Hensachi formula
Figure 1. The formula for standardized rank score [hensachi].
NOTEn = sample size, Σ = sum, x1 = individual scores, mean = mean, and y = standard deviation(?)

Here we are again. The kids are back to school after a long summer break.

It is also high school (or middle school) hunting season for some of us, so we have pulled together a resource from our Education In Japan discussion forum called “All about hensachi and how it’s tied to school-hunting and school choices“.  Hensachi are exam results standard deviation values (which is the quantifying of a student’s relative rank to other students in the nation using the complicated formula posted at the top of this page) and local schools are ranked according to how they fare nationwide based on their students’ hensachi values, and hence, they are an indication of their competitiveness in the exam-oriented public system. I’m willing to bet you that very few parents have ever tried messing with their heads trying to calculate anything using the above formula…anybody ever wonder how amazing that it’s actually SOMEBODY’S job to do such tedious calculation work. Another thing I’d be willing to bet the raison d’etre for such a formula is so that nobody would be able to find out that there was a mistake in student hensachi scores, unlike recent UK fiascos over mistakes made about GSCE results, since nobody would be able to even work through the convoluted formulae!!!

Pertinent to our look at hensachi and exam-oriented schools, I also drew our attention to the conclusions of a study (mentioned in the article What Do You Hope to Get Out of High School?) that found that attending New York City’s highly competitive “exam schools” (where entrance is determined by a test) has little to no effect on students’ SAT scores and other measures of achievement. Although the study was done on New York City’s schools, the considerations for the choice of a high school are arguably the same.

In the ArtsBeat blog post “Thinking Cap: Angst Before High School,” Patricia Cohen describes the study:

THE QUESTION Each year millions of middle school students nationwide spend angst-filled months waiting to hear if they scored high enough on an entrance exam to attend a selective public high school. In New York City alone more than 27,000 students apply for precious spots in the three best-known schools: Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Technical and Bronx High School of Science. What Mr. Dobbie and Mr. Fryer wanted to know was just how much of a difference attending one of these high schools makes in the long run for students with similar equal admissions test scores. Some proponents say the benefits of an environment of high achievers, more advanced coursework and higher expectations are obvious. Skeptics counter that these gifted and motivated teenagers would have done well no matter where they went. Students in these schools with low class ranks may even be less competitive when it comes to college admissions. They might be better off in less competitive environments or in schools with a wider range of student abilities. Because there are so many applicants of similar ability and achievement who are not accepted to these New York institutions, the authors were able to compare the average outcomes of students who graduated from different high schools. “We provide the first causal estimate of the impact of attending an exam-high school in the United States on later outcomes,” they write.

THE FINDINGS Mr. Fryer and Mr. Dobbie were surprised by their results: “The impact of attending an exam school on college enrollment or graduation is, if anything, negative. There is also little impact of attending an exam school on SAT reading and writing scores, and, at best, a modest positive impact on SAT math scores.” The results were the same for both boys and girls, and for those who came from different types of middle schools. “Our analysis of exam schools suggests that students are encouraged or pushed to take harder course work, but that their actual human capital essentially remains unchanged.”

The one exception, Mr. Dobbie and Mr. Fryer wrote, was borderline students: “Attending an exam school increases rigor of the marginal student’s high school course work, and makes the marginal student more likely to graduate from high school with an advanced diploma.” The authors pointed out that the only measures they looked at were SAT scores, college enrollment and graduation. “Without longer-term measures such as income, health, or life satisfaction,” they note, “it is difficult to fully interpret our results.”  – What do you hope to get out of high school? Aug 19, The Learning Network

And of course, we bring you (below) our regular updates, summaries and excerpts of the news on the local educational scene and around the world, and also updates on the happenings related to the Fukushima reactor crisis, with a particular focus on health and safety issues.

First up, a look at education in Japan:

Ministry to provide radiation levels at schools online 24/7 (Asahi, Aug 28)

The education ministry and Fukushima prefectural government will begin operating a computer system from early October that will provide live Internet data on radiation levels at all elementary schools in Fukushima Prefecture.

The ministry will install radiation measurement devices at about 500 elementary schools in the prefecture. That will cover all schools except for those that have been ordered to evacuate.

Similar measurement devices will be installed at an additional 100 locations where children often gather, such as community centers and parks. The installation will be made in response to requests from municipal governments.

The radiation measurements from those 600 or so locations will be sent through telephone lines and be available around-the-clock on the education ministry website (http://www.mext.go.jp/).

The education ministry and Fukushima prefectural government also plan to install radiation measurement devices at an additional 2,100 locations, such as kindergartens, junior and senior high schools, by the end of this year.

The education ministry on Aug. 26 also informed the Fukushima prefectural government that it had decided on a policy of seeking to limit the annual level of radiation children in the prefecture are exposed to at school to under 1 millisievert.

To achieve that objective, the central government will provide financial assistance to decontaminate schools so that radiation levels fall below 1 microsievert per hour at schools. However, the ministry does not plan to limit outdoor activities at schools where radiation is found to exceed 1 microsievert per hour.

Education ministry officials have estimated that if a child attends a school for 200 days a year where radiation levels are 1 microsievert per hour, that child will be exposed to a total of about 0.5 millisievert over the course of a year.

Through decontamination efforts, ministry officials said that by the end of August there should be no school in Fukushima where radiation levels exceed 1 microsievert per hour.

“The radiation levels that are being measured now are at safe levels,” a ministry official said.

Japan cuts radiation exposure limits for children (Japantoday, Aug 27) Japan on Friday lowered radiation exposure limits for children to below one millisievert per year while at school due to health concerns in the wake…

TOKYO — “Japan on Friday lowered radiation exposure limits for children to below one millisievert per year while at school due to health concerns in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The education ministry delivered the instruction to all schools across the nation including Fukushima where high levels of radiation were released from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant crippled by the March 11 quake and tsunami.

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

The move prompted outrage and parents in Fukushima had been calling on the government to lower limits at school, claiming that children face a higher risk from radiation-linked cancers and other diseases than adults.

Radiation experts agree that children are at greatest risk from cancers and genetic defects because they are still growing, are more prone to thyroid cancers, and because they will have more time to develop health defects.

The education ministry has said children’s radiation exposure at schools in Fukushima is currently estimated at 0.534 millisievert per year.

Shortly after the accident, most schools banned children from playing football or baseball on outdoor fields or splashing around in swimming pools exposed to the sky in Fukushima amid radiation fears.

Separately, Japan also set a long-term target to reduce the radiation exposure level to one millisievert per year or below for all people in contaminated areas.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who announced his resignation Friday, said the government will “make utmost efforts to make the areas safe for children to live as before,” Jiji Press quoted…” Read the entire article here

Beef containing radioactive cesium served to elementary school children in Kanagawa (JapanToday.com, Aug 25)

YOKOHAMA —Beef containing higher than the government standard levels of radioactive cesium has been fed to children in elementary school lunches in Kanagawa Prefecture, it has been revealed.

Yokohama city authorities confirmed Thursday that beef from cows raised on a farm in Fukushima Prefecture was served to elementary school children in 16 schools throughout the city.

According to city authorities, out of a group of 229 cows, 12 were found to contain higher than standard levels of radioactive cesium. Of those 12 animals, beef from one was used in the school lunches.

A spokesman was quoted by TV media as saying the amount of contaminated beef per student amounted to around 30 grams, so there should be no effect on health. Authorities say Yokohama schools have been refraining from using beef in school lunches since July and that the policy is set to continue indefinitely.
Japanese students blast off in science Olympiads (Asahi, Aug 16, 2011) ASAHI SHIMBUN WEEKLY AERA Abstract: Although Japan’s prowess as a technological giant may be in need of a reboot, Japanese high school students are finding the winning formula for competing in the International Science Olympiads. In this year’s competitions, Japanese students took home three golds and two silver medals in physics, three golds and a silver in biology, and one gold and three silvers in chemistry. Makoto Asashima, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Tokyo, who chairs the organizing committee of the Japan Biology Olympiad, said that Japanese students are becoming better prepared for the Olympiads. (Asahi)

Although Japan’s prowess as a technological giant may be in need of a reboot, Japanese high school students are finding the winning formula for competing in the International Science Olympiads.

In this year’s competitions, Japanese students took home three golds and two silver medals in physics, three golds and a silver in biology, and one gold and three silvers in chemistry.

Makoto Asashima, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Tokyo, who chairs the organizing committee of the Japan Biology Olympiad, said that Japanese students are becoming better prepared for the Olympiads.

In the biology competition held last month, Japan ranked third of 58 countries and regions, trailing only the United States and Taiwan.

“I am feeling that if we provide the right environment and opportunities, Japanese youngsters’ performance may be improving a lot faster,” Asashima said.

More than 2,200 students entered the qualifying contest in Japan, and teachers at junior and senior high schools are cooperating more than in the past, he said.

Training camps, given as part of the selection process, have improved in quality, he added.

In physics and biology, Japanese students’ performance was the best since they entered the competition.

Japan placed fifth among 85 nations and regions in physics. Taiwan, South Korea, China and Singapore tied for first, with five gold medals each.

Masashi Mukaida, professor of functional materials at Kyushu University, said that Japanese students are at a disadvantage versus their overseas peers due to a different academic calendar.

“In countries where the academic year starts in September, third-year high school students have plenty of time off in July after they worked hard in the previous academic year,” he said. “Japanese students, who begin their new academic year in spring, are put at a disadvantage.”

Mukaida also called for incentive programs, such as available in foreign countries, that would allow members of the Japanese team to earn scholarships or to be admitted to universities of their choice.

In chemistry, the Japanese team finished 15th of 70 countries and regions, after placing fourth last year in total points. Last year, it garnered two golds and two silvers—its best showing ever– when the Olympiad was held in Japan.

Tadashi Watanabe, professor of chemistry and biotechnology at the University of Tokyo, who chaired the organizing committee for the Chemistry Olympiad in Japan, said that the poor showing in chemistry was not surprising.

“Given the fact that the Japanese curriculum is well behind in the world, the Japanese team’s placing is not bad,” he said.

The International Olympiads’ purpose is to encourage high school students to excel. In the competition, a gold medal is given to students who ranked in the roughly top 10 percent of all participants; the next 20 percent win silver medals; and the next 30 percent earn bronze medals.

Entrants take the tests in their native language, according to the Olympiad rule that tries to ensure a fair competition.

But that means an enormous task for teachers accompanying their students: They must translate the English-language questions in the competition into their native language for students. After a team of students and teachers arrive in the country or region where the competition is held, they are not allowed contact with each other.

While students can go sightseeing, teachers are toiling to translate the questions, sometimes throughout the night.

Eleven teachers accompanied the Japanese team of four students as translators in the Biology Olympiad in Taipei in July.

When the students finished the test, teachers translate students’ answers into English.

The translated answers are rigorously checked by teachers from other countries to ensure the grading was impartial.

The International Science Olympiads has several divisions. The International Mathematical Olympiad is its oldest, held for the first time in 1959, in Romania. Japan first participated in the contest in 1990 when it was held in Beijing.

The physics competition dates to 1967 and the chemistry version to 1968.

But it took a while for Japan to send teams to the two competitions; to the Chemistry Olympiad in 2003 and the Physics Olympiad in 2006.

The biology contest was established in 1990, and Japan began competing in the event in 2005.

Apart from these divisions, there are competitions for informatics, astronomy, geography, linguistics and philosophy.

The Japanese government did not place a priority on the competitions in the 1990s.

But it moved to bolster Japanese students’ performance with the establishment of the the Japan Science Olympiad in 2007.

The competitions became better known among the Japanese public after Japan hosted the Biology Olympiad in 2009 and the Chemistry Olympiad last year.

The students representing Japan in physics, biology and chemistry were from Hokkaido Sapporo Nishi High School in Hokkaido; Shuko Middle School in Miyagi Prefecture; Chiba Prefectural Funabashi Senior High School in Chiba Prefecture; Rikkyo Ikebukuro Senior High School in Tokyo; Kaisei Senior High School in Tokyo; Komaba School of University of Tsukuba in Tokyo; Zeze High School in Shiga Prefecture; Nada Senior High School in Hyogo Prefecture; and La Salle High School in Kagoshima Prefecture.

The New Sex-Ed: Yakuza Awareness Classes (japansubculture.com Aug 22, 2011)

This August, Police in Fukuoka have started conducting organized crime education and awareness classes at middle and high schools in the prefecture. Prefectural police report that the current cultural tolerance of the yakuza often results in admiration of them by misinformed youth; indeed, many yakuza first participated in gang activities in their formative early teens. The police have therefore created this program to educate middle and high school students about the realities of yakuza life. The curriculum includes ways of dealing with yakuza confrontations (for example, what to do when approached in the workplace by a yakuza demanding to be payed off), a run-down of how the yakuza make money (through drug smuggling, loan sharking and other illegal activities) and general advice on how not to get entangled in a gang.Of the 69,000 students who had taken the class before June of this year, 24,000 were asked to participate in a survey. According to the results, 40% had some yakuza presence in their lives. 2% had reported they were even invited to join a gang. 97% of students reported that the classes were easy to understand, and that “they now understood the truth about the yakuza.”In the space allocated for comments, some reported that there were shootings near their house, and that they were afraid of being hit by a stray bullet.Seven teachers have a special license to teach the class. They plan to visit 545 public and private schools at least once by March of next year. Jake’s noteIn terms of eradicating the yakuza from general society, Fukuoka Prefecture is highly progressive. In March of 2010, convenience stores in Fukuoka prefecture, at the request of the police, stopped selling and handling yakuza fan magazines. … On several fronts Fukuoka is thinking ahead to create a society without yakuza, or at least one where it is difficult for them to recruit young blood.In addition to the anti-yakuza curriculum they have created, the Fukuoka Prefectural Police Department, working in conjunction with the Centers to Eliminate Organized Crime, produced a realistic depiction of yakuza life in their educational film 許されざる者 (“The Unforgivable”). The film is a surprisingly accurate portrayal of yakuza life, the merits and demerits of the life.Yakuza cops play all the yakuza in the film, which gives the film a surprising amount of intensity. In many ways, its one of the best yakuza films in recent years. The police will rent it to anyone who’d like to see it.

E-book brings stories of A-bomb survivors to world (Yomiuri, Aug 29)

OSAKA–An Osaka-based publishing house has released a digital book containing English translations of accounts written by survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki about their agonizing experiences.

The e-book, titled “No more Hiroshima Nagasaki” and produced by Shimpu Co., comprises a collection of 37 essays written by victims of the atomic bombings in the final days of World War II.

“It’s difficult to distribute and sell hardbound books overseas. The contents of digital books can be accessed anywhere in the world,” Shimpu President Takuma Fukuyama said.

“I want this e-book to help people understand what it means to be an atomic bomb victim, and also encourage efforts to abolish nuclear weapons,” he said.

Over the years, Fukuyama collected accounts written by ordinary people about their wartime experiences. Since 1988, he has published a series of collections of the essays titled “Magotachi-eno Shogen” (testimonies for our grandchildren) at a rate of one volume per year.

These essays include memories of hardships experienced by Japanese expatriates while returning home from what was then called Manchuria in northeastern China, after the end of the war. Memories of people’s escapes from air raids are also included. This year, the 77-year-old Fukuyama compiled the 24th volume in the series.

