News updates Apr 24, 2011

Schools welcome displaced / Over 1,000 private schools offer places to students affected by disaster (Apr 24)

More than 1,000 private schools nationwide have offered to accept about 6,600 middle and high school students from areas hit by last month’s massive earthquake and tsunami, it has been learned.

Most of the schools, totaling at least 1,099 in Tokyo and 39 other prefectures, will exempt those students from tuition. Some schools offered to accept all interested students regardless of their academic records or to provide daily-life support for students and their families, according to sources.

Seigakuin Junior and High School, an all-boys school in Kita Ward, Tokyo, decided to accept all students from the disaster-hit areas who wish to study at the school at a meeting of teachers and other school staff, as well as a parent-teachers meeting, shortly after the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake. The school said these students will not have to pay tuition fees.

The school then started working to set up a fund to provide transportation and food expenses for those students. It also obtained offers from 15 families to accommodate students at their homes. School officials said they intend to implement the support plans flexibly so students could stay at the school for a long time.

According to the Japan Private High School Federation, offers were made by 299 middle schools for 1,439 students and by 800 high schools for 5,130 students as of April 14.

Many of these schools are in Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture, where the number of private schools is higher than other places in the nation. The federation’s data for high schools cover those offering full-time or part-time programs and excludes those of correspondence courses.

Most of the schools have offered to waive tuition and provide school supplies. Offers of daily-life support, in such forms as arranging for students from disaster-hit areas to stay with families of regular students or at school dormitories, were made by 246 schools.

Only some of the schools have preconditions concerning which schools students come from or academic records.

In Tokyo, home to about 420 private middle and high schools, 75 middle schools and 103 high schools made such offers as of Friday.

Toho Girls’ Senior and Junior High School in Chofu is to use housing facilities for its teachers and other school staff to accommodate families of students from disaster-hit areas.

Tokyo Sure Gakuen in Katsushika Ward will provide housing for truant students and their families for free for one year.

Yakumo Academy in Meguro Ward is among the schools that have offered to accept all students from the disaster-affected areas regardless of academic qualifications.

(Apr. 24, 2011)

Facility for evacuated children opened to media

Media reporters have been invited to a facility in Tokyo where children are taking shelter following the March 11th earthquake and Fukushima nuclear accident.

24 young evacuees ranging from elementary school children to high school students are living away from their parents at the sports and cultural facility in Tokyo’s Koto Ward.

Their living quarters and sports ground were opened to the media.

7-year-old Keisuke Takahashi from Fukushima Prefecture is now attending a nearby elementary school.

After school, he spends time at the facility doing homework and playing soccer with other children.

On Friday, he met his mother, Sachie, for the first time in a month.

Keisuke ran to his mother when he saw her coming in and hugged her while shedding tears.

Sachie says worries about radiation led her to send her son to a safer place. She hopes that the situation will turn better soon so that she can live with him.

Saturday, April 23, 2011 11:01 +0900 (JST)

Japan struggles with how to heal ‘children’s hearts’ | Kids in disaster zones need fresh start at school (Apr.22) | Keep children safe when they travel to school (Apr.20)

‘Stop radiation with underground wall’ (Apr.24) The government is considering building an underground barrier near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to prevent radioactive material from spreading far from the plant via soil and groundwater, a senior government official said.

Sumio Mabuchi, a special adviser to the prime minister, revealed the plan Friday at the Japan National Press Club building in Tokyo. The plan is the first attempt to address the risk of contaminated water spreading far from the plant through soil.

According to Mabuchi, the barrier would extend so far underground that it would reach a layer that does not absorb water. The wall would entirely surround the land on which reactors No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 stand.

Mabuchi is a member of the unified command headquarters set up by the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. to deal with the nuclear crisis. He serves as the head of government representatives on a team dealing with medium- and long-term issues, including how to contain the spread of radioactive materials from the plant.


Water-injection continues

The process of filling the containment vessel of the Fukushima power plant’s No. 1 reactor with water is progressing steadily, according to TEPCO.

