Current Concerns: Updates on the nuclear contamination situation 26/10/2012


Cesium above new limit in Miyagi beef Jiji Oct 19, 2012

SENDAI — Radioactive cesium levels above the government’s new limit have been found in beef from Miyagi Prefecture, the prefectural government said.

Meat from a cow shipped by a farmer in Tome was found to contain more than 150 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram, the Miyagi Prefectural Government said Wednesday.

The stricter limit of 150 becquerels for beef and rice took effect Oct. 1. The previous limit was 500 becquerels per kilogram.

It is the first time beef with radioactive cesium levels above the tightened limit has been found.

The cow was shipped to a slaughterhouse in the Shibaura district in Tokyo and a radioactivity check on the meat was conducted Tuesday, the prefecture said. The meat was discarded, officials said.

The prefecture is investigating, suspecting that rice straw eaten by the cow was contaminated by fallout from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster.

Miyagi Prefecture told the farmer not to ship any more cows until the investigation is completed, and asked nearby ranchers to suspend shipments voluntarily.


Fukushima rice above threshold for cesium Japan Times, Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012

FUKUSHIMA — Rice grown by a farmer in Sukagawa, Fukushima Prefecture, returned a radioactive cesium reading of 110 becquerels per kilogram, exceeding the maximum of 100, the prefectural government announced.

It is the first time that Fukushima rice has exceeded the current limit introduced in April. The Sukagawa rice did not make it to distribution channels, the prefecture said Wednesday.

Of 320 bags of rice produced by the farmer, only a single bag of the Koshihikari brand of unpolished rice exceeded the cap for radioactive cesium.

The prefectural government has asked neighboring farmers to voluntarily refrain from shipping their rice. Officials stressed that consumers are safe because the prefecture is scanning every bag for radiation.

The farmer’s land will be inspected for the cause of the contamination.

The central government introduced new ceilings of radioactive food contamination in April, setting a limit of 100 becquerels of cesium per kilogram of regular food items such as meat, vegetables and fish, 50 becquerels for milk and infant food, and 10 becquerels for drinking water.

Related news:  2012 Fukushima rice exceeds cesium limit Oct 25, Japan Times


Fish Off Japan’s Coast Said to Contain Elevated Levels of Cesium NY Times, October 26, 2012
New research to be published in the journal Science suggests that radioactive particles from last year’s nuclear disaster have accumulated on the sea floor and could contaminate sea life for decades.
TOKYO — Elevated levels of cesium still detected in fish off the Fukushima coast of Japan suggest that radioactive particles from last year’s nuclear disaster have accumulated on the seafloor and could contaminate sea life for decades, according to new research.

Asahi Shimbun, via Getty Images
A broker inspected octopus from Fukushima at a market in Tokyo in August.

The findings published in Friday’s issue of the journal Science highlight the challenges facing Japan as it seeks to protect its food supply and rebuild the local fisheries industry.

More than 18 months after the nuclear disaster, Japan bans the sale of 36 species of fish caught off Fukushima, rendering the bulk of its fishing boats idle and denying the region one of its mainstay industries.

Some local fishermen are trying to return to work. Since July, a handful of them have resumed small-scale commercial fishing for species, like octopus, that have cleared government radiation tests. Radiation readings in waters off Fukushima and beyond have returned to near-normal levels.

But about 40 percent of fish caught off Fukushima and tested by the government still have too much cesium to be safe to eat under regulatory limits set by the Japanese government last year, said the article’s author, Ken O. Buesseler, a leading marine chemistry expert at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who analyzed test results from the 12 months following the March 2011 disaster.

Because cesium tends not to stay very long in the tissues of saltwater fish — and because high radiation levels have been detected most often in bottom-feeding fish — it is likely that fish are being newly contaminated by cesium on the seabed, Mr. Buesseler wrote in the Science article.

“The fact that many fish are just as contaminated today with cesium 134 and cesium 137 as they were more than one year ago implies that cesium is still being released into the food chain,” Mr. Buesseler wrote. This kind of cesium has a half-life of 30 years, meaning that it falls off by half in radioactive intensity every 30 years. Given that, he said, “sediments would remain contaminated for decades to come.”

Officials at Japan’s Fisheries Agency, which conducted the tests, said Mr. Buesseler’s analysis made sense.

“In the early days of the disaster, as the fallout hit the ocean, we saw high levels of radiation from fish near the surface,” said Koichi Tahara, assistant director of the agency’s resources and research division. “But now it would be reasonable to assume that radioactive substances are settling on the seafloor.”

