear power project.

This most recent scandal was revealed during a press conference on Friday by Chubu Electric Power Co., operator of the Hamaoka plant.

In 2006, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency asked a utility to manipulate public opinion in favor of nuclear power at a public forum, a fresh example of collusion between the nuclear watchdog and electric power companies.

The Shikoku Electric Power Co. admitted NISA asked it to mobilize residents to attend the June 2006 public hearing in Ikata, Ehime Prefecture, home to Shikoku Electric’s Ikata nuclear power plant, the industry ministry said July 29.

NISA wanted the utility to persuade people to speak up in favor of the utility’s planned use of MOX fuel (plutonium oxide mixed with uranium) at the plant. Read on here

New ministry home eyed for nuke agency (JT, Aug 3) “The government may separate the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and merge its functions into a new agency to be created under the Environment Ministry, according to a minister’s draft plan revealed Wednesday… According to the plan, the Cabinet Office’s Nuclear Safety Commission, an independent body of nuclear experts, will be turned into an advisory body under the new agency, which under the draft is tentatively called the Nuclear Safety Agency, to be set up next April..”. See also NHK report Govt comes up with plan for a new nuclear watchdog

Nuclear safety agency must be split from ministry (Yomiuri, Jul.31) | Time to split watchdog from N-proponent (Yomiuri, Jul.31)  Excerpts follow…

“Can the organization that promotes nuclear power also serve effectively as that industry’s watchdog?

Criticism has been expressed within the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry about having the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency as a special organization in the Natural Resources and Energy Agency, which promotes nuclear energy. This structure effectively means the same organization is responsible for both regulating and promoting nuclear energy.

Although the safety agency ostensibly regulates nuclear energy while remaining independent, the reality is somewhat more complicated.

“I think the current system, in which the energy agency explains the need for nuclear power and the safety agency backs this up by explaining how safe nuclear power is, goes against common sense,” said Kyushu University Vice President Hitoshi Yoshioka, a member of the government’s accident investigation and examination committee. Yoshioka has attended nuclear power explanatory meetings for residents.

“It’s obvious that the safety agency should be separate from and independent of the energy agency. Some drastic changes are needed, including in the thinking of our bureaucrats,” Yoshioka said.

An economy ministry official who once worked for the nuclear safety agency believes that agency staffers could never take on major enterprises when disagreements arose.

“Agency staffers don’t usually work there for their whole careers, so there’s a limit to the restrictions they can impose on companies,” he admitted.

Agency employees get transferred to other posts within the ministry, just like officials in other sections. If workers provoke a major company while at the agency, it could come back to haunt them if they have to deal with that firm again after being transferred to another section.

According to the official, the most commonly followed policy is, “Don’t make waves.”

Plans to snap these cozy ties and clarify responsibility for safety regulations by making the agency independent were included in Japanese government reports submitted to the ministerial-level meeting at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna last month.

However, Tetsunari Iida, executive director at the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, said problems lie not only in the agency but in the ministry itself.

“Bureaucrats are supposed to support the government. But this time, bureaucrats seemed to have gone beyond this role and acted with political intentions,” Iida said. “I think the ministry needs to be drastically reformed.”” – End of excerpt.

“Hajime Matsumoto is an organizer of June 11 demonstration against nuclear power generation. Born in 1974, he organized a protest movement against a cafeteria price hike while in university. He currently runs a recycle shop named Shiroto no Ran (revolt of an amateur) in Tokyo’s Koenji district. His published works include “Binbo-nin no Gyakushu!” (The poor strike back!).But in a plebiscite, it’s the government that asks the people what they think of a particular issue. In a demonstration, on the other hand, it’s the people who express their anger or whatever message they wish to convey to the government. This, I believe, is a more “genuine” form of popular participation in politics.

Under our current election system, it is impossible to quickly fill the Diet with anti-nuke legislators. But if more people start demonstrating in real anger against nuclear power generation, the incumbents won’t be able to ignore the groundswell of public opinion, and that may lead to changes in the nation’s energy policy.

What is most important is that people must get into the habit of voicing their complaints. We’ve got to stop acquiescing with passive democracy and regain true, participatory democracy. And my belief is that taking to the streets is one effective means.

Using the Internet, we organized a street demonstration against nuclear power generation in Tokyo’s Koenji district in April. This was followed by another in May in Shibuya, and then one more in Shinjuku on June 11. They were lively, almost festive affairs with reggae musicians and traditional “chindon-ya” street performers marching with us.