TEPCO plans to continue injecting water into the containment vessel until the fuel rods inside are fully submerged in what the power company has called a “water coffin.”

At a press conference held Friday, TEPCO said it believed pressure suppression pools at the bottom of the No. 1 reactor’s containment vessel were full of water, and that the top section of the containment vessel was about half full. Under normal circumstances, the pressure suppression pools are about 50 percent full with water.

The pressure suppression pools help control the air pressure inside the reactor’s pressure vessel. Operators can open valves to release steam from the vessel into the suppression pools, where it is cooled and condensed to water.

According to TEPCO, it has poured about 7,000 tons of water into the No. 1 reactor’s pressure vessel. The company said it believes almost all of that water is still inside the pressure vessel and the containment vessel. However, the firm said it has injected about 14,000 tons of water into the No. 2 reactor and 9,600 tons of water into the No. 3 reactor since cooling operations began. In both cases, the amount injected exceeds the about-7,000-ton capacity of the reactors’ containment vessels.

TEPCO believes considerable amounts of water leaked from those reactors’ containment vessels into their turbine buildings through cracks in pressure suppression pools and other routes.

Meanwhile, at the No. 4 reactor, TEPCO has attached cameras and other equipment to a concrete pump used to inject water into the pool containing spent nuclear fuel rods to monitor the water and radiation levels around the clock.

According to the company, water in the pool was 91 C on Friday, and the water level was about 2 meters above the spent fuel rods. Those readings were about the same as those taken by the company on April 12, TEPCO said.

(Apr. 24, 2011

TEPCO: Highly radioactive concrete fragment found

The operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says that concrete debris emitting a high level of radiation has been found near the Number 3 reactor.

Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, says its workers detected radioactivity of 900 millisieverts per hour being emitted from a 30-by-30 centimeter concrete fragment, 5 centimeters thick, on Wednesday.

The workers were using heavy equipment to remove rubble near the electrical switchyard.

TEPCO says the workers were exposed to 3.17 millisieverts of radiation during the clean-up and the concrete block has been stored safely in a container with other debris.

The utility believes the contaminated fragment could be part of debris scattered across the compound as a result of a hydrogen explosion at the Number 3 reactor.

Sunday, April 24, 2011 00:23 +0900 (JST)

TEPCO: Radiation in groundwater little changed

Tokyo Electric Power Company says there has been little change in the radiation levels of groundwater around its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant as it continues to move highly radioactive water within the compound.

TEPCO on Tuesday began transferring 25,000 tons of the toxic water to an on-site waste processing facility. The water had accumulated in the basement of the Number 2 reactor’s turbine building and in a tunnel connected to the reactor.

The utility says it had moved about 930 tons of the contaminated water by 7 AM on Saturday and the work has progressed well since then.

TEPCO also released figures for levels of radioactive substances in groundwater samples collected around the compound.
It says there has been little change in levels of iodine-131 and cesium-134 since the transfer began, suggesting that the contaminated water has not leaked from the nuclear plant

Mayors see little prospect of rebuilding lives

An NHK survey of municipalities affected by the March 11th disasters has found that 60 percent of them see little or no prospect of rebuilding residents’ lives.

The mayors of 42 cities, towns and villages in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures responded to the survey conducted between April 19th and 22nd.

8 mayors, including those of Iwate’s Yamada Town, Miyagi’s Watari Town and Fukushima’s Futaba Town said there is no prospect of reconstructing residents’ livelihoods.

Residents of Futaba Town were forced to evacuate their hometown and are taking shelter in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo.

Another 18 municipal heads said there is little prospect of rebuilding lives.

All mayors, except that of Minami Soma City in Fukushima Prefecture, said they had managed to secure essential supplies, such as food and water.

However, 38 municipality heads, or 85 percent, said there was still no prospect of rebuilding industries or workplaces, while 79 percent said there was no prospect of drawing up reconstruction plans.

The survey also asked mayors of the 13 municipalities located within a 30-kilometer radius of the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant or within the evacuation zone what the 3 most serious issues are.
Eleven of them said financial compensation, 9 said employment, and 8 said radiation-related health concerns.

