The imperial household performing the Korei saishi Source: Hakone Shrine

Greetings to our readers here. I hope all have survived last night’s howler typhoon No. 15  which felled three trees in our garden and caused a temporary electricity outage last night here.

Tomorrow is a public holiday — Autumnal Equinox Day (秋分の日 Shūbun no hi). Though currently a non-religious public holiday, through to the postwar period it used to be the date of  Shūki kōreisai ( 秋季皇霊祭) or the Autumn Commemoration for the Imperial Spirits, a Shinto day of worship in Japan that began in 1878 (Meiji 11) to pay respects to the past emperors and imperial family members. These dates of ancestor worship occurred on the spring and autumn equinoxes of the anniversary of the person’s death. During the event, one prayed for good harvest in the spring and gave thanks for the harvest in autumn. The tradition probably originated from practices of  ancestor veneration dating to the Shang and Zhou dynasties in China.

Even now, ancestor worship rites of the imperial household continue to be performed, following the old prescriptions and the many rituals for the imperial spirits forming the kōrei saishi, according to old litany and traditions. (Source: Entry in The Encyclopedia of Shinto)

Below you will find our latest updates on what’s happening here in Japan on the educational scene as well as elsewhere around the world. There are also brief updates on the Fukushima situation.

A happy (long!) weekend to you all…

Aileen Kawagoe

The local news on education:

Yomiuri Sep 22 news Flash:

Nearly 600 university and senior high school graduates this spring had job offers canceled due to the March 11 disaster, the labor ministry said.

NPO tutors helping to bring students up to speed (Yomiuri, Sep 22) Excerpted below:

NPOs support children from disadvantaged households by sending tutors.  According to an analysis of national achievement tests conducted by the education ministry in the 2008 school year, the average rate of sixth-grade primary school students who answered questions correctly and were raised in households with an annual income between 12 million yen and 15 million yen was about 20 percentage points higher than students of the same grade in households that earned less than 2 million yen a year. The gap in academic ability seen among students is attributable to differences in their household income.

“In a rare attempt to introduce contract teachers to a public school, the municipality of Kaiseimachi, Kanagawa Prefecture, has allocated 4.18 million yen of this fiscal year’s budget for outsourcing work to improve children’s basic academic ability.

The town has signed a contract with nonprofit organization Learning for All (LFA)–which aims to support public education through public-private partnerships–to dispatch the NPO’s staff to Bunmei Middle School as teaching assistants.”

Provisional school starts classes for 740 students in disaster-hit Otsuchi (Japan Times, Sep 21)

Classes started Tuesday at a provisional school to accommodate some 740 elementary and junior high school students in disaster-ravaged Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture. The students are from four elementary schools and one junior high in the coastal town, all of which were damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The students had been attending classes at nearby schools since then. More than 200 students in total have transferred to other schools since the disaster for evacuation or due to their parents’ work.

See also related news:  End the grad student quotas (Japan Times, Sep 20) | Employment of new grads could hit record low following quake and tsunami (Mainichi, Sep 19)

New Asahi Shimbun website details A-bomb memories( Asahi, Sep 21)

The Asahi Shimbun opened an English-language website “Memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — Messages from Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors)” on Sept. 21, with the aim of disseminating stories on the tragedies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused in 1945 by nuclear weapons and the experiences of victims.

The new English site, one of the features of The Asahi Shimbun’s “asahi.com” main website, contains personal notes written by 200 victims.

Messages from eyewitnesses of the cruelty were translated into English by more than 350 people from around the world. The English site has been structured in the same way as the Japanese site.

The messages, divided into the Hiroshima and Nagasaki eyewitness reports, were further separated into how the contributors were exposed to the bomb’s radiation.

Each message page has the ages of the contributors when they experienced the bombing and how far from the hypocenter they were at that time.

* * *

Contributors are listed in alphabetical order.

The Japanese site opened in November 2010, and was accessed 42,191 times as of Aug. 31.

The website can be viewed at:  http://www.asahi.com/hibakusha/english.

Lit mag shares quake fiction in English (Yomiuri, Sep 21)

The publisher of a noted Japanese literary magazine has begun to publish online English translations of fiction related to the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake by 15 authors. Waseda Bungakukai, the publisher of literary magazine Waseda Bungaku, allows visitors to its site (http://www.bungaku.net/wasebun/) to download and read the stories for free, but urges them to make a monetary donation to help disaster victims. The stories, which originally appeared in the latest issue of the annual literary magazine, are intended to convey the current state of affairs regarding the earthquake and tsunami disasters to a worldwide readership, according to Waseda Bungakukai.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

It is an enigmatic keepsake from former Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

Kan told former Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Yoshiaki Takaki on Aug. 29, shortly before his resignation as prime minister, to resume screening procedures to include pro-Pyongyang high schools in the government’s tuition waiver program.