Some people came toting their laptops to stream the events on the Internet, which resulted in a lot of people showing up and joining us along the way. The three demonstrations attracted a total of about 50,000 participants, mostly young people.

People realized it was perfectly OK to openly voice their fear of nuclear power generation. On June 11, exactly three months after the March disaster, anti-nuke rallies were held at 140 locations throughout Japan.” Read the rest here.

Tokyo looks to build natural gas power plant

How an offshore windfarm is built (8 pictures)

NUS team makes cheap power from rainwater(Straits Times, Jul 2, 2011)

“SCIENTISTS at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have found a cheap way to convert rainwater into electricity – and they are expanding their research to include sea water and wastewater, such as urine, as well. They said such electricity is as cheap as power from the national grid and could become even cheaper in the future. It can also be used to power cars if fuel tanks are replaced by water tanks…” Read the full story here


On health and safety matters:

Child abuse awareness must lead to action (Asahi, Jul.22)

McDonald’s to make Happy Meals more healthful (LATimes, Jul 25) The fast food chain plans to add a serving of fruit or vegetable to all of the Happy Meals, which are aimed at children, and shrink the portion of French fries.

NHK Special: Japan’s nuclear crisis-part-2/  | Japan Radiation Survey Conducted In March Shows 1 In 20 Fukushima Children Will Develop Thyroid Cancer | Radiation study estimates 200,000 cases of cancer from Fukushima nuclear fallout

Excerpts of Asahi’s EDITORIAL: Create new law to deal with radioactive pollution (Asahi Jul 29)  follow: This nation has no legislation for regulating and disposing of radioactive materials that have spread to air, soil, lakes, rivers, mountains and forests. No ministry or agency is legally responsible for dealing with the problem of such radioactive pollution… Environmental laws like the air pollution control law, the water pollution control law and the waste disposal law don’t cover radioactive materials. … the atomic energy basic law and related legislation like the nuclear reactor regulation law only deal with problems and situations that take place within the premises of nuclear power plants. These laws are not designed to deal with what could happen when radiation is released into the environment. …

There are no clear answers, either, to such key issues as the division of roles between the central and local governments and who should foot the bill. Ministries and agencies are taking stopgap measures in response to the situation while operating under a heavy fog about crucial questions.

In order for the government to make consistent and effective long-term efforts to deal with the problem of radioactive pollution of the environment, it is urgently needed to enact legislation that establishes clear safety standards for deciding on the necessity of measures, spells out the methods for removing and disposing of polluted materials and defines the responsibilities of the government organizations concerned. A system to ensure coordinated policy efforts to tackle the challenge that are not restricted by boundaries between ministries and agencies should also be created as soon as possible. It is also necessary to put together a group of experts to advise the government on the problem. In the academic circles too, environment and nuclear power have been two separate areas with little interdisciplinary research… Joint scientific and intellectual work involving experts in a wide range of research areas is in order.” Read more …
[See also related discussion in Time to dismantle dangerous nuclear reactors, scrap nuclear fuel cycle(Mainichi, Aug 2), in which risk assessment and the need “to develop and secure a certain number of experts if Japan seeks to safely and efficiently dismantle nuclear reactors while continuing to operate a certain number of nuclear power plants for now” are raised as priorities.]

Govt to conduct comprehensive radiation monitoring (NHK, Tuesday, August 02, 2011) Japan’s government has decided to start comprehensive radiation monitoring this year by coordinating organizations that have been checking radiation levels since the Fukushima nuclear accident in March.The government decided on the plan on Tuesday in response to criticism about difficulty in referring to results of such checks by various ministries, agencies, prefectural governments and utilities.The plan divides monitoring activities into 6 fields including air, water, farm soil and grass, and food.Organizations are to be in charge of monitoring and analyzing results in each field and proposing concrete measures.The government is to set up about 250 monitoring points across the country and draw up maps showing radiation levels at children’s facilities, such as schools and public libraries.The science ministry is expected to set up a website to provide such data by mid-August.

Govt bans shipments of Tochigi beef cattle (NHK, Tuesday, August 02, 2011) The government ordered the ban on Tuesday after beef from 4 head of cattle shipped from 2 municipalities in the prefecture was found to contain unsafe amounts of radioactive cesium.Cesium contamination was also detected in rice straw used to feed beef cattle in the prefecture.Tochigi is the fourth prefecture ordered to suspend beef cattle shipments, following Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate.