Sunday, April 24, 2011 00:23 +0900 (JST)


Waterproof camera set to probe pool in No. 4

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Friday it will use a waterproof camera to see if the fuel rods in its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant reactor 4’s spent-fuel storage pool are damaged.

Tepco hopes to learn the status of the spent fuel, which, along with a dearth of credible information from the utility, played a key role in the U.S. setting of an 80-km evacuation zone for its citizens around the plant.

Of high concern is the water level in the exposed storage pool, its radiation level and temperature. Tepco will also take a water sample from the pool as it did on April 12.

The camera and other sensors will be attached to a crane truck that has been equipped with a long pumping hose to keep the pool filled so the fuel rods don’t burn up and spread more radiation. Tepco said the spent fuel rods are probably 2 to 3 meters under the water now.

Tepco wants to see if the 140 tons of water it’s injecting every two days is sufficient to offset evaporation and leaks and keep the rods submerged.
This next article answers the question why there were no J. robots on the scene … Nuclear power plant builders Toshiba Corp., Hitachi Ltd. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. had begun the development of robots for use in accidents at atomic plants since the major accident at a nuclear fuel processing plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture but the development process stalled and the projects were discontinued because of a lack of funding.
Japanese robots await call to action
News photo
Just a display: A robot developed in Japan to work in a nuclear disaster is displayed at Sendai Science Museum on April 15. KYODO PHOTO

Japanese robots designed for heavy lifting and data collection have been prepared for deployment at irradiated reactor buildings of the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power station, where U.S.-made robots have already taken radiation and temperature readings as well as visual images at the crippled facility via remote control.

At the request of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Tmsuk Co., a robot builder based in Munakata, Fukuoka Prefecture, has put its rescue robot T-53 Enryu on standby at a dedicated facility in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, about 170 km southwest of the power plant in Fukushima Prefecture devastated by the March 11 magnitude-9.0 quake and tsunami.

Enryu (rescue dragon) was developed in the aftermath of the magnitude-7.3 Great Hanshin Earthquake that hit the Kobe area in 1995. Designed to engage in rescue work, the remote-controlled robot has two arms that can lift objects up to 100 kg. It has “undergone training” at the Kitakyushu municipal fire department in Fukuoka Prefecture.

Tmsuk President Yoichi Takamoto said, “We don’t know what we can do at a nuclear power plant until we give it a try, but we do believe we can do something about removing rubble” from explosions that have blocked human operations around the plant.

Satoshi Tadokoro, a Tohoku University professor specializing in robots used for disaster operations, said, “Japan doesn’t have any military-use robots, but it has technology on a par with the United States.”

Tadokoro said a plan is under way to employ at the power plant a highly mobile research robot that he was involved in developing.

In early April, the Robotics Society of Japan and other related organizations jointly set up a task force and sent engineers to the government’s project team that is brainstorming with Tokyo Electric Power Co. about how robots may be used at the plant.

But given the urgency of the mission and circumstances, European and U.S.-built robots with a proven track record in military use and nuclear plant accidents have drawn attention.

A pair of PackBots from iRobot Corp. of the United States entered the buildings of reactors 1 to 3 Sunday and Monday to take video footage and check radiation levels, temperatures, oxygen concentrations and other data inside.

A robotics industry source expressed frustration about the absence of Japanese robots at the plant in the initial crisis response at Fukushima No. 1 “We hope to obtain for Japanese manufacturers critical data that may be acquired only through operating machines at a site and use them for robot development,” the source said.

Nuclear power plant builders Toshiba Corp., Hitachi Ltd. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. have promoted development of robots for use in accidents at atomic plants since a major accident at a nuclear fuel processing plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, in 1999 that claimed the lives of two people and exposed hundreds of others to radioactive materials.

The central government initially contributed ¥3 billion in subsidies for the robot project but its funding did not last long and the development process was halted before any units were perfected for actual use.