The screening procedures were suspended in the wake of North Korea’s artillery shelling of a South Korean island last November. The former prime minister’s administration said the situation on the Korean Peninsula was considered to have returned to conditions prior to the shelling, but we would like to ask if there are any grounds for that.

It is true that talks between North and South Korean senior officials were held in July for the first time in two years and seven months. U.S.-North Korean talks also took place in the same month.

However, the former administration did not explain in detail its assessment of the situation on the Korean Peninsula. It is still very difficult to understand why screening procedures would be resumed on what looked like last-minute instructions from the outgoing prime minister.

===

New govt should explain

In the last Diet session, Kan was grilled over suspicious donations by his political funds management organization to a civic group closely connected with a relative of a suspect in the abduction of Japanese citizens to North Korea.

It is a matter of course that the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, which has raised concerns about Kan’s abrupt instruction regarding pro-Pyongyang high schools, is demanding the new administration rescind the instruction.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and education minister Masaharu Nakagawa, however, have indicated they will carry on with the former prime minister’s directive.

The two said in their inauguration speeches that Kan seemed to have made the judgment based on such factors as the resumption of talks between North and South Korea.

However, we think the current Cabinet cannot obtain public understanding for resumption of the procedures unless it makes a clear explanation based on its own assessment.

The screening will take two months. If they are deemed eligible for the government’s tuition waiver program, 10 pro-Pyongyang high schools around the country will receive schooling assistance grants totaling at least 200 million yen from the government to compensate them for tuition.

Since the screening procedures have already started, the education ministry must scrutinize whether the schools’ accounts are transparent.

The pro-Pyongyang schools are closely linked with the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), which is under North Korea’s influence. We are afraid the grants might be used for purposes other than waiving tuition.

The education ministry is said to check documents submitted to it by the schools, but if necessary, the ministry should send officials to the schools and seek direct explanations from their administrators.

Program needs review

Some observers say students at pro-Pyongyang schools may have been taught untruths about the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea and other issues.

According to screening standards set by the education ministry, if problems are found in the curriculum or other elements of a school, the education minister can inform its administrator about them as points of concern. If any problem is found during the screening procedures, the education minister should strongly urge school officials to improve it voluntarily.

Reviewing the government’s high school tuition waiver program, which has been advocated by the Democratic Party of Japan-led governments, is also a pressing issue.

A joint agreement reached by the DPJ, the LDP and New Komeito includes a clause that they would discuss necessary reviews of what form the waiver program should take from next fiscal year.

We hope the new administration will study the effects of the program thoroughly, considering the nation’s difficult fiscal condition.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 9, 2011)

Slow transparency of universities (Japan Times, Sep 18)

Since April this year, universities and colleges in Japan have been required by law to disclose information about their facilities, employees and subjects taught. Even though the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has asked only for the bare minimum of information – such as number of professors and instructors, tuition and school fees, and a basic outline of facilities – many universities are still reluctant to expose themselves.(Japan Times)

Tohoku students share tales of disasters on global stage (Japan Times, Sep 22)

“Global leaders who gathered last week in Dalian, China, for the Annual Meeting of the New Champions, Asia’s premier global business forum, had a rare chance to hear Japanese high school and university students’ firsthand experiences of the March disasters.

Seven students from disaster-hit areas in the Tohoku region were invited to the three-day “Summer Davos” organized by the World Economic Forum, where they recounted their stories….In addition to giving the students an opportunity to share their experiences of the catastrophe with global political and business leaders, attending the summit profoundly influenced them and helped define what roles they wish to play in the future.” Read more here

About 450 students from four primary schools damaged in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami began attending classes Tuesday at a new temporary school.

The four schools–Otsuchi Primary School, Ando Primary School, Akahama Primary School and Otsuchi-Kita Primary School–were rendered useless as their facilities were flooded and submerged by the tsunami.

Until last week, they had conducted classes at other schools or rented facilities in a neighboring town.

The two-story temporary school was built from multiple prefabricated units in a sports park in Kozuchi, Otsuchicho. The school consists of two primary school buildings with a total of 17 classrooms and two middle school buildings with a total of 11 classrooms. A gymnasium for joint use by primary and middle school students has also been built.

About 300 Otsuchi Middle School students will use the temporary school from Thursday, a municipal government official said.

Primary school students, who mostly traveled by school buses to the temporary school, were beaming with excitement when entering their new classrooms.

“We didn’t have a gym, but now we do, so I want to exercise to my heart’s content from now on,” sixth-grader Ryosuke Nitta, 11, said with a smile.

Girl wins at Earth Science Olympics (Japan Times, Sep 16)

 A 16-year-old student from Tokyo won a gold medal in this year’s International Earth Science Olympics in Italy, where 104 high school students from 26 economies were tested on earth sciences over 10 days. Midori Watanabe, who is in her first year at Ouin, a private high school for girls, is taking home a gold medal from the event, which ended Wednesday, the government announced.
***

The news briefs on education elsewhere in the world:

UK crack down on A-level resits (Telegraph, Aug 15)

As applications hit a record high, growing numbers of institutions are cracking down on students who boost their scores by taking exams a second time.

