Fukushima sets 'no cesium' goal for farm products

December 06, 2011

Fukushima prefectural government officials plan to remove radioactive materials from farmlands and forests until no radioactive cesium is detected from agricultural, livestock and forestry products.

The officials set the ambitious goal on Dec. 5, fearing that consumers will continue to reject rice, vegetables, beef, timber and other products from the prefecture as long as cesium remains.

"We need to remove radiation promptly because our products have suffered tremendous damage from shipment restrictions and negative publicity," an official said, referring to the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The officials will introduce specific measures to remove radioactive materials from rice paddies, fields and trees to municipal governments and agricultural cooperatives.

But they did not commit themselves to when the decontamination goal will be achieved.

Under standards based on the Food Sanitation Law, rice, beef and other products can be sold if the levels of radioactive cesium they contain are 500 becquerels or less per kilogram.

However, a prefectural government official said, "Products are not being traded or prices have fallen sharply if an extremely small amount of cesium is contained."

This summer, prices of peaches, a key agricultural produce of the prefecture, fell about 50 percent from last year, and those of beef dropped 30 to 40 percent.

Fukushima Prefecture has the largest number of farmers with a certain level of agricultural sales except for Ibaraki Prefecture.

Prefectural government officials are concerned that the agricultural, livestock and forestry industries will lose their competitiveness if consumers continue to shun their products.

According to the prefectural government's plan, soil up to about 30 centimeters deep will be replaced in rice paddies and fields to prevent crops from absorbing cesium from roots.

In orchards, tree bark and branches will be cut off, and soil will be decontaminated. Grass in pastures will be removed if it contains high cesium levels.

Experts said the effort required to remove radioactive materials from farmlands and forests will be huge and come at great expense.

"It is easy to replace soil in even schoolyards," said a senior official of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, who has been providing technical assistance in Fukushima Prefecture. "But it will be much more difficult to remove radiation in fields and forests because they have ridges."

The prefectural government said it also plans to lower the levels of radiation for workers in rice paddies, fields and forests and nearby residents to 1 millisievert per year or less in line with the central government's basic policy.

In removing radiation from forests, the prefectural government plans to give priority to parts close to residential areas, ridding fallen leaves and leaf soil for 20 meters from borders.

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