News updates Apr 29, 2011

School that lost 70% of its pupils mourns (JT Apr 29, 2011)

An elementary school that lost 70 percent of its students to the March 11 tsunami remembers them with a Buddhist service on the 49th day since they were taken…

378 students killed, 158 missing in disaster (JT, Apr 29, 2011) The March 11 disaster killed 378 elementary, junior high and high school students and left 158 others missing, the boards of education in the three hardest-hit prefectures have said.

Most of the victims left school before or just after the 2:46 p.m. earthquake and were swept away by tsunami, they said Wednesday. Students who remained in school buildings mostly survived

If the magnitude 9.0 quake had struck an hour later, a far greater number of students could have been killed, the board in Iwate Prefecture said.

The total of 536 killed and missing students was limited to the three prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima and comprises 234 elementary, 111 junior high and 191 high school students.

Out of the 378 students confirmed dead, 273 were in Miyagi, 59 in Fukushima and 46 in Iwate. The list of missing students is made up of 74 in Miyagi, 52 in Iwate and 32 in Fukushima.

As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, the death toll from the disaster stood at 14,517, with 11,432 others unaccounted for in 12 prefectures, according to the National Policy Agency.

424 schoolteachers to head for disaster areas (DY, Apr.29)

The education ministry plans to increase the number of schoolteachers in disaster-hit areas by more than 400 to help handle student’s emotional needs and improve schooling, sources said Thursday.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry plans to dispatch not only teachers but also former teachers and others holding teaching licenses to support education in three prefectures–Miyagi, Iwate and Ibaraki–that bore the brunt of the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake. Some teachers will be sent to Niigata Prefecture, which was struck by a large earthquake the following day.

A total of 424 teachers will be dispatched to work from May to March in principle. The ministry plans to increase the number of teachers by 236 in Miyagi Prefecture (134 for primary schools, 78 for middle schools, 20 for high schools and four for special-needs schools) and by 155 in Iwate Prefecture (78, 56 and 21 for primary, middle and high schools, respectively). Ibaraki Prefecture will receive 23 teachers and Niigata Prefecture will get 10.

The teachers will be placed in schools where students suffered greatly from last month’s disaster, as well as schools where local people are taking shelter and in schools children were forced to transfer to, the sources said.

The ministry has received reports that some children who lost family members and homes in the disaster are emotionally distressed and have lost their motivation to learn or refused to go to school. Municipalities in the disaster areas asked the ministry to increase the number of teachers so they can visit students’ homes, or teach students individually at shelters, school clinics and other places.

On Wednesday, the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education said it had selected about 70 teachers and will dispatch them to Miyagi Prefecture from May to March. The teachers will start working at about 45 schools after the Golden Week holiday period. They include nursing teachers and those working at special-needs schools to provide students in the disaster-hit areas with mental care.

Kid gloves needed in classes on reducing disaster impact (DY, Apr.29)

Teachers in disaster-stricken areas are torn between the need to educate students about the importance of antidisaster measures and healing trauma suffered by children after last month’s earthquake and tsunami.

“When can I refer to the disaster in class without upsetting the children?” a participant in a teachers’ workshop in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, asked a board of education official earlier this month.

Another teacher present at the April 13 meeting said, “A textbook contains a story about children who have lost classmates in a disaster. How should I handle this story in a class of students whose classmates died in the [March 11] tsunami?”

Similar sentiments were expressed at a teachers’ workshop in Otsuchicho, also in the prefecture. “I want to carry out evacuation drills for my students in anticipation of aftershocks. But I’m worried these would remind them of the tsunami,” one teacher said.

The education ministry’s new teaching guidelines for primary and middle school teachers emphasize the need to educate students about the importance of making preparations to minimize the impact of natural disasters. Several school subjects, including social studies, science and physical education, take up this theme.

For instance, some textbooks for primary school students in their third and fourth years teach them about firefighting as a means of recognizing the need to minimize damage caused by disasters. These textbooks also encourage children to consider how to reduce quake-induced damage by showing them data concerning the death toll from the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, as well as photos of evacuation centers and collapsed houses.

Shortly after the 1995 disaster, educators were unsure about how to deal with descriptions given by textbooks about earthquakes. In one case, those responsible for preparing public high school entrance exams refrained from asking examinees questions about earthquakes.

Masayuki Shimizu, a professor emeritus at the Kansai University of International Studies, said close attention must be paid to the psychological effects suffered by children in the March quake.

“Learning about earthquakes and tsunami could cause them to suffer posttraumatic stress disorders as aftershocks are continuing,” said Shimizu, who provided children with psychological care in the wake of the Great Hanshin Earthquake.

