Farmers have started planting rice in Fukushima Prefecture despite lingering consumer fears over radioactive fallout from the nuclear crisis tainting local produce.
Prefectural officials said rice will be harvested in 60 districts across 12 municipalities this year.
The prefectural government plans to implement a system ahead of the August harvest season to check all rice for contamination before it is shipped outside Fukushima. Some 150 of the special devices will be made available to monitor radiation levels in local produce.
“We want to ensure safety and security by checking all rice that goes onto the market,” said Toshiyuki Hatakeyama, head of its agriculture division.
In districts where last year’s harvest contained more than 500 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram, farmers are banned from planting rice this year, other than for research purposes.
But in less-contaminated districts with cesium levels of between 100 and 500 becquerels per kilogram, the agriculture ministry has cleared farmers to plant rice — on condition that their paddies have been decontaminated and mandatory radiation checks are conducted on their produce.
The government tightened restrictions on radioactive cesium for food and drink in April. For rice, the limit was lowered to 100 becquerels per kilogram from 500 becquerels with a six-month moratorium.
In Nihonmatsu, where 13 districts fell within the ministry’s acceptable cesium parameters last year, Mayor Keiichi Miho called on the prefecture to install radiation monitors by August, in time for the early harvest.
In Matsukawa, a district in the city of Fukushima and one of the 60 approved to grow rice, farmer Hiroshi Kanno, 75, began planting seedlings in late April.
He has replaced the topsoil and tilled the land 25 cm deep this year, around 10 cm deeper than usual. He is also using zeolite and potassium fertilizer to help prevent the plants from absorbing radioactive cesium through their roots. He also said he is praying.