An official of the Manufacturing Science and Technology Center, which was in charge of the development at that time, said, “There was a strong sense among us that those types of robot would never have a real-life chance to flex their muscles.” more here

TEPCO to cautiously inject water in No.4 fuel pool

Tokyo Electric Power Company has decided to be more cautious about the volume of cooling water injected into the spent fuel pool of one of its reactors.
This is due to fear that the reactor building might be further damaged by the weight of the water itself.

The company has been injecting water daily into the spent fuel pools of the reactors to prevent fuel rods from being exposed and further damaged.

At the Number 4 reactor’s pool, the water temperature was about 91 degrees Celsius on Friday, more than 50 degrees higher than the normal level, and TEPCO was forced to inject 200 tons of water. Substantial amounts of water will have to be injected daily.

Citing damage to the walls of the building supporting the pool during last month’s hydrogen explosion, the power company says excessive water injection could further weaken the structure of the building.

From Saturday, the utility started assessing more carefully the appropriate amount of water to be poured into the pool, using a device to monitor temperature and the level of cooling water in the pool.

1,535 spent fuel rods are stored in the pool of the Number 4 reactor’s building, the largest amount at the site.

Saturday, April 23, 2011 12:23 +0900 (JST

Reactor 1 water level concerns (posted yesterday)

Sea leaks would be rated Level 5 or 6 (Apr.23)

If estimates of leaks of radioactive material into the sea from Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were judged according to the International Nuclear Event Scale, the severity of marine contamination would be rated Level 5 or 6.

The Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the United States was rated Level 5 on the scale introduced by the International Atomic Energy Agency that runs from zero to seven and is based on radiation leaks into the atmosphere.

The radiation leaks into the sea have caused serious contamination of the marine environment, TEPCO’s estimates show. Water that leaked into the Pacific Ocean from the No. 2 reactor’s water intake contained an estimated 4,700 terabecquerels of radioactive substances, TEPCO announced Thursday.

On April 4-5, the company took the emergency action of discharging 10,000 tons of relatively low-level radioactive water from a fuel waste disposal facility, causing an international stir.

The estimated total amount leaked, 4,700 terabecquerels, is 30,000 times the amount of radioactive material contained in the water discharged on April 4-5.

It is also about 20,000 times the amount of radioactive substances the plant is legally permitted to release into the environment in a year. One terabecquerel equals 1 trillion becquerels.

On April 12, the government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency raised the severity level of the ongoing crisis to Level 7, citing the estimated 370,000 terabecquerels of radiation released into the air from the reactors.

TEPCO has said leakage into the sea started April 1, but records show radiation levels in seawater peaked on March 31. It is therefore highly likely that radioactive water leaked into the ocean before April 1.

Jun Misono, a senior researcher of the Marine Ecology Research Institute, said: “At the moment, [radiation] levels higher than government-set limits have been detected in small fish that eat plankton. Tests should also be conducted on various other marine species.”

In the past, accidents outside Japan have resulted in sea contamination. At the Sellafield nuclear facility in Britain, massive amounts of radioactive substances were discharged into the sea for 30 years until the 1980s. The total amount remains unknown, but according to a Norwegian research institute, the leak peaked in 1975 with radiation of about 9,000 terabecquerels.

Science ministry releases radiation data (Apr.23) The science ministry has announced the results of radiation monitoring in areas between one and 21 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The research was conducted in 128 locations on April 18 and 19 to judge whether it was safe enough for residents to temporarily return home in areas close to power station in Fukushima Prefecture.

The Ottozawa district in Okumamachi, about three kilometers west-southwest of the plant, recorded the highest figure of 110 microsieverts per hour, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry said Thursday.

The figure is about one-ninth of the annual legal limit of 1,000 microsieverts for humans, except during medical treatment or other circumstances.

(Apr. 23, 2011) (NB: Data chart provided is not seen in online version only in print version)

Govt officially sets new evacuation zone (Apr.23)

Authorities scramble to arrange home visits (Apr.23)

Satoyama woodlands face grim future (Apr.24)

Use awareness of risks to prepare for disasters (Apr.22) [permanent link here]

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