An autumnal delight that used to attract tourists to Fukushima Prefecture still grows in the region’s mountains and forests, but these ones are forbidden to eat. Wild mushrooms continue to record high levels of cesium almost a decade since the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant resulted in extensive radioactive contamination.
Tanagura is more than 80 kilometers from the nuclear plant, but in the summer of 2011, high doses of radioactive substances were detected in the area’s wild mushrooms.
These days, radioactivity barely registers in the rice or vegetables grown there, but the wild mushrooms are a different story. Japan’s standard for radioactive cesium in general food is 100 becquerels per kilogram. The levels in Tanagura’s matsutake mushrooms are still three times that.
Reasons for high radioactive readings
Almost all of Fukushima prefecture is covered by a ban on the shipment of wild mushrooms.
Hiroi Masaru, a former professor at Koriyama Women’s University, says mushrooms like matsutake grow on a layer about five centimeters below the ground and that layer, formed by decaying foliage and argillaceous soil, is prone to absorb the cesium contained in leaves. In areas that see heavy winter snowfall, it takes a long time for dead leaves to decompose. This is part of the reason cesium levels in some mushrooms began to increase three to five years after the nuclear accident.
And the process to get the ban lifted is long and complicated. Municipal authorities have to gather samples of a specific species from more than five locations and confirm that the radioactive substances are under the standard of 100 becquerels. The same test is conducted the following year to see if the levels have declined further. In the third year, samples are collected from 60 different locations in the municipal area – and if they all clear the 100 becquerels standard, restrictions can be lifted.
A health ministry official told NHK that there is not enough data for a review yet.
Disappearing food culture
For people in Tanagura, matsutake mushrooms were more than just a source of income. They had a role to play in keeping the community together. Jinno says it’s also regrettable that children are losing interest in seasonal foods.
Read more at Local despair over Fukushima’s radioactive mushrooms