Leading universities such as Edinburgh, Birmingham, Sheffield and University College London said students were often banned from retaking an entire A-level to get on to some of the most sought after degrees such as law and medicine.

Days before the publication of A-level results, other institutions said students taking exams twice would be expected to gain higher scores than the standard offer.

Some universities such as the London School of Economics, Imperial College and Cambridge insisted resits were not ruled out but academics “prefer students who achieve high grades at their first attempt”.

Fewer British Students Studying History Troubling statistics show that about 20% fewer British students are studying history than 20 years… Read more here

Which MBA?: School of the dark arts
Russia’s only internationally recognised business school focuses on how to get things done  …  Around half of the students on the full-time MBA programme are foreigners, many from other “difficult economies”. The debates between the outsiders and local students on Russian business values can be lively. But it is perhaps enlightening that some foreign alumni have gone on to start successful firms in Russia. Indeed, around half of all of the students on the MBA programme set up their own companies. The dean says that when they do, nothing scares them. They have already seen it all.

David Attenborough joins campaign against creationism in schools (Telegraph, Sep 19)

Sir David Attenborough has weighed into a campaign calling for creationism to be banned from the school science curriculum and for evolution to be taught more widely in schools.

The naturalist joined three Nobel laureates, the atheist Richard Dawkins and other leading scientists in calling on the government to tackle the “threat” of creationism.

Gordon Brown’s government issued guidance to all schools that the subject should not be taught to pupils, but neither they nor the coalition government enshrined the recommendation in law.

In a statement on a new campaign website, the 30 scientists and campaign groups including the British Science Association demanded creationism and “intelligent design” be banned outright.

Academic selection ‘improves social mobility’, says head (Telegraph, Sep 21)

The Coalition will fail to improve social mobility without a “rational debate” on the use of academic selection in schools, a leading headmaster warns today.

Christopher Ray, high master of Manchester Grammar School, says that the current system of state education will struggle to cater for the needs of the very brightest pupils unless ministers reconsider their ban on selection by ability.

Speaking of the recent drive for the Coalition’s flagship academies programme, Mr Ray says the move “fails to understand the importance of academic selection in our essential character”.

He says that selecting pupils by ability remains “one of the great engines of social mobility”, suggesting the brightest pupils often struggle in mixed-ability classrooms.

State classrooms are stifling social mobility in Britain (Telegraph, Sep 20)

The main problem seems to be a muddle in the minds of many politicians about social mobility. Many believe that throwing money at schools and communities will give an advantage to the disadvantaged. Yet social mobility has remained stubbornly resistant to such tactics. When government asks independent schools to share their DNA with state schools, it fails to understand the importance of academic selection in our essential character, one which embraces social diversity which in turn vigorously promotes social mobility.

While selection remains one of the great engines of social mobility, the fixation on the defects of the 11+ examination system makes it almost impossible to engage in rational debate on the subject. I agree that, for many children, their strengths may not be evident at 11. I share the concerns, too, about entrance examinations which focus too much on restricted knowledge and rather less on the potential within a young mind. It is for these reasons that at my school we don’t rely on examinations alone but also use assessment days to consider potential; equally we know that it is far better to admit a young man to MGS when we detect that potential – at whatever age that might be.

College Education Provides Intangibles to Students, Society (EducationNews.org)

More opportunities, better job security and advanced critical-thinking skills are just a few of the advantages college graduates enjoy due to their two- or four-year degrees.
One of the major benefits of the college experience is the intangible impact college educated individuals have in our society. The cultural enrichment that occurs from interacting with sundry individuals from all over the world is immeasurable. In today’s multicultural and complex world, understanding the cultures of other nations and individuals is invaluable. Many of society’s prejudices and stereotypes come from the lack of understanding of other cultures and how that impacts behavior at global, national and individual levels. President Obama’s meeting with the Emperor of Japan and the fallout is instructive of cultural differences at a global level.

They will leave college as cultured individuals. One cannot put a price tag on such learning. These are the students who will eventually work for non-governmental organizations and community agencies because they take pride in helping others less fortunate in society. They are more likely to vote and participate in civic society, and for many of them, the environment will become a major concern

Another aspect of the intangible impact of a college education is the camaraderie among students that is promoted through sports, club activities and other related outlets. Many residential colleges have athletic complexes and special activities for students that teach the value of teamwork, healthy living and leadership. These opportunities contribute to making society more productive, help to reduce health care costs and also produce more well-rounded individuals.

The concept of lifelong learning that society is promoting is best exemplified in a collegiate setting. The chances are that a good number of college graduates will continue to want to learn during their lifetime. Having been exposed to the joy and beauty of learning and the possibilities that follow, college graduates will not be content with their current knowledge and skill set. More and more people are returning to college — not necessarily to get a degree — but to learn new skills and improve on their hobbies or interests, be it painting or their appreciation of music. These are byproducts of a college education that cannot be easily quantified financially.