Govt sets new criteria for contaminated fertilizer NHK, August 02, 2011On Tuesday, the agriculture ministry urged farmers not to use humus and compost that contain 400 becquerels of cesium per kilogram or more.It also called on them not to use livestock feed containing 300 becquerels of cesium per kilogram or more. For fish feed, the limit was set at 100 becquerels per kilogram.The ministry says it will notify local governments how to measure cesium in fertilizers as soon as possible.Last week, the agriculture ministry asked famers and fertilizer producers in 17 prefectures in eastern and central Japan to voluntarily refrain from using or selling compost and humus made from fallen leaves possibly contaminated with radioactive cesium. This was after humus shipped from Tochigi Prefecture was found to be contaminated with radioactive substances

Hiroshima University to study low-level exposure  (NHK, Aug 3) Hiroshima University is to launch a study focusing on the health impact of exposure to low-level radiation.
The university has set up a committee of about 40 researchers to apply their knowledge to support people affected by the Fukushima nuclear accident. The university has been providing medical care to atomic bomb survivors.
The committee has 3 main themes: analysis of the impact of low-level radioactive exposure on human genes; medical response to internal exposure and exposure during an emergency; and support for a health survey conducted by Fukushima Prefecture.
The university says that when cumulative exposure reaches 100 millisieverts, the chances of developing cancer are said to rise by 0.5 percent.
It also says there is not enough data available anywhere in the world about an exposure to radiation below that level.

Health Implications in the Aftermath of Japan’s Crisis: Mental Health, Radiation Risks, and the Importance of Continued Surveillance (The National Bureau of Asian Research) | Navigating Fukushima: Lessons from Chernobyl, Potential Radiation Effects, and Other Health Impacts (NBR) | Testimony of Dr Boice on health implications of radiation from Fukushima at the Hearing on Nuclear Risk Management | Radiation Risks to Health, a joint statement on the health risks due to radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant accident | Bloomberg FAQ Radiation, Particles, Effects on Food, Human Health: Questions and Answers. | John Boice on health effects of radiation Radiation Epidemiologist, 1st Chief of Radiation Branch at the Vanderbilt University |

Chernobyl: A field trip to no man’s land (26 July 2011, BBC) |  The case of Kazakhstan testing site by the Russians was even more horrific: “some of the people of northern Kazakhstan were unwittingly turned into experimental subjects. Residents were ordered to step outside their homes during test blasts, so that they could later be examined as part of studies on the effects of radiation…Thousands of cases of birth defects, cancer, and neurological illnesses have since been reported in the Semipalatinsk region. Livestock living within range of the site also suffer from deformities and other defects…”From the human viewpoint, this was the wrong thing to do, because these explosions brought not only economic losses for people but also huge moral damage. The environment was badly affected, the land became useless,” Gilmanov said. “There is no such nuclear testing site in other countries — not in the United States, France, or China. Out of 715 [Soviet] nuclear bombs, 500 were tested in Kazakhstan. The reason for this isn’t clear.” “A 2006 report predicted 30,000 to 60,000 cancer deaths as a result of Chernobyl fallout. A Greenpeace report puts this figure at 200,000 or more. A Russian publication, Chernobyl, concludes that 985,000 excess cancer deaths occurred between 1986 and 2004 as a result of radioactive contamination (Alexey V. Yablokov; Vassily B. Nesterenko; Alexey V. Nesterenko (2009). Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment (Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences) (paperback ed.). Wiley-BlackwellISBN 978-1573317573.)

Dramatic thyroid cancer incidence is the clearest effect seen in Chernobyl affected areas (Health effects resulting from the Chernobyl accident 2007) – in the Belarus, in the Ukraineno increased thyroid cancer incidence nor leukemia in Finland – more recent 2008 report on “Thyroid cancer in infants and adolescents after Chernobyl ; one of the countries most heavily contaminated by the Chernobyl accident; the population was divided into fifths by exposure; Study in 1994 reported no significant increase in the incidence of acute childhood leukaemia in areas of Sweden contaminated after the Chernobyl reactor accident, but ten years on, a 2004  study reported “a slight exposure related increase in total cancer incidence” in northern Sweden and in 2006, a study reported “Increased incidence of total malignancies possibly related to the fallout from the Chernobyl accident is seen. An excess for thyroid cancer or leukemia could not be ruled out.” | Published research on strontium-90 in teeth (see Cancer for Baby Boomers) and cancer correlation

