Last March radioactive cesium spewed from the wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant over rural areas containing rice fields. It also was dispersed into the atmosphere and into the sea. The radiation contamination is working its way into the food supply and is being found in meats, milk, fungi and plants.
In the fall, in the city of Onami, 35 miles northwest of the plant. Government inspectors checking for radioactive contamination, tested just two of its 154 rice farms.
A skeptical farmer, a few days later, wanted to test his rice to be sure it was safe for his visiting grandson, had his crop tested. It contained levels of cesium that exceeded the government’s safety limit. In the weeks that followed, more than a dozen other farmers also found unsafe levels of cesium.
An ensuing panic forced the Japanese government to intervene, with promises to test more than 25,000 rice farms in eastern Fukushima prefecture, where the plant is located.
The uproar underscores how, almost a year after a huge earthquake and tsunami caused a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, Japan is still struggling to protect its food supply from radioactive contamination.
In July contaminated beef left officials scrambling to plug gaps in the government’s food-screening measures.
The repeated failures have done more than raise concerns that some Japanese may have been exposed to unsafe levels of radiation in their food. It has had a corrosive effect on public confidence in the food-monitoring efforts, with a growing segment of the public and even many experts coming to believe that officials have understated or even covered up the true extent of the public health risk in order to limit both the economic damage and the size of potential compensation payments.
Critics say farm and health officials have been too quick to allow food to go to market with-out adequate testing or have ignored calls from consumers to fully disclose test results.
“Since the accident, the government has tried to continue its business-as-usual approach of understating the severity of the accident and insisting that it knows best,” said Mitsuhiro Fukao, an economics professor at Keio University in Tokyo who has written about the loss of trust in government. “But the people are learning from the blogs, Twitter and Facebook that the government’s food-monitoring system is simply not credible.”
One result has been a burst of civic activism. No longer confident that government is looking out for their interests, newly formed groups of consumers and even farmers are beginning their own radiation-monitoring efforts.
More than a dozen radiation-testing stations, mostly operated by volunteers, have appeared across Fukushima and as far south as Tokyo, 150 miles from the plant, aiming to offer radiation monitoring that is more stringent and transparent than that of the government.
“No one trusts the national government’s safety standards,” said Ichio Muto, 59, who farms organic mushrooms in Nihonmatsu, 25 miles northwest of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. “The only way to win back customers is to tell them everything, so they can decide for themselves what to buy.”
Mr. Muto is one of 250 farmers in Nihonmatsu who started a makeshift radiation-testing center at a local truck stop. On a recent morning, he and a half-dozen other farmers gathered in the truck stop’s tiny kitchen. There, they diced daikon, leeks and other produce before putting them separately into a $40,000 testing device that was donated by a nongovernmental group.
The farmers test samples of every crop they grow, and then they post the results on the Internet for all to see. Mr. Muto knows firsthand how painful such full disclosure can be: he destroyed his entire crop of 110,000 mushrooms after tests revealed high radiation levels.
But such efforts do not address one of the biggest questions asked by consumers: whether farming should be allowed at all in areas near the plant.
So far, Fukushima Daiichi’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power, has offered full compensation only to farmers in the zones that were evacuated, which were within 12 miles of the plant, and a larger area to the northwest, where winds carried much of the fallout.
That approach is in line with the government’s basic stance since the accident: limiting as much as possible the size of the land area affected in this densely populated nation. Officials admit that many people question the wisdom of allowing farms so near the plant to operate, but they say that once they stop farming in an area because of radiation, it will take years to persuade the public to allow them to start again.
Agricultural officials and many farmers fear that revealing more detailed results would scare away consumers, who might be spooked by even low levels of radiation. “We hear the calls for more disclosure, but revealing more detailed data would just hurt too many farmers,” said Osamu Yoshioka, a food safety official at the Ministry of Agriculture.
Farming officials say they have too few radiation-detecting machines to test every product from every farm; there are only a few dozen machines in all of Fukushima Prefecture, a region about the size of Connecticut, with 110,000 farms. However, they acknowledge that random sampling has proved inadequate because the explosions at the plant spread radioactive particles unevenly across communities, creating small “hot spots” of high radioactivity.
It has been close to 11 months since the start of this nightmare. This is NOT a dream and we are not going to wake-up and be thankful that this is not occurring. The new reality is invisible elements that DO harm to the environment and also our health is here to stay. The only question is will it get better or will it get worse. The problem I have is that how will we know if it gets better or worse when there is very little adequate testing of the food that is being produce in Japan and abroad. Some radioactive elements have half-lives of 8 days and others 24,000 years and others longer than that.
When we have governments that purposely with-hold data, my gut feeling is that the situation is alot worse than we’re being led to believe. Only time will tell, but the ones that will SUFFER will be the inhabitants of this earth.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that only Japan products, food and produce are being effected by this. California supports a large and diverse economy with the highest economic production among the United States. If California were a country, it would rank around tenth in the value of goods and services produced. Even if the radioactive materials fell on crops in the summer of 2011, it would still have blanketed the topsoil. Plants pull their nutrients and alot of other substances out of the ground to utilize or store them in their roots, leaves or other parts of the plant.
Caesium is an isotope which is of long term concern as it remains in the top layers of soil. Plants with shallow root systems tend to absorb it for many years. Hence grass and mushrooms can carry a considerable amount of Caesium which can be transferred to humans through the food chain.