The government is expected to announce its first ban on rice sales in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster after samples of rice grown in Onami town in Fukushima Prefecture showed radioactive contamination above the government-set safety limit, officials said Thursday.
Onami is situated 57 kilometers northwest of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
The findings will further worry nervous consumers, already fretting over the safety of domestic produce, despite its previous solid reputation.
Authorities in Fukushima Prefecture say rice grown near the stricken nuclear power plant contained cesium they measured at 630 becquerels per kilogram. The government safety limit is 500 becquerels.
"We are considering an instruction to restrict shipments of the rice from the area," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said. "We would like to reach a conclusion as soon as possible."
He said the cesium was detected as part of the regular pre-shipment tests.
If a ban is imposed, it would be the first on rice shipments since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was crippled by a massive quake and tsunami on March 11, spewing radiation into the air, oceans and food chain.
None of the 840 kilograms of rice produced at the farm this year has been shipped to markets, local officials said.
The final say on the ban is believed to rest with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who is expected to consult with a number of authorities, including over the issue of compensation for farmers.
A team of international researchers this week said elevated levels of cesium in soil in the region would "severely impair" local food production in eastern Fukushima.
The study, published in the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, suggested farming in neighboring areas could also suffer because of radiation.
Shipments of a number of farm products from affected regions were halted as the crisis unfolded and even those that were not subject to official controls have found little favor with Japanese consumers wary of the potential health effects.
The latest development is a setback for the Fukushima government which declared on Oct 13 that all newly harvested rice in the prefecture had passed inspection tests for radioactive substances and gave the go-ahead for the rice to be sold nationwide.
Radioactive levels in rice harvested in 1,700 locations in 48 municipalities outside the 20-km no-go zone around the stricken nuclear plant in the prefecture were below the government’s set limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram, prefectural authorities reported in October.
The highest level was 470 becquerels per kilogram in Nihonmatsu. The prefectural government bought that rice for research purposes.
Following central government guidelines issued in August, rice was checked twice for radioactive cesium before and after harvesting in 17 prefectures. Local governments tested to see if rice had been contaminated by cesium by collecting water samples from rice paddies.© AFP/Japan Today