Keeping cool with kakigori ice shavings

Hope everyone’s survived the heat this summer so far. Kids  in local schools will be back to class very soon. We’ve kept our tempers and temperatures cool thanks to our recently purchased ice-shaver equipment that we’re quite pleased with.  It looks like a large pencil-sharpener and which, in typical Japanese design wizardry, is compact enough for the parts to be disassembled to fit and nest within each other for storage.

For our regular readers and discussion forum members, here’s the latest look at what’s up on education locally, in the world at large…as well as updates (scroll down to bottom of page) on the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Cheers,

Aileen Kawagoe

First up is the news on the educational scene in Japan:

Science teachers to cover radiation in class (NHK, Aug 16)

Science teachers of Japanese junior high schools have discussed how to teach about radiation before the subject becomes compulsory from the next school year.

Japan’s education ministry requires in its new curriculum guidelines that radiation be covered in junior high science classes starting in April. This is the first time in 30 years for the ministry to set such a requirement.

About 150 science teachers from schools in Tokyo attended a seminar on Monday.

An expert at the meeting explained features of radiation, how it is put to practical use, and its impact on the human body. The lecturer said it’s important to have accurate knowledge about radiation rather than unduly fear it.

The participants then conducted an experiment in which traces of radiation were visualized by using a radioactive mineral ore and dry ice. In another experiment, the participants measured radiation levels in paints and rocks.

The teachers concluded the seminar by discussing how to teach about radiation in class. One participant said he should tell students about the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, but added that there’s a lot he still doesn’t know about the issue.

A 28-year-old teacher said she didn’t study radiation in school and that she wants to learn about it before teaching the subject.

NGOs, academics call for abolition of nuclear plants (Japan Times, Aug 15) Excerpts follow:

“During a gathering at the Japan Education Center in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, the expert on the contentious Yasukuni Shrine issue and Fukushima native accused the government of employing the same tactics to deceive people into supporting pronuclear policies as it did during the war to marshal support.

Some Cabinet members, he noted, heap praise on those working to cool the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, much in “the spirit of Yasukuni Shrine,” built by the government to honor the war dead including Japanese soldiers….

Yoshinobu Koizumi, of the Tokyo-based People’s Research Institute on Energy and Environment, also pointed out that Japan’s nuclear energy policy was imposed undemocratically on the people.

Blueprints for safety measures in nuclear power plants were discussed by only a handful of people while inconvenient data were “kept hidden” from the public, as was the case during the war, Koizumi said.

Although some did voice their concern over the safety of nuclear energy — in the same manner that some believed the war was wrong — the government silenced them all, he added.

“I can sense a shadow of wartime dictatorship when I look at those pronuclear bureaucrats and politicians,” Koizumi said. “It gives me the chills.” …

South Korea President Lee Myung Bak on Monday called on Japan to teach its future generations a “correct history” amid rising tensions in recent days over Tokyo’s attempts to bolster its claims to South Korean-controlled islets.

“Japan has a responsibility to teach its future generations a correct history,” Lee said during his speech on Liberation Day, marking the end of Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Japan’s attempts to renew territorial claims to the islets known as Dokdo to Koreans and as Takeshima to Japanese have sparked a fierce storm of criticism in South Korea.

“By doing so (teaching a correct history), young generations of South Korea and Japan can move toward a bright future together,” Lee said.” Read more here

Parents sue kindergarten / Allege response to earthquake, tsunami caused children’s deaths (Yomiuri, Aug.11) | Parents of kids killed on 3/11 sue school (Japan Times, Aug 10, 2011) Excerpts follow:

“Parents of four children killed when their kindergarten bus was engulfed by the March 11 tsunami filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the school in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, seeking compensation for its failure to ensure the children’s safety. The suit is likely the first of its kind questioning the responsibility of schools with respect to evacuation guidance after the twin disasters, the plaintiffs’ lawyer said. The parents are demanding ¥260 million in total compensation from Hiyori kindergarten and its principal at the time.”

Textbook row fires up China’s media (Japan Times, Aug 8, 2011) Chinese media have been running stories warning of an impending rightwing bias in Japan’s public education system after the Yokohama educational board decided to use textbooks from a publishing house with alleged nationalist leanings. The history and civic textbooks, published by Ikuhosha Publishing Inc., will be used by about 27,000 students at nearly 150 public junior high schools in Yokohama. They will be distributed in April in time for the next school year, the board said Thursday.

Japanese student missing after accident at Niagara Falls (Mainichi, Aug. 16, 2011) |

Forced to Cut Power, Tokyo Universities Endure Long, Hot Summer (Chronicle.com)

Japan’s new digital textbooks (Sept 25, 2010)

With the recent news about South Korea going with digital textbooks, I thought to post this reminder that Japan announced them last year, and some Singapore schools have had digital textbooks and laptops for years….

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Elsewhere in the world on education:

There is no justification for the recent riots, but a lack of educational opportunities has left a generation of despondent youth, says David M.A. Green.

Heads challenge parents over riots  (BBC)

He warns that too often schools are faced with pupils who have never had any boundaries in their home lives – where there has never been a sense of right and wrong.

“Parents are not willing to say ‘no’. That short, simple word is an important part of any child’s upbringing,” says Mr Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

“It’s desperately important that children have a sense of right and wrong. But we often come across children who have never been told that something is wrong.”

Head teachers’ leader, Brian Lightman, says there need to be some “hard questions” and “uncomfortable truths” for parents and families, after youngsters were caught up in an unprecedented night of violence and looting….’Sense of direction’

Schools are often the only place where these youngsters have had boundaries put on their behaviour, says Mr Lightman.

“Schools are the last havens of an orderly society for many young people,” he says.

The latest outbreak of violence also has “far-reaching implications for the curriculum”, he says, with a need to emphasise a sense of responsibility, morality and a “sense of direction”.