The Health Physics Society (HPS) is concerned about radiation exposures associated with these reactor problems and desires to keep our members and the concerned public advised on current events associated with the Japanese nuclear plants. Some of their links might be useful, eg. Fukushima Government Plans Health-Effects StudyJune 2011 Japanese Government Report to IAEAFukushima Release of Radiation and Potential Health EffectsHPS Information for Radiation QuestionsRecommended Sources of Useful Information | Radiation Benefits and Risk Assessment

Wake-up call: Prof Tatsuhiko Kodama of Tokyo University see Prof Kodama’s pt 1  testimony to the Diet pt 2 pt 3 | has updated videos and viewpoints on the harmful effects of internal radiation. | Dr. Conrad Miller’s assessment of the health risks from Fukushima’s radioactive contamination (Dr Conrad’s talk uses rem measurements – the rem is the unit of effective dose. In international units, 1 rem=0.01 sievert (Sv)=10 mSv.) | Dr Chris Busby’s advice to people living downwind of Fukushima’s 3/11 explosions: “If the readings increase to more that twice the normal background in your area or to a level of more than 300nSv/h (300nGy/h) then: Get away as soon as possible to a clean area. If it is not possible to evacuate, stay indoors and keep all the doors and windows closed for as long as the radiation levels are higher than normal. Try to keep the house sealed as far as possible. Drink bottled water, use only tinned milk. Avoid fresh garden produce. (We acknowledge that this is difficult advice for the people of Japan, where local produce is economically important.)” More from Dr Busby on Youtube

Japanese Find Radioactivity on Their Own (NY Times) As the government fumbles its reaction to the widespread contamination, residents are using their own dosimeters.

Tadao Kakizoe, President of the Japan Cancer Society writes lucidly on the need to “Mobilize full medical resources for quake victims

Shizuoka begins checking rice for radiation (NHK, Aug 2) | Shimane Prefecture to test all beef cattle (NHK, Aug 3) | Cesium leveling out at the Fukushima reactor No.3 (NHK) | Government to test rice for radioactivity (NHK, Aug 3) see excerpts below:

The agriculture ministry announced at a meeting of rice farmers on Wednesday that rice grown in areas with high levels of radioactive cesium in the soil will be tested both before and after harvest.
If the amount of cesium in the post-harvest test exceeds the government-set safety level of 500 becquerels per kilogram, shipments of rice from that area will be banned.
Farmers will be obligated to dispose of the banned rice. Tokyo Electric Power Company, the owner of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, is to pay compensation to the farmers.
The government says 14 prefectures from northeastern through central Japan will be subject to the inspections.
Tests will also be carried out in areas where more than 1,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram in the soil or more than 0.1 microsieverts of atmospheric radiation have been detected.”

See also:  Chiba, Tochigi to test rice for cesium traces (NHK, August 1) The Chiba and Tochigi prefectural governments say they will test the rice harvested in their prefectures for radiation.

The decision comes after radioactive cesium was detected in rice straw, vegetables and compost following the Fukushima nuclear accident.

Farmers in Chiba and Tochigi planted rice seedlings in their fields after the accident and are voicing concerns over possible contamination due to fallout from the Fukushima plant.

Officials in Chiba, where harvesting is expected to begin as early as August, say they will sample unmilled rice from one to several farms in each rice-growing municipality to measure radiation levels.

They say they will not allow any farms in a municipality to ship their rice unless the tests show that the radiation readings of samples from the area are within the safety limit set by the central government.

Tochigi authorities plan to have each area submit a sample for testing. They say they will also purchase 2 special devices to detect radioactive cesium, although they are still discussing the details of the testing method with the government.

In Tochigi, rice harvesting will start in early September.

The 2 prefectures are the first in Japan to announce that they will test rice for radioactive cesium.

Radioactive waste worries local governments / Officials seek guidance from central authorities on how to permanently dispose of sludge, ash (Aug.1)  | Government reluctant to obtain N-waste sites (Aug 1) | 120000 tons of ‘radioactive’ waste in storage (Yomiuri 30 Jul) | Document suggests govt estimated 1,600 workers exposed to radiation (Mainichi, Jul 27) “…as of July 13, six company employees had been exposed to over 250 millisieverts of radiation — the amount permitted for workers in emergency situations. Meanwhile, a total of 416 workers from both TEPCO and subcontractors working at the plant have been exposed to more than 50 millisieverts…. The internal ministry document was released to the public domain in June after the Japan Occupational Safety and Health Resource Center (JOSHRC) requested the public disclosure of government information. The document originating from the ministry said: “Those who in the days ahead will be exposed to over 50 millisieverts of radiation are expected to number around 1,600.””


Digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe

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