“We must be extremely careful in dealing with children in quake-hit areas when it comes to teaching them about minimizing the impact of disasters,” he said.

Old tsunami story causes teachers worry (DY, Apr.29)

Given the devastation caused by last month’s massive tsunami, schoolteachers are increasingly concerned about how to teach disaster-related subjects in class.

A textbook for fifth-grade primary school students includes a true story that vividly describes the terror of the tsunami triggered by the Ansei-Nankai Earthquake in 1854.

Based on documents, the story, titled “Protecting hometowns 100 years on,” tells of a man in what is now Wakayama Prefecture who helped people evacuate from their villages. The aim of the story is to emphasize the importance of people working together whenever a natural disaster occurs.

However, teachers fear that if they use the text in class, students will become more traumatized. “It could deepen the psychological damage they have already experienced,” they say.

In response to the teachers’ concern, the publisher of the textbook, Tokyo-based Mitsumura Tosho Publishing Co., is considering replacing the material in question with something less stressful. The textbook is to be used in Japanese classes.

Prof. Yoshiaki Kawata of Kansai University, an expert on antidisaster measures who wrote the story in question, said he understood the reluctance shown by teachers to teach the material in class.

“I think schools and others concerned should teach the material, but perhaps at a later date,” he said.

Stressing the importance of antidisaster education, Kawata said: “It’s necessary for children to learn how to protect themselves from disaster. To this end, disaster education across the nation should not put on the back burner. I would like the material to be taught at schools at least in areas not affected by the March 11 disaster.”

The story Kawata wrote gives a graphic description of the power of a tsunami: “Houses near the beach were destroyed by the first big wave. The second wave killed people, and wrecked houses and other property were swept away by the third wave. The voices of agony and sorrow filled the mountains and fields.”

The publisher says the textbook has a 62 percent share of the market nationwide and has been adopted by many local governments in the devastated areas. The tsunami story is expected to be used in class around June.

In Yamadamachi, Iwate Prefecture, the textbook has been adopted by nine primary schools.

Yoshiyuki Kuwahara, 50, vice principal of Yamada-Minami Primary School, is concerned about how the school’s 300 students will react to the story. About 30 percent of the students lost their homes in the tsunami triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

“The text includes descriptions of events similar to those that occurred this time, meaning that it might bring back bad memories to those who read it,” he said.

The school will consider when or whether to teach the story, while keeping a close eye on the mental condition of the students.

The head teacher of a primary school in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, where nearly 400 residents have been reported dead or missing, said the school plans to respond positively to a homeroom teacher’s request to think more about the students.

Since April 21, Mitsumura Tosho Publishing has been interviewing board of education officials in Aomori, Iwate, Fukushima and Ibaraki prefectures, and is prepared to distribute replacement material to schools in pamphlet form.

“[The story in question] provides a good subject in relation to antidisaster education, but if there is a possibility it’ll add to the psychological burden of students, we’ll definitely have to do something,” a senior official of the publisher said.

Blast may have helped cool rods (Daily Yomuri, 29 Apr)

A hydrogen gas explosion at the No. 4 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on March 15 may have helped prevent spent fuel rods from melting down by causing a flow of water into the pool the rods are stored in, according to research by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

It seems that shocks from the explosion damaged a water gate and caused water to flow into the pool from a neighboring part of the facility, TEPCO said.

The explosion, which the company assumes was caused by hydrogen gas, was so strong that the outer walls of the reactor building collapsed.

At the time of the explosion, the spent fuel rods had been overheating. If that had continued, the company said, the rods might have melted, spewing a far larger quantity of radioactive materials into the air than actually happened.

The nuclear power plant lost its external electricity supply when it was hit by tsunami following the March 11 earthquake. As a result, injection of coolant water into the pool of the No. 4 reactor also stopped.

Currently, TEPCO is injecting water into the pool with a pump originally meant to pour fresh concrete. Although about 70 tons of water is assumed to be evaporating every day from the pool, company officials said even considering evaporation, the water level is not rising as much as expected.

The company checked the reactor facilities, suspecting water might be leaking from the pool, but cannot confirm water leakage into the bottom structures of the reactor building.

The utility believes one possible answer is that water pumped into the spent rod pool is flowing back across the damaged gate into the No. 4 reactor well located next to the pool.

The Central Disaster Management Council plans a dramatic overhaul of the nation’s earthquake and tsunami response measures in the wake of the unprecedented catastrophe that hit the country last month, but its review will not include the ongoing disaster-triggered nuclear crisis, members said.

Starting next month, experts will analyze the physical details of the cataclysms, the state of damages and reassess the scale and damage that major earthquakes can cause to Tokyo and its environs, panel members said.