The United Kingdom’s ‘Free School Revolution’ (EducationNews.org, Sep 10) Excerpts follow:

Twenty-four free schools, which operate and are governed in a similar fashion to American charter schools, have opened their doors this schools year, merely 18 months after Education Secretary Michael Gove first inaugurated the new program.

According to Toby Young, the author of “How To Lose Friends and Alienate People,” free schools are an alternative way to meet the educational needs of students who have been overlooked by the government. This argument seems be borne out by a recent Conservative Party press release trumpeting the fact that half of the newly opened schools are going to be serving 30% of England’s most deprived communities. But the findings, which came from the data provided by the Department of Education, contradict the results obtained by The Guardian, which hired an independent research firm to study the issue and concluded that middle-class households dominate the areas where the first free schools are set to operate.

Fullfact.org, which examined both studies, says that while DoE used fixed areas with average populations of 1,500, the research company used by The Guardian, CACI, looked at areas around the school encompassed by a 10-minute commute by car or bus.

As a result, the number of households included in their analysis varies massively from school to school – from only 648 households investigated in relation to Priors Free School in Warwickshire to 102,611 included in relation to ARK Atwood Academy, Westminister.

The West London Free School says that it “will be one of the best schools in the country, renowned for academic excellence, and capable of instilling world-beating ambition in all its pupils, no matter what their background.”

Grad School Deans Caution Against US News Rankings (EducationNews.org) | China’s Universities Moving Fast Up World Rankings (Sep 6, 2011, Educationnews.org)

Among the 35 universities, 23 are based on the Chinese mainland, almost triple the number when the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) was first compiled and released in 2003, writes An at Xinhuanet News.

The ranking puts Harvard University on the top of the list, followed by Stanford, MIT, Berkeley, Cambridge, Caltech, Princeton, Columbia, Chicago and Oxford.

National Taiwan University, Chinese University of Hong Kong and Tsinghua University are the top three Chinese universities and also entered the Top 200 worldwide.

Six other Chinese mainland universities rank among the Top 300.

Shanghai Jiao Tong University itself ranks in the top five of mainland universities after Tsinghua University and Peking University.

Two Chinese mainland universities, Beihang University (formerly known as Beijing University of Aeronautics & Astronautics) and Beijing Normal University, rank among the Top 500 for the first time.

ARWU has been presenting the world’s top 500 universities annually since 2003 based on a set of indicators and third-party data.

ARWU uses six indicators to rank world universities such as the number of alumni and staff winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, the number of highly cited researchers selected by Thomson Scientific, and the number of articles published in journals of Nature and Science.

Shanghai Jiao Tong University is considered one of China’s first-class universities based on its reputation in engineering and science and is best known for its most renowned graduate, former president Jiang Zemin, who graduated from the electrical machinery department in 1947.

Choosing a Path in Community College Leads to Higher Grad Rates |  

Child Literacy Levels Are Critically Low (EducationNews.org)  Excerpts follow below:

“Nationwide, 31 percent of ninth graders are not graduating from high school on time, but in Philadelphia 43 percent of students did not graduate on time in 2008.

Poor academic performance is shrinking the pool of qualified candidates for military service, writes Bailey and Kerrick. In Florida, more than 30 percent of high school students do not graduate on time.

Low reading proficiency is associated with dropouts, criminal activity, unemployment and poverty.

High-quality education programs can help provide children the basic skills they need to succeed in school and later in life, including giving children a strong foundation to become good readers.

High-quality programs can not only strive to achieve success in school, but also significantly lower felony arrests and incarceration rates among people who participated in these programs as children.”

Earlier news: ‘Full’ universities to turn away record numbers of students (Telegraph, 13 Aug 2011)

***

In the news on technology and education:

Wisconsin Researchers Use Games to Engage Science Learners (EducationNews.org)

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin’s Educational Research Integration Area look to games to teach about viruses, diabetes and science/heath topics.

“Making learning fun is the Promise Land of education reform, and joining the crusade is the Educational Research Integration Area, a University of Wisconsin laboratory run by Susan Millar. The lab, which is part of the Morgridge Institute for Research, studies and designs games that help educate students about science. One of the lab’s most popular efforts, the Wisconsin State Journal reports, is called Virulent, a game that is modeled on the behavior of viruses.

“You’re a virus trying to infect a cell,” explained Kurt Squire, the lab’s creative director. “It’s about the process by which a virus takes over a cell.” The advertising for the game draws gamers with this tease, “We are infectious, we are disease, we are the Raven Virus. We have numbers and speed on our side, use us wisely and recklessly.”