The series has published a total of 1,921 accounts, including those written by survivors of the atomic bombings. In autumn last year, Fukuyama began preparing for the publication of an e-book containing such essays in hopes of helping people overseas understand the extent of damage caused in the raids.

To achieve this goal, he had the essays translated into English.

Fukuyama asked middle and high school English teachers in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to translate the essays on a voluntary basis. He decided to publish 37 accounts written by survivors of the atomic bombings after obtaining permission from the authors to publish their translated essays.

The accounts depict a variety of hardships endured by survivors of the raids. One woman from Hiroshima describes how in the aftermath of the attacks she was covered in blood as she ran from her home, which was destroyed by the blast. She still has a fragment of glass under the skin of her left cheek.

Another survivor recounts how he barely escaped death in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, but that he lost all members of his family.

The English-language digital book can be ordered on amazon.com for 3.99 dollars in the United States, and 5.99 dollars from Japan and elsewhere. The Shimpu publishing house also plans to release the Japanese-language version of the e-book on App Store, priced at 350 yen.

The hardbound book, which contains both the Japanese and English version, can be purchased for 1,300 yen. For information, contact the publisher at (06) 6768-4600.

Number of school bullying cases rises 3.5 percent in fiscal 2010 (Kyodo, Aug 5) The number of bullying cases recognized by public and private primary, junior high and high schools across Japan in the 2010 school year ended in March this year rose 3.5 percent from a year earlier to 75,295 cases, an education ministry survey showed Thursday. That was the first increase in five years as the number of bullying cases had been falling since fiscal 2006 when the ministry began collecting such data. The total does not include data from the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima as the March 11 earthquake made it impossible to incorporate data from the prefectures, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry said. (Kyodo)

Foreign embassies give kids taste of many cultures at Tokyo event (Japan Times)

Cardboard robots win children’s hearts(08/23) KYOTANGO, Kyoto Prefecture–Many of us remember making one or two toy models in our childhood, but Masahiko Senda has made model making his life’s work.

The 59-year-old computer support shop operator has built more than 10,000 toy planes, dolls and other models since catching the bug as a junior high school student.

Now, a line of whimsically designed robots made out of cardboard is attracting wide attention and giving Senda the chance to share his passion.

“You can use hard cardboard paper to design (models) in any way you want, and it is cheap,” Senda enthuses. “I will go anywhere to teach if I can promote the joy of craftwork.”

He says, “When I conceive an interesting idea, I can’t help but make it straight away.”

Last December, he held a popular exhibition of his robots at the Osaka Tin Toy Institute in Osaka’s Nishinari Ward and he is now being bombarded with requests to teach elementary school students how to make the models.

One of Senda’s latest creations, a 30-centimeter-tall robot that opens to reveal two human-shaped figures running inside its body that totters around on two sets of three hexagonal wheels, is a far cry from the radio-controlled planes that first brought him attention from the model-making world about 10 years ago.

A model jet made from lightweight, flexible resin brought a flood of orders in the early 2000s, and Senda turned the warehouse at his house into a studio. He spent about 10 million yen ($129,750) to buy a resin-cutting machine and sold more than 1,000 models before orders started to dry up when a foreign company started offering a similar but cheaper version.

Senda, with an empty workshop and an expensive machine on his hands, spent three months working out a way to make a life-sized cardboard model of an old motorcycle using the machine. From that experience were born the cardboard robots and a new way to connect with aspiring young model-makers.

Russia hands Japanese student over to Japan after 4-day detention (Mainichi, Aug 26)

Russia handed over a 37-year-old Japanese university student to Japan on Thursday, four days after seizing him for an alleged unauthorized trip to one of four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido claimed by Japan, the Japan Coast Guard said.

A Russian border guard vessel delivered Keisuke Kuriyama, a student in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa Prefecture, to a Japan Coast Guard patrol ship in waters off Hokkaido at around 4:30 p.m. and the ship arrived at Nemuro port at around 6 p.m., it said.

Upon arrival at the port, Kuriyama said, “I drifted away due to bad weather. I’m sorry for having caused trouble to everyone as I failed to come back on my own.” He is in good shape, according to the coast guard.

‘Glass badges’ remind Fukushima students of radiation risks(Asahi, Aug 25)

FUKUSHIMA — The children of Fukushima Prefecture started their second terms at elementary and junior high schools amid a number of reminders that the situation has yet to return to normal.

Friends were absent. The appearances of the school buildings and yards had changed. But perhaps the starkest reminders that all was not right were the dosimeters encased in plastic sleeves that were dangling from their necks.

Students call the tool “glass badges.”

“During the summer vacation, I took part in a summer camp in Nagano Prefecture for five days,” said Ryusei Tashiro, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Date Elementary School in northern Fukushima Prefecture. “In those days, I did not carry the ‘badge.’ But from today, I have to hang it from my neck. It is a bit bothersome to do so when I am walking.”

Most of the elementary and junior high schools in Fukushima Prefecture, site of the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, started their second terms on Aug. 25.

According to Fukushima prefectural board of education, 7,672 children, or 4 percent of all elementary and junior high school students in the prefecture, transferred to schools outside the prefecture between March 11, when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck, and July 15. In addition, 1,081 students expressed hopes that they could move out of Fukushima Prefecture and away from the radiation during the summer vacation.

While most of these students now attend classes outside Fukushima Prefecture, some have returned, as decontamination efforts have made progress at their schools.

At Date Elementary School, for example, decontamination work has lowered the radiation at ground level from 1.00 microsieverts per hour to 0.12 microsieverts per hour.

Opening ceremonies for the second term were held at 27 municipal elementary and junior high schools in Date on Aug. 25. During the summer vacation, 24 of the schools removed the top layer of soil, and many scrubbed and washed the outer walls of the buildings as well as the trenches.

The Fukushima prefectural board of education said 39 of the 59 municipalities in the prefecture applied for subsidies to buy high-pressure washing equipment and other decontamination tools.

The Iwaki city education board in southeastern Fukushima Prefecture said the number of students with home addresses outside the city but who attend schools in Iwaki has increased by 208 compared with the end of the first term.

Many of those students had lived in municipalities near the Fukushima plant but fled to other prefectures immediately after the accident. They later moved to Iwaki, which is relatively close to their hometowns.

A similar trend has also been seen in Koriyama city, according to officials.

In Date city, dosimeters were distributed to all elementary and junior high school students on Aug. 1, a month earlier than in other municipalities in the prefecture.

The dosimeters will be distributed to students in most schools by October after the children are asked if they want the devices.

Koriyama city in central Fukushima Prefecture instructed all elementary and junior high schools in the city to take radiation measurements along the school-commuting roads and create “radiation-level maps” by Sept. 5. The maps will be used to review commuting routes as well as for decontamination efforts.

The government of Fukushima city, where second-term opening ceremonies will be held on Sept. 1, has required schools to change commuting routes if high levels of radiation are detected.

::

Below is an excerpt of Japan Times’ writeup on an exhibition on the works of Gomi Taro who is the author-illustrator of probably what are the most beloved of books for the potty-going-to-preschool-attending set:

GOMI, Taro Exhibition: The Days Of Picture Book” The Museum Of Modern Art, Shiga (Japan Times, Aug. 26, 2011)

Tokyo native Taro Gomi (b. 1945) has published some 350 picture books that appeal to a wide range of readers, from babies to adults. This show offers a rare opportunity to learn the process of his picture-book making through its display of original drawings and reference materials. There is also a section where visitors can actually enjoy reading representative Gomi Taro books.

News photo
“Minna ga Oshiete Kuremashita” (1983) © GOMI TARO

On show are around 170 original illustrations from the artist’s published books, as well as a documentary film on how he makes them; till Sept. 11.

The Museum of Modern Art, Shiga; (077) 543-2111; 1740-1 Ogaya-cho, Seta Minami, Otsu-shi, Shiga-ken; from Seta Station, JR Biwako Line, take bus bound for Shiga Idai and get off at Bunka Zone-mae bus stop. 5-min. walk from the bus stop. 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. ¥950. Closed Mon.www.shiga-kinbi.jp.

Kids deliver 80,000 no-nukes signatures Aug 20 A group of 12 high school students Thursday presented 80,000 signatures calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons to the secretariat of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. The group includes four students from the atomic-bombed prefectures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as two from Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, which was severely damaged by the March earthquake and tsunami. It is the 14th time that Japanese high school messengers of peace have visited the U.N. office since 1998. The signatures were collected both in and outside Japan. (Japan Times)

Tohoku kids need school aid: report (Japan Times, Aug 24) Abstract: The education ministry’s annual white paper outlines measures needed to help children suffering in the wake of the March 11 twin disasters. “In restoring and rebuilding disaster areas, generous support is needed to ensure equal opportunity in education and academic standards,” the paper, released Tuesday, says. The report calls for sending school counselors to provide psychological support to students, building makeshift schoolhouses and quickly restoring relatively undamaged school facilities, as well as increasing teachers and other school staff.

The education ministry’s annual white paper outlines measures needed to help children suffering in the wake of the March 11 twin disasters.

“In restoring and rebuilding disaster areas, generous support is needed to ensure equal opportunity in education and academic standards,” the paper, released Tuesday, says.

The report calls for sending school counselors to provide psychological support to students, building makeshift schoolhouses and quickly restoring relatively undamaged school facilities, as well as increasing teachers and other school staff.

Apart from measures to deal with the disasters, the report features programs to help college and high school graduates get a job. These measures include intensive support from career counselors and proposals by an economic organization to improve companies’ recruitment activities.

Harvard talks pump up overseas study, work (Japan Times)

***

Next up, the news on educational issues and scenes elsewhere in the world:

Unusual invite gives gifted boy a chance to belong (Mainichi, Aug 28)

GARY, Indiana (AP) — He is about half the age of other students in the room. Yet 13-year-old Noah Egler is completely in his element, wearing powder blue medical scrubs and answering questions with an enthusiasm that draws smiles from those around him.

They are amused by his presence, but also inspired. Young Noah, meanwhile, is content, though a little nervous to be taking part in a workshop usually reserved for medical students, not for precocious eighth-graders.

He is here because he was invited, because the director of the summer program at the Indiana University Northwest medical school saw something in this young man — perhaps a bit of the boy he himself once was, a kid who also liked reading and studying more than sports.

Bridging the great divide: is it possible to cross from the Arts to Sciences? by Mary Selman

Students almost always think of themselves as being on one or other side of this divide, both while studying and on graduation, when they tend to choose careers that suit their long since preordained path. For instance, if you read English, it’s statistically pretty unlikely you’ll ever be a doctor; as a physicist, you’re far more likely to end up in financial services than journalism.

As late as the 1960s, ‘bright boys’ did Classics at Oxford before going on to populate the corridors of power. Yet in 2007, it was reported that the last dedicated Latin and Greek A-levels were to be scrapped, while politicians agonise over how to get pupils to continue with maths and physics. The perception of two cultures has remained, albeit with a ‘new prestige’ – the sense that science degrees are less accessible, more difficult or rigorous, but also more useful to the economy or even humanity as a whole. Science graduates also enjoy higher earning potential, with a recent study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers indicating that chemistry and physics graduates could expect to rake in over £90,000 more over the course of their careers.

This is mirrored by a common sense that humanities are somehow softer and more accessible: we “use the arts to relax,” as David MacAlpine, Professor of Auditory Neuroscience at UCL, has it.

For those who complete their first degree and want to try something different, this dual culture is still very much in place. Ask a member of the science tribe whether they could do a literature degree or pick up a language and the answer will generally be ‘yes’, whereas most people who left the sciences behind as teenagers will balk at going into cognitive neuroscience or engineering…

The influence of this separation is particularly pronounced in the UK, where pupils tend to choose between the arts and sciences from as young as 16. However, with the ever-expanding range of taught MAs and conversion courses now available, changing fields is becoming a far more realistic aspiration – depending, of course, on what those fields are….

Academia remains a relatively closed shop; as Ben Robinson, a doctor and research neuroscientist who is also studying for a BA in English Literature says: “I think a good brain from the arts could cope with a science masters better than a bad brain from the sciences,” but adds, “Teaching staff would not accept that.” It remains the case that to carve out an academic career in any of the million-and-two cultures, there are few viable short-cuts in any direction.

The Telegraph reports that Almost one million young people not in school, college or work, …Government statistics have shown.

One in six 16 to 24-year-olds (16.2%) are now considered ”Neet” – not in education, employment or training, according to figures published by the Department for Education (DfE).

In total, 979,000 young people were classed as ”Neet” in the second quarter of this year.

This is 107,000 more youngsters than in the same quarter last year, and an extra 126,000 compared to the same period five years ago.

The statistics also show that many teenagers are leaving school with few prospects.

Almost one in 10 (9.8%) 16 to 18-year-olds, around 186,000 in total, were not in any type of work or education in the second quarter of this year.

Science grads told: move abroad (Telegraph, 23 Aug 2011)

Science graduates should look for work abroad because funding cuts mean finding work in Britain is too hard, two of the country’s leading scientists have claimed. Read more here…

His varsity application is made of Lego bricks (Straits Times, Aug 11) Mr Teh Jun Hao, 18, built a 1.5m-long submersible aircraft carrier out of Lego – complete with battery-operated moving parts – and submitted a YouTube video of the process as part of his application to the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). Read more here

In this school, purple is better than blue (The Guardian, Retr. from TODAYOnline, Jul 27)

LONDON – Students with purple ties are gifted and talented. All the children at Crown Woods college in Greenwich, south London, know that. They are taught in separate colour-coordinated buildings, play in fenced-off areas and eat lunch at separate times.

At 11 years old, all pupils at the college are streamed according to ability in what the head teacher argues is the only way to survive in the brave new world of market-driven education.

Crown Woods re-opened in May after a £50 million (S$98.5 million) rebuild under the Building Schools for the Future programme. The pupils are ranked as they leave primary school and put into one of three “mini-schools” on site.

The gifted and talented go to Delamere, where they have purple badges on their smart blazers. The rest go to Ashwood, which wears blue, or Sherwood, which wears red. The latter two schools are more mixed ability but they are still streamed into three tiers….

Some say they like the small-school model because it makes them feel safer than being left in a playground full of thousands of students they cannot name.

Some students, however, are not so keen on the overt streaming model.

One girl aged 15, who attends Sherwood school, says that students in the top school “look down” on students in other schools like hers.

She says arguments and fighting have broken out between different schools, which she says started when the students were told which block they would be going into.

“There was an argument in the school the other day and the girls were arguing between the fences … it just feels like we’ve been cut off from them,” she said.

Mr Kevin Courtney, deputy secretary at the National Union of Teachers, has condemned the school’s “upsetting” practices.

He cites famous American research conducted in the 60s, in which blue-eyed children did better and began bullying brown-eyed children after being told that they were superior.

“There are very established studies showing that kids take the message that they are given from schools and teachers and internalise them,” he says.

“We moved away from (that) partly for that reason, and it is depressing to see the system return.” The Guardian”

A new proposal that school result rankings also “destination data” … see Schools ‘to be ranked by Oxbridge success rate’ (Telegraph) “

Official league tables could show the proportion of teenagers that state secondary schools and sixth-form colleges send to Britain’s top two universities each year.

The move is intended to reveal which schools push children the furthest and prepare them best for the rigorous Oxbridge applications process.