But that was less of a concern than Mr. Buesseler’s research might suggest, Mr. Tahara said, because the cesium was expected to eventually settle down into the seabed.

Mr. Tahara also stressed that the government would continue its vigorous testing and that fishing bans would remain in place until radiation readings returned to safe levels.

Naohiro Yoshida, an environmental chemistry expert at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, said that while he agreed with much of Mr. Buesseler’s analysis, it was too early to reach a conclusion on how extensive radioactive contamination of Japan’s oceans would be, and how long it would have an impact on marine life in the area.

Further research was needed on ocean currents, sediments and how different species of fish are affected by radioactive contamination, he said.

As much as four-fifths of the radioactive substances released from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are thought to have entered the sea, either blown offshore or released directly into the ocean from water used to cool the site’s reactors in the wake of the accident.

Sea currents quickly dispersed that radioactivity, and seawater readings off the Fukushima shore returned to near-normal levels. But fish caught in the area continue to show elevated readings for radioactive cesium, which is associated with an increased risk of cancer in humans.

Just two months ago, two greenling caught close to the Fukushima shore were found to contain more than 25,000 becquerels a kilogram of cesium, the highest cesium levels found in fish since the disaster and 250 times the government’s safety limit.

The operator of the Fukushima plant, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, said that the site no longer released contaminated water into the ocean, and that radiation levels in waters around the plant had stabilized.

But Yoshikazu Nagai, a spokesman for the company, said he could not rule out undetected leaks into the ocean from its reactors, the basements of which remain flooded with cooling water.

To reduce the chance of water from seeping out of the plant, Tokyo Electric is building a 2,400-foot-long wall between the site’s reactors and the ocean. But Mr. Nagai said the steel-and-concrete wall, which will reach 100 feet underground, would take until mid-2014 to build.


NRA simulates N-disasters / High radiation of 4 plants could spread beyond 30 km (The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 25, 2012)

Highly radioactive substances dispersed in a nuclear accident could spread beyond the 30-kilometer-radius zones used for disaster management planning, according to diffusion simulation results released Wednesday by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

In worst-case scenarios at four of 16 nuclear plants in Japan, high levels of contamination would be found beyond the 30-kilometer zones set as priority areas in new disaster management guidelines drafted by the NRA.

The simulations showed accumulated radiation readings in areas around the four nuclear plants could reach 100 millisieverts–the level at which the International Atomic Energy Agency considers it necessary for residents to evacuate–in seven days.

The four plants are the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture, the Hamaoka plant in Shizuoka Prefecture, the Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture and the Fukushima No. 2 plant in Fukushima Prefecture.

It is the first time the government has released such simulation data. But the forecasts were based on weather conditions alone, and geographical features were not taken into account.

At the outbreak of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant last year, data from the System for Prediction of Environment Emergency Dose Information, called SPEEDI, to predict the diffusion of radioactive substances were not made public. The government thus failed to use the system effectively to evacuate residents.

The NRA said the simulations this time were made to provide reference data for local governments, which are working on their respective disaster management plans, at their request. Targeting all 16 commercial nuclear plants in the nation, except for the Fukushima No. 1 plant, the authority said it applied a method used in the United States for simulations.

The simulations were made for each plant in two different scenarios–one in which radioactive substances leak in the same amount as in the Fukushima No. 1 plant disaster, and the other in which meltdowns occur at all reactors to release radioactive substances. The latter is the worst-case scenario.

On maps, the NRA showed points at which the accumulated exposure dose of radiation could reach 100 millisieverts in seven days. These points are on lines in 16 evenly divided directions from each nuclear plant. The International Commission on Radiological Protection has estimated that exposure to radiation of 100 millisieverts would increase the risk of death from cancer or other causes by 0.5 percent.

Geographical features, such as plains or mountains, are not factored in at all, said the NRA, adding the simulations were based on meteorological data such as direction and speed of the wind as well as precipitation last year.

Simulation results showed, in the worst case scenario, radioactive substances from the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant would reach as far as Uonuma, about 40 kilometers away. Including this case, high simulated diffusions were seen in six cities beyond the 30-kilometer zones around the four plants.

In the scenario in which the amount of radioactive substances was set at the same level as the Fukushima No. 1 plant case, simulated diffusions were all within the 30-kilometer zones.

In areas where simulated diffusions were seen beyond the 30-kilometer priority areas, local governments likely will need to review their evacuation guidelines and other related matters, observers said.