The game, which is available for download on iTunes, and has a user base of nearly 2000, is only the beginning. The ultimate goal of the ERIA is a whole series of games that would move science beyond its traditional laboratory setting . Upcoming releases include games that teach diabetics about disease management and a program about blue-green algae. The researchers also hope to utilize the latest in technological offerings, like touchscreens and tablet computers…

Combining education and technology, including games, is also a part of the recent Digital Promise initiative announced by the White House and Congress…”  See also the following articles from EducationNews.org:

Online Education Can Be a Cheap Alternative | BBC: UK Children Are Choosing Technology Over Books |  Imagine Learning Expands Free Bookster App | Online Education Compulsory in Florida Schools |  Nebraska, Gov. Heineman Embrace Virtual Online High School | The Rise of Online Kindergarten Courses


***

Parenting, child safety and health matters:

No. of Pneumonia-causing RS Virus cases on the rise at the fastest pace since 2004

Child consultation center fails to protect girl forced into prostitution by mother (JapanToday.com, Sep 22)

A child consultation center in Sapporo failed to protect a 16-year-old girl who was being forced into prostitution by her mother, it has emerged.   Read on

Health care in Japan ((The Economist, Sep 10)

Japan’s health-care system is the envy of the world. It is also in crisis due to an ageing and shrinking population that will have to bear the burden of picking up its tab…

The Japanese spend half as much on health care as do Americans, but still they live longer. Many give credit to their cheap and universal health insurance system, called kaihoken, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Its virtues are legion. Japanese people see doctors twice as often as Europeans and take more life-prolonging and life-enhancing drugs. Rather than being pushed roughly out of hospital beds, they stay three times as long as the rich-world average. Life expectancy has risen from 52 in 1945 to 83 today. The country boasts one of the lowest infant-mortality rates in the world. Yet Japanese health-care costs are a mere 8.5% of GDP.

“On the positive side, patients can nearly always see a doctor within a day. But they must often wait hours for a three-minute consultation. Complicated cases get too little attention. The Japanese are only a quarter as likely as the Americans or French to suffer a heart attack, but twice as likely to die if they do.

Some doctors see as many as 100 patients a day. Because their salaries are low, they tend to overprescribe tests and drugs. (Clinics often own their own pharmacies.) They also earn money, hotel-like, by keeping patients in bed. Simple surgery that in the West would involve no overnight stay, such as a hernia operation, entails a five-day hospital stay in Japan.

Emergency care is often poor. In lesser cities it is not uncommon for ambulances to cruise the streets calling a succession of emergency rooms to find one that can cram in a patient. … The system is slow to adopt cutting-edge (and therefore costly) treatments. New drugs are approved faster in Indonesia or Turkey, according to the OECD.”

According to this Barron’s article, too many parents don’t prepare their children to manage their finances or their wealth and has some advice on how to do this for the different stages of childhood…. read “Goodbye, family fortune

Hold the cesium: Ways to reduce radiation in your diet (Japan Times, Sep 20) Advice and tips from the author Kunikazu Noguchi of the book, “Hosha no Osen kara Kazoku wo Mamoru Tabekata no Anzen Manyuaru” (“The Safety Manual for Protecting Your Family from Radiation Contamination”), was published by Seishun Shuppansha in July, in Japanese only, priced at ¥1,000

Keeping Your Child From Becoming a Bully

Is Summer Homework Asking Too Much of Our Children?

Reading Aloud to Kids Pays Off in Many Ways

Academic: Parents, Stop “Hovering” Over College…

***

News related to the Fukushima crisis:

Two organic farmers from Japan, their children and fellow Japanese anti-nuclear campaigners made a plea for the safety of Fukushima’s children at a press conference in Washington, DC, this week.

“Our hearts have been torn apart in the Fukushima community because of the nuclear disaster,” said Sachiko Sato, a natural farmer from Fukushima Prefecture, who evacuated four of her six children two days after the March 11, 2011 Fukushima nuclear reactor catastrophe began. “The community is split among those who evacuated and those who stayed, creating a chasm between former neighbors. This is the first health effect of this catastrophe.”

Sato described how, not trusting official figures, she herself measured radiation levels at local schools, finding that 75% of schools should be considered radiation control areas and therefore dangerous for children. Meanwhile, the government raised the allowable radiation dose rate by 20 times to 20 microsieverts per year including for children. “Do they imagine that people can suddenly withstand doses of radiation 20 times greater than were previously allowed?” she asked. Many people cannot evacuate as they would leave behind aging, frail parents, Sato said. “Or they don’t want to lose their job or tear their children away from everything they know. Families have been ripped apart.”

She also described how the government misled communities about safety. “Some were evacuated from Fukushima to places where the radiation levels were even higher, but they were not told,” she said.

Yukiko Anzai, an organic farmer from Hokkaido 603 kilometers away from the Fukushima Daiichi accident, saw her honey business destroyed and her family’s livelihood wiped out by the multiple reactor meltdowns. “We stopped using the word ‘safe’ for our vegetables,” she said. My husband said that if we find the chicken feed is radioactive, we will have to stop farming altogether.”