He also says that there need to be questions raised about the messages sent to young people by a consumerist culture which gives the impression that they can become “rich and famous without doing any work”

Mr Lightman blames a toxic mixture of dysfunctional parenting and a consumer and celebrity culture which tells youngsters they should have whatever they want.

My guide to being a good parent: just be more middle-class (The Times, Aug 14) Giles Coren resents an interventionist government and what he considers to be their misguided advice and interfering condescension.

England’s ‘Phony War’ as Higher Education Awaits Upheaval (Chronicle.com)

For English universities, 2012-13 could well be a time of crisis, says Nigel Thrift.

Gove: Student debt ‘may double by 2012’ (BBC)

Sixth-forms and colleges ‘cutting support and courses’ (BBC 16 Aug)

Teachers targeted by cyberbullying pupils and parents (BBC)

The Virtuoso Phenomenon (NYTimes Aug 16, 2011)

UK riots: Oxford University graduate and RAF-hopeful in court (Telegraph, Aug 16) An Oxford University law graduate threw bricks at police officers in broad daylight during last week’s riots in London, a court heard yesterday

Academic Colonialism, False Consciousness, and the Western University Ideal (Chronicle.com)

While the globalization of higher education presents some problems, it’s worth remembering that the Western university model has become dominant for a reason, writes Ben Wildavsky.

The next big thing in digital education (Chronicle.com)

Today’s generation has integrated web-based technology into their daily lives. Expectations of a “new normal” are forming:  dynamic…

It’s an exciting time to be in education—whether you’re an institutional leader setting strategies for growth, an IT professional making innovative technology decisions or an educator building dynamic courses.  All of us are connected by the movement towards a more digital campus.

If there were any doubts about the digital shift, consider this:

•  E-book versions of the top six books outsell print versions1

•  YouTube exceeds 2B views per day2

•  Smart device growth expected to increase by 36% through 20153

Today’s generation has integrated web-based technology into their daily lives. Expectations of a “new normal” are forming:  dynamic content—anytime, anywhere and on any device.  And those expectations aren’t just for recreational consumption—they’re extending into the educational space as well.

But in a realm where budgets are shrinking as digital demand is increasing, how can an institution make an impact in a cost-effective, scalable way?

The Paradigm Shift
Expanding our digital footprint isn’t just a luxury—it’s a necessity.  And institutional leaders and IT professionals aren’t the only ones feeling the pressure to innovate—educators are as well.  We need to align the way teaching is delivered with the way information is now consumed.

More and more studies report a paradigm shift from teaching to learning—moving away from facilitating lectures of facts towards promoting skills of self-study, analysis and individual learning paths; from courses built using a single textbook to a “best of” approach of available publisher materials and faculty-created content; and from static content to dynamic digital assets that engage the learners, providing real-time feedback.

Students aren’t the only ones benefitting from this shift.  Educators can now easily customize and build dynamic online courses while increasing student outcomes. And for the IT professionals that help make this possible, Blackboard and McGraw-Hill now have an integrated solution that’s as powerful as it is easy to install.” End of excerpt. Read the rest here.  

Bright students seek jobs instead of university (Telegraph)

College 101 for International Students Support projects called pathway programs, are seeing success in preparing foreign students for universities in the United States.

More students getting ‘no-loan’ financial aid from elite colleges (Bangore Daily, Jul 16, originally published in the Washington Post)

More than 70 colleges have replaced loans with grants in financial aid awards, at least for their neediest students, a wave of largess that spread nationwide in 2007 and 2008. Now, some of the first students to benefit are graduating, often debt-free.

No-loan pledges effectively reduce the price of college to zero for a select group of disadvantaged students at elite national universities and liberal arts schools.

Students from low-income families are enjoying a buyer’s market in higher education. Prestigious colleges are falling over one another to offer aid on favorable terms to these promising students from disadvantaged homes. The aid pledges are part of a broader movement among top universities toward admitting students without regard to need and meeting all of that need with financial aid.  Read more here

Awareness of common pitfalls and effective strategies can support teachers’ efforts to help students “learn to learn” throughout the year, says Cossondra George.

Beyond School (Edweek, August 9)
Nora Fleming looks at the world of learning outside the traditional school day, from after-school programs to summer classes and beyond. (Active April 2010-present)

Toddlers in restaurants – a social battlefield (BBC) considers the changing parenting mores and polarized view of parents and posh-restaurant-public set.

I, Malvolio: bringing Shakespeare to life for young audiences (Aug 16) Excerpts follow: Tim Crouch: Young people smell a rat when Shakespeare is approached as some kind of cultural obligation…Theatre for young audiences groans under the weight of its responsibility to keep the future engaged in an art form that sometimes feels like it’s hanging by a thread. Shakespeare for young audiences doubles that pressure, requesting an engagement not only with the future, but also with the past. So why bother? The risk and responsibility is too great. Why not hang on, and introduce his plays as archaeological literary digs at A-level – like Chaucer or Milton? What would young people really lose? Harry Potter speaks more directly to them than Prospero. Jacqueline Wilson’s heroines are more immediately identifiable than Rosalind or Viola.The introduction of Shakespeare to young people is often advocated out of a sense of reactionary paranoia about a slipping of standards or an eroding of national identity: Shakespeare as warm beer or red phone boxes. These protective responses rarely extend in any detail to the task of how we keep Shakespeare alive for audiences. They talk of form, but not of the life inside that form. They talk of a masochistic drive to do things “properly”, to keep the language un-doctored, the codes encrypted.Shakespeare deserves more respect than this. His influence is contemporary in many aspects of our western world – a world also inhabited by young people. If we ignore Shakespeare in performance, then we lose connections to full-bodied human archetypes, narratives and questions that are rooted in where we come from and which are urgent to how we live today. His plays are a humanist scripture. (Harold Bloom lists Jesus Christ, Jahweh and Hamlet as the three most important literary figures of our time.) Keeping young people away from Shakespeare is like removing a link to their humanness.