The NRA’s Secretariat said the same day it would hold a briefing for local governments to give advice in their disaster management plans.

Related news: 30-km nuke safety zone may not be enough Japan Times, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012
Radiation doses beyond 30 km from four nuclear plants, including those in Niigata and Fukui prefectures, could reach 100 millisieverts in the first seven days amid a severe meltdown crisis like the one that started in March 2011 at the Fukushima No. 1 complex, estimates by the Nuclear Regulation Authority show.
[MORE] ->

Radiation doses beyond 30 km from four nuclear plants, including those in Niigata and Fukui prefectures, could reach 100 millisieverts in the first seven days amid a severe meltdown crisis like the one that started in March 2011 at the Fukushima No. 1 complex, according to estimates by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

The NRA is crafting new guidelines on nuclear disaster mitigation measures based on the Fukushima disaster and has proposed a radius of 30 km from a nuclear plant as a rough standard for areas where special preparations against fallout exposure should be made.

The latest simulation results, however, could lead local governments to require preparations in areas beyond the 30-km zone.

The four nuclear power stations are Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture and Fukushima No. 2 plant in Fukushima Prefecture, Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture, and Chubu Electric Power Co.’s Hamaoka plant in Shizuoka Prefecture.

The NRA assumed two scenarios — one in which the amount of radioactive substances released is as high as in the Fukushima disaster and the other in which all reactors at each plant suffer meltdowns — to identify areas in which exposure could reach 100 millisieverts in the first seven days. The simulation did not take into account the geography around the plants.

For Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, areas located within a 40-km radius of the plant would register 100 millisieverts.


Japanese government radiation monitoring posts not showing reality: Greenpeace Oct 24, 2012
Greenpeace said Tuesday a survey it carried out has found that many of the official radiation monitoring posts set up after the Fukushima nuclear crisis provide lower readings than nearby locations and the environmental group is urging the government to disseminate more accurate data to the public.

Greenpeace said its survey, conducted from Tuesday to Friday of last week in the city of Fukushima, showed that 30 of the 40 government-set monitoring posts recorded lower radiation levels than the environmental group found in spots just 5 to 40 meters away.

One monitoring post in a park showed less than one-twelfth the radiation levels seen in nearby areas in the same park, it said.

The differences may be a result of land at the monitoring posts being decontaminated when they were set up, Greenpeace said. Concrete and metal plates on the monitoring posts’ bases are also believed to be screening the instruments from radiation.

“The government should not offer a wrong sense of security to citizens,” a Greenpeace official said.


Shimizu Develops Tsunami-Resistant Evacuation Building Jiji 2012/10/26

Tokyo, Oct. 26 (Jiji Press)–General contractor Shimizu Corp. <1803> said Friday it has developed a building especially designed to protect people from massive earthquakes and tsunami.
The building can withstand a 20-meter tsunami and an earthquake of the maximum level of 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale, the company said.


Farmer plows own antiradiation furrow Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012

Staff writer
At the end of March 2011, a few weeks after the Great East Japan Earthquake, 20 rice farmers affiliated to J-Rap, an agricultural distribution company in Sukagawa, central Fukushima Prefecture, got together to assess the situation.
Breaking new ground: Toshihiko Ito, head of the Sukagawa, Fukushima Prefecture-based agricultural company J-Rap, stands by one of its paddies where his innovative techniques appear to be succeeding in greatly reducing radiation in the rice. TOMOKO OTAKE
With no one seeming to have much idea what was really happening or what to expect next, the atmosphere was overwhelmingly gloomy, and many farmers were in despair over the prospects for producing any rice that year.

Heading up their concerns was the then unknown amount of radioactive material that had been and was still being released following explosions and three reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Though winds had no doubt dispersed the contamination across massive swaths of eastern Japan, it seemed only logical to the farmers that their fields just 50 km southwest of the plant would have received a hefty dose — though back then, none of them had heard of iodine-131, cesium-134, cesium-137, microsieverts, becquerels or any of the radiation terminology they would soon grapple with.

But it wasn’t just radiation they had to worry about, because the magnitude 9 earthquake on March 11 had damaged the area’s irrigation systems, and many of them feared water supplies to their paddy fields would not be restored in time for the seedling planting season starting in May.

“Everyone was looking downcast,” Toshihiko Ito, head of J-Rap, said of that first meeting at the company’s Sukagawa base. In addition to 20 members present then, J-Rap also has 50 full-time farmers and 180 part-time farmers as members of the group, which specializes in no- or low-pesticide farming and whose members share agricultural equipment, a milling factory and a distribution network.

