GraSPP Seminar “Peaceful and Safer Use of Nuclear Power: Role of Integral Fast Reactor” on May 28, 2014

Hello everyone,

Here is a short recount of my personal impressions of an event organized by the University of Tokyo – Graduate School of Public Policy under its “Global Leader” program.

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The event was held at Hongo campus’ Ito Hall and lasted all day long with several presentations, keynotes, speeches, movie presentations and panels.

For detailed information on the entire program please consult the following link: http://gsdm.u-tokyo.ac.jp/?p=444

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The event’s main theme was nuclear power and the main topic revolved around “Peaceful and Safer Use of Nuclear Power: Role of Integral Fast Reactor“. This nuclear reactor fission technology and design have already been in existence for more than 50 years, but throughout the entire period of commercial use of nuclear power, other reactor designs were preferred, mainly for cost or convenience reasons.

However, after the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster and the gradual meltdown in 3 of the plants 4 reactors (the adjoined Fukushima Dai-ni was virtually unaffected by the earthquake, tsunami or nuclear complications at it’s sister plant) led to a search of more safe and viable options for Japan’s future energy mix. The Integral Fast Reactor (IFR), a design by US conglomerate General Electric (promoted in Japan in conjuncture with its partner Hitachi) is supposed to be a safer and more efficient reactor type that will reduce the risks emanating from nuclear power generation to a relative minimum.

The reactor type is considered a passive system as opposed to active ones. This means that the reactor is cooled through a closed system that does not require active cooling and will immediately and automatically shut down in a case of emergency. This would reduce the risks of meltdown significantly and could thus be operated also in country like Japan, which is historically exposed incessibly to natural disasters.

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To provide more backup to their arguments, the proponents of this technology presented a documentary called “Pandora’s Promise” by director Robert Stone (for detailed information see http://pandoraspromise.com/). This movie tells the story of former environmentalists, who confronted with the threat of global warming and air pollution among others, decided to revise the initial anti-nuclear to pro-nuclear views. The movie provided an emotional discourse on why mankind, especially in developed countries, should not abandon nuclear power and should reconsider its anti-nuclear stance to the benefit of a greater good.

Having assisted at this seminar, having listened to the arguments of the proponents, having read the profiles of most presenters and keynote speaker and panel participants, I have to say that this whole event leaves kind of a bitter taste for me. I am open to every technology that will make energy safer, cleaner, more sustainable and more accessible. Costs are are something that needs to be considered if we are debating which technology should be preferred over other for our future energy and electricity generation. However, I felt that this event was more or less a publicity event for the nuclear industry that tries to comfort people again after the general public has become much more cautious towards the government, the electric utilities and nuclear power in general.

Not a day goes by without new disconcerting information being released about the troubles and complications at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, and the government’s and TEPCO’s handling of the situation. This is the absolute opposite of what was presented at this seminar. I am aware that nuclear power is a business and that electric utilities want to make money, which is a legitimate goal. However, I have a hard time trusting the words of the people that said the same things about nuclear power decades ago, companies that tried to hide and falsify information for years, and politicians and experts that failed to regulate and control the nuclear sector appropriately.

The University of Tokyo is a public institution with a public mandate to engage in unbiased research. And although I do also reckon that universities and researchers are reliant on private funding from corporate sponsors as well, it should be assured that both views, pro and con, do get enough exposure during an event such as this.

Nonetheless, I sincerely do want to thank the organizers of this event for providing me with a lot information and providing me interesting views, opinions and perspectives on an industry that is often managed rather silently. I learned a lot and was able to engage in enriching discussions with some of the most proficient people and experts in this field.

However, I would have appreciated a more differentiated discussion of this controversial and currently highly emotional topic.

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Sincere regards,

Kim

 

 

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FSC (Foreign Students’ Circle) Kabuki Event July 6, 2014

Hello everyone,

I want to inform you guys that on July 6, 2014, the Foreign Students’ Circle, an association that tries to connect foreign students with Tokyo locals and introduces them to traditional Japanese culture, will organize a cool Kabuki event with a brief introduction on Kabuki, meal and show and the National Kabuki Theatre.

This is a very fun event, I joined last year (see picture). I am a member of the FSC, and I can bring friends.

Since I am intending to sign up, please let me know if some of the GPES/GPEAK students of you want to join as well, so I can reserve a seat for you as well.

Best,

Kim

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GPES Seminar June 13, 2014 at 2.30pm in Komaba (Bldg. 16, room 126,127)

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Hello everyone,

Announcement:

GPES Seminar with focus on Biology presented by Prof. Tobias I. Baskin of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

The title of this seminar will be: “Plant growth: Scaling up from cell to stem” and will be mainly about plant cytoskeleton ( they use it to stabilize their cells and transport substances inside and outside of the cells).