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In our book nook, we are recommending today the excellent Book Whisperer Blog for suggestions on good reads.

Igniting the Fire (and Tending the Flame) Accomplished teachers in the Teacher Leaders Network to share the literary, cinematic, and musical works that sustain them (and help inspire their students)

Five books to ease you into student life

Whether it is how to prepare student meals on a budget or getting the hang of university-style study, we find five pre-term books to set you on the path to student life.

Movie-book-tie-in: We have reviewed for you before the teen novel/young adult book series “Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, with its strongly compelling heroine and heroes – there is a movie tie-in in the works. Reviews and sample chapter from “Catching Fire” here Download PDF
Here are some photo releases of the movie-making – and release date: Hunger Games will be released in March 2012 / Catching Fire will be released November 22, 2013
View photos of Katniss and Peeta at: http://hungergamesmovie.org/
The stills from Rotten Tomatoes are also great … and see

In the news on health and safety matters:

Chiba Pref. starts radiation tests on rice (Yomiuri)  | Chiba rice free of radioactivity  (Japan Times, Aug. 11, 2011) Excerpts follow on below

No radioactive substance has been detected in sampling tests on rice before harvesting in Tako, northeastern Chiba, the prefectural government said.
The result announced Tuesday is the first for radiation tests for rice under a guideline set by the central government, Chiba officials said.Prefectures mainly in eastern Japan are conducting radiation tests on rice to check if rice planted this spring is contaminated with radiation from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.Until rice after harvesting clears tests in late August, the prefecture will voluntarily refrain from shipping rice from Tako, an official said.Chiba Prefecture is also implementing tests on harvested rice in the cities of Tateyama, Kamogawa and Minamiboso in a bid to announce results as early as Thursday.The municipality of Itako in Ibaraki Prefecture has also conducted radiation tests on rice under its own guidelines and detected no radioactive cesium in newly harvested rice, municipal officials said Tuesday.The central government has come up with a radiation test guideline calling for priority tests after harvesting in areas where rice before harvesting is found containing radioactive cesium at levels above 200 becquerels per kg. No shipment would be allowed if the levels exceed 500 becquerels per kg.

Radiation contamination leaves Fukushima schools unable to drain pool water (Mainichi, Aug 13)

Many schools in Fukushima Prefecture are at a loss over what do to with their swimming pools, which can’t be used or drained because the water is tainted with radioactive materials from the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, it has emerged.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has said schools should obtain consent from farmers when draining pool water into agricultural waterways, but the Fukushima Prefectural Board of Education has not formed any guidelines on the concentration of radiation in water that is drained — leaving locals to sort out the issue themselves.

According to the education board, about 600 of the 735 pools at public kindergartens, elementary schools, junior high schools and high schools in Fukushima can’t be drained. Most of these pools are located in eastern parts of the prefecture near the damaged nuclear plant or in central Fukushima Prefecture. One-third of the pools are designed to drain their water into sewage systems, while the rest have to drain the water directly into agricultural waterways or rivers.

The Education Ministry’s School Health Education Division says there are no legal guidelines for draining pool water. The ministry instructed the prefectural education board to obtain consent from farming and other related organizations when draining pool water into rivers and agricultural waterways, and the board passed the information on to schools in May, but farmers have been reluctant to allow schools to drain pool water into waterways. There are also many cases in which schools have the option of draining water into sewage lines, but they have not done so out of consideration for local residents.

At Fukushima Daiichi Elementary School in the city of Fukushima, the bottom of the school pool is darkened with dust contaminated with radioactive materials, and algae has turned the water green.

“We’re concerned about health, too, so we want to drain the pools quickly, but we don’t know the extent of contamination of the water and the sludge, and we can’t cause trouble for people around the school,” the school’s principal commented.

In the cities of Date and Minamisoma, decontamination work using zeolite and other agents that can absorb radioactive materials has been carried out, but the cost of such work is said to reach several million yen per pool.

Since May, the prefectural board of education has asked the Education Ministry to present standards and methods for draining pool water, but ministry officials have merely responded that they will consult with related government ministries and agencies, and have provided no response.

A representative of the ministry’s School Health Education Division commented, “Creating standards is difficult, and there is no option but to have schools and other related parties come to an agreement.”

When asked about the radiation, a representative of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said, “We are not considering any particular response for pools alone.” Meanwhile, a representative of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, which is in charge of sewage, said, “There is no problem with draining water into sewage lines, but when it comes to making arrangements with locals, that’s out of our jurisdiction.”

Muneyuki Shindo, a former Chiba University professor, said guidelines on decontamination should be provided.

“If jurisdiction over different parts of the work is divided, then officials should measure the concentration in accordance with clear instructions from the Cabinet, and present methods of decontamination,” he said. “This is a typical scenario highlighting the government’s lack of ability to make decisions and get things done.” Click here for the original Japanese story

‘Kancho’ beyond the Japanese schoolyard (Oct 29, 2010)  While  “In Japan it’s the height of scholarly fun in schools…” is somewhat of an exaggeration, it is true that this form of sexual harassment in schools isn’t frowned upon by teachers as much as it ought to be… one wonders if this cultural laxity in the early years contributes to why sexually improper acts towards female commuters are so rampant on trains in Japan.

Dating restrictions (Japan Times, Aug 8) High school students were long restricted by parents and schools when it came to dating, but a new survey shows that more than one-third of female high school students are now prevented from dating by their boyfriends. The nonprofit organization against domestic violence, Women’s Net Kobe, interviewed 2,600 female and 1,800 male high school students over two years and found that many high school relationships involved violence, coercion and restrictions.