“They all said that, even if we went ahead and started production, nobody would buy our rice,” recalled Ito, a 54-year-old Sukagawa native who set up J-Rap in 1993 after spending 16 years teaching farming knowhow at a local agricultural cooperative under the wing of the government-linked Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives (commonly referred to as JA).

Ito argued otherwise, eventually convincing the farmers to plant the seedlings as usual. “My stance was that I wanted to have as many seedlings as possible planted, since the more fields we worked on, the more diverse the data we got would be. And I thought such data would prove vital down the road.”

It surely would. Some 19 months later, with the second harvesting season in post-disaster Fukushima now in full swing, Ito’s group has defied the skeptics and succeeded in producing rice that is virtually free of radioactive substances despite most of the J-Rap farmers’ fields being badly polluted by cesium-134 and cesium-137 spewed out of the nuclear power plant in vast quantities. With their long half-lives of two and 30 years, respectively, it is these radioisotopes that pose the biggest long-term health risk for Japan.

Separate from its chemical half-life, cesium-137 is particularly worrisome since it has a biological half-life of 70 to 120 days for adults — meaning that after being ingested with food or liquids, it takes that many days before half the amount is digested and excreted. Meanwhile, the remainder of the cesium-137 concentrates in muscles and organs, where it is widely believed to increase the likelihood of heart failure and strokes.

Last fall, Ito says his group managed to keep the level of cesium contamination in all of its rice products to 3.1 becquerels per kilogram — compared with the national government’s provisional legal limit then of 500 becquerels per kilogram, which some Fukushima rice exceeded.

In April this year, however, the government changed its safety standard to 100 becquerels per kilogram for most foods, including meat, rice and vegetables, though it granted a six-month grace period for rice and beef producers — meaning that 500 becquerels per kilogram was the de facto legal limit for those products until just a few weeks ago.

Subject to these limits, the latest available data shows that, of the 119,438 samples tested for radiation by municipal governments across Japan from April 1 to Oct. 8, 1,489 — including mountain vegetables, mushrooms and flatfish — were found to exceed the government limit.

Meanwhile, based on tests of this season’s harvest, which started in late September, Ito says he hopes to bring the average cesium contamination across all J-Rap’s brown rice down to half of last year’s level — nearly 1/100th of the government limit. He also claims that, when it’s milled and eaten as white rice, the contamination will go down further.

In addition, all this season’s rice shipped by Ito’s company will be mixed, he said, to ensure a consistent cesium count across the board, and exclude luck or chance from the buyers’ experience.
Reaping the sown: A combine harvester on one of 341 rice paddies managed by J-Rap.
If this is all as Ito claims, it will be some accomplishment, considering that few rice farmers in the nation, let alone Fukushima, can say their produce will contain a certain amount of cesium with that level of accuracy and clarity.

At present, when farmers say radiation is “nondetectable” in their rice, that may well be because the detectors they are using can’t register radioactive emissions below 10 or 20 or 25 becquerels per kilogram. In addition, measurements also vary according to how long the specimen is exposed to detectors. Hence some producers and distributors may be claiming “nondetectable” levels of radiation in their produce if they are prioritizing testing throughout over accuracy.

In practice, though, the concerned consumer in Japan is left even more in the dark because a majority of domestic food producers don’t publicize the results of radiation tests at all — or the frequency or the scale of their testing — but just blithely declare their fare is “within the government limit.”

In contrast, what further sets Ito apart from most of the nation’s other radiation-plagued farmers is his eagerness to seek advice from independent experts — especially antinuclear types with first-hand knowledge of what happened in the aftermath of the catastrophic 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

As Ito sees it, he can’t do too much intelligence-gathering because he says he cannot hope to protect the health of the area’s children, including his own two toddler grandchildren, by waiting for the government to respond to the crisis.

“What I really wanted to know was what the experts regretted most about their response to Chernobyl,” he said. “I didn’t care what theories or stances they had.”

One expert he has turned to is molecular biologist Masaharu Kawata, a director of the Nagoya-based nonprofit, the Association to Help Chernobyl, Chubu-district, Japan. For the past 21 years, Kawata has offered technical advice to farmers in Ukraine, making visits there two to four times a year.