It comes amid fears that some schools and colleges are failing to encourage pupils to aspire to elite universities, allowing privately-educated students to dominate places.

A recent report from the Sutton Trust charity revealed that pupils from just four independent schools and one sixth-form college secure more Oxbridge places every year than students from 2,000 other schools combined.”…More here

GCSE boost in sciences expected (Independent, 19 Aug 2011 )

When GCSEs are as good as a degree (Telegraph, 25 Aug 2011)

One in seven university graduates earns no more than the typical worker who left school with just GCSEs, while one in five earns less than a worker whose education ended with A-levels, official figures show.

Children need better exams than GCSEs (Telegraph, 25 Aug 2011)

Telegraph View: The last Royal Commission on education was in 1895. It is time for another.

First group of 24 ‘free’ schools to open next month | Free schools: Here’s the school that Mummy built (28 Aug 2011) As the first free schools prepare to open their doors, Julie Henry meets their enthusiasts – and detractors.

Top ten sports science courses (Telegraph) This list is compiled from data on the percentage of students who found employment within six months of graduating provided by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) 

Leading sports doctors have strongly criticised the way PE is being taught in English schools (BBC News)

Experts say many children do not get a proper workout which helps them develop coordination, strength and agility.

The British Association of Sports and Exercise Medicine wants all schools to use a short exercise routine called “five-in-five”.

But the government said PE was a matter for individual schools.

Specialists in sports and exercise medicine say that too often PE lessons focus on developing sports skills rather than encouraging flexibility and movement.


Below are some math-related article links from the Learning Network:

Do We Need a New Way to Teach Math? (NY Times, August 26, 2011) | 12 Ways to Use The Times to Develop Math Literacy | Making a Math Museum

Teaching Aids Research Skills of Grad Students, Study Says (IHT, Aug 28)

Teaching experience can contribute substantially to the improvement of essential research skills, researchers concluded.

Postsecondary education pays off financially (Straight.com, August 18, 2011)  As students get ready for college and university, new research suggests that their degrees could keep them off the bread lines. Read more here

In the next article, Alexis Kho focuses on the environment in the natural-resources-conservation program at UBC, but a degree could bring a financial windfall.

Get schooled the right way (Straight.com)

When Alexis Kho enrolled in the natural-resources conservation program in the UBC faculty of forestry, she didn’t focus on whether or not this would make her rich. Now about to begin her fourth year, she told the Georgia Straight by phone that it was more important to find an area of study that interested her. She has been able to study a wide range of topics, including ecology, forest biology, aquatic ecosystems, and biodiversity. After graduation, she hopes to find a job that enables her to enhance the natural environment.

“It would be nice to work for the government,” Kho admitted. “Parks Canada has always interested me.”

Alex Perelygin, a recent Simon Fraser University graduate in math and computer science, told the Straight by phone that he is also pursuing his passion. Next month, he’s moving to California to enter a master’s-degree program in computer science at Stanford University. He’s excited to be moving to the heart of the Silicon Valley.

“It’s the birthplace of the modern computing industry and a lot of the companies are headquartered there,” Perelygin said. “So I figure it’s a prime location if I’m going to stay in this field.”

Kho mentioned that people in her program are keenly interested in environmental issues, including climate change, and they don’t spend a great amount of time discussing how much they’ll make after graduation. Perelygin, on the other hand, said that quite a few students have told him that they’re motivated by money. “I’ve seen a mix,” he stated. “Some people are there out of academic interest. Some people are focused on, ‘I want a degree that will pay me out the best.’ ”

What they and many other students don’t realize is that some recent research suggests they may make significantly more money over their lifetimes and face shorter periods of unemployment as a result of obtaining university degrees. In a journal called Labour Economics, UBC economist Craig Riddell and York University economist Xueda Song recently published a paper indicating that people with more education have a higher probability of finding a new job after becoming unemployed. Their research drew this conclusion after looking at Americans 12 months after losing a job and Canadians six months after losing a job. The effect was particularly pronounced for those who added one to four years of education beyond Grade 12.

Riddell told the Straight by phone that economists have known for years that there is a correlation between education and employment. But this was the first time that anyone has demonstrated a “causal effect” between educational levels—after removing all other variables—and the duration of time out of work. “What the data tells us is, on average, people with more education do better than people with less education,” he said. “That’s not just a correlation; it’s a causal effect. The evidence is pretty clear on that.”

As the project director of the Canadian Labour Market and Skills Researcher Network, Riddell has spent a great deal of time studying the relationship between postsecondary education and incomes. He, along with UBC’s Thomas Lemieux and University of Montreal’s Brahim Boudarbat, coauthored an exhaustive study last year called “The Evolution of the Returns to Human Capital in Canada, 1980-2005”. It relied on census data before concluding that “returns to education increased substantially for Canadian men” over the 25-year period, with most of this occurring in the early 1980s and after 1995. The gains were more modest for Canadian women.

Riddell said that not surprisingly, professional programs—including law, dentistry, and medicine—yield the highest financial returns. In four-year programs, engineering tends to have a higher-than-average payoff over the course of a graduate’s career. “The lowest returns tend to be in the humanities,” he pointed out. “Basic science and social sciences are in between. There is nothing really shocking about that, but what is also noteworthy is that the differences by field of study are not enormous.”

The income differential between men with a bachelor’s degree and people with a high-school diploma rose from 32 percent to 40 percent from 1980 to 2005. The earnings gap between men with a high-school diploma and postgraduate and professional degrees rose from 51 percent to 54 percent over the same period. The paper also noted that women with a bachelor’s degree earned 51 percent more than women with a high-school diploma in 2005, up from a differential of 45 percent in 1980.

The researchers wrote that they took employees’ experience into account because older and more experienced workers are generally less well-educated than younger, less experienced colleagues. “Although we control for observed differences among educational groups, there may also be unobserved differences such as motivation, ability and perseverance that we cannot take into account with available data,” they wrote.

Riddell said that he and his colleagues also examined the earnings of people with college diplomas or trades certificates. “The payoff is a little lower than for a university degree when you factor in the years of schooling,” he revealed. “They’ve invested two years on average in additional school beyond high school. University is four years. You would expect their income, if it was proportional, to be halfway between university graduates and high-school graduates. But it’s not quite halfway between. It’s still a good investment if you work out the rate of return.”

SFU economist Krishna Pendakur has studied the earnings of aboriginal people and Canadian-born visible minorities. He pointed out that the income differential between aboriginal people and nonaboriginal people is huge, particularly for men, but that gap has narrowed in recent years. “Aboriginals are still dramatically less well off than everyone else, but the marginal impact of education is high for both aboriginal and nonaboriginal people,” Pendakur told the Straight by phone.

The general trend for visible minorities is not good, though he didn’t feel that he had sufficient research at hand to comment on the impact of the “education premium” on them. “In 1970, Canadian-born visible-minority men had earnings about six percent lower than Canadian-born white men who had the same age, education, city of residence, stuff like that,” Pendakur said. By 2005, the differential grew to nearly 20 percent.

In Vancouver, however, the differential was less than 10 percent for men in 2005, and Canadian-born visible-minority women in Vancouver had a higher average income than Canadian-born Caucasian women.

That’s not to say that university dropouts can’t enjoy spectacular success. Steve Jobs is cofounder and CEO of Apple Inc., which recently became the most valuable company in the world. In a commencement address at Stanford in 2005, he confessed that he never graduated from college. And after being fired during his first stint running Apple, he said that the only thing that kept him going was the love that he had for what he was doing.

“You’ve got to find what you love,” Jobs advised the students. “And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

It’s an approach that both Kho and Perelygin have intuitively grasped. And if it makes them more money and results in less unemployment during their careers, they’re not going to complain about that.”

The Hidden Costs of Higher Ed (NY Times, August 22, 2011)

Colleges are making it harder for average American families to afford higher education, while making it easier for the wealthy.

There Has to Be a Better Way to Grade Tests (NY Times, August 28, 2011)

New York’s approach to scoring Regents exams is too vulnerable to cheating.

On the Playground, Learning Life’s Risks (NY Times, Jul 31)

Academics Find Common Standards Fit for College (Aug 25, 2011)

Instructors of entry-level college courses consider the common standards in mathematics and English/language arts good reflections of the skills students must master to be successful in courses in a range of disciplines, according to a survey released today.

The study, “Reaching the Goal,” aims to verify a key premise of the academic standards that have been adopted by all but five states: that they prepare students for college by defining the skills and knowledge that are crucial to success in entry-level coursework. Although college instructors served on the panels that crafted the standards, the new survey is believed to be the only study to test that premise by putting the question directly to higher-education faculty.

“It suggests strong support for the validity of the common-core standards, in terms of their applicability to college courses and their importance, and the appropriate level of challenge for students to be successful,” said Michael W. Kirst, a professor emeritus of education at Stanford University who focuses on college-readiness issues and serves on the board of directors of the research group that produced the report. “Nobody has cross-checked it with the actual people who teach these courses, until now.”In conducting the study, a team led by David T. Conley, the chief executive officer of the Educational Policy Improvement Center, in Eugene, Ore., posed two types of questions to the instructors of 1,897 courses at 944 two- and four-year colleges across the country.

First, the “applicability” question: Do the high school standards reflect material that will be covered or reviewed, or considered a prerequisite, in your course?

If instructors answered yes, they went on to the “importance” questions, rating on a scale of 1 to 4 how crucial mastery of each broad “strand” or “conceptual category” of standards—and scores of standards and substatements within them—is to students’ success in their courses.

Across Disciplines

The instructors in the study come not just from the math and English/language arts disciplines. They teach courses in other general education areas such as science and social studies, as well as courses often associated with career pathways in health care, computer technology, and business management. All were asked to review both the math and English/language arts standards, on the theory that many skills articulated there were meant to cut across the disciplines.

Standards in English/language arts earned strong ratings for importance, with every area except one rated between 3 and 3.3. The math standards received somewhat lower ratings, mostly between 2.6 and 3, a difference that might be attributable, Mr. Conley said, to their greater degree of specialization.

Digging deeper into the results yields variations that shed light on the relevance and importance instructors from the different disciplines place on the 300-plus ideas they evaluated. Those variations, Mr. Conley said, can inform how curriculum is designed for the standards and how they are taught and tested.

“When we start thinking about what to teach and what to test, the variations become far more important than the generalizations,” said Mr. Conley. Those variations suggest that even students who don’t master every standard can excel in college, he said.

“Are you better off with a strong core of knowledge? Of course,” Mr. Conley said. “The more you know, the more options you have in college. But even if you don’t master all the standards, you still have good options.”

The math standards to earn the highest and most interdisciplinary applicability ratings were those in the “mathematical practices,” which include skills such as applying math knowledge to everyday problems. Even some English/language arts instructors found those standards relevant to their courses, with two in 10 giving the thumbs-up. Six in 10 of those in social science did so as well, along with three-quarters or more of those in the other disciplines.

In English/language arts, the speaking and listening skills were the ones seen as the most highly applicable by instructors across the disciplines. Standards in literary reading got somewhat lower applicability ratings. But those focusing on informational reading were seen as highly relevant. Instructors from non-English/language arts courses, in particular, saw the standards for reading in specific disciplines, such as science and social studies, as applicable to their courses.

Prioritizing Skills

When it came to rating the importance of the standards and statements within the standards, some were seen as far more important than others.

Within the speaking and listening standards, for instance, instructors said it was very important for students to be able to “come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study [and] explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research … to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.” The instructors placed less value on students’ ability to “evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.”

Within math practices, raters placed the most value on “making sense of problems and persevering in solving them” and the least on “looking for and expressing regularity in repeated reasoning,” though both still received above-average-importance ratings. Within the geometry standard, instructors placed more importance on using volume formulas to solve problems than on the ability to prove that all circles are similar.

The appraisals of the math standards by instructors in varied fields are “bound to raise the question” of how much math students need to succeed in various college majors and fields of work, said Mr. Kirst of Stanford, a question that has been debated by experts.

“Many subjects don’t require math beyond Algebra 2,” Mr. Kirst said. “This [study] expands the dialogue and perspective on that to many other teachers. Math teachers want everybody to know a lot of math, but they’re not the ones that have a handle on what is needed in all these other fields.”

Missing Dimensions

Another central idea of the standards—that they are rigorous enough to prepare students for college—was explored in an optional question at the end of the survey. Ninety-six percent of the responding instructors agreed that the standards were at a level of rigor sufficient for preparation for their courses.

But even as the study buttressed key ideas about the standards’ reflection of college readiness, some of its strongest language was reserved for areas they do not cover. Mr. Conley, widely known for his work detailing strategies and habits of mind that are important for success in college, such as persistence and study skills, cautioned against viewing the common standards as a complete recipe for college preparation.

“Defining a set of standards as ‘college and career ready’ that overlook … dimensions beyond content knowledge will result in assuming that students who have achieved a particular score on the common assessments [of the standards] are fully ready for college and career studies when, in fact, they may possess only a subset of the knowledge and skills, strategies and techniques necessary to be fully ready for postsecondary success,” he and his co-authors write in the study.

Donna Ekal, the associate provost for undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at El Paso, agreed that students’ mastery of academic standards is a misleading gauge of their readiness for college or work. It’s important to know what college instructors consider crucial to success in their courses, she said, but researchers should also ask students what skills proved pivotal to their college success.

“If you asked students, they would certainly say content is important, but we hear an awful lot, too, about time management and about unrealistic expectations. Many students expect college to be like a 13th year of high school,” said Ms. Ekal, whose 23,000-student campus has worked for 20 years with local school districts, city officials, and the community college to align K-12 work with college.

“I think it would be especially important to ask the students that did well in high school and came to college and weren’t so successful, what was the disconnect?”

Creating assessments that are informed by college instructors’ views involves an inherent “tension” in ensuring that the tests cover what is important to learn in high school, without shortchanging the more narrowly focused math and literacy skills that meet higher education’s definition of what’s required for success in entry-level, credit-bearing courses, said Michael Cohen, the president of Achieve, a Washington-based group that has worked with colleges and K-12 to shape academic expectations and tests for states in its American Diploma Project network.

A key tenet of the common assessments, which two large groups of states are designing for the common standards, is that colleges could support their use for course-placement decisions. Achieve is a project-management partner of one of those two state consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, or PARCC.

Achieve’s research showed that college-placement tests in math tend to focus heavily on algebra, since that is often the first credit-bearing course in college, Mr. Cohen said. Consequently, a high school math test designed for the common standards will have to focus sufficiently on algebra to predict success in first-year, credit-bearing courses, but will also have to include other areas of math included in the standards, he said. Number and quantity, for instance, was an area of math that received as high an applicability rating from the college instructors in the study as algebra did. Statistics and probability was close behind.

As school districts and states work to reshape curricula and tests to reflect the common standards, college instructors’ views of the relative importance of the standards—and more narrowly focused goals within each standard—can help them prioritize, Mr. Kirst said.

Exam pressure leaves teenagers suffering from mental illness (Telegraph)

How to afford school fees (Telegraph, 9 Aug)

If you are panicking about how you will educate your children, you need to start thinking realistically. The longer you have to plan, the better, but whatever stage you are at, there are things you can do to take the sting out of the prices. Read on for some tips

Children shun books for texts (Telegraph, Aug 22)

One in six children are failing to read books; replacing them instead with an increasing amount of time spent using social media.