Man eating sharks — and mercury, group warns (Japan Times, Aug. 16, 2011)

In the past, PangeaSeed has organized art shows and film screenings, collaborated on clothes and stickers with internationally known artists such as Rob Stewart, director of the award-winning documentary “Sharkwater,” and arranged for guest speakers including Michael Bailey, a founding member of Greenpeace, to give lectures in Tokyo. They’ve also made an effort to take part in high-profile events such as Tokyo’s Earth Day celebrations, Fuji Rock and the COP 10 environmental summit in Nagoya. The most popular part of their booth tends to be the kids’ area, where they often feature a drawing corner and face painting.

Interacting with the Japanese public was also something that Packard and his volunteers had to get used to. With confrontations between the Japanese whaling fleet and Sea Shepherd as well as the international condemnation of Japan’s position on bluefin tuna in the news, many people were touchy about any criticism of their country’s fishing practices. Sometimes they were verbally attacked, Packard recalls, but he says people backed down when they found out more about PangeaSeed’s educational mission.

One thing they often find is that consumers are unaware of the health risks of eating shark. PangeaSeed recently teamed up with one of Japan’s most reputable mercury analysts to test various Japanese foodstuffs that contain shark, and all of the samples came back with high levels of mercury. The samples weren’t confined to shark fin soup, either. Under a voluntary agreement with the U.N., Japan lands the whole body of the sharks they catch, not just the fins. The meat ends up in everything from kamaboko (processed fishcake) to dumplings, while the cartilage and bile are used for collagen supplements and Chinese medicine.

“It’s important to know that sharks are full of mercury,” says Packard. “It’s at the top of the food chain, an apex predator, and they accumulate all the stuff that we pump into the ocean. It’s really hazardous for your health. Sharks are more dangerous to eat than for you to actually get in the water with them.”

The methyl mercury found in shark meat is highly toxic to humans. We assimilate almost 100 percent of any methyl mercury ingested, which can pass through both the blood-brain barrier and the placenta, making it especially dangerous for pregnant women. Methyl mercury has been linked to mutations, cancer, decreased fertility and neurological damage. The maximum mercury intake allowed by the Joint FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization)/WHO (World Health Organization) Expert Committee on Food Additives is 0.23 micrograms per kilogram of body weight, yet recent tests of blue sharks by Johannes Gutenberg University found levels up to 4,000 micrograms. A 4-ounce (110-gram) serving of that shark would have exposed you to a massive 455 micrograms of methyl mercury. …

According to the FAO, about 80 percent of shark fishing is done by just 20 countries. Japan brings in an average of 25,000 tons of shark each year, making it No. 9 on that list. The Japanese trade in shark meat and other products such as collagen and leather is worth several billion yen annually, and one fin can net a fisherman about ¥10,000.” – end of excerpt Read the article here.

Agent Orange buried on Okinawa, vet says (Japan Times, Aug 13)

“In the late 1960s, the U.S. military buried dozens of barrels of the toxic defoliant Agent Orange in an area around the town of Chatan on Okinawa Island, an American veteran has told The Japan Times.

News photo

The former serviceman’s claim comes only days after Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto said that he would ask the U.S. Department of Defense to come clean on its use of the chemical on the island during its 27-year occupation of Okinawa between 1945 and 1972. The U.S. government has repeatedly maintained that it has no records pertaining to the use of Agent Orange in Okinawa.

The veteran’s allegation is likely to cause considerable concern in Okinawa, as Agent Orange contains highly carcinogenic dioxin that can remain in the soil and water for decades. The area where the veteran claims the barrels were buried is near a popular tourist and housing area.

The 61-year-old veteran, who asked to remain anonymous, was stationed between 1968 and 1970 in Okinawa, where he drove a forklift in a U.S. Army supply depot. During that time, he helped load supplies — including Agent Orange — onto trucks for transport to the port of Naha, from where they were shipped to Vietnam.

The veteran said that in 1969, one of the supply ships became stranded on a reef offshore and he had to take part in the subsequent salvage operation.

“They brought in men from all over the island to Naha port. We spent two or three days offloading the boat on the rocks. There were a lot of broken containers full of drums of Agent Orange. The 55-gallon (208-liter) barrels had orange stripes around them. Some of them were split open and we all got poured on,” he said. …

Two other former service members interviewed by The Japan Times — soldier Michael Jones and longshoreman James Spencer — backed up the veteran’s claim that Naha’s port was used as a hub to transport thousands of barrels of herbicide. ” end of excerpts  …Read more here.

Radiation checks on Akatsuki peaches produced in Shipments of Fukushima’s signature akatsuki peaches would normally be peaking about now.

The fruit is a popular summer gift, but orders have plummeted this year, even though the levels of radioactive material detected in the fruit since the crisis began at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant are much lower than government-set interim limits.

Unless consumers stop shunning this produce, the problems afflicting peach farmers could soon spread to growers of other fruit–such as pears and apples–whose shipments are scheduled to peak later this month.Fukushima on Aug. 2 and 3 detected 23 to 54 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram–far lower the interim limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram.

In July, as in usual years, Yui notified about trusted 600 clients–some of whom he has dealt with for about 30 years–by letter that his fruit was ready.

But this year, he also enclosed a map showing his farm is more than 60 kilometers from the troubled nuclear plant, and copies of certificates showing prefectural government checks guaranteeing the safety of his peaches.

Yui also sent peaches to an inspection institute in Hyogo Prefecture for checks to confirm they were safe.

Some farmers are in an even more desperate predicament. A 62-year-old fruit farmer in Date in the prefecture has received only 10 percent of orders for gifts compared with past years.

Despite his efforts, Yui has received only 30 percent of the orders for gift peaches that he would get in a normal year…

“I feel consumers are shunning Fukushima products,” he said.