Since June 2011, Ito has been meeting Kawata once every month to draw on his knowhow and seek his advice on how to prevent rice plants from absorbing cesium. He has also spent long hours poring over papers written by Yuri Bandazhevsky, a pathologist in Belarus who has performed autopsies on children from the country’s Gomel district that was heavily contaminated by radiation from Chernobyl.

Though the children had a variety of causes of death, Bandazhevsky found high levels of cesium-137 in their endocrine glands — in particular the thyroid, the adrenals and the pancreas — as well as in their hearts, thymuses and spleens. For his troubles, he was imprisoned for bribery from 2001-05 as what human-rights groups have termed a “prisoner of conscience.”

Ito has also met and had discussions with Tetsuji Iμmanaka, a nuclear engineering expert at Kyoto University who was the first to translate the so-called “Ukraine standards” for radiation exposure into Japanese, and Akira Sugenoya, the current mayor of Matsumoto City in Nagano Prefecture, who as a surgeon spent five years in Belarus from 1996 treating children with thyroid cancer.

Though it took until 11 years after the Chernobyl disaster to introduce them, in 1997 the government of Ukraine imposed the world’s most stringent radiation-emission safety controls on food. As posted by Imanaka on the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute website, these include limits per kilogram for cesium-137 of 2 becquerels per kilogram for water, 20 for bread, 40 for root and leaf vegetables — except 60 for potatoes, 100 for milk and dairy products and 200 for meat.

In stark comparison, the Japanese government’s new legal limit per kilogram for a combined total of cesium-134 and cesium-137 is 10 becquerels for water, 40 for milk and baby food — and 100 for most other foods, including rice.

However, based on his studies of Chernobyl and its ongoing aftermath, Ito says he decided as early as May last year that he would aim for J-Rap to satisfy the Ukraine standards for all the rice it produced and sold.


Safety first: A bag of J-Rap rice gets a mandatory prefectural radiation check  Japan Times, Oct 14, 2012

Adopting such a stringent benchmark, he says, is essential to protect Fukushima’s children as much as possible from internal exposure to radiation because, since March 2011, they have been externally exposed to much higher than normal levels.

In Sukagawa, for instance, which is less contaminated than many areas, airborne radiation readings that spiked to 1.96 microsieverts per hour on March 18, 2011, have gradually fallen to 0.1 to 0.8 microsieverts per hour, compared with pre-disaster levels of 0.04 to 0.06 microsieverts per hour, according to the city government.

Meanwhile, in the July after the disaster when he was loaned a gamma-ray spectrometer by Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai, a Tokyo-based organic food distributor that buys rice from J-Rap, among many other producers, Ito began testing foods that the area’s residents were eating. He then moved on to test the soil of the group’s 341 standard-size, 30-by-100-meter rice fields covering a total of 97 hectares.

One of the first things Ito says he did, right after meeting with Kawata for the first time, was to sprinkle potassium fertilizers on the fields. That was because he had read a translated version of a research paper about an experiment in Sweden, a country widely contaminated by radiation from Chernobyl. There for 17 years from 1992, the application of potassium fertilizers was found to inhibit the uptake of cesium-137 by low-growing perennial shrubs and four types of wild fungi.

In addition, to also help prevent cesium from entering paddy fields, Kawata advised Ito to place bags of powdered zeolite at each one’s irrigation sluice gate, as zeolites — which are aluminosilicate minerals commonly used as commercial absorbents — are known to bind well with cesium. “Zeolites have been reported in numerous scientific papers as being effective in absorbing cesium,” he said.

Ever since receiving the gamma-ray spectrometer, Ito’s group has been gathering data from every one of the 341 paddies on how cesium moved from the soil to the rice, testing not only rice grains, but also rice straw, husks, bran and embryo buds. They also compared cesium levels in milled white rice before and after it was cooked.

In addition, soil samples have been taken from six different spots in each paddy — four from near the corners and two from the other parts of the fields. Although Ito’s tests showed very similar cesium levels in the corners (termed A points) and elsewhere (B points), he found that rice harvested from A points had much higher radiation levels than rice from B points. Ito says this might be because A points are not fully dosed with potassium fertilizers because the spreaders used do not reach them when they turn. Consequently, Ito has deduced that the potassium fertilizer does indeed help to keep cesium in the soil and prevent it being taken up by the rice plants.

Furthermore, by creating a contamination map based on all these figures and studying that along with aerial photographs of the area, Ito also realized that paddies close to woodland yield rice with much higher cesium levels than rice from other paddies, regardless of the soil’s contamination levels.