Sato’s farm also shut down, although many around her have continued to farm. Both women began farming traditionally without using chemicals to mirror “the old ways.” But, with their land laced with radioactivity, their dreams – and farming livelihoods – are destroyed.

“On March 11, our lives changed completely,” Anzai said. “Yet the government continues to ignore the truth and expects us to continue farming like nothing happened.”…

Aileen Mioko Smith, executive director of Green Action, and Kaori Izumi, director of Shut Tomari (the first reactor to restart after the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns), both called for a global ban on nuclear power as the only rational lesson to be learned from Fukushima. “Otherwise this will happen again, in Japan, at Indian Point or anywhere,” Izumi said. “This is not Japan’s problem, it’s the world’s problem. The radiation from Fukushima is everywhere. We cannot afford another Fukushima.”

Smith has submitted a petition to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights calling for the rights of children of Fukushima to evacuate. Only families living within the 20-km official evacuation zone are supported financially if they evacuate. Those living beyond that range who choose to evacuate must do so at their own expense, which many cannot afford, Smith explained. “What the children of Fukushima need is safe food, a safe place to live, and somewhere where they can safely play outdoors,” she said.

Speaking on behalf of hosting organization Beyond Nuclear, Kevin Kamps reminded the audience that the Fermi 2 reactor in Michigan, the same GE Mark I Boiling Water Reactor design as those at Fukushima Daiichi, “is the biggest of that design in the world, and stores more than 500 tons of radioactive waste in its fuel pool – far more than all four Fukushima Daiichi reactors put together. The consequences downwind of a fuel pool fire at Fermi 2 would be multiple times worse than at Fukushima,” he said.

TEPCO burdened with task of treating contaminated water at damaged nuclear plant (Mainichi) |  TEPCO says up to 500 tons of groundwater flowing into Fukushima nuclear plant (JapanToday.com)

Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said Tuesday that between 200 and 500 tons of groundwater a day are flowing through wall cracks into the reactor buildings of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

A TEPCO official told TBS that water inflow had increased after heavy rain. The official said the plant is currently decontaminating 1,000 tons of tainted water a day and that the increased amount of groundwater is manageable, TBS reported.

Hosono vows cold shutdown by year-end (Yomiuri, Sep.21) but this next Mainichi commentary outlines the grey areas that need clarification and decisive gov. action in the process of achieving cold shutdown: Actions speak louder than words over cold shutdown goal for Fukushima nuclear reactors (Mainichi, Sep 21) (Excerpts only)

“The temperature at the bottom of the No. 1 reactor’s pressure vessel has been stabilized at less than 100 degrees Celsius, and that of the No. 3 reactor has recently been kept below that level. Hosono appears to have made the remark at the IAEA conference while keeping in mind these positive signs.

It is a matter of course for the government to try its utmost to bring the crippled reactors under control as soon as possible, and it is important for it to show its determination to achieve this goal to the international community.

At the same time, however, it is notable that the government has failed to clarify what a cold shutdown at the Fukushima plant specifically means. Currently, water contaminated with radioactive materials is purified and reused to cool down reactor cores as a last-ditch measure, and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) is unlikely to be able to use a conventional cooling system in the foreseeable future.

If the cooling system with a total extension of four kilometers develops trouble, the temperatures of the reactor cores could rise again. Since it remains unclear where the melted fuel is situated in the troubled reactors, the temperatures of the pressure vessels alone are far from convincing.

Under these circumstances, the phrase, “cold shutdown,” should not be used in a casual manner without clearly defining it. It is important to grasp the actual conditions of the reactors and fuel as accurately as possible and take appropriate countermeasures in a well-organized manner.

The lifting and reviewing of evacuation advisories depends largely on whether the cold shutdown of the stricken nuclear reactors can be achieved. Therefore, the government should specifically explain the conditions of the reactors and risks involving them to the public.

In anticipation that the reactors will be stabilized in a relatively short period, the government is set to lift its designation of areas 20-30 kilometers from the nuclear power station as “emergency evacuation preparation zones” as early as this month. In these areas, residents are allowed to stay in their neighborhoods, but kindergartens and schools remain closed. Such a contradiction should be eliminated according to the circumstances of each of these areas.

On the other hand, it is indispensable to regularly measure the precise levels of radiation and decontaminate areas tainted with radioactive substances so that residents can return to their neighborhoods without worries about being exposed to radiation. Moreover, it is necessary to speed up efforts to repair and build public infrastructure in the affected areas.”

Iwate wakame farmers on ropes as season nears (Yomiuri, Sep.22)

MORIOKA–A shortage of farming equipment in Iwate Prefecture, hit hard by the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, has fisheries cooperatives scrambling for rope in time to cultivate wakame seaweed for next spring’s harvest.

Iwate Prefecture produces the most wakame in Japan. Fisherman are hurriedly preparing ropes as operations to install them are set to begin at the end of October. The wakame cultured this year will be harvested next spring.

In the prefecture, 19 fishery cooperatives started this season’s cultivation in early August as usual, sinking bundles of strings seeded with wakame spores into the sea.