The prefecture ranked third in national pear production in 2010, and fifth in apple production.

“If other fruit starts suffering due to fears caused by [radiation] rumors, I won’t be able to stay in business,” the farmer said. “Some of my fellow farmers have said the same thing.”

Alarmed by the situation, 60 officials from the prefectural government and JA Zen-noh Fukushima, a prefectural economic organization for farmers of the JA group, in late July distributed 12,000 leaflets explaining peaches and summer vegetables were safe at major supermarkets and 22 shops operated by the organization. …

Hajime Yoshida, chief of the prefectural government’s farm products distribution division, said a lot was at stake.

“If Fukushima’s peaches, which are famous nationwide, don’t sell, then no farm product grown in our prefecture will stand a chance. We’ll do everything we can,” Yoshida said.” end of excerpts, read more here 

Stop claiming food is safe, ministry is told (Japan Times, Aug 8)

Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto has committed an about-face on policy by telling his ministry to refrain from vouching for the safety of Japanese food.

The ministry stance changed after radiation-tainted beef was found to have been sold to consumers nationwide, sources said.

The contaminated meat is coming from cattle that were fed rice straw contaminated with cesium isotopes ejected by the disaster-crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

To handle surging concerns abroad about the food supply, the Foreign Ministry told embassies and other diplomatic offices overseas to brief local authorities, importers and media organizations on measures the government is taking to prevent contaminated food from making it into public distribution channels.

The ministry has also asked its diplomatic offices to repeat its stance of disclosing safety information in a timely manner.

On July 8, Matsumoto said that he wanted to dispel food safety concerns by explaining what the government is doing to prevent tainted food from making it into the food supply.

Over five months after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake on March 11, active faults running though the Tokyo metropolitan area and other districts remain capable of producing another devastating earthquake at any time. Of particular concern to earthquake analysts is the threat of a quake under the capital that could be stronger than the magnitude 7.3 Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995.

The government’s Central Disaster Prevention Council has identified 18 earthquakes in the magnitude 7 range that could occur around Tokyo. It estimates that one of these, a northern Tokyo Bay earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 7.3, could kill as many as 11,000 people and flatten 850,000 buildings. Such an earthquake would be smaller in size that the magnitude 7.9 Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, but its direct hit on the capital would cause more damage.

Since the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, officials have been paying attention to the Tachikawa fault running from Hanno, Saitama Prefecture, to Fuchu, Tokyo. By the end of July, the government’s Earthquake Research Committee had announced that the chances of earthquakes had risen at four of the nation’s 106 main active faults.

The Tachikawa fault is about 33 kilometers long, and the expected magnitude of an earthquake along the fault is 7.4. On the 7-point Japanese intensity scale, that would result in an earthquake measuring an upper 6 or stronger in the Tokyo cities of Kunitachi, Tachikawa and Musashimurayama, and a lower 6 in the westernmost of the capital’s 23 wards. The government predicts that 6,300 people would die in such an earthquake — mainly in Tokyo.

Before the Great East Japan Earthquake, it was estimated that there was a 0.5 to 2 percent chance of such an earthquake occurring within 30 years — on the high side among Japan’s active faults. Officials have not been able to calculate exactly how much that chance has risen with the latest quake, though they are sure that an earthquake is now more likely.

“If we talk about it in steps, then there is no doubt we have risen a step. But just how many steps there are before an earthquake occurs, we don’t know,” says Katsuyuki Abe, an emeritus professor at the University of Tokyo who heads the Earthquake Research Committee.

Kunihiko Shimazaki, chairman of the Coordination Committee for Earthquake Prediction, comments, “An earthquake could occur at any moment.”

The average time between periods of activity of the Tachikawa fault is thought to range between 10,000 and 15,000 years, and it is estimated that the last earthquake occurred between 13,000 and 20,000 years ago.

“We are near ‘maturity’,” Shimazaki says.

But it is not just active faults that are of concern. The risks are also apparently higher in concealed subterranean areas.

Takeo Ishibe, of the University of Tokyo’s Earthquake Research Institute, has analyzed the direction of force of major earthquakes on bedrock and changes in their strength, based on earthquakes that have occurred in 30,000 places mainly around the capital between 1979 and 2003. He found that force making an earthquake likelier to occur has been added in 17,000 locations, while in another 7,000 locations, earthquakes are now less likely to occur.

The area under the Japanese capital, where the North American Plate, the Philippine Sea Plate, and Pacific Plate meet, has always been regarded as an earthquake nest. There is said to be a 70 percent chance of a magnitude 7 level temblor — which the Earthquake Research Commission has warned about even before the March 11 quake — occurring within the next 30 years. This figure is based on earthquakes that have occurred in the southern Kanto region over the past 120 years, but it does not include the Tachikawa fault.

“If it does happen, we will have something tremendous beneath us,” warns Shimazaki. “If we don’t take measures now, when will we?” Click here for the original Japanese story

New cracks on the seabed, believed to have been created by the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, have been found off the Sanriku coastline of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures by a deep-sea submersible.

The Shinkai 6500, which belongs to the Japan Agency For Marine-Earth Science and Technology, surveyed three sites on the seabed in an area near the Japan Trench from July 30 to Sunday. The Shinkai 6500 can descend to depths of 6,500 meters.

Images taken by the Shinkai 6500 and provided by the agency show a crack about 20 centimeters wide and several dozen meters long at a depth of about 3,200 meters off Miyagi Prefecture, dubbed Site 2.

At Site 1, the northernmost of the three sites, about 180 kilometers off Iwate Prefecture, a crack one meter wide and 80 centimeters long was found at a depth of 5,350 meters. Researchers concluded the crack was made by the Great East Japan Earthquake because a similar survey of the same site five years ago did not show any cracks.

