TAMURA, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – Farmers in the city of Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, have begun planting rice in a district once designated a no-go zone because of radioactive fallout ejected by the disaster-hit Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
It is the first time since the March 2011 core meltdowns that rice intended for sale has been planted in any former hot zone within 20 km of the power plant.
Saturday’s rice planting was carried out in Tamura’s Miyakojimachi district, about 15 km from the plant. In all, three farms are planning to seed 6 hectares there.
Miyakojimachi was reclassified in April 2012 as an area where evacuation orders might be lifted. Residents can enter without permission during the daytime but aren’t allowed to stay overnight.
In their rice paddies, work to clean up radioactive fallout ejected by crippled power station has already finished. The farmers use fertilizer containing potassium to help reduce the amount of cesium absorbed by the rice plants.
All of the rice grown in the paddies will be given radiation checks before shipment.
Hisao Tsuboi, 62, one of the farmers, plans to plant Hitomebore and two other rice varieties on 2.5 hectares this year.
“Looking at the paddies turning green, I finally got the feeling that I have engaged in farming,” Tsuboi said with a smile.
On Saturday, his eldest son planted rice using a tractor. Five local policemen and a man from Miyagi Prefecture who has been a buyer of Tsuboi’s rice helped out.
But Tsuboi said that he is concerned because he has to leave his temporary house for his rice paddies at 4 a.m. every day and return home late at night. It takes an hour to drive from the temporary house to the rice paddies. Therefore, Tsuboi says he is not sure if he can continue working until the harvest in autumn.
“I want to ask the municipal authorities to allow me to stay at my own house for several days a week,” Tsuboi said.
Controlling water supply in the paddies is very important for growing rice, and the work is difficult if the farmers live far away, an official at the Fukushima Prefectural Government said, adding that allowing farmers to stay overnight is a task it needs to consider.
Among the former no-go zones, Miyakojimachi is the only district where decontamination has been completed, according to Fukushima Prefecture and the agriculture ministry.