“Rice contamination did not directly correspond with soil contamination,” Ito points out. “Some fields whose soil had 4,000 becquerels per kilogram of radiation emissions from cesium produced brown rice with only 3 becquerel-per-kilogram emissions, while there was a case of brown rice grown on soil with 1,000 becquerels per kilogram of radiation ending up with emissions of 10 becquerels per kilogram.”

Ito speculates it is water that accounts for the difference, as fields with a higher cesium uptake into the rice probably had “water contaminated with cesium from nearby woodlands mixing with rain water and flowing into them.”

Then, last November, after all the rice was harvested, Ito had the top 15-centimeter layer of soil in all paddies plowed under and replaced with 15-cm of soil from below it. That was to bury the surface cesium just deep enough to keep it below the roots of the rice plants. This strategy, too, was based on a recommendation from Kawata, who told Ito that it had worked for Ukrainian vegetable farmers. As a valuable bonus, too, the plowing has also helped to lower the area’s levels of airborne radiation.

“Plowing has been effective in reducing the amount of cesium in rice,” Kawata said. “I think (Ito’s group) has taken the necessary measures in the speediest manner possible.”

However, Kawata is quick to warn farmers that there is no room for complacency, since that the problem of cesium contamination is far from over. In fact, he said his biggest concern at the moment is cesium in the mountains, which have been seriously tainted by the March 2011 fallout, he said. In addition, as fallen leaves decompose into leaf mold, they produce ammonia, which is easily dissolved in rainwater that may then seep into rivers and rice paddies. Ammonia is known to draw cesium from the soil and make it more absorbable by plants, he said.
Clean machine: J-Rap President Toshihiko Ito shows one of the firm’s tractors fitted with a special Dutch-made cab designed to stop the driver having to inhale large amounts of dust while plowing or doing other tasks in fields contaminated with radioactive materials.
“Hence there is a chance a new wave of contamination will begin in two or three years, with a new inflow of cesium from the mountains and the ammonia accelerating its uptake into plants,” the Nagoya-based molecular biologist said.

Despite all this, the biggest challenge for Fukushima rice farmers might lie elsewhere, as distrust of produce from the whole northeastern Tohoku region is widespread among consumers.

Certainly Tetsuya Ebisudani, who oversees radiation matters at the Tokyo-based Daichi-o-Mamoru-Kai organic food distributor, and who has consistently supported J-Rap’s efforts, admits that orders for Fukushima produce remain far below the pre-March 2011 levels. Moreover, he discloses that they are even lower than last year despite separate sampling tests by the government, the producers and the distributors all pointing to lower contamination levels this year.

Ebisudani speculates that this further fall is because last year, although many consumers stopped buying anything from Fukushima, many others chose to support the area’s farmers by eating their produce. “People don’t have that sense of urgency anymore,” he said. “It will take a long time before consumers come back.”

To make matters even worse, Ebisudani says the government has made a series of missteps that have fueled consumers’ fears and distrust. He argues, for example, that the government should have set a much lower safety limit immediately after the disaster. Instead, its failure to do so gave people the impression that all foodstuffs on the market when the limit was 500 becquerels per kilogram were likely contaminated to just below that level.

Another great blunder appears to have been made a year ago by Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato, who hastily announced that all his prefecture’s rice was safe — only for it to be revealed soon after that some bags of rice from the city of Fukushima, as well as from Date and Nihonmatsu, registered in excess of 500 becquerels per kilogram.

This year, the prefectural government is testing all 30-kg bags of Fukushima rice using conveyer-belt-style radiation detectors that can screen out all bags emitting 100 becquerels per kilogram of radiation or more. So far, the tests have detected no rice — out of some 2 million bags checked — that exceeds the limit.

Again, though, this has given a fearful and skeptical public the impression that Fukushima rice may have barely cleared the 100-becquerel hurdle. That despite claims on the prefectural government’s website that radiation emissions of 25 to 50 becquerels have been registered from just 1,500 bags out of 2 million — while all the rest have registered from zero to 25.
Trust, once lost, is extremely hard to get back.

Ito, when asked about the lingering psychological barriers toward Fukushima rice among consumers, said he has never begged people to buy his rice, and he never will. “I want people to understand that we have done as much as we can,” he said in a tone combining pride, defiance and a tinge of indignation.

“We managed to keep to 3 becquerels per kilogram last year, and the figures will go down further this year. But ultimately, it’s the consumers’ choice. They can decide to buy from us — or not to.”

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