 However the seminar will also be of interest to those without a biology background since he said he will start his talk from a sustainability perspective and will try to make it as easy to understand as possible for non-bio students.

So don’t miss out on this opportunity.

For detailed information, please consult semi TB1

Best regards,

Kim

 

(Picture source: http://www.ecs.umass.edu)

 

 

 

 

ESBE2014 INVITATION (Beijing, China, August 2014)

Hello everyone,

Please find a link below to an international conference that might be of interest to some of you. The conference will be held from August 19-20, 2014.

Important Deadlines:

– Author Registration: June 20, 2014

– Paper Submission: June 15, 2014

http://www.esbe2014.org/

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(Picture source: www.esbe2014.org)

GPES Student Lunch & Dinner

Hello everyone,

To show you that we GPES students are not only studying all the time and also know how to enjoy good times together, let me tell you about the times we shared meals together.

These were held either at one the many delicous restaurants in Tokyo, or at one of the students’ homes.

The first time we went in February 2014 went for lunch to eat traditional Japanese stew at a restaurant in Shibuya’s newest department store “Hikarie” located close to Shibuya station. We all chose either traditional Japanese stew (consiisting of vegetables and some assortments of meat) or fried chicken accompagnied with vegetables and rice. It was not too pricey and the food was more than decent.

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The second time, we had dinner together, although this time at the home of one of the students. The dish that was prepared was traditional Indian chicken curry with rice. Although South Asian curry should have a solid degree of spicyness, the curry in question was rather mild to accomodate indvidiual preferences.

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Both get-togethers offered many occasions for the GPES students to get to know each other better and to enjoy student life in Tokyo. Through these meals and various other activities genuine understanding was fostered among the entire present GPES student cohort and the GPES students that were only mere acquaintances in the beginning became good friends to me.

Paper To Plants by Kelli Anderson and Daniel Dunnam

Had to share this! A breathtakingly perfect stop-motion animation of a forest biome, every single leaf and branch and feather cut out of paper. Anderson and Dunnam created it to advertise TinyBop, an educational app for kids (or inquisitive adults). The forest edition is an interactive diorama that makes learning about biodiversity pretty addictive. Oh, the possibility of becoming Tarzan just by swiping and tapping a screen! Just like swinging through the forest on a vine! Okay, not quite…

After you’re done with that do check out her post (http://kellianderson.com/blog/2014/05/a-paper-forest/) and their making-of video (http://vimeo.com/93623567). The amount of work and paper cuts that must have gone into the end-product is insane. Phenomenal mix of science and art.

Todai May Festival (Gogatsusai)

The other GPES students are rather involved in Todai circles (サッカル sakkaru) but I guess one would see me as a typical graduate student: a commitment-phobe with regards to university clubs and societies. In my defense, this term has been particularly insane for me and I didn’t manage to make it down to those I was actually interested in. No matter! The Gogatsusai is a brilliant time to catch up on what you’ve been missing out on and experience what those clubs (部活動 bukatsu) and circles have to offer! While you do get chances to take part in booths, like Amelia who was Ms. Moneybags at the Malaysian Student Association booth, I elected to be a normal paying customer and just had a walk around.

Stepping through the famous Red Gate (赤門 Akamon) of Todai’s Hongo campus, you enter a world of intense sensory overload. Loads of students shouting, “Come get some takoyaki/yakisoba/kakigori” and trying all sorts of ways to lure you to their stall (including cross-dressing – not sure how successful this trick is). My star buy of the day was the Okonomiyaki Moffle – a waffle made of mochi with an okonomiyaki topping. Say what?!?!

Not only can you get food lovingly cooked by Todai students, you get to explore the hallowed Hongo halls and learn more about what they do. Apparently you can even participate in a dummy dissection in the medical building! There’re also an assortment of cafés that are differently themed to cater to every possible whim. The centre stage has an amazing location right in front of the iconic Yasuda Auditorium and hosts a huge variety of acts. One of them we stopped to gawk horrifiedly at was a girl group not unlike AKB48, apart from the fact that they were wearing strange gold Power Ranger-esque masks. Indeed, a school festival beyond compare.

The Gogatsusai’s autumn counterpart is called Komabasai and is held in the Komaba campus amidst incredibly beautiful ginkgo trees that are Todai’s symbol. If you missed this one, come along for the next one and maybe I’ll be manning a Moffle booth – you never know!

(Picture source: http://fukutake.iii.u-tokyo.ac.jp/english/facilities_nearby-akamon.html)

Japan Geoscience Union Meeting 2014, Pacifico Yokohama

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One thing I have been beyond grateful for in GPES is the freedom to select my laboratory and professor-in-charge. Research is everything here in Todai; as a Masters/PhD student, your lab will probably be where you spend most of your time at. Since arriving here and becoming a part of Dr. Yusuke Yokoyama’s lab, I’ve been given so many opportunities I didn’t expect to have as a Masters student. This year, we were privileged to attend the Japan Geoscience Union (JpGU) Meeting 2014 at Pacifico Yokohama. It was my First Ever Conference (though I did go for the Symposium on Polar Science at the National Institute of Polar Research last year) so apologies if I sound like a complete nooblet.