Science grads told: move abroad (Telegraph, Aug 23)

Science graduates should look for work abroad because funding cuts mean finding work in Britain is too hard, two of the country’s leading scientists have claimed.

E-Learning for Special Populations  (August 22, 2011)

This special report examines the growing e-learning opportunities for students with disabilities, English-language learners, gifted and talented students, and those at risk of failing. • Download as a PDF.

Educators Combat Crude Culture of Social Networks

Educators increasingly are joining in to challenge the raunchy and rude culture of social networks, which they fear unleashes cyberbullying and sexting, and heightens the social drama of puberty. (August 23, 2011)

Is teaching a natural talent? Study Measures Bullying’s Academic Toll

E-Learning Poses Challenges for At-Risk Students Aug 24 “This is very useful for state policymakers like me,” said Mr. Kirst, the president of the California state board of education. “We can’t cover all the standards in the common core equally. We cannot test all of them equally. As you look through what people think is more or less important, it gives you some guidance as to what may be the things you have to teach and assess in depth versus those you assess in less depth or not at all.”

Online education can offer at-risk students flexibility, but they also need support to help them take responsibility for their own learning

Coverage of “deeper learning” that will prepare students with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in a rapidly changing world is supported in part by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, at www.hewlett.org.

E-Learning: The Student Experience

Tessa Falcetta, who has dysgraphia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and her mother, Esther Falcetta, talk about why online learning is the best fit for Tessa, its challenges, and how the lessons are tailored to her needs.

Recommended blog:

Next, here are links to stuff that may require you to rewrite your textbooks or to file away in your teaching notebooks:

Marco Polo ‘never went to China and picked up tales of the Orient from other travellers’  (Daily Mail, Aug 10)

Archaeologists find a “circular feature” beneath Sterling’s King’s Knot.

The King’s Knot, a geometrical earthwork in the former royal gardens below Stirling Castle, has been shrouded in mystery for hundreds of years.

Though the Knot as it appears today dates from the 1620s, its flat-topped central mound is thought to be much older.

Writers going back more than six centuries have linked the landmark to the legend of King Arthur.

Archaeologists from Glasgow University, working with the Stirling Local History Society and Stirling Field and Archaeological Society, conducted the first ever non-invasive survey of the site in May and June in a bid to uncover some of its secrets.

Their findings were show there was indeed a round feature on the site that pre-dates the visible earthworks.

Astronomers discover planet made of diamond (Reuters, 25 Aug 2011)

Learn about the science behind hurricanes, including how scientists attempt to predict the paths of these destructive forcesVol. 02, Issue 31 Watch this National Geographic video clip here.

Asteroid Dust Confirms Meteorite Origins (NY Times)

Last year, a Japanese spacecraft brought asteroid dust back to Earth for the first time, and now researchers who studied it have confirmed that most meteorites on Earth originate from asteroids like the one sampled.

Tiny camera reveals inside of ancient Mayan tomb (Daily Times)

A tiny remote-controlled camera peered inside the tomb of a Mayan ruler that has been sealed for 1,500 years, revealing red frescoes, pottery and pieces of a funerary shroud made of jade and mother of pearl. The tomb was discovered in 1999 inside a pyramid among the ruins of the Mayan city of Palenque in the hills of the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. But until now archaeologists had not been able to access the vault believed to hold the remains of a Mayan ruler who lived between AD 431 and 550, the National Institute of Anthropologyand History said in a release on Thursday. By dropping the small camera 16 feet (5 metres) deep through a small hole at the top of the pyramid, researchers were able to get the first view of the intact tomb. “The characteristics of the funeral site show that the bones could belong to a sacred ruler from Palenque, probably one of the founders of a dynasty,” said archaeologist Martha Cuevas. The tomb’s walls are painted in a rich red with paintings of Mayan figures. The Mayans flourished between AD 250-900 and Palenque is one of the most important Mayan archaeological sites. Reuters, June 25, 2011

Gigantoraptor: It’s a Bird, It’s a Dinosaur, It’s a Mystery (Scientific American, June 13, 2007)

It may or may not have had feathers but it certainly had a toothless beak—and stood more than 16 feet tall

***

Health and safety issues:

Early harvested rice in Fukushima declared safe (Aug 27)

Prefectural authorities in Fukushima, releasing the first results of tests for radiation on early harvested rice, declared Aug. 25 that some grain at least is safe to eat.

Officials said no radioactive cesium was detected at levels above safety standards in rice harvested in Aizu-Bange, which is located more than 100 kilometers from the quake-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

There were fears that radiation fallout from the facility had contaminated rice harvested across the prefecture in the fall.

Prefectural authorities carried out radiation checks on early harvested rice before the regular rice harvest got under way in September.

Officials examined samples collected Aug. 22 from four rice paddies in the Aizu-Bange area because low levels of soil contamination have been detected there.

Reacting to the announcement that the grain is safe for human consumption, prefectural Governor Yuhei Sato declared, “I am so relieved.”

The prefectural government will continue its checks of early-harvested rice from 48 hectare-sized paddies spread across 20 town in the prefecture.

Rice producers from those towns asked for the radiation checks.

If radiation levels exceeding the safety standard of 500 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram are detected, officials will ensure that all rice cultivated in the area in question is not transported elsewhere.

The prefectural government will also conduct pre-harvest checks on regular rice, including the popular Koshihikari brand, as well as post-harvest checks.

No radioactive substances found so far in rice harvested in Fukushima (Mainichi, August 26, 2011)

TOKYO (Kyodo) — No radioactive substances were found in rice just harvested in nuclear crisis-hit Fukushima Prefecture, prefectural government officials said Thursday.

Rice growers in the prefecture, which hosts the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and elsewhere have been concerned about possible contamination as newly harvested rice is set to hit the market in the coming months amid public concern about food safety.

About 2 kilograms of brown rice harvested from paddies in the town of Aizubange on Monday and Tuesday was sampled on Wednesday. The samples were brought in to a prefectural farming facility in Koriyama on Thursday morning for testing.

The prefectural government allows brown rice to be shipped to market as long as it does not contain more than 500 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium.

Samples of the rice, which ripens earlier than other varieties, will be collected at about 200 locations in 21 municipalities in the prefecture, with plans to finish testing them by Sept. 10.

Meanwhile, the Chiba prefectural government said 47 becquerels per kilogram of cesium were detected in preharvest rice in the prefectural city of Shiroi.

The detection of the radioactive substance in rice follows the first case in Hokota, Ibaraki Prefecture, since the nuclear disaster in Fukushima.

The Chiba government collected samples from two paddies in the city on Monday and found the substance in rice from one of them. It will shortly examine samples of harvested rice on a broader basis.

Rice containing less than the government-set provisional safety limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram can be shipped, the prefectural government said.

Low levels of cesium found in rice (Japan Times, Aug 27)

The Fukushima Prefectural Government said Friday a small amount of radioactive cesium, below the allowable limit, was detected in raw rice in Nihonmatsu, some 60 km from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The level came to 22 becquerels per kilogram against the government-set maximum limit of 500 becquerels, in the first case in which cesium was detected in newly harvested rice in Fukushima Prefecture. But no cesium was found in the polished version of rice harvested in Nihonmatsu.

The prefectural government also said no cesium was detected in rice harvested in Koriyama and Motomiya, which are also about 60 km from the Fukushima plant.

The prefecture plans to complete radiation tests on rice harvested at some 200 points in 21 municipalities within the prefecture by Sept. 10.

Farmers have already been prohibited from planting rice this year within a 20-km radius from the leaking plant and in some more distant areas where heavy contamination was found.

News Navigator: How is this year’s rice harvest being checked for radioactive cesium?

The Mainichi answers common questions readers may have about the checks for radioactive cesium being done on this year’s rice harvest.

Question: Soon it will be rice harvesting season. What is being done to check for radioactive cesium?

Answer: The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) is asking Tokyo and 16 prefectures to do double checks for radioactive cesium, once before and once after harvesting. As rice is a staple food, it is getting this extra treatment. Both the national and local governments are determined to catch any contaminated rice before it can reach the marketplace.

Q: Shipments of vegetables and tea leaves were banned in some areas, wasn’t them? Will rice likely be found contaminated with radioactive cesium?

A: The situation with rice appears to be a little different. The vegetables found with radiation levels over accepted limits and the straw feed that was implicated in causing contaminated beef were in fields and paddies in March, when the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant began and the radiation leaks were likely at their heaviest. These agricultural products had their exteriors exposed to radioactive material.

The rice crop, though, wasn’t planted until some time afterwards, and what is feared more than exterior exposure is interior exposure, due to taking in radioactive cesium from contaminated rice paddies.

Q: How much radioactive materials have the rice plants taken in?

A: The amount of radioactive material taken in from soil differs by the kind of crop, but according to MAFF, the cesium concentration in rice can be expected to be about one-tenth that of the soil in which it is grown. To prevent rice from exceeding a limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram, the government in April forbade planting in agricultural grounds in Fukushima Prefecture that had soil with cesium concentrations exceeding 5,000 becquerels.

There is also research data that suggests the actual amount of cesium uptake in rice is less than the value offered by MAFF.

Q: Still, there are places far from the nuclear plant being found with high levels of radiation. Will it really be OK?

A: At the moment, it cannot be said for certain that rice with radiation levels exceeding the temporary limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram will not be discovered. The national and local governments need to make their checks as tight as possible to secure the safety of this staple food and prevent any contaminated rice from making it to the marketplace. (Answers by Eisuke Inoue, City News Department)

Click here for the original Japanese story

“Safe” radiation levels after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster challenged by citizens (Aug 25)

After Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, John Disney couldn’t help but worry. He was acting band manager of the Old Massett Village Council on the north tip of Graham Island in Haida Gwaii.

Canadian health officials were saying the radioactive fallout posed no health risk to Canadians. But Disney wasn’t convinced.

He sent samples of water, goat’s milk, and seaweed to a lab in Saskatoon for tests. The lab found 1.1 becquerels per litre of radioactive iodine in rainwater collected on March 28.

The lab told him the Canadian ceiling for iodine-131 in drinking water is six becquerels per litre. The rainwater wasn’t at the limit yet, but the sudden rise—over previously undetectable levels—worried Disney. He put out an alert to his community of 700, giving the numbers and advising residents to avoid drinking rainwater.

“It [the iodine level] was coming up fast, and I didn’t know where it was going,” he said by cellphone from Old Massett (also known as Haida Village). “Quite a lot of people around here are on rainwater [drinking] systems.”

The responses from Health Canada and Environment Canada were scathing. “They said I didn’t know what I was doing and that there was nothing to worry about. I’ve got half the world telling me I’m an idiot,” Disney said.

Health Canada gave the Georgia Straight the same kind of assurance. “Canadians are safe,” spokesman Stéphane Shank said in a phone interview. Radiation detected in Canada was “within the natural background fluctuations”.

In fact, the iodine-131 levels at Old Massett tested above background until early May. Background for iodine-131 is around zero because it doesn’t occur naturally.

And even though the level never exceeded the Canadian ceiling, that didn’t necessarily mean it was safe. In fact, Japan’s five-month-old nuclear crisis has focused attention on a dirty secret of the nuclear industry: its version of “safe” isn’t necessarily the public’s.

The Canadian ceiling for radiation is set at a level that causes 7.3 cancers per million people each year, according to Health Canada’s website—or 511 lifetime cancers over 70 years of exposure per million people. Spread over 33 million Canadians, that’s 17,000 lifetime cancers. (About half are fatal.)

“If it’s causing cancer, it’s not safe,” said Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, in a phone interview from Montreal.

What’s more, Canada’s radiation ceiling is 50 to 500 times more permissive than Health Canada guidelines for carcinogenic chemicals. Those generally are restricted to a level that causes a maximum of one to 10 lifetime cancers per million people.

“The nuclear industry has taken upon itself the ability to set its own standards independent of how we get them for other carcinogens,” Edwards said.

In April, the Japanese government raised its maximum limit for children from one to 20 millisieverts per year, a level that leads to 2,270 cancers annually per million people (or 160,000 lifetime cancers per million), according to data in a landmark 2006 U.S. National Academy of Sciences report on radiation cancer risk. A massive outcry later forced the government to reverse the move.

About a fifth of the 1,600 schools in Fukushima prefecture were exposed to at least 20 milliseiverts of radiation this year, according to a Bloomberg story in July.

Back in Old Massett, Disney also worries about the salmon. He was a commercial salmon fisherman for 30 years and is now trying to get funding to do radiation tests on sockeye, which he says often migrate into Japanese waters.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is now doing radiation tests on salmon caught in B.C. coastal waters, which will end in September. But Disney says it’s also important to test sockeye that return in 2012 and 2013, which are at higher risk of having travelled near Japan.

The CFIA stopped testing Japanese food imports in July. It requires only that importers bringing in food from the Fukushima area document its “safety”. The agency has no plans to test imported Pacific seafood or seafood caught near Japan by Canadian companies.

Fish and crustaceans caught in the vicinity of Fukushima in late March had 10,000 times the “safe” level of radiation, according to a May study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Macroalgae had 19,000 times the safe level.

Those levels were measured before the Japanese utility that runs the crippled nuclear plant dumped 11,000 tonnes of radioactive water into the Pacific in April and additional leaks released several hundred tonnes more.

And it turns out Disney was right to be cautious about his rainwater. Some of the highest iodine-131 levels in North America after Fukushima were detected in rainwater in Burnaby—6.9 becquerels per litre on average over 12 days in late March (again, well above background levels).

It was less than the Canadian ceiling for drinking water (which is six becquerels per litre consumed at a rate of two litres daily for 365 days). But it doubled the more stringent ceiling of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In Virginia, state officials issued a don’t-drink-rainwater advisory in late March after iodine-131 levels in rain in nearby states reached about a third of the level seen in Burnaby. Yet, B.C. health officials insist the Burnaby rainwater was safe. “The dose would have been too small to have any biologically measurable impact—even if people drink rainwater, which they don’t,” said B.C. provincial health officer Perry Kendall in an email exchange with the Straight.

That might come as a surprise to B.C.’s growing rainwater-harvesting community. Edwards is incredulous: “That’s the kind of statement you could expect from a nuclear promoter, not a public-health agency. The responsible attitude is to say there’s no reason to panic, but that no amount of radiation is safe.”

Radiation in Japanese children’s thyroids (AFP, Aug 18)

Forty-five percent of children tested in the region around Japan’s stricken nuclear plant were found to have traces of radioactive elements in their thyroid glands, an official said Thursday. The official said that the iodine concentrations — found in tests that the government carried out about five months ago in Fukushima prefecture — were not considered alarming in terms of their health impact. “The government’s official position is that none of the children showed radiation levels that would be problematic,” he told AFP. The government’s nuclear accident taskforce tested 1,149 children aged up to 15 about two weeks after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns, blasts and fires at the Fukushima plant. Radioactive iodine tends to gather in the thyroid glands of minors in particular, increasing the risk of developing cancer later in life. (AFP)

TOKYO — Forty-five percent of children tested in the region around Japan’s stricken nuclear plant were found to have traces of radioactive elements in their thyroid glands, an official said Thursday.