Although only half of the normal amount of wakame is being cultivated this year, the prefectural government is providing financial support, as the resource provides income relatively quickly.

The strings on which the wakame is cultivated are twisted around thick ropes that are set into the sea and fixed to buoys between late October and November, when the spores begin to develop. The fast-growing wakame will be ready to harvest next spring.

First shipments of regular season rice from Fukushima growers begin (Mainichi, Sep 21)

AIZUBANGE, Fukushima — The first shipments of regular harvest season rice this year from Fukushima Prefecture growers began at an agricultural cooperative here on Sept. 20, with all of the rice getting the highest grade in a quality test.

“This year’s harvest is excellent. I truly want consumers to try it,” said 60-year-old rice farmer Shigesaburo Oguma.

Because of concerns about possible radioactive cesium contamination from the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, the prefecture began conducting screenings on the rice from Sept. 15.

For the radiation screenings, the prefecture was divided into 370 zones, with local municipalities as a basis. Rice samples are being taken from locations in each zone. If the rice of all locations tested in a municipality show levels beneath the country’s temporary safety standard of 500 becquerels per kilogram, farmers there are given permission to send their harvests to market.

On Sept. 17, the towns of Aizubange and Yamatsuri became the first in the prefecture to be granted permission to ship their regular rice harvests. Rice from early producing areas had already been shipped, but starting with Aizubange and Yamatsuri, the rice harvest from Fukushima Prefecture, one of Japan’s main producers of the high-quality grain, appears to be arriving on the market in earnest.

As of Sept. 19, screening had been completed for 67 locations. All were at or below 10 becquerels, the smallest amount the screening machine can detect.

“The soil of Fukushima Prefecture is clay-like and cesium easily adheres to it, which may have kept it from being sucked up by rice plants,” said an official of the prefecture’s agriculture department.

Japan reports possessing 30 tons of plutonium(Asahi, Sep 22) Excerpts follow:

“The amount of fissile plutonium possessed by Japan both at home and abroad as of the end of 2010 was about 30 tons, according to a Cabinet Office report submitted to the Japan Atomic Energy Commission on Sept. 20. …

The government also revealed for the first time the amount of plutonium-uranium mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel transported to nuclear power plants in 2010 which was stored and burned for the use of plutonium-thermal generation.”

Simulation shows core meltdown avoidable (The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sep.19)

A computer simulation has shown that the core meltdown of the No. 2 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant could almost certainly have been prevented if the injection of seawater to cool the reactor had been started four hours earlier than it was.

The simulation was conducted by a research team led by Tadashi Watanabe, senior scientist at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency. It is scheduled to be presented at a study meeting of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan to be held in Kitakyushu beginning on Monday.

The research team reproduced the conditions of the No. 2 reactor in its simulation, including the temperature and the height of the water in the reactor after it lost power on March 11.

The simulation included the time that the reactor’s cooling system stopped–around noon on March 14–and the temperature inside the reactor. It showed that if the injection of seawater had begun by 4 p.m. that day, the temperature inside the reactor could have been kept at 1,200 C or lower, preventing the core meltdown.

The meltdown of the reactor caused the massive release of radioactive substances.

A new plan set to reduce radiation emissions (NHK, September 20, 2011)

The Japanese government and the operator of the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant say they will install new devices to reduce the amount of radioactive substances released into the air.

The government and Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO, originally planned to achieve a cold shutdown, in which temperatures of the reactors reach below 100 degrees Celsius by January next year.

They now say that they will aim to reach that status within this year, as their work is making steady progress.

The government and TEPCO revealed the plan in their monthly review of the timetable for containing the nuclear crisis.

They will install new devices at the NO.1, No.2 and No.3 reactors to take contaminated gases out of the reactors using filters. They plan to start installing the devices next week.

TEPCO also plans to complete the construction of a giant polyester shield over the No.1 reactor by mid-October.

The operator also plans to improve its cooling systems so that the temperatures of all 3 reactors will drop below 100 degrees Celsius.

They say the amount of radioactive substances released from the plant was about 200-million becquerels per hour in the first half of September. They say that’s about one-four millionths of the level of the initial stages of the accident in March.

Expert calls for imagination to brace for tsunami (NHK, September 20, 2011)

A Japanese tsunami researcher has told nuclear scientists and experts that it is important to use imagination in preparing for tsunamis and other natural disasters.

Tohoku University Professor Emeritus Nobuo Shuto was speaking on the 2nd day of a conference of Japan’s Atomic Energy Society on Tuesday in the western city of Kitakyushu.

About 23 years ago, Professor Shuto published a paper pointing to a risk that a tsunami could disrupt an electrical system at a nuclear power plant. He called for taking measures even if there was no such damage in the past.

Shuto continued calling for preparation for a tsunami that would be beyond prediction, but the call failed to result in implementation of safety measures at Japan’s nuclear power plants.

