FUKUSHIMA--The government of Fukushima Prefecture said Jan. 5 that bags of rice harvested in 2012 in the prefecture will be thoroughly tested for possible radioactive contamination before they can hit store shelves.
The bags of rice will be tested before they are shipped by way of agricultural cooperatives and other distribution channels beginning this autumn. The tests will be voluntary, and new equipment will be introduced to expedite them. These tests will cover most of the rice produced in the prefecture, officials said.
Radioactive cesium in excess of the government's safety standard of 500 becquerels per kilogram was detected on a number of occasions in rice harvested last year in Fukushima Prefecture.
The prefectural government has been implementing sampling tests as well as comprehensive tests of all farms in selected areas, but it has concluded that exhaustive tests are essential to winning back consumer confidence.
Under the current setup, samples are tested using germanium detectors and other equipment. This method has a testing capacity of only about 8,000 30-kilogram bags per week, which means it would take about 30 years to test all 356,000 tons of rice produced annually in the prefecture.
At the request of rice producers, the prefectural government has been considering the option of voluntary tests conducted by agricultural cooperatives or other distributors that have special sales channels, rather than tests imposed by the prefectural government. Officials plan to introduce equipment where bags, containing unpolished rice, can be carried along on a conveyor belt and can be tested in a short time without being opened.
More than one manufacturer is competing to develop such equipment, with a testing capacity goal of three to four bags or more per minute.
The prefectural government plans to subsidize the acquisition of the equipment. Officials plan to introduce between 100-200 units of such equipment by autumn so that the exhaustive tests of all bags can be finished in a matter of several months.
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