“We found more cracks this time than after previous earthquakes,” Katsunori Fujikura, the agency’s team leader for deep sea biology, said. “We want to continually monitor the seabed.”

In addition to the cracks, the submersible observed colonies of bacteria near the Japan Trench that are rarely seen there, according to the agency.

The bacteria may have emerged in search of food after the earthquake triggered landslides and organisms the bacteria usually eat emerged in the area, researchers said.

We are recommending  http://maps.safecast.org/fusion which has detailed and useful data readings regarding radioactive contamination levels outside of Tohoku and Tokyo. It was most helpful to see the data not just for localized spots but trending in various directions.

Also Yahoo radiation map  Yahoo Japan Corp. is showing real-time radiation levels at 11 locations on a special online map based on data gathered by academics and volunteers monitoring the Fukushima power plant crisis.

A Yahoo Japan official said the beta service, launched Friday, uses data measured by a team at Keio University and Safecast.org and offers location-based readings beyond those taken by the government. The readings are updated every five minutes and reflect levels at 11 points mainly in northeast and east Japan.

A report safecast.org wrote during one of their drives through Fukushima makes for an interesting read: http://blog.safecast.org/2011/08/drive-report-august-7/ Their Shibuya Radiation Seminar was also very informative, if somewhat long-winded to listen to – which you can listen to here.

Radiation dosimeters have become increasingly sought-after items, even outside Fukushima Prefecture, amid the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, but the accuracy of the devices has been called into question.

Dosimeters help people measure radiation levels in their living environment, possibly easing radiation fears. But readings may vary, depending on the devices and how they are used.

As the readings are not necessarily accurate, some experts have urged people not to worry too much over the figures.

Last Wednesday, Chiyo Itakura, 41, who runs an acupuncture clinic in Nagareyama, Chiba Prefecture, demonstrated a dosimeter, slightly bigger than an ordinary mobile phone, in front of her house.

The government-set allowable limit for schoolchildren to engage in outdoor activities is 3.8 microsieverts per hour.

The dosimeter Itakura purchased last month for about 60,000 yen beeps at radiation levels exceeding 0.3 microsievert per hour.

When she measured the radiation level in front of her 3-year-old daughter’s face, Ayaka, the device was silent as it showed a radiation level of 0.17 microsievert per hour. But at curbside, the Ukrainian-made device beeped as it read 0.57 microsievert per hour.

“I think the Ukraine has set a [lower] limit. So I wonder if the current radiation levels are OK for children,” Itakura said.

However, Itakura said her current dosimeter tends to display higher readings compared with another dosimeter she previously used.

A member of the Tokatsu Geiger-kai, a group of about 50 people, Itakura shares data on radiation levels she measures with other members.

The Tokatsu area, in the northwestern part of Chiba Prefecture which includes Nagareyama, was named in a weekly magazine as a “hot spot” with high radiation levels.

This prompted the group to measure radiation levels in the area. The group said it has not detected radiation levels above the government-set level, but different dosimeters have shown different readings even at the same location.

Members of the group started to check radiation levels on their own because they were not satisfied with data provided by the government.

Aside from monitoring points in Fukushima Prefecture, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry releases daily data on radiation levels only at monitoring posts and neighboring areas, national universities and nuclear power facilities.

Daizo Yamazaki, head of the group, said, “Our data might not be very accurate, but we have to do what we can do to protect our families [from radiation].”

Due to people’s concerns over radiation, sales of dosimeters are going extremely well.

Horiba Ltd., a Kyoto-based analytical and measuring instrument maker, used to sell about 100 dosimeters for educational purposes every year.

However, after the Great East Japan Earthquake, orders from various companies, public offices and individuals have flooded Horiba. Currently, the company is manufacturing 1,000 dosimeters a week.

S.T. Corp., a major air freshener maker, plans to introduce dosimeters, selling for 15,750 yen, in autumn, targeting mothers with children.

Tokyo Metropolitan University Prof. Masahiro Fukushi, an expert in radiation safety and control, warned: “Some dosimeters show differing levels of radiation. Results also differ depending on how the dosimeter is used.”

This means that people may feel safer knowing radiation levels, but there is a possibility that inaccurate results may cause unnecessary concern.

“Please don’t overreact to the results. It’s better to compile accurate data with several dosimeters,” Fukushi added.

Fire festival bans radioactive wood (Yomiuri, Aug.14) KYOTO–The Kyoto municipal government has announced that firewood from disaster-hit Rikuzen-Takata, Iwate Prefecture, will not be used in an annual bonfire festival in Kyoto, due to the detection of radioactive cesium in its bark.

Rikuzen-Takata is located about 200 kilometers north of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The firewood had been offered to the festival–Kyoto Gozan no Okuribi, better known as Daimonji–by people who wanted wood from pine trees washed away in the March 11 tsunami to be burned to encourage people in the region and soothe the souls of disaster victims.

Announced Friday, the move came after festival organizers and the Kyoto municipal government had reversed a previous decision not to use wood from Rikuzen-Takata due to fears of radioactive contamination.

The initial decision not to use the wood sparked much public criticism and requests that it be used.

At a press conference Friday, Kyoto Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa said: “We were going to use the firewood on the condition no radioactive substances were detected in it. Once they were found, we had no choice. I’m very sorry to cause sadness for the people of Rikuzen-Takata and other disaster-hit areas.”

According to the city, 500 pieces of firewood were obtained for the festival via a volunteer group in Sakai, Fukui Prefecture, and all were inspected by a company commissioned by the city. The company found 1,130 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram on the surface of the firewood.

The wood likely became radioactive from being stored outdoors for a long time. Cesium was not detected inside the wood.

DATE, Fukushima — A mother whose home is in an area where high radiation levels have been detected is caught between wanting to evacuate and wanting to stay with her parents and other family members.

“My family will be scattered. Will we ever be able to live together again?” wonders Kaori Sato, 24.