The official said that the iodine concentrations — found in tests that the government carried out about five months ago in Fukushima prefecture — were not considered alarming in terms of their health impact.

“The government’s official position is that none of the children showed radiation levels that would be problematic,” he told AFP.

The government’s nuclear accident taskforce tested 1,149 children aged up to 15 about two weeks after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns, blasts and fires at the Fukushima plant.

Radioactive iodine tends to gather in the thyroid glands of minors in particular, increasing the risk of developing cancer later in life.

Of the valid test results collected for 1,080 children, 482 or 44.6 percent were confirmed to have some level of radioactive contamination in their thyroid glands, the government official told AFP.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said none of the children suffered contamination beyond the equivalent of 0.2 microsieverts (mSv) per hour, the standard set by Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission.

“Only one child showed a contamination level of 0.1 mSv per hour, the highest of the group,” the official said without giving the child’s sex or age.

The commission recommends that children, especially young ones, whose thyroid gland is contaminated beyond the 0.2 mSv limit undergo an in-depth physical checkup, citing international standards.

The commission is considering tightening its safety standard to 0.1 mSv.

The children tested came from three municipalities — Iwaki city, Kawamata town and Iitate village — where especially high levels of radiation had been estimated after the accident, the official said.

The Fukushima government plans to conduct life-time medical checks for the estimated 360,000 people aged 18 or younger who were in the prefecture at the time of the nuclear accident.

The taskforce medical team began sending test results to the families of the children last week and gave a briefing on Wednesday to a group of parents and guardians in Iwaki city.

Some participants complained that the team took months to inform them of the detailed results despite the gravity of the nuclear accident, the world’s worst since Chernobyl 25 years ago, the Asahi Shimbun daily reported.

The government official said the taskforce did not consider informing the families of the details results as a priority since no child had shown contamination levels beyond the safety limit.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has revealed that it is testing locally caught salmon for radiation levels in response to “events in Japan”.

In a question-and-answer sheet distributed to various media outlets, including the Georgia Straight, Canada’s food regulator stated that the examination of local fish “has been planned for some time”.

“These sampling and testing activities are currently underway and will be carried out through August and September,” the agency said. “The timing of this initiative reflects the availability of the fish—British Columbia salmon fisheries were not active in March, at the time of the events in Japan.”

The federal government often refers to the reported meltdown of three nuclear reactors in Fukushima as “the events in Japan”, rather than using more descriptive language. However, the words “nuclear crisis” appeared once in today’s statement.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has not made a spokesperson available for comment. The question-and-answer sheet was made available a day after theGeorgia Straight quoted fisheries biologist Alexandra Morton calling for the testing of sockeye salmon.

“There was a large release of radioactive material in the water and in the air,” Morton told the Straight earlier this week. “I suspect that this generation of sockeye were out of the way, probably on their way home. But my sense of this is we need to test everywhere we can.”

The CFIA stated that fish and shellfish “are not expected to be impacted by the situation in Japan”.

“Nonetheless, as a prudent measure to reaffirm the safety of this important commodity for both domestic and export markets, samples of domestically caught salmon from British Columbia will be tested to verify that the fish remains safe for consumption,” the agency declared. “Health Canada will support the testing and analysis of these samples. Health Canada will also continue its radiation monitoring and surveillance activities at stations across the country in strategic locations and major population centres.”

It also stated that no “harmful levels of radiation” have been detected in air quality, domestic milk, and foods imported from Japan.

Note: For “Results of the inspection on radioactivity materials in fisheries products” by the Fisheries Ministry, see the published results on their homepage.

Newly found antibody can cure various flu strains (Japan Times, August 25, 2011) group of Japanese researchers has discovered a unique antibody that can be effective against various strains of influenza viruses.The group led by Professor Yoshikazu Kurosawa at Fujita Health University extracted a host of antibodies from human blood samples.The effectiveness of the antibodies was examined against 12 different strains of Hong Kong A-type influenza. One antibody was found to have destroyed all the flu strains. Detailed analysis showed that this antibody makes a pinpoint attack on a specific part of the virus’s surface that does not change through the mutation process.An influenza virus can easily mutate and goes through changes in its structure which makes it hard for an antibody to achieve lasting efficacy.The newly found antibody was also effective against H5N1 bird flu.Kurosawa says that development of a vaccine and medication to induce this antibody will realize more useful prevention and treatment of influenza.

Govt announces lifting of beef cattle shipment ban

The Japanese government has announced that it will lift all the remaining bans on shipments of beef cattle after ensuring that sufficient radiation tests are conducted.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said on Thursday that the government has notified the prefectural governors of Fukushima, Iwate and Tochigi that bans on the transfer and shipment of beef cattle to other prefectures will be lifted.

Edano cited measures to be taken for ensuring the safety management of cattle rearing and shipment, as well as radiation tests to be carried out on all cows raised in the region.

He said that if the tests find any cattle whose levels of radioactive cesium exceed the government’s safety limit, their shipment will be banned.
He added that he wants the public to understand that any exemption will mean that the safety measures are working.

The bans have been in place in the 3 prefectures and in Miyagi since July 19th after radioactive cesium exceeding government safety levels was detected in beef from cattle that had been fed contaminated rice straw.

The ban in Miyagi was lifted on August 19th and with the latest decision, the distribution of beef from all areas of the country will be permitted.

See earlier news: Government lifts remaining ban on shipment of beef cattle(Asahi, Aug 27)

Cesium in incinerator dust across east Japan (Japan Times, Aug 29)

High levels of cesium isotopes are cropping up in dust at 42 incineration plants in seven prefectures, including Chiba and Iwate, an Environment Ministry survey of the Kanto and Tohoku regions shows.

According to the report, released late Saturday, the highest cesium levels in the dust ranged from 95,300 becquerels in Fukushima Prefecture and 70,800 becquerels in Chiba Prefecture to 30,000 becquerels in Iwate Prefecture.

But even the lower levels in the dust exceeded 8,000 becquerels per kilogram in Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Tokyo.

The 16-prefecture survey covered 469 incinerator operators in Tohoku and Kanto from late June, and was reported to a panel of experts at the ministry that is discussing how to safely bury incinerator ash and dust with cesium levels above 8,000 becquerels per kilogram.

Local governments have been instructed to temporarily store their ash and dust at disposal sites until the panel reaches a conclusion.

The ministry said it will ask the prefectures to continue monitoring radiation levels in the material.

Incinerator ash containing cesium was detected at seven facilities in Fukushima Prefecture, the report said.

The Environment Ministry asked prefectures to monitor cesium levels after dust with 9,740 becquerels per kilogram was found at an incineration plant in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward in June. Before that, the only prefectures that had collected and released such data were Gunma and Ibaraki.

The other prefectures that took part in the survey were Miyagi, Akita, Yamagata, Saitama, Kanagawa, Niigata, Yamanashi, Nagano and Shizuoka.

***

Last but not least, here are our updates on the Fukushima reactor crisis and related news:

Workers enter Fukushima Daini containment vessel (NHK, Aug 29) Workers have entered a containment vessel at the Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant for the first time since it was hit by the March quake and tsunami.Tokyo Electric Power Company said it sent workers into the containment vessel housing the No. 4 reactor on Monday. They are checking for possible damage, plus measuring radiation levels and the temperature inside.TEPCO says it wanted to carry out the inspections as pressure inside the containment vessel had increased at one time after the disaster.The March earthquake caused an automatic shutdown of all 4 reactors at Fukushima Daini, located near the troubled Fukushima Daiichi plant. The ensuing tsunami partially damaged equipment to use seawater as coolant at the No. 4 and 2 other reactors.

Kurion says Fukushima plant contaminated water cesium levels reduced by more than 40% (Japantoday.com)

American company Kurion Inc, an innovator in nuclear waste management, says that as of Aug 17, cesium levels in the contaminated water within the facilities of the tsunami-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant had dropped by more than 40% since startup of the Kurion Ion Specific Media System on June 17.

Kurion says the design goal of the Kurion 50 MT/hour (220 gpm) rated system is to remove approximately 99.9% of the cesium, the principal source of radioactivity in the contaminated water. When originally operated in its design configuration, the system was removing cesium by a factor of 70,000 (99.999% removal).

The reliability, safety, and robustness of the Kurion system was recently confirmed by the Aug 16 analysis of water treatment facility operations that shows, with the exception of a few initial operational missteps regarding incorrect valve alignments or having the system taken off line over dose buildup at the first skid (subsequently determined to originate from the upstream feed piping and not the Kurion vessels or media), the Kurion system has quick upset recovery mechanisms and no constraining radioactive hotspots.

The pump redundancy in the Kurion system allows for prompt resumption of operations following a pump trip, minimizing throughput impacts. In fact, because of its pump redundancies and high design margin the system has recently been operating at its design throughput with only three of its four lines, limited by the processing capacity of downstream water treatment facility systems. Since its cesium removal technology is a passive approach, the Kurion system is capable of operating using no system pumps with sufficient pressure at the inlet connection.

Additional processing capacity (Cesium absorption Instruments No. 2) started up Aug 18 with the goal of polishing the Kurion effluent by removing the small amount of remaining cesium or operating in parallel to increase the water treatment facility processing rate to 100 MT/hour.

The amount of highly radioactive water on the premises of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant decreased 320 tons during the latest seven-day period, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Aug. 24.

The new purifying unit, called “Sarry,” which is short for Simplified Active Water Retrieve and Recovery System, began operations Aug. 18 and added to the overall treatment capacity. The amount of radioactive water only decreased slightly, though, because the treatment plant had to be suspended temporarily for trial runs.

TEPCO said the hourly treatment capacity increased from 45 tons to 70 tons. Radioactive water stored in buildings and that was transferred from the buildings to the central waste treatment plant totaled 118,410 tons, down 320 tons from a week earlier. A total 6,780 tons of radioactive water was treated between Aug. 17-23, setting the utilization rate at 80.7 percent of designed capacity.

TEPCO projects that the radioactive water in the basement of the turbine buildings at the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors will decrease to target water levels in mid- or late September.

RS_Progress_report_on_Fukushima_Daiichil (WorldNuclearNews.org)

Some stabilisation targets have been met at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, but levels of contaminated water in the basements remain Tepco’s biggest challenge.

Pumping water into the three ruined reactors will be essential to their cooling for some time to come, and temperatures at units 2 and 3 are slowly approaching the landmark 100ºC, while unit 1 has been below this for almost a month. However, the water becomes highly radioactive after passing over the melted cores and it goes on to accumulate in the basements of the buildings.

To achieve sub-100ºC temperatures Tepco needs to increase the rate of injection, but this is impossible with the current volumes of accumulated water. Progress has to be made in the performance of the treatment facilities that clean radionuclides from the water ready for re-injection.

Performance targets for 80% availability have been approached for spells of a few days, although at times performance has been below 60%. During times of good operation water levels in the basements have come down by about 1.5 centimetres per day, only to go back up again slightly faster when equipment breaks down.

Overall, water depths have crept down from a high of about 3.80 metres to about 3.55 metres over about 90 days.

Hot-spot cleanups hampered by public resistance to local disposal sites (Mainichi, Aug 27)

Municipalities looking to clean up radiation “hot spots” caused by the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power plant are facing stiff local resident opposition as they search for temporary disposal sites for tainted materials.

Some 3,800 residents of Fukushima city’s Watari district, site of a radioactive hot spot, carried out a major decontamination operation in late July, scraping out ditches and removing tainted topsoil. The city designated a site in the mountains as a temporary disposal area and trucked in the some 6,000 bags of contaminated material produced in the Watari operation. The disposal, however, was met with fierce opposition from locals around the mountain site.

“If the stuff had come from a local decontamination operation, then I’d just have to live with it. But I just can’t agree with bringing it in from someplace else,” said one 50-year-old housewife who lives only a few hundred meters from the disposal area. Aware of the local opposition, the city government has now begun looking for an alternate site.

Meanwhile, a Fukushima section of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism also hit a wall of public resistance when it tried to lay grass cut from the banks of a river in the city of Nihonmatsu on the river’s bed. Previously, the grass had been used as animal fodder and compost. Since the grass has been contaminated by the nuclear disaster, however, the land ministry’s Fukushima Office of Rivers and National Highways decided to lay the cuttings along the riverbed, at least temporarily. The public backlash against the plan began after a local resident saw the operation in progress.

“I’ve become very sensitive to the radiation issue so this is giving me a lot of stress,” said one 44-year-old local resident. “Of course I don’t want those cuttings to be left near my family.”

No quick way to remove radioactive substances from soil: experts (Mainichi, Aug 27)

Experts say there is no technology or machinery available that can quickly remove radioactive substances from soil. Steady and repeated efforts are required to gradually reduce radioactive substances by removing the surface from soil, mowing down grass, or scraping the matter off with water.Under the government’s basic scheme, radioactive substances can be removed from roads, roofs and playground equipment by rinsing with water in areas with radiation measuring less than 20 millisieverts per year. But radioactive substances would spread if they seeped into soil or rivers. In the case of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986, when radioactive substances on buildings were washed away, the levels of radiation where water reached rose several fold.It is also difficult to secure places for radioactive waste disposal. According to an experiment conducted by the Date Municipal Government in Fukushima Prefecture, 35 metric tons of contaminated soil was produced when only soil around three houses was removed. The half-life of cesium-137 is 30 years, and therefore it needs to be stored and maintained for a long time. Meanwhile, the government is responsible for removing radioactive substances in areas with radiation measuring 20 millisieverts or more. The cumulative level of radiation in Koirino in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Okuma is estimated to be 508.1 millisieverts per year. ” It is difficult even to secure workers,” said an official of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which has been helping with decontamination efforts. Even if the government-imposed target of reducing radiation levels by half in two years is achieved, it is far cry from 20 millisierverts — the estimated level of radiation that is safe for local residents to return home.

No cesium detected in seawater near No.3 reactor (NHK, Aug 29)

The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says no radioactive cesium was detected in seawater around the No.3 reactor on Saturday. This was the first time the substance was not detected since the monitoring began.

Cesium levels around the No.2 reactor were down slightly from those detected on the previous day.

Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, monitors the concentration of radioactive substances in seawater near the water intakes of the plant and offshore.

Seawater collected near the water intake of the No.2 reactor on Saturday recorded 0.077 becquerels of cesium-134 per cubic centimeter, which is 1.3 times higher than the government-set safety limit.

It also contained 0.075 becquerels of cesium-137, or 0.83 times the limit. Both figures were slightly down from the levels found on the previous day.

In April, the level of cesium-137 in seawater near the water intake of the No.2 reactor was found to be 1.1 million times the safety limit. Since then, the density has declined, and recently is leveling out.

Seawater sampled near the water intake of the No.3 reactor did not contain any cesium-134 or cesium-137.

No radioactive materials were found in seawater taken from 7 locations along the coast and offshore.

Note: For “Results of the inspection on radioactivity materials in fisheries products” by the Fisheries Ministry, see the published results on their homepage.

Government to complete farm desalination in three years (Asahi, Aug 27)

Coastal farmland damaged by the March 11 tsunami will be restored within three years, according to a road map endorsed by the government’s reconstruction headquarters on Aug. 26.

The document, which sets out detailed plans for the reconstruction following the Great East Japan Earthquake, also commits the government to ensuring that fishing ports devastated in the disaster can serve as production and distribution centers by the end of fiscal 2013.