The group will also reassess evacuation plans and possibly re-examine its size and damage projections for three hypothetical earthquakes that Japanese scientists think could strike along the Pacific coast simultaneously, they said.

The group aims to draw up its conclusion around autumn.

“The major disaster has surpassed our expectations and projections,” Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who heads the panel, said at the outset of the meeting Wednesday. “We need to review our disaster management measures in a broad way.”

A nuclear power company in central Japan has released its earnings projection in the business year through March, with a view to restarting one of its reactors in July.

The Fukushima nuclear crisis has forced Chubu Electric Power Company to shelve a plan to reopen the No.3 reactor at Hamaoka nuclear plant in Shizuoka Prefecture by the end of April. The reactor was shut down for a regular inspection.

Company President Akihisa Mizuno told reporters on Thursday that the results assume that the reactor will remain closed until the end of June.

He said the company devised the tentative timetable to present some form of yardstick to shareholders and investors.
But Mizuno said that the company will seek local understanding for restarting the No. 3 reactor.

The operator says the delay in restarting the reactor should not affect summer electricity supplies. But an abnormally hot summer like last year’s might cause a shortage, considering the current interchange of electricity with struggling Tokyo and Tohoku Electric Power Companies.

The Governor of Shizuoka Prefecture, Heita Kawakatsu, responded by criticizing Chubu’s measures to counter a large tsunami at the Hamaoka plant.

He said unless the company gave more concrete measures, it would be extremely difficult to green light the reopening of the No.3 reactor in July.

Thursday, April 28, 2011 22:09 +0900 (JST) [See also Hamaoka reactor restart in July urged  JT, Apr 29]

The operator of the quake-damaged nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan says levels of radioactive iodine in seawater samples taken near one of the plant’s crippled reactors are down by more than half from the previous day.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company says the level of radioactive iodine-131 per cubic centimeter in samples collected near the water intake of the No. 2 reactor was 63 becquerels on Wednesday.

The figure is 1,600 times the state limit, but marked the first decline in 3 days.

Highly contaminated water had leaked into the sampling area, where iodine-131 at a level 7.5 million times the limit was detected on April 2nd.

On Wednesday, the level of cesium-134 was 430 times the limit, and that of cesium-137 was 300 times the limit. Both figures were nearly the same as on the previous day.

Levels of radioactive substances detected in samples taken near the facility had nearly leveled off.

Iodine-131 at a level 2.5 times the standard was found in samples taken some 30 meters north of the plant’s No. 5 and 6 reactors.

The company says changes in readings are seen as being within a margin of day-to-day volatility. The firm says it will continue monitoring the situation.

Sampling tests farther from the plant were prevented by bad weather.

Thursday, April 28, 2011 20:15 +0900 (JST)

As aftershocks of the March 11th earthquake continue, the operator of the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant will sandbag its shoreline as a temporary measure against another possible tsunami.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company moved emergency power generators to higher ground in order to prevent the reactors’ cooling systems from failing in case a major tsunami hits the plant again.

The utility firm decided to sandbag the shoreline at the plant to a height of several meters.

Priority will be put on the area near the waste processing facility, where highly radioactive water is being moved from around the reactor buildings. The facility will also serve as a workplace for reprocessing contaminated water from June.

The firm fears that if the facility is hit by another tsunami, highly contaminated water may run into the ocean and damage the reprocessing facility.

Tokyo Electric is also planning to build a breakwater on the shoreline, as the sandbags cannot stand as the fundamental solution for possible tsunami. The tsunami that hit the plant on March 11th reached 15 meters at its height.

Friday, April 29, 2011 05:05 +0900 (JST)

Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission has asked the government to reassess the quake-resistance of the country’s nuclear power plants.

At an extraordinary meeting on Thursday, the commission said that the string of aftershocks since the March 11th quake was caused by large tectonic shifts.

The commission said that a fault line about 50 kilometers from the troubled Fukushima plant previously believed to be inactive moved during an April 11th aftershock.

The commission decided to ask the industry ministry’s Nuclear Safety Agency to reexamine the fault lines and geographical changes where plant operators have so far said the risk of earthquake damage was low.

The commission also wants the government to check for faults near nuclear power plants if aftershocks occur with unusual frequency.

The Nuclear Safety Agency is to follow up by instructing power companies across the country to reassess quake-resistance.

The assessment will likely take several years. Attention is focused on whether local municipalities will allow power companies to operate the plants while the reassessment is underway.

The assessment will also likely affect the start of operations at new nuclear power plants and the construction of new ones.

Thursday, April 28, NHK

Japan’s land ministry has found that areas of land below-sea-level in the Sendai plain, Miyagi Prefecture, have increased 5-fold after the March 11th earthquake.It warns that these areas are highly vulnerable to flooding from high tides and typhoons.The ministry on Thursday released the findings of its aerial probe using an ultra-sensitive, laser-equipped camera to check subsidence across the Sendai plain.The areas below sea level, shown in blue on the released map, spanned 16 square kilometers.

