KORIYAMA, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – The pumpkin is diced, the chicken carved and the eggs beaten into an omelet, but the people preparing the food are not chefs — they are scientists testing produce from the Fukushima region.
Seven years after the March 2011 nuclear crisis caused by devastating tsunami, rigorous testing shows no radioactive threat from Fukushima’s produce, officials and experts say.
But local producers say they still face crippling suspicion from consumers.
More than 205,000 food items have been tested at the Fukushima Agricultural Technology Centre since March 2011, with Japan setting a standard of no more than 100 becquerels of radioactivity per kilogram (bq/kg).
The European Union, by comparison, sets that level at 1,250 bq/kg and the U.S. at 1,200.
In the last year, the center says no cultivated produce or farm-reared livestock have exceeded the government’s limit. In all just nine samples out of tens of thousands were over the limit: eight from fish bred in inland ponds and one from a sample of wild mushrooms.
Each day, more than 150 samples are prepared, coded, weighed and then passed through a “germanium semiconductor detector.” Rice undergoes screening elsewhere.
While radiation affected several regions, which have their own testing processes, Fukushima’s program is the most systematic, testament to the particularly severe reputational damage it suffered.
In the wake of the nuclear crisis, a wide-scale decontamination program has been carried out in Fukushima.
It can’t be done in forests, where thick tree growth makes it impractical. But elsewhere topsoil has been removed, trees washed down and potassium sprinkled to reduce cesium uptake.
The situation is even worse for fisherman, many of whom have survived only on compensation paid by the manager of the defunct Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.
The tsunami destroyed ports across the region and demand for Fukushima seafood is low despite an even stricter testing standard of 50 bq/kg.
“When we catch fish and send it to market in Tokyo, some people don’t want to buy it,” said Kazunori Yoshida, director of Iwaki’s fishing cooperative.
As a result, fishermen brought in just 3,200 tons of seafood in the area last year, down from 24,700 in 2010.
The problem remains one of perception, despite the fact that independent testing confirms what government labs show.
The Minna no Data (Our Data) NGO carries out its own testing and spokesman Hidetake Ishimaru said the group was “very surprised” by the “mostly very low levels” it found in Fukushima produce.