The road map says that initial emergency measures to enable the restoration of farm facilities in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures severely damaged by the March 11 tsunami “should mostly be completed by mid-September.” But the full resumption of farming could take up to three years in some areas, with some agricultural facilities not expected to be fully operational for five years.

Desalination will be finished by the end of fiscal 2011 on about 6,400 hectares of farmland with relatively modest sludge deposits. That will allow farming to resume in fiscal 2012, according to the government road map.

A further 5,400 hectares of farmlands with deep sludge deposits will take until the end of fiscal 2012 to clear of sludge and to desalinate. In those areas, farming will not be resumed until fiscal 2013. …

A total of 319 fishing ports in seven prefectures, ranging from Hokkaido to Chiba, were damaged by the March 11 disaster. Those ports that serve as production and distribution hubs will be identified by the government and “best efforts will be made to restore them by the end of fiscal 2013,” the plan says.

The government aims to restore half of oyster and scallop farms owned by businesses that wish to continue operations by the end of fiscal 2011 and says that 30 percent of large, stationary fishing nets owned by operational businesses will be restored by the end of September. Both sectors should be fully restored by the end of fiscal 2012.

Read more here

Fukushima hunts for cesium-resistant rice |Radiation discovered in rice near Tokyo (IHT, Aug 19) Excerpted below:

“Inspectors in Ibaraki Prefecture, just north of Tokyo, found radioactive cesium in a sample of rice from the city of Hokota, about 100 miles south of the radiation-spewing nuclear plant. The prefecture said the radiation was well within safe levels: it measured 52 becquerels per kilogram, about one-tenth of the government-set limit for grains.

The prefecture said two other samples tested at the same time showed no contamination.

The Agriculture Ministry said it was the first time that more than trace levels of cesium had been found in rice, though it said there was no health risk. ” Read the rest of the article here

Absorption rates of 110 strains studied (Japan Times, Aug 23)

A research agency in Fukushima Prefecture has begun testing about 110 varieties of Japanese and foreign rice in a search for strains that absorb less radioactive cesium from the soil.

The project, which was initiated by the Fukushima Agricultural Technology Center in Koriyama, after the meltdowns and explosions at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, is unprecedented in that no research has ever been done on rice grown on land tainted by relatively high amounts of radioactive matter, the center’s research team said.

The research is important since the radioactive fallout from the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant will likely disrupt rice farming in nearby areas for years to come, it said.

“We might be able to develop new (cesium-resistant) rice strains if we find rice varieties that absorb less cesium through this project and cross them with Japanese rice,” said Keisuke Nemoto, professor at the University of Tokyo’s graduate school and a member of the team.

The team is looking at a wide range of strains from South America, Africa and Asia, including India and Bangladesh.

Last week, harvested rice from Ibaraki Prefecture was found to contain low levels of cesium for the first time since the nuclear crisis.

One sample of brown rice from Hokota, about 150 km from the Fukushima No. 1 plant, had 52 becquerels per kilogram of cesium in preliminary tests. The central government’s provisional limit for cesium in grains is 500 becquerels per kg.

The Fukushima Agricultural center detected some 3,700 becquerels per kg of cesium in soil on its property, which is close to the government-set limit of 5,000 becquerels per kg of cesium for soil to grow rice.” Read the rest of the article here

Earlier news: Japan’s plan to test for rice for radioactive material worries a nation (JapanToday, Aug 11)

Fukushima fallout said 30 times Hiroshima’s | The Japan Times Online (Aug 24)

Expert paints dire picture of decontamination zone, slams government for foot-dragging

Video footage of Tatsuhiko Kodama’s impassioned speech before a Diet committee in July went viral online recently, showing the medical expert’s shocking revelation that the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant spewed some 30 times more radioactive materials than the fallout from the Hiroshima atomic bombing.
“What has the Diet been doing as 70,000 people are forced to evacuate and wander outside of their homes?””It means a significantly large amount of radioactive material was released compared with the atomic bomb,” he told the Diet committee.

Despite a hard-nosed image, the expert on radiology and cancer briefly showed a softer side while speaking to The Japan Times about his two grandchildren and their summer in the Tokyo heat.

“A lot of people ask me this, but Tokyo is safe from radiation now,” Kodama, who heads the university’s Radioisotope Center and the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, said Aug. 12.

“My two grandchildren swim outside in the pool, and there is no concern with the safety of food at this point.”

But his expression became grave when discussing the 20-km no-go zone in Fukushima, explaining that decontamination of such areas will take not years but decades.

There are places he wouldn’t let his grandchildren spend time outdoors freely, even in areas outside of the restricted zone.

“Cesium has been detected from urine and breast milk from those residing in Fukushima Prefecture, and the cause for that is still not specified,” he warned.

Kodama said he can’t give an estimate of how many people will suffer from cancer symptoms due to exposure to radiation, or how long it will take for signs to surface.

There simply isn’t enough epidemiological statistics to do that, he said.

But the government and scientists shouldn’t be wasting time playing guessing games, he stressed.

“My theory is this — instead of trying to decide what is safe and what isn’t at this point, we should focus on properly measuring the level of contamination in each area and on how to cleanse them.”

According to Kodama, the Radioisotope Center estimates that radioactive materials released from Fukushima No. 1 amount to about 29.6 times of that released by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

The group also found out that radiation from Fukushima will only decrease by one-tenth per year, which is about 100 times slower than radiation from the bomb.

The most difficult problem for the scientists trying to cope with the situation is that the Fukushima crisis is unprecedented.

“There are a lot of unknown (factors) regarding how this level of radiation will affect children and pregnant women,” Kodama said, pointing out that the 1986 Chernobyl accident suggests the government should be on alert for any signs of bladder and thyroid cancer.

But apart from the aftermath of the Chernobyl incident, not many statistics are available to predict what may transpire, he said.

Still, that doesn’t justify the government’s slow response to Fukushima, he added.

For starters, the Diet has been extremely inept in updating laws on controlling radiation contamination.

While the Radiation Damage Prevention Law was created for handling small amounts of highly radioactive materials, specifically to handle accidents on site at nuclear plants, the Tohoku region is experiencing radioactive contamination in a radius beyond 200 km.

The situation calls for a completely different approach, yet the Diet has failed to update the prevention law.

That alone has been a major hindrance for scientists trying to diminish the damage in Fukushima, including Kodama, who pays visits to the prefecture every weekend to conduct decontamination efforts with his peers.

Another sign of a lax government can be seen in how local governments appear to be short of equipment to measure radiation contamination in food and other produce.

Considering that contamination will be a major problem for the next couple of decades, the central government shouldn’t hesitate to invest in and develop, even mass-produce, equipment that can allow checks for radiation.

Some companies have told Kodama it would only take three months to develop a system for efficient radiation measurement.

Kodama advised the government to take two different approaches in decontaminating Fukushima.

The first step should focus on creating a rough map of the wider area and the level of contamination, possibly using remote-control helicopters and Japan’s advanced GPS system.

For emergency decontamination procedures, each community should have a call-in center that conducts quick cleanups once a request is made from residents.

Kodama said the government has spent approximately ¥800 billion to decontaminate land after a mass cadmium poisoning broke out in Toyama Prefecture in 1912.

Contamination from radiation in the current crisis has spread to about 1,000 times that area, and the final cleanup cost is expected to be astronomical.

But both time and money should not be considered an issue, because it is the responsibility of this generation not to pass on the contaminated land to the next, Kodama said.

“I am aware that there are many opinions regarding nuclear power. However, I believe all of us can agree that Fukushima and the surrounding area needs to be decontaminated as soon as possible,” he said.

Japan aims to halve radiation in affected areas over 2 yrs (Asahi, Aug 27) | Campaign looks to lure locals home | Minamisoma launches own campaign to halve radiation (Japan Times)

“… Contamination from the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl has spread far and wide, across fields and farms, rivers and forests. Tens of thousands of residents have been forced to flee their homes.

But, shovelful by shovelful, one half-empty city on the edge of the evacuation zone is fighting to bring its future back.

Feeling forgotten and left largely to fend for themselves by the central government, officials in Minamisoma, about 20 km from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear facility, have designated August as Decontamination Month in a campaign to woo spooked residents home.

“We decided that we could not sit by and wait until Tokyo figured out what to do,” said municipal official Yoshiaki Yokota. “It’s an enormous task, but we have to start somewhere.”

Before the disaster, nearly 70,000 people lived in Minamisoma. But, nearly six months later and despite relatively low radiation readings in most parts of town, more than 30,000 have left, nearly one-third of them from areas outside the official evacuation zone.

Municipal officials fear that unless action is taken to demonstrate most of the town is safe for habitation, many may never return.

So, this month, the city has contracted local crews to hose down its schools, parks and community centers. The goal is to reduce by more than 50 percent the levels of radioactivity measured at public places where people gather.

The campaign has created a buzz of activity in the still-shaken town.

The work crews, clad in hazmat suits, also use bulldozers and power shovels to remove contaminated topsoil from public places, particularly school playgrounds.

The wash-off from the hosings and the mounds of contaminated topsoil are then moved to less-used areas and buried in huge trenches.

“I’m glad to see them here,” Kiyomi Takahashi said as she watched a crew wash down a kindergarten adjacent to the school where her daughters are due to begin the first and sixth grade later this month. “I still have my concerns, but it’s important that our city is out there showing that it is doing something.”

For the time being, a large swath of Minamisoma remains completely off-limits.

That is because it is within the 20-km no-go zone set up by the central government days after the March 11 quake and tsunami sparked meltdowns and explosions at the nuclear plant. All told, nearly 21,000 people were killed or remain missing after the disaster that devastated the northeast coast, most victims of the tsunami.

Outside the no-go zone, contamination levels vary dramatically, depending on the local terrain. Most of Minamisoma is registering below government-set safety limits, meaning residents who evacuated earlier in the crisis may now return home if they so choose.

Still, most have stayed away because of health concerns.

“We want to show them that it is safe, and that we are doing everything we can to make it even safer,” Yokota said. “Part of what we are doing is symbolic. It is intended to reassure our residents. It’s also just to show that we will not sit idly by.”

Some experts have reservations about the decontamination campaign.

Hiroaki Koide, a radiation specialist and associate professor at Kyoto University’s Research Reactor Institute, said simply removing the top 5 cm of soil has been shown to reduce radiation levels by about 90 percent.

But he noted that the trees, roads and farmland near the decontaminated schools cannot be easily cleansed — and radiation from them can spread in the larger environment. In addition, babies, children and pregnant women are the most vulnerable to radiation-related illnesses, and are generally advised to avoid exposure whenever possible.

“Any exposure would pose a health risk, no matter how small,” Koide said.

“There is no dose that we should call safe.”

Another problem that has slowed the central government from acting to help is what to do with the irradiated soil, wash-off and debris in the long term.

“We have been trying to find storage and waste-processing plants, but so far we haven’t been very successful,” acknowledged Goshi Hosono, the minister in charge of the nuclear crisis response. “We are trying to persuade waste-processing plants, but there are local residents who oppose that.”

He stressed that the government is not blind to the dilemma of communities such as Minamisoma, however.

“We must try to remove contamination from the residents’ daily lives as quickly as possible,” he said.”

Fukushima cesium leaks ‘equal 168 Hiroshima bombs,’ says report (Japantoday.com, Aug. 26, 2011)

TOKYO — The Japanese government estimates the amount of radioactive cesium-137 released by the Fukushima nuclear disaster so far is equal to that of 168 Hiroshima bombs, a news report said Thursday.

Government nuclear experts, however, said the World War II bomb blast and the accidental reactor meltdowns at Fukushima, which has seen ongoing radiation leaks but no deaths so far, were beyond comparison.

The amount of cesium-137 released since the three reactors were crippled by the March 11 quake and tsunami has been estimated at 15,000 tera becquerels, the Tokyo Shimbun reported, quoting a government calculation.

That compares with the 89 tera becquerels released by “Little Boy”, the uranium bomb the United States dropped on the western Japanese city in the final days of World War II, the report said.

The estimate was submitted by Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s cabinet to a lower house committee on promotion of technology and innovation, the daily said.

The government, however, argued that the comparison was not valid.

While the Hiroshima bomb claimed most of its victims in the intense heatwave of a mid-air nuclear explosion and the highly radioactive fallout from its mushroom cloud, no such nuclear explosions hit Fukushima.

There, the radiation has seeped from molten fuel inside reactors damaged by hydrogen explosions.

“An atomic bomb is designed to enable mass-killing and mass-destruction by causing blast waves and heat rays and releasing neutron radiation,” the Tokyo Shimbun daily quoted a government official as saying. “It is not rational to make a simple comparison only based on the amount of isotopes released.”

Government officials were not immediately available to confirm the report.

The blinding blast of the Hiroshima bomb and its fallout killed some 140,000 people, either instantly or in the days and weeks that followed as high radiation or horrific burns took their toll.

At Fukushima, Japan declared a 20-kilometer evacuation and no-go zone around the plant after the March 11 quake and tsunami triggered the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl 25 years ago.

A recent government survey showed that some areas within the 20-kilometer zone are contaminated with radiation equivalent to more than 500 millisieverts per year—25 times more than the government’s annual limit.

Spooked consumers snapping up cheap Geiger counters (Japan Times, Aug. 26, 2011)

Geiger counter manufacturers and retailers are offering more affordable models to cash in on continued consumer radiation fears six months into the Fukushima triple meltdown crisis.

News photo
Fear gear: A RADSticker with a radiation-detecting sticker and shoulder strap is shown in July. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

Consumers are snapping up the devices, which range in price from ¥10,000 to ¥1 million, to check radiation in their backyards and parks where they take their children. The cheaper models are proving the most popular.

Although the cheaper devices are generally of lower quality, they can still be effective if users have a good understanding of how they work, experts said.

“Devices that detect only gamma rays are probably good enough for individuals,” said Masahiro Fukushi, a radiation professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University.

In general, cheap devices detect only gamma rays, which are released by various isotopes of iodine and cesium.

The more expensive models can detect alpha and beta rays as well, Fukushi said. Uranium and plutonium emit alpha rays. Strontium releases beta rays. All are present in nuclear fuel rods along with cesium and iodine.

The more expensive devices also have radiation sensors for use in wider areas, allowing them to take more accurate readings, Fukushi said.

Geological evidence of six big tsunami found on Miyagi coast (Japan Times)

Left in limbo by lack of official info, many don’t know where to turn (Japan Times, Aug. 25, 2011)

Nuclear refugees struggle to cope with uncertain future.

According to a survey by the prefectural board of education, 1,081 children at public elementary and junior high schools plan to leave Fukushima during this summer holiday.

While those who have left may no longer need to worry about radiation exposure, many say life as evacuees is still highly stressful.

Kamoshita’s husband, Yuya, said before March 11 he had been planning to start a farming business in Fukushima next year.

The crisis has ended that dream. Instead he returned to Iwaki in early April to maintain his current job in the education industry, leaving his family behind in Tokyo.

Since then, he has been driving back and forth — a round trip of some 400 km — almost every weekend to spend time with his family. But five months of this double life is eating away at him, both physically and mentally.

“I’m not feeling well. Before (March 11), I never had a car accident, but recently I rolled my car on the capital expressway and my car was totaled,” he said. He was interviewed in late July in Tokyo while he was visiting his family.