Before the quake, the plain had only 3 square kilometers of such low-lying areas.

The map also shows, in green, areas lying at full-tide levels. The amount of such areas has increased to 56 square kilometers from the pre-disaster total of 32 square kilometers.

Colored yellow are areas lying below the highest-ever tide level recorded in 1980. These areas have grown to 111 square kilometers from the pre-quake total of 83 square kilometers.

Many river banks and seawalls were damaged by the disaster. The ministry is calling on residents in these areas to be on the alert, and is sandbagging the broken banks [ See related news: Nuke plants’ backups fall way short JT, Apr 27 ]

Japan’s winds of change Apr 27, 2011 The Economist

ONE reason for Japan’s reliance on nuclear power—with all its attendant difficulties of building reactors safely in an earthquake zone—is its lack of indigenous energy sources. Yet it does have one that seems under-exploited, namely the wind. According to a report published in 2009 by the Global Wind Energy Council, Japan, which generates 8.7% of the world’s economic output, has just 1.3% of its capacity to make electricity from the air. The world’s third-largest economy, then, is 13th in the world’s windpower league table.

According to Chuichi Arakawa, a mechanical engineer at the University of Tokyo, that is because Japan has too much of the wrong sort of wind. First, the typhoons which regularly strike the place are simply too powerful. (In 2003, for example, such a storm crippled six turbines on Miyakojima, near Okinawa.) Second, the regular winds that blow through the country are less useful than they might be because Japan is so mountainous. Engineering considerations require that a turbine be erected perpendicular to the Earth, regardless of the slope of the local hillside. But if that ground is, indeed, sloping, it means that the wind (which tends to follow the ground when it is close to the surface) hits the blades of the turbines at an angle instead of face on. That makes the whole process of power generation less efficient.

Help, though, is on the way. Engineers at Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI), a large manufacturing company, have come up with a turbine they think can withstand the sort of battering that brought down those on Miyakojima, and also turn the irregular mountain winds to advantage.

The crucial differences between FHI’s new turbine and a traditional one are in the location and setting of the blades. In a traditional turbine the blades are in front of the pole and also of the nacelle—the structure that houses the generator. In addition, the plane of the blades is parallel to the pole, so that a ground-hugging wind hits the blades face on. This is known as an upwind design.

By contrast, FHI has opted for a downwind design, which puts the blades behind both nacelle and pole. This allows the rotor plane to be tilted so that it faces directly into winds blowing up the hill without snagging on the pole. According to Shigeo Yoshida, who is in charge of research for the project, that makes the arrangement 5-8% more efficient in these circumstances than an upwind turbine would be.

As a bonus, the downwind design is less temperamental in high winds. That is because the blades, being behind the pole and at an angle to it, can be given more freedom to yaw about than they would have in an upwind turbine. This puts less strain on them than if they were fixed.

So far, 25 downwind turbines have been constructed in Japan, and dozens more are in the pipeline. Windpower will never, of course, replace the day-in-day-out reliability of nuclear or other thermal forms of electricity generation. But, as Japan has recently been reminded, it is never a good idea to put all of your eggs in one basket.

Excerpts: “Japan is rightly celebrated for having the most energy-efficient economy in the world. The energy consumption per unit of output in America and Europe is around twice that of Japan’s, and China’s is eight times as much. But the efficiency of Japanese industry hasn’t been matched in other sectors of the economy. Although industry uses roughly the same amount of energy today as it did before the oil shocks in 1973—even while the economy grew to become two and half times larger—household usage has grown at a faster pace than the economy as a whole.

The residential and services sectors are where the waste is, and that is where the conservation ought be. Cutting back the power supply available to Japanese industry would be unnecessary and unwise. There are better places for conservationists to spend their energy.” …

“…the most promising site for new conservation is commercial users (such as office buildings and retailers). Their use is around ten times higher at its peak than at its trough. Lights and air-conditioners account for much if it. Many retailers, including Earth-loving brands like Body Shop, Birkenstock and The Gap, keep their doors wide open during the hot Japanese summer, letting cool air stream onto the sidewalk. The better to lure in sweltering window-shoppers? Regardless, ending this inane practice could save a lot of precious electricity.”

[See older related link: Energy: New forecasting techniques make wind power more practical for widespread use … The Economist, Jun 10th, 2010]

Kan eyes 10 years for repairs (JT, Apr 29) Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s ruling party hopes to complete the reconstruction of the areas devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami within about 10 years, a senior lawmaker has said…

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