FUKUSHIMA - Rice planting for commercial sales began on Wednesday in a village in Fukushima Prefecture for the first time since the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
A total of eight farms in Iitate plan to resume growing rice this year in a combined area of about 7 hectares after evacuation orders were lifted at the end of March for large parts of the village.
With much of the area contaminated by radiation following the nuclear crisis, the total arable area has shrunk from around 690 hectares before the disaster, according to the village.
The farmers will conduct radiation tests before shipping their rice. No rice grown in the village has shown levels of radioactivity exceeding the safety standard since experimental rice planting began in 2012.
“(I feel) comfortable. We want to get back even a step closer to the village of six years ago,” said Shoichi Takahashi, 64, while working a rice planting machine.
The municipality has supported farming efforts, including installing electric fences around the area to protect the rice fields from wild boar and working the soil after decontamination.
Measures to encourage evacuees to return to Fukushima are also slowly underway.
On Wednesday, an Upper House committee passed a bill aimed at boosting government support so evacuees can return to their homes earlier in areas which are off-limits in principle in the wake of the March 2011 nuclear meltdowns.
The Upper House plenary session is expected to clear the bill soon, allowing the government to fund more infrastructure rebuilding such as roads and get rid of radioactive substances in the area.
The bill already cleared the House of Representatives on April 14 but deliberations in the upper chamber stalled after Masahiro Imamura, who served as reconstruction minister, sparked outrage following a series of gaffes and ultimately resigned on April 26.
Minamisoma Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai called on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday to help introduce an advanced medical care system in the city north of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
Sakurai made the plea during his meeting with Abe at the Prime Minister’s Office.
The evacuation order was lifted last July in one part of the city but medical institutions and clinics had been on the decline even before the natural disasters and nuclear crisis.
In a bid to ease residents’ health concerns, the city office is developing a system where residents have access to doctors online.
Goichiro Toyoda, head of Medley Inc., which provides the remote medical care system, asked the government to revise regulations to allow a broader reach for the program.
Abe said he will do his best.