“It’s getting tough . . . I don’t know” what to do.

Kanako Nishikata, a 33-year-old single mother of two who voluntarily fled the city of Fukushima for Yamagata Prefecture, said in early July it was much better for her children to be there because they can play outside without wearing a mask. But she was concerned about their future and she was having trouble finding a new job.

“I want something that gives me a sense of security and convinces me that I can make my own living in the future,” said Nishikata, who was in Tokyo in late July to participate in a demonstration headed by several citizens’ groups urging the government to include voluntary evacuees in its compensation guidelines.

Without knowing when she will return, Nishikata is still paying rent to keep her apartment back in Fukushima, fearing otherwise she won’t have a home to go back to.

Yukio Yamakawa, director general of the volunteer group Tokyo Saigai Shien Network (Tossnet), said the government should give evacuees better information about contamination in their hometowns and when the radiation will drop back to normal levels.

“What people really want to know is how long it will take for their hometowns to be free of contamination. (But) they don’t have that information,” Yamakawa said.

If people are told they can’t go back for the next five or 10 years, as long as that’s the truth, they can make some plans and move on with their lives, Yamakawa said.

But without concrete information about the future, the only option left for those who want a stable life under the current situation is to choose between giving up on Fukushima and starting a new life in another prefecture or returning home, she said.

‘Hot spot’ areas found in Fukushima city worry ‘goya’ growers (Mainichi, Aug 25)

FUKUSHIMA — A number of areas with comparatively high radiation levels, called “hot spots,” have been found in the city of Fukushima in the wake of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, even though the prefectural capital is some 60 kilometers away from the plant.

One such area, the Onami district in the eastern part of the city of Fukushima, produces bitter gourds (goya) as a local specialty. Producers, however, are concerned about this year’s shipment of goya.

The Onami district is next to Ryozenmachi in the Fukushima Prefectural city of Date, which was partially designated as a specially recommended evacuation location. In a prefectural survey in late July, high levels of radiation at 2.5 microsieverts or more per hour were detected at 37 out of 370 houses in Onami. At one of them, the radiation levels even measured 3 microsieverts per hour — close to the 3.2 micorsievert level set as a standard for special evacuation recommendations.

A local woman initiated goya growing in Onami in 1999. After her retirement from an insurance company, Hisako Kurihara, 76, was looking for some activities to attract women belonging to the local agricultural cooperative apart from Hula dance and other recreational activities.

One day, she saw goya at the agricultural cooperative and learned that growing goya does not require pesticide spraying because the plant is resistant to disease and pests. Kurihara proposed that members of the female department of the agricultural cooperative grow goya. They eventually started growing goya in their respective fields.

Since a distributer they buy goya seedlings from was affected by the nuclear accident, goya planting was delayed by two months this year. Furthermore, since some women gave up on growing goya out of concerns for harmful rumors, this year’s shipment volume has plunged to a half that of a year earlier. Even though the amount of radioactive materials detected in their goya was less than about 1/30 of the government-set provisional safety limit, no supermarkets have accepted their products.

After her husband died in January this year, goya has been a source of emotional support for Kurihara whenever she distributed her products to her acquaintances.

“Goya is one of the only few vegetables that women at our age can grow without hard physical labor. If we evacuate here and leave our fields unattended, we would no longer be able to grow goya,” another female grower said.

After the “hot spots” issue surfaced in May, the central government designated some households in Date as specially recommended evacuation spots on June 30. Since then, the number of such locations has been on the increase, with a number of areas in the cities of Soma and Fukushima now under consideration for designation.

“While the designation for emergency evacuation preparation zones is to be lifted, the number of special recommendation evacuation spots has been on the rise. We can’t draw a road map for recovery,” lamented a senior Fukushima Prefectural Government official.

So far, households where accumulated radiation exposure doses were estimated to reach 20 millisieverts a year and those with babies, infants and pregnant women near such households have been designated as specially recommended evacuation spots. Since designated households will be compensated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, many households — mainly those with children — call for their homes to be designated. There are, meanwhile, residents who don’t welcome such a move, saying the designation would adversely affect the image or the liveliness of their towns.

The fact that local municipalities and private organizations have been conducting more meticulous radiation surveys have also contributed to the rise in the number of hot spots. Highly radioactive spots were newly found in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Nihonmatsu and other areas in August. Five and a half months after the nuclear accident, fear of radiation has been steadily growing among Fukushima Prefecture residents.

Above-limit cesium found at incinerators in 7 prefectures (Mainichi, August 28, 2011) Excerpts below:

“Incinerator dust and ash with too much radioactive cesium to allow it to be buried has been found at 42 facilities in Tokyo, Chiba, Iwate and three other prefectures as well as Fukushima, the Environment Ministry said Saturday.

The result of a survey of 469 facilities in 16 prefectures in northeastern and eastern Japan since late June was reported as a panel of experts at the ministry considers how to allow dust and ash containing over 8,000 becquerels of cesium per kilogram to be buried. …

The amounts detected were up to 95,300 becquerels in Fukushima, 70,800 becquerels in Chiba and 30,000 becquerels in Iwate.

Since 9,740 becquerels of cesium per kilogram was found in dust at an incineration plant in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward in June, other prefectures also covered in the ministry survey such as Gunma and Ibaraki have released similar findings. …Read more here

See also: 22% of radioactive cesium settles on eastern Japan (Mainichi, Aug 26)

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Twenty-two percent of the cesium-137 that spewed out of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has since settled on land in eastern Japan, a study showed Thursday, confirming a widespread release of the radioactive isotope.

The study by researchers including Toshimasa Ohara, director of the Center for Regional Environment Research at the National Institute for Environmental Studies, showed that 13 percent of the iodine-131 released in the disaster has also fallen on the same area.

Massive amounts of radioactive materials have been released into the air and the ocean as a result of the disaster at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

In the study, which appeared in a recent periodical published by the American Geophysical Union, the researchers analyzed how the radioactive matter spread in eastern Japan between March 11 and late March using a computer model that predicts the spread of air pollutants.

A member of a government decontamination team checks radiation levels at a playground in Date, Fukushima Prefecture, on Aug. 24. (Mainichi)

They found that the radioactive matter was carried by winds and settled on land due to wind and rain covering the area from Iwate and Miyagi prefectures in the north to as far south as Niigata, Nagano and Yamanashi prefectures.

The study showed that winds had a major impact on iodine-131 settling on land, while wind and rain both affected cesium-137’s movements.

The remainder of the radioactive substances released from the nuclear power plant is believed to have largely fallen in the Pacific Ocean.

Local leaders steamed at government’s ‘buck-passing’ radiation decontamination plan (Mainichi)

Local leaders in areas contaminated by the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant are angry and disappointed at the central government’s decontamination plan, which dumps much of the responsibility for the clean-up on municipalities.The central government’s decontamination plan, finalized on Aug. 26, leaves clean-up of any sites emitting 20 millisieverts of radiation annually or less to municipal governments, while also calling on those same governments to create temporary storage areas for contaminated materials. Most of the sites with that level of radiation are in the emergency evacuation standby zone 20-30 kilometers from the stricken nuclear plant.”It’s very strange that the government would leave decontamination up to municipalities while at the same time seeking to bring down radiation emissions to 1 millisievert annually or less,” said Motohoshi Yamada, mayor of Hirono, Fukushima Prefecture. Yamada apparently lambasted a visiting central government official on Aug. 25 over the plan. Hirono lies within the evacuation standby zone, though some 90 percent of the town’s population has already fled.”Our town’s recovery will be delayed if we wait for the government’s plan,” Yamada continued, referring to the long list of tasks the municipality must undertake if it must tackle decontamination on its own, including finding a tainted material storage site and gaining support for it from local residents.”There is just a mountain of issues to get through,” the Hirono Municipal Government’s disaster response headquarters commented.Meanwhile, Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai of the city of Minamisoma — a large part of which lies in the evacuation standby zone — told the Mainichi, “I’d like to call on the government repeatedly to take its share of the responsibility for decontamination, including funding.”Minamisoma in fact already has an independent decontamination plan, which one senior city official said was put in place because “the central government and (plant operator) Tokyo Electric Power Co., which are supposed to take such action, aren’t moving at all. I have no idea what they’re thinking.”

Government sets up radiation decontamination team (Asahi Aug 26) The government on Aug. 24 established a special team that will determine the best methods to decontaminate areas hit by radioactive fallout from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The team, comprising about 30 members, including employees of the environment ministry, the Cabinet Office and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, will remove surface soil and weeds, wash building walls with water and take other measures to decide how best to reduce radiation levels, sources said.

“The nuclear crisis is coming under control, but there is still a long way to go before the contamination issue is solved,” said Goshi Hosono, state minister in charge of dealing with the nuclear accident, at an inaugural ceremony in Fukushima city. “The future of Fukushima (Prefecture) depends on the progress of decontamination efforts.”

Hosono subsequently visited Date city, where a model project has started to verify the effectiveness of the decontamination efforts.

The model project was initiated in the two Fukushima Prefecture cities of Date and Minami-Soma. Tests will be conducted over a total area of about 10,000 square meters, including houses, roads, forests and farm fields.

Roofs, waterspouts and gutters at homes will be washed with high-pressure water and scrubbed with brushes. Surface soil will be removed from forests and farm fields.

The project also includes the collection of fallen leaves and humus, as well as the use of absorbents for radioactive substances. In mid-September, the project will be concentrated on specific measures that have proved the most effective, and will also be expanded to a wider area. In addition, the government will extend assistance to decontamination programs led by municipalities.

“I want to ensure that the central government is the leading player of decontamination efforts,” Hosono told reporters. “We will conduct our activities in areas of high radiation levels as well.”

Accelerate decontamination  (Japan Times, Aug 26)

Some 100,000 people are still living as evacuees away from their homes in the wake of the severe accidents at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Kyodo News has reported that some 17,000 children in Fukushima Prefecture have changed schools or kindergartens because of radiation fears. Of these children, some 8,000 moved out of the prefecture.

Given this situation, it is imperative that the central government vigorously push the work of decontaminating areas contaminated with radioactive substances released from the nuclear power reactors. The central and local governments also should provide psychological care to both children who moved to new schools or kindergartens and children who have remained at their schools and kindergartens.

The Diet is expected to soon enact a special law under which the central government will be responsible for disposing of highly radioactive rubble and sludge, and decontaminating radioactive soil. In some cases, the central and local governments will carry out decontamination work together. The cost will be shouldered by Tepco.

To accelerate the decontamination work, the Kan administration has decided to set up an office to deal with radioactive contamination within the Cabinet and a decontamination team in Fukushima Prefecture.

Tepco is cooling three reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant by circulating water with the aim of putting the reactors in a state of cold shutdown, in which the temperature of the reactors will be less than 100 C, by January 2012.

Even if the cold shutdown is achieved, the central government will not end the designation of a warning area for some places around the nuclear power plant. This is because some places in the current warning area that are within 20 km of the plant have high radiation levels. The education and science ministry estimates that radiation accumulation at 35 places inside the warning area in a period of one year from the start of the nuclear fiasco will exceed 20 millisieverts per year, a level sufficient enough to trigger an evacuation order.

At 14 of these places, it is estimated that the radiation level will be more than 100 millisieverts per year. At one place, it is estimated that the level will be 508.1 millisieverts per year and at another 223.7 millisieverts per year.

The data underline the need for the central government to carry out decontamination work methodically and with perseverance. It also should take a serious look at the fact that radioactive contamination has spread outside Fukushima Prefecture. Beef cows in many parts of eastern Japan were fed on radioactive rice straw and the cows were was shipped to all the prefectures except Okinawa. Radioactive contamination has also been detected in sludge of sewage treatment plants in many parts of eastern Japan.

The central government must establish methods to decontaminate areas so that local governments can easily emulate them. It is expected to collect necessary data from a model project in the Ryozan area in Date, Fukushima Prefecture. Decontamination will be carried out in an area of 100-meter-by-100-meter square that will include agricultural fields and houses with extremely high radiation levels.

Depending on the nature of soil, the central government will try several decontamination methods such as directing high pressure water to wash away radioactive substances and removing soil after hardening it with chemicals. After determining the cost and benefit of the contamination work, and the amount of radioactive substances collected, it will write a decontamination manual as well as develop computer software to measure the effect of decontamination work.

Another problem is how to deal with radioactive rubble in areas devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and radioactive sludge that has accumulated at sewage treatment plants. Decontamination of areas contaminated with radioactive substances will also produce contaminated soil. The central government must hurriedly find places for long-term storage of contaminated rubble, sludge and soil.

Your Party has made a reasonable proposal concerning decontamination work. It calls for giving priority to decontaminating areas close to Fukushima No. 1, radiation “hot spots,” as well as kindergartens and parks. Its main aim is to minimize the effect of radiation on children and pregnant women. The central government and other parties should carefully study the proposal and take legislative and other necessary actions.

To ensure effective decontamination, detailed radiation maps will be indispensable. A reliable system to accurately gauge radiation levels of various foods also should be set up. Decontamination will be a difficult and time-consuming task. It is important that the central and local governments give accurate information about the situation to local residents and avoid giving a false hope about when evacuees can return to their homes.

The central government envisages a long-term goal of limiting people’s radiation exposure to 1 millisievert per year. But Mr. Shunichi Tanaka, a former acting chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, who carried out decontamination work in Iidate and Date in Fukushima Prefecture, says that in some places in the prefecture, it is impossible to lower the radiation level to 1 millisievert per year and that a realistic goal should be 5 millisieverts per year. Informed public discussions should be held on this point.

Gov’t should take responsibility for decontaminating soil tainted with radiation

Experts split on how to decommission Fukushima nuclear plant

News Navigator: What’s the current state of volunteer work in the disaster area? (Mainichi Japan) August 14, 2011

The Mainichi answers common questions readers may have about the current state of volunteer work in areas hit by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Question: I have heard that there aren’t enough volunteers in the areas struck hardest by the March 11 disasters. Is this true?

Answer: It is true that the disaster-hit areas, which stretch over a large region, are struggling to secure enough human resources. The type of relief work required is also changing, with there being less call for volunteers who come for a few days to do manual labor such as clearing debris and mud. That is of course very important work, but the kind of support needed is shifting to non-physical, lifestyle-related assistance.

Q: What are examples of volunteering being done lately?

A: Cleaning mud-soiled photographs and listening to and recording the stories of the disaster victims are two examples. Also needed is help with local festivals and events. The websites of volunteer centers and NPOs in the disaster areas show what kind of work is needed and where.

Q: How many volunteers have there been since the disaster?

A: According to the Japan National Council of Social Welfare, the number of volunteers that registered with volunteer centers in the three hardest hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima was 54,700 in March, 148,200 in April, 168,000 in May, 127,700 in June, and 121,700 in July, making a total of around 620,000 over about four and a half months.

There are also thought to have been tens of thousands of NPO members who did work without registering at volunteer centers. The number is still only about half of the around 1.17 million who helped in the three months after the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, according to statistics from the Hyogo Prefectural Government.

Q: Why is that?

A: One big reason is that the damaged areas this time are harder to get to from the metropolitan areas, which are the largest sources of volunteers. This also means more money has to be spent on travel and lodging. In the case of the Hanshin quake, volunteers could go from Osaka or Kyoto to the damaged areas, help, and go home in a single day.