The conference showcased all aspects of geoscience, including planetary sciences, geomorphology, biogeosciences among other topics. Apart from the talks that focused on oceanic biogeochemistry, I was particularly interested in the NASA and JAXA ones. These made use of a Very Very Cool state-of-the-art hyperwall (basically a massive screen – check it out here) to detail the Even Cooler technology that goes into creating and operating the consortiums of currently orbiting satellites and the multitudes of impacts they have on earth science and human society in general. One fact I was pretty struck by was that the number of precipitation measuring instruments we have on Earth is only enough to cover 2 basketball fields. We take the accuracy of weather reports for granted but this wasn’t the case till a few years back – one actually had to look out the window to decide whether to put on wellies or flip-flops!  People think space exploration has no real impact on earthly life but it really does. It’s not all astronauts vaulting through space stations singing Bowie songs…though that definitely isn’t what space exploration is about either.

Back to the conference: it’s structured like a music festival. Multiple talks proceed concurrently throughout the days in different rooms, you have to pick and choose which ones to go to. As JpGU is at its very heart a Japanese conference, most of the talks were given in Japanese; they did however have quite a few sessions in English to cater to an international audience. There are also poster presentations so that you get a quick overview of a wider variety of research without having to attend the relevant talk. Relevant organisations such as the Kochi Core Centre, Springer and even Todai had booths where you could chat with the personnel and learn more about their research and what they do, buy geoscience-related texts or even cookies that look like geological formations (I have to admit I bought the tea-flavoured cross-bedding one! Yum!). I also had a peek at a core sampled from a site that showed the geological deformation due to the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. Scary but really interesting from a scientific point of view.

On the whole, I thought it was extremely well-done and subverted the image I had of conferences being pretty stuffy and boring. It gave me an opportunity for exposure to other forms of geoscience completely outside of my research area and also to be in the company of such esteemed members of the international Earth Sciences community, many of which had a hand in the IPCC 5th Assessment Report or even the Mars Curiosity Rover. Looking forward to JpGU 2015!

Happy Birthday Yang !!!

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On April 30th, my birthday in Gregorian calendar, my GPES fellows gave me a big surprise.

You may wonder why I would be surprised since birthday was expected to be full of surprises. That’s because according to Chinese calendar, my birthday is before April 30th this year and I already spent it.

At noon, I had an appointment with Amelia to have lunch at shokudo. Soon after we sat down, I saw Yue chin and Kim coming over and thought we just bumped into each other luckily. Until they told me Andi was on the way, I didn’t realize it was a surprise from my lovely friends. To be honest, we are all busy every day and I totally didn’t expect it. I felt so warm and happy that moment, and deeply touched by them.

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They even brought a beautiful cake and it was my favorite taste, chocolate! The cake was so yummy and I love it very much. What is more, we spent a couple of hours joking, laughing and sharing experience with each other.

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It was really a wonderful experience talking with them. Even when I am now writing it down, I can still remember and feel the deep warmth that time. I am glad to join this great GPES family! As long as we are together, it is exciting and funny. I hope you can also feel it!

Todai May Festival (五月祭)

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Picture courtesy of Cheik from MSAJ

Last weekend, I spent the bulk of my time at the University of Tokyo’s Hongo campus for the May Festival(五月祭)!

“What is the May Festival?” I hear you ask.

It is an annual event whereby students and clubs get together and throw a giant fair to gain members and club funding. There are usually two of these per year at Todai. Once at the Hongo campus(Sometime around May), and once at the Komaba campus(Sometime around October).

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This year, since I am part of the executive board of the Malaysian Student Association of Todai, I had the pleasure of helping in planning and realizing the Malaysian Student Association’s booth! We sold Cekodok, a favourite teatime snack made of smashed bananas and flour, paired with a rose tea specially imported from Malaysia.

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We purchased 36kgs of bananas for this event, and managed to sell out by the afternoon of the second day (Which was good, given the alarming amounts of “We’re going to have to eat these bananas till we graduate” jokes amongst the committee members)! In fact, demand was so great that we had to purchase some bananas from the Singaporean Student Association who were selling banana fritters. How’s that for a great example of the AFTA (Asean Free Trade Agreement)?

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All in all, it was a great experience working with fellow Malaysians from other campuses (Some came from as far as Kashiwa!), and putting our business plans into action. While the process was sometimes difficult and I had to ensure that I properly juggled my research work and this event, I am very happy that I took part in this, and got to spread a little piece of Malaysia on campus!