Her home is located in a “hot spot,” an area of comparatively high radiation levels, and the government has recommended it be evacuated. On Aug. 7, an apartment in Fukushima city where Sato, her husband Toshiaki, 28, and her baby daughter Rin could live together turned up, but it could not accommodate her whole family.

Currently living under the same roof with Sato is her 84-year-old bedridden grandmother, her 21-year-old younger sister — who has cerebral palsy and is usually in a care facility but at home on weekends — her parents and four pets.

The evacuation recommendation came on June 30, on the day of Rin’s birth. Worrying about the health of her daughter, Sato replied to a city survey that she wanted to evacuate. To facilitate care for her grandmother and sister, who cannot move about easily, she requested a one-story house or a first-floor apartment. She also wrote that all her family members needed to live close to each other.

However, everywhere the city has so far offered has been small and forbidden pets. Sato’s parents have told her that because she has a newborn she should evacuate with her child and husband. In fact, the Fukushima apartment was found by Sato’s mother. Sato and her husband and child could move in as soon as September, but Sato is reluctant.

Too much television may shorten your life (Guardian, Aug 16) Excerpts follow:

Watching too much television could shorten your life, a study suggests. Research carried out in Australia, and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, showed that every hour of TV watched after the age of 25 may shorten lifespan by 22 minutes.

According to one of the report’s authors, Dr Lennert Veerman, from the School of Population Health at the University of Queensland, it puts long hours spent in front of the box “in the same ballpark as smoking and obesity”. “While smoking rates are declining, watching TV is not, which has implications at a population level,” he said.

Last year, another Australian study found an hour of TV a day led to an 8% increase in the risk of premature death.

***

Here are the news updates on the Fukushima nuclear crisis:

Radioactive sludge piling up (NHK, Aug 16) Contaminated sludge from sewage facilities now totals more than 54,400 tons. 75 percent of it contains less than 8,000 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium, the government-set limit for disposal by burial.

Despite this, some 27,700 tons of sludge — 51 percent of the total — remains in storage at water treatment plants.
Local governments say some burial projects have been rejected by residents near proposed sites.

In addition, 7 storage facilities in 4 prefectures have had to set up “no entry zones” where radiation levels have gotten too high.

TEPCO tests Japan-made decontamination unit (NHK, Aug 16)

Tokyo Electric Power Company is conducting a trial run of a Japan-built water decontamination unit at its troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

TEPCO started testing the performance of the new equipment shortly past noon on Tuesday.

The domestic-made unit uses 14 cylindrical tanks, each 3.5 meters high and 1.4 meters across, that contain minerals to absorb radioactive materials.

The utility plans to continue the trial until Wednesday night, before starting full-fledged operations.

Since late June, TEPCO has been decontaminating highly radioactive wastewater from the reactors and then injecting the cleaned water back into the reactors to cool them.

But the decontamination system — the key part of the water circulation process — has been plagued with trouble and its foreign-made components have repeatedly stopped operating. TEPCO says it has been running at 66 percent of capacity, failing to meet the initial target of 90 percent.

The power company hopes the new, Japan-built decontamination unit will help achieve stable circulation for cooling.

TEPCO to use desalinating devices in pools (NHK, Aug 16)

Tokyo Electric Power Company is planning to use devices to remove salt from spent nuclear fuel pools at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The operator fears that saltwater used to cool reactors 2 – 4 after the March 11 disaster could corrode stainless steel pipes and pool walls.

The new devices will arrive on 5 trucks and use special membranes and electricity to desalinate water.

TEPCO plans to first use the machinery by the end of this week at the number 4 reactor, which contains the most spent fuel. The concentration of salt is expected to be reduced by 96 percent in 2 months.

It will then follow up in reactors 2 and 3.

Water temperatures at all 4 reactor pools have been relatively stable since the installation of a circulating cooling system was completed on August 10th.

Reactor facilities to purify wastewater have all been equipped with desalinating filters.

Another device that uses the mineral, zeolite, to remove radioactive substances from circulating water has been installed in the cooling system of the number 2 to 4 reactors.

Through such measures, TEPCO hopes to stably operate the plant over the long-term until all the spent fuel is removed.

Irradiated soil should be stored temporarily in Fukushima: Gemba (Japan Times)

National policy minister Koichiro Genba said Sunday that irradiated soil and sludge that is to be removed from areas around the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant should be stored temporarily within Fukushima Prefecture before final disposal measures are worked out.

Genba, who doubles as chief policymaker of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters: “We should store the soil and sludge somewhere in the prefecture as an interim measure. The central government should be responsible” for the issue.

City starts decontamination work (Yomiuri, Aug.9) | Minami-Soma to clean hot spots in city(Yomiuri, Aug.8)

Pro-Nuclear Professors Are Accused of Singing Industry’s Tune in Japan  (Chronicle.com) | NGOs, academics call for abolition of nuclear plants (Japan Times)

Unpopular cargo: Radioactive waste shipload coming(Japan Times, Aug. 16, 2011)

The freighter Pacific Grebe set sail from Britain on Aug. 3 with more than 30 tons of radioactive waste on board. The cargo, Japanese spent fuel reprocessed in the U.K., is returning sealed in 76 stainless steel canisters packed into 130-ton containers. It is set to arrive early next month at Mutsu-Ogawara port in Aomori Prefecture for delivery to Japan Nuclear Fuel’s nearby Rokkasho storage site. …

The Fukushima disaster and the voyage of the Pacific Grebe highlights the dilemma facing Japan and the world’s nuclear industry: Radioactive waste is deadly and needs to be locked away for thousands of years, so how can any storage site be guaranteed safe and permanent?

“It’s a very big problem with no acceptable solution,” said Chris Busby, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster’s school of biomedical sciences, who studied Sweden’s nuclear waste storage proposals. “And more waste is being produced every year.”