In Tuesday’s speech, Shuto said that when he urged power companies to spend money on anti-tsunami measures, they only asked him about the frequency of massive disasters.

He also said tsunami damage depends on geographical features and affected structures, and is hard to predict.

Shuto is not a member of the society, but it asked him to lecture on the latest tsunami research and how to improve safety measures at Japan’s nuclear plants.

One nuclear scientist said Japan has accumulated studies on tsunamis, so such knowledge should be used to make its nuclear plants safer.

I saw a preview of the 1970 Italian film “I Girasoli” (Sunflower), which is due to be shown again. It is a well-known tragedy about a young wife going to the Soviet Union to look for a husband who did not return from World War II. As a sad melody plays in the title background, the camera slowly pans left to show a field of sunflowers swaying in the wind.

I hear that the scene, showing golden yellow flowers reaching to the horizon, was shot in Ukraine. The sunflower was brought to Europe from the United States some 500 years ago. It was used as a source of sunflower oil and its cultivation spread. The former Soviet Union became the world’s leading producer of sunflowers. In the movie, the scene is used to symbolize a foreign land.

The sunflower was planted in areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear accident, along with rape blossoms, because radioactivity in the soil did not easily transfer to the sunflower oil. Unfortunately, its decontaminating effect remains uncertain. An experiment conducted by the farm ministry in Fukushima Prefecture concluded that the flowers were next to useless for nuclear decontamination. Since sunflower roots reach deep into the ground, scientists believe it is difficult for the plant to absorb radioactive substances near the surface.

A fast method of decontamination is the removal of topsoil. According to the ministry, scraping off 4 centimeters of surface soil removed 75 percent of radioactive cesium. According to a trial calculation by Yuichi Moriguchi, a professor of environmental systems engineering at the University of Tokyo, the maximum area that might need decontamination comes to one seventh of Fukushima Prefecture’s total land. When I think about the mind-boggling amount of labor and cost that the process will require, the sinfulness of nuclear accidents is driven home to me once again.

Many people took part in the rally and march called “Sayonara Genpatsu” (Good-bye to nuclear power) held in Meiji Park in Tokyo on Sept. 19, which was organized by the Nobel Prize winning novelist Kenzaburo Oe and others. As writer Keiko Ochiai said to the rally from the podium, we cannot overlook the reality that young children, who can only read hiragana, are saying the frightening words: “Radioactivity, don’t come.”

Many senior citizens spent Respect-for-the-Aged Day, a national holiday, on Sept. 19 demanding a move away from nuclear power generation. Perhaps they were worried about the world their grandchildren will inherit. When people seriously want to protect their loved ones, they take to the streets. The sight of demonstrators wearing yellow clothes and holding yellow placards overlapped in my mind with that image of the sunflower fields.

–The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 20

::

Local governments in Fukushima Prefecture are experimenting with efforts to remove radioactive material spread from the crippled nuclear power plant following a request by the national government.

In August, the national government asked that local governments handle decontamination work in areas with under 20 millisieverts of radiation per year.

At a farm house in the Onami district of the city of Fukushima with mountains behind it and rice paddy fields surrounding it, the Fukushima Prefectural Government experimented with decontamination techniques in late August.

Seven painters used to working at heights participated in the experiment. Wearing helmets, boots and rubber gloves and tied with safety ropes, they used high-pressure hoses to spray the entire roof with water. At one point, one of the painters slipped and lost his balance.

“This is too dangerous for regular people to do,” muttered Hisashi Katayose, chief of the prefecture’s nuclear energy safety department, as he watched on.

Workers focused their cleaning efforts on the roof, walls, and rain gutters of the house. They hoped doing so would also reduce radiation levels in the bedroom on the second floor and the living room on the first floor.

After working for around three hours, the greatest drop in radiation levels was measured in the rain gutter on the side of the house facing the mountains. The levels had fallen from 14.5 microsieverts per hour to 1.8 microsieverts per hour. However, the second-floor bedroom’s radiation level barely changed, falling from 0.7 microsieverts per hour to 0.61 microsieverts per hour.

Katayose was disappointed with the results. The area where he had most wanted to see dropped radiation levels — the bedroom, since that is where much of a resident’s time would be spent — did not show the results he had anticipated.

Those conducting the experiments judged that radiation from the mountain slopes at the back, the garden by the house or other areas that weren’t decontaminated were continuing to affect the readings. Additional efforts, using different techniques and targeting different locations, would be needed to lower the indoor levels.

“Decontamination work requires incredible money and patience,” says Katayose. “The national government and Tokyo Electric Power Company should take responsibility for it, rather than leaving it to local governments.”

TEPCO doles out money to greedy municipalities(Asahi, Sep 18)

Density of cesium over Fukushima plant’s No. 2 reactor declines sharply

Vocal group raising money to buy suits for orphaned teens in Tohoku region (Mainichi)

Tokyo faced evacuation scenario: Kan | The Japan Times Online (Sep 19)