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New and improved radiation detectors headed for Fukushima

Fukushima Minpo

Starting in April, Fukushima Prefecture will introduce easy to use radiation detectors for food produce at municipalities so that residents will no longer have to cut up items into small pieces to check cesium levels.

Currently, residents can test for cesium in home-grown vegetables and edible wild plants at community centers. But those detectors require cutting up 500 grams of food into small chunks, and it takes about 30 minutes to get the results.

With the new detectors, there is no need for slicing and dicing and residents can obtain the radiation readings quicker, according to prefectural officials.

The prefecture has already set aside a budget to provide at least one such detector for each municipality that requests it. The devices will be installed at community centers and other public facilities.

The lowest cesium level detectable with the new device is about 20 becquerels per kilogram, much lower than the 100 becquerels threshold set under the food safety law.

Since the March 11, 2011, meltdowns crisis at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power station, several manufacturers have developed improved alternative testing devices. But as the accuracy of those selected by the prefecture will take some time to verify, their introduction may be pushed back to the latter half of fiscal 2014, officials said.

Easier to use testing devices are already used for certain food items, such as rice and “anpo kaki” (semi-dried persimmon). But they were developed specifically for each food type and are not suited for testing a range of other food items.

The city of Fukushima is the only municipality with devices of this kind that can be applied to a variety of foods.

According to the prefecture, there are about 530 conventional radiation detectors at 59 municipalities. In the 10 months through January, the devices were used to conduct a total of 126,626 food tests.

In the prefecture’s survey of 836 users between October and December, 501 of the respondents said they wanted simpler to use radiation detectors. Those who hoped to reduce the number of food tests came to 377 and those who asked for shorter testing times stood at 127. Multiple responses were accepted.

“We will introduce the new detectors after verifying each product’s accuracy,” said an official at the prefecture’s consumer affairs section. “We want to offer an easy to use testing environment and to reduce people’s concerns.”

This section, appearing every third Monday, focuses on topics and issues covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the largest newspaper in Fukushima Prefecture. The original article was published March 3.