Giant tent being built over Fuksuhima plants No 1 reactor (Japan Today, Aug 12, 2011) The operator of Japan’s damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is building a huge tent to cover one of the worst-hit reactors, officials said Friday.

Officials hope the cover will keep radioactive materials that have already leaked from spreading, prevent rainwater seepage and offer a barrier from possible leaks or blasts in the future.

The tent is being erected to provide a temporary replacement for the No. 1 reactor’s outer housing shell, which was destroyed in an explosion caused by high pressure the day after Japan’s deadly earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

Construction of the tent and its foundation began this week, Koji Watanabe, a spokesman for the power utility, said Friday.

The work couldn’t begin until now because the location was too dangerous for workers to operate in.

The tent is made up of airtight polyester. It will stand 54 meters tall and stretch 47 meters in length. It is held up by a metal frame.

Cabinet OKs new nuke watchdog (Japan Times) | New N-agency to be free from industry ministry (Yomiuri, Aug.14)

NGO offers wisdom from Chernobyl  (Japan Times, Aug 16

Japan’s largest solar power facility commences operations  (Japan Today,  Aug 14) | Solar plant cleans Kawasaki image (Japan Times, Aug 17)

Kansai Electric’s thermal energy generator at Sakai Bay shut down ( Japan Today AUG. 16, 2011) Kansai Electric Power Co, the Kansai region’s main power supplier, said Monday that the No. 2 thermal energy generator at its Sakai Bay plant has been shut down due to technical difficulties.

Company officials told a news conference that they shut down the turbine on Saturday after an automatic alarm was triggered, indicating a problem. On Sunday, the company released a statement saying that the problem was due to a broken turbine wing at the No. 2 generator.

Meanwhile, TV Asahi reported Monday that Kansai Electric said it may be several months before the generator is operable again, and said they first plan to investigate the cause of the breakage.

The generator is responsible for about 1% of Kansai Electric’s total power output. The malfunction comes at an inopportune time, with demand for power expected to surpass 95% of Kansai Electric’s total power output potential during the current spell of hot weather.

Fukushima food producers protest (Yomiuri, Aug.13)

Demanding stabilization of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and compensation for the disaster at the earliest possible date, about 2,800 farmers and fishermen from Fukushima Prefecture gathered for a protest rally in Tokyo’s Hibiya Park Friday.

Following the rally, the participants, some carrying protest banners, marched to the nearby head office of plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.

The protest rally and demonstration were organized by JA (Japan Agricultural Cooperatives) Fukushima and related bodies to appeal for speedy payments of compensation to food producers whom the disaster has left in dire financial straits.

How seawater can power the world (RealClearPolitics.com)

ASTRAZENECA to support disaster orphans (Japan Today, Aug 15) Excerpts follow:

“AstraZeneca KK will support children who lost one or both parents during the March 11 earthquake and tsunami through a total of 151 million yen contribution to Ashinaga Ikueikai, a non-profit organization based in Japan. The contribution which will be provided over the course of several payments will support mental health services for children and go toward the building of a Tohoku Rainbow House, a shelter for children orphaned by the disaster.

AstraZeneca KK will support children who lost one or both parents during the March 11 earthquake and tsunami through a total of 151 million yen contribution to Ashinaga Ikueikai, a non-profit organization based in Japan.”

Read on

An initial, immediate contribution of 51 million will be donated to Ashinaga for its programs
that provide mental health services to affected children in the area. An additional 100 million yen has also been pledged by AstraZeneca toward the construction of the Tohoku Rainbow House.

The Tohoku Rainbow House will be a community gathering space where children affected by the disaster can feel safe, and participate in programs designed to encourage healing and well-being for the future. Ashinaga already operates Rainbow Houses in Kobe and Tokyo. A portion of this contribution was also directly donated by the employees of AstraZeneca KK and then matched by the company.

No. 2 N-plant was prepared for venting (Yomiuri, Aug.11) Preparations for opening the vents of nuclear reactors to prevent hydrogen explosions were made at the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant shortly after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami damaged the plant’s cooling systems, according to data released Wednesday by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

TEPCO did not have to open the vents because it repaired the cooling systems in time.

According to the newly released data, which detailed initial responses taken at the plant, preparations for venting operations were under way at the Nos. 1 to 4 reactors of the plant to release steam accumulated in the containment vessels.

On the day of the disaster, the Nos. 1, 2 and 4 reactors suffered damage to cooling pumps, the data showed. It was feared that the containment vessels might be damaged as pressure built up inside.

Preparations were being made to open the vents of the vessels at all four reactors, including the No. 3 reactor, on March 12. But venting operations did not actually take place as the temperature of the reactors was successfully lowered below 100 C as cooling systems were restored after the replacement of pump motors.

Following the earthquake and tsunami, TEPCO opened the vents at the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. But hydrogen explosions and other accidents occurred at these reactors as well as the No. 4 reactor.

The data also showed that at the Nos. 5 and 6 reactors of the No. 1 plant, holes to reduce pressure were made in the upper areas of reactor buildings to prevent hydrogen explosions.

An international research team will use the deep-sea drilling vessel Chikyu to bore into an area where two tectonic plates meet to study the movements of the plates that caused the Great East Japan Earthquake, according to sources.

The vessel will drill about 1,000 meters through the seabed in waters off Miyagi Prefecture in an area of greatest tectonic movement at the time of the March 11 earthquake, and bedrock samples will be examined. The seabed is from 6,000 to 7,000 meters below sea level.

The research, the first of its kind, will be conducted next spring at the earliest. The team hopes the study will be the first step in revealing the mechanism of the magnitude-9 earthquake.

Residents frustrated by ‘hot spot’ designation (Yomiuri, Aug.17)