Q: Is there any monetary help for volunteers?

A: In general, volunteers must cover their own expenses for equipment, travel, food and lodging. However, some local governments and NPOs are running free buses to the disaster areas from Tokyo or train stations near the disaster areas. There are also companies offering discounts on returning highway bus fares for volunteers. (Answers by Seiji Toshima, Lifestyle News Department)

Click here for the original Japanese story

Price of wheat to jump 2% (Japan Times, Aug 26) Bloomberg

The government will raise prices of imported wheat to flour millers by an average of 2 percent in October, the third straight increase since last year, boosting costs for companies such as Nisshin Seifun Group Inc.

Foreign wheat for sale by the government to domestic millers will rise to ¥57,720 a metric ton on average in October from the current level of ¥56,710, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said Wednesday in a statement. Japan depends on imports for almost 90 percent of its wheat, making it Asia’s largest buyer after Indonesia.

Wheat futures in Chicago have risen 11 percent in the past year, spurring a rally in global food prices to an all-time high in February.

Bread makers in Japan joined coffee roasters and cooking oil makers in passing on higher commodity costs, eroding consumer purchasing power and potentially slowing an economic recovery.

“Food makers will have difficulty passing on higher grain costs fully to consumers,” said Hidehiko Fujii, chief economist at the Japan Research Institute Ltd. “A rapid rally in the yen is casting a shadow over the economic outlook, delaying improvement in personal incomes and employment.”

Masaaki Kadota, executive director of the Flour Millers Association, estimated that the 2 percent increase will boost grain-purchasing costs for millers by about ¥5 billion on an annualized basis.

The October increase follows an 18 percent jump in milling wheat prices in April. The yen’s appreciation against the dollar since then has curbed costs for Japanese buyers.

METI faces reform in energy policy revamp (Japan Times)

A water tub in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, is used to collect dust samples containing radioactive fallout from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. (Tokyo Electric Power Co.)

Tokyo Electric Power Co. is making a detailed survey of the rate of discharge of radioactive substances from its damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, with the help of some old-fashioned tubs filled with water.

TEPCO plans to install the tubs at 11 sites, one on the premises of the nuclear plant and 10 more in the vicinity, to help review the concentrations of radioactive fallout.

TEPCO said the rate of discharge has so far been estimated at 200 million becquerels per hour, but the measurements that provided a basis for this estimate may have included radioactive materials that became airborne after falling to the ground.

Suppressing the additional discharge of radioactive substances is one of the goals of Step 2 in the road map developed by TEPCO and the central government toward ending the nuclear crisis, which they plan to accomplish between October and January.

The goal is defined as reducing the exposure to radioactive fallout along the outer boundary of the grounds of the nuclear plant to below 1 millisievert per year.

In July and August, TEPCO measured the concentrations of radioactive materials near the plant’s west gate, which is about 1 kilometer from the nuclear reactors. On the basis of those concentrations, TEPCO estimated the hourly discharge at 200 million becquerels, one ten-millionth of the corresponding discharge rate at the onset of the crisis and one-fifth of the measurements as of late June. This corresponds to an annual exposure of 0.4 millisievert, TEPCO said.

TEPCO, however, decided to conduct a more detailed survey to review this estimate, saying that it may be an overestimation.

The water tubs are to be installed on platforms 90 centimeters above the ground or on building rooftops. TEPCO has already installed one on the premises of the plant, and is in the process of installing 10 more at distances of 5-10 kilometers from the plant across the municipalities of Tomioka, Namie, Futaba and Okuma. Eight were installed by Aug. 22.

Besides the water tub stations, concentrations of radioactive substances are also being measured at 12 new stations, including in the air above the No. 1 through No. 3 reactor buildings, inside containment vessels and in the vapor rising from spent fuel storage pools. A precise estimate of the discharge rate will be available by the time the road map is reviewed in September.

TEPCO warned of big tsunami 4 days prior to March 11(Asahi, Aug 26)

TEPCO told the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency four days before giant tsunami crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant that the facility could be pounded by tidal waves higher than calculated in the plant’s safety design.Yoshinori Moriyama, NISA deputy director-general for nuclear accident measures, told reporters at an Aug. 24 news conference that a written communication from Tokyo Electric Power Co. dated March 7 said tsunami could exceed 10 meters in height. No immediate action was taken, however. TEPCO’s top management had also been informed of the prediction.According to NISA and TEPCO, in spring 2008 the utility calculated, on a trial basis, the heights of tsunami that could hit the Fukushima No. 1 and Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plants if a magnitude-8.3 earthquake hit.On the basis of a 2002 appraisal by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion, the assumed earthquake was calculated to occur below the seabed off eastern Japan between the Sanriku coast of the Tohoku region and the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture.The tsunami inundation heights were predicted at 10.2 meters near the No. 5 and No. 6 reactors, and between 8.4 and 9.3 meters near the No. 1 through No. 4 reactors on the seaward side of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, all in excess of the maximum 5.7 meters anticipated in the safety design. The maximum local tsunami run-up height was estimated at 15.7 meters. At the Fukushima No. 1 plant, seawater pumps, essential for cooling the reactors, are located 4 meters above sea level, whereas reactor buildings and other facilities stand 10 meters above sea level. Tsunami triggered by the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake reached heights of 13 meters near the seashore and between 11.5 and 15.5 meters near the reactor buildings. TEPCO sent the trial calculation results in writing to NISA on March 7. An office director at NISA verbally told TEPCO to submit a report soon and to take appropriate measures.

In September 2009, TEPCO verbally told a NISA official that tsunami in excess of 6 meters could hit the Fukushima No. 1 plant, but the official did not tell TEPCO to take preventative measures. “I really feel sorry for the insufficient tsunami evaluations and countermeasures,” Moriyama said at the Aug. 24 news conference. TEPCO presented the trial calculation results to its own management board in June 2008, but did not take further action. No records were available for earthquakes that occurred in the past in the hypothetical source area off Fukushima Prefecture, and therefore could serve as references. Data on earthquakes that recur off the Sanriku coast were used instead. For this reason, TEPCO decided that the predictions were merely trial calculations based on assumptions.TEPCO did not consider publishing the predictions after the March 11 disaster either, because the government’s Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations was to investigate the issue, an official said.

Prior to the trial calculations in question, TEPCO informed an international conference in 2006 that tsunami higher than anticipated in the safety design could arrive within 50 years. It said there was about a 10 percent chance of this happening and gave a 1 percent probability to a tsunami in excess of 10 meters hitting.

Tomorrow the company will begin the use of the SARRY caesium-absorption facility which will improve the process and on 20 August a second new evaporative concentration line will start.Tepco has hit one target with the installation of external cooling for all four affected used fuel ponds. Ponds at units 1, 2 and 3 have stable temperatures between 34-37ºC, with water injection systems in place should cooling fail for a long period.

At unit 4 the external cooling system was brought online at the end of July and its temperature has stabilised at around 43ºC. A separate effort is underway to desalinate the water of pond 4, much of which was sourced from the sea.

Monitoring of newly released radiation in the air has been stepped up by about a factor of ten after levels fell below detection limits. The dose rate at the site boundary from newly released radiation now is just 0.4 millisieverts per year – within normal operating limits.” Read more here

TEPCO knew of tsunami danger in 2008(Asahi, Aug 27)

“A team of scholars led by a Hokkaido University professor has discovered geological layers suggesting that gigantic tsunami may have pounded the Miyagi Prefecture coastline six times over the past 6,000 years.

The six layers were found on the Pacific coast of Oya in Kesennuma, one of the cities most damaged by the tsunami of March 11, Kobe University seismology professor Shoichi Yoshioka said.

The team, which has been studying the coast since April, found a cliff several meters high with layers containing seashells, stones and sand that appear to have been deposited by gigantic tidal waves, the team said.

On June 26, the Central Disaster Prevention Council urged the government to prepare for a once-in-a-millennium tsunami after reviewing Japan’s disaster preparedness. If the authenticity of the six tsunami can be confirmed, it might influence efforts to draw up countermeasures.

Of the six layers, the highest one is believed to have been caused by what is known as the Keicho Earthquake, which struck in 1611. The next layer down was believed formed by the Jogan Earthquake of 869.

The research team, led by Kazuomi Hirakawa, believes the third layer was formed by a tsunami from an earthquake that struck about 2,000 years ago.

Other geological layers carrying traces of huge tsunami suggest they submerged the coastal area every 1,000 years.

The oldest of the six layers is immediately below the volcanic ash layer caused by the eruption about 5,400 years ago of the Towada Volcano in what is now Aomori Prefecture, the team said. It is believed to be some 6,000 years old.

The Oya Coast appears to have been hit by tsunami every 30 to 40 years, but traces of the smaller ones are scarce, suggesting the six in question were very large.

TEPCO eyes over 10 percent hike in electricity charges | TEPCO seeks 10% increase in power rates (Aug 28)

Japan ignored own radiation forecasts (Japantoday.com, retr. Washington Post) Excerpts follow:

“Japan’s system to forecast radiation threats was working from the moment its nuclear crisis began. As officials planned a venting operation certain to release radioactivity into the air, the system predicted Karino Elementary School would be directly in the path of the plume emerging from the tsunami-hit Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant.

But the prediction helped no one. Nobody acted on it.

The school, just over six miles (10 kilometers) from the plant, was not immediately cleared out. Quite the opposite. It was turned into a temporary evacuation center.

Reports from the forecast system were sent to Japan’s nuclear safety agency, but the flow of data stopped there. Prime Minister Naoto Kan and others involved in declaring evacuation areas never saw the reports, and neither did local authorities. So thousands of people stayed for days in areas that the system had identified as high-risk, an Associated Press investigation has found.

At Karino Elementary in the town of Namie, about 400 students, teachers, parents and others gathered in the playground at the height of the nuclear crisis stemming from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Many ate rice balls and cooked in the open air.

They were never informed of the predictions that they were at risk. In an interview with the AP, Namie’s mayor said it took more than 24 hours for him to realize — from watching TV — that the evacuees were in danger. He sent buses to move some of them out. But, unaware of the risks, they were taken to another part of town also forecast to be in the plume’s path. Most were left to fend for themselves.

“When I think about it now, I am outraged,” Principal Hidenori Arakawasaid. “Our lives were put at risk.”

Documents obtained by the AP, interviews with key officials and a review of other newly released documents and parliamentary transcripts indicate that the government’s use of the forecast data was hamstrung by communication breakdowns and a lack of even a basic understanding of the system at the highest levels…

It’s unclear how much radiation people might have been exposed to by staying in areas in the path of the radioactive plume, let alone whether any might suffer health problems from the exposure. It could be difficult to ever prove a connection: Health officials say they have no plans to prioritize radiation tests of those who were at the school.

But the breakdown may hold lessons for other countries with nuclear power plants because similar warning systems are used around the world. This was their first test in a major crisis.

The Japanese network — built in 1986 at a cost of $140 million (11 billion yen) — is known as SPEEDI, short for the System for Prediction of Environment Emergency Dose Information. It has radiation monitoring posts nationwide and has been tested in a number of drills, including one the prime minister led for the Hamaoka nuclear facility just last year.

Even so, according to the prime minister’s office, Kan and his top advisers never asked for or received the data. Despite taking part in the Hamaoka drill, Kan admitted he didn’t understand how SPEEDI worked or how valuable the data was.

“I had no idea what sort of information was available,” he told Parliament on June 17. “I didn’t know anything about it then, and there was no way I could make a judgment.”

In two post-crisis assessments, a report to the International Atomic Energy Agency and an annual white paper on science and technology, his government has said the network “failed to perform its intended function.”

A senior member of Kan’s crisis team, Nuclear Safety Commission chief Haruki Madarame, went so far as to say the SPEEDI data was no better than “a mere weather report.”…

He said the predictions were of no value because they lacked accurate radiation readings. Some of the system’s monitoring capabilities were compromised by the tsunami and ensuing power outages, and the utility that runs the Fukushima plant, TEPCO, did not provide readings of its own.

But SPEEDI officials say Madarame’s position reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what their system is designed to do.

When the amount of radioactivity that has been leaked is known, that is entered into its system, along with weather and terrain data, and a hazard map is generated. If the amount is not known — as was the case with Fukushima — a standard and relatively low value of one becquerel is used.

While that won’t show the actual radiation risk, it will show the general pattern and direction of the plume. Then when the size of the leak becomes known, the map can be updated. If the actual leak turns out to be 100 becquerels, for example, the results would be multiplied by 100.

That technique allowed SPEEDI to produce reports hours before officials began venting disabled reactors — when there would have been less radiation to measure outside the nuclear plant even if the system’s monitoring equipment had been working perfectly.

In the Fukushima case, later data proved the forecasts to be highly accurate. Most of Namie, for example, has since been declared too dangerous for habitation.

“We are offended by allegations that SPEEDI failed to function the way it was supposed to,” Akira Tsubosaka, a senior official in charge of operations, told the AP. “SPEEDI was not used to determine evacuation zones. It should have been.”

SPEEDI, run by the education and science ministry, provides its data to other government agencies such as the nuclear safety agency for passage up the chain and then dissemination to local authorities.

Officials won’t say why that didn’t happen, sticking to their position that the data was useless anyway.

But the government response has been sharply criticized by one of Kan’s top science advisers, who later quit in protest, according to a confidential report to the prime minister that was obtained by the AP.

“The SPEEDI radiation forecasts were not properly utilized and a situation was invited in which residents were made vulnerable to more exposure than necessary,” Toshiso Kosako, also a professor at the University of Tokyo, wrote in late April.

Ironically, low-level officials were quick to seek the SPEEDI data.

Bureaucrats familiar with SPEEDI commissioned at least 18 tailor-made forecasts in the first 24 hours, as the government was pushing TEPCO to open vents to avert an explosion.

The venting would release radioactive substances into the air. So, according to documents obtained by the AP, the forecasts included several to gauge that danger.

One issued at 3:53 a.m. — about 13 hours after the crisis began — predicted the plume would drift across Namie and several other towns.

The forecasts were relayed to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency but they did not reach decision-makers.

In Japan, the legal responsibility for setting evacuation zones falls on the central government and the prime minister. Local officials then are tasked with implementing the orders.

Instead of following the patterns of radioactive dispersion suggested by SPEEDI, the central government simply set up a six-mile (10-kilometer) evacuation zone around the plant. That did not include a broad swath of land that SPEEDI predicted would be affected.

Mori, along with Namie’s mayor and the school principal, are seeking full-body radiation tests for all children who were at the school. The tests measure internal exposure such as inhaled radioactive particles and could be key to understanding the health impact. But Fukushima health officials say they have no particular plan to test the Karino evacuees, because they don’t have the resources and are instead focusing on groups, such as pregnant women, from the general area.

Thousands across the region have requested full-body tests, and only 340 have gotten them so far. None had dangerously high levels of contamination, though that does not rule out future health problems.

The Fukushima health office said it is looking into ways to speed up the process

” Read more here

Read also related news: Japan held nuclear data, leaving evacuees in peril (NY Times, Aug 8)

Doubting assurances, Japanese find radioactivity on their own (The Hindu, Aug 1) | Japanese run DIY radiation checks (Straits Times, Aug 2)

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By Aileen Kawagoe