Fukushima Update - Radiation Contaminated Food

Update # 46 – August 9, 2011

by Nelle Maxey

The international press is full of stories on contamination.

This story appeared in the Japan Times yesterday with an about face in Japan's Foreign Ministry policy on the safety of exported Japanese food. It is beyond time for the Harper government to explain to the Canadian people how they are being protected from radiation contaminated food imports since his government lifted the Japanese food import bans in late June.

Stop claiming food is safe, ministry told

Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto has committed an about-face on policy by telling his ministry to refrain from vouching for the safety of Japanese food.

The ministry stance changed after radiation-tainted beef was found to have been sold to consumers nationwide, sources said.

The contaminated meat is coming from cattle that were fed rice straw contaminated with cesium isotopes ejected by the disaster-crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

To handle surging concerns abroad about the food supply, the Foreign Ministry told embassies and other diplomatic offices overseas to brief local authorities, importers and media organizations on measures the government is taking to prevent contaminated food from making it into public distribution channels.

The ministry has also asked its diplomatic offices to repeat its stance of disclosing safety information in a timely manner.

On July 8, Matsumoto said that he wanted to dispel food safety concerns by explaining what the government is doing to prevent tainted food from making it into the food supply.

But several countries have since asked about the beef scare after several cattle suspected of being fed tainted straw were found to have been slaughtered and their beef shipped to market months ago to stores and restaurants.

Lost in the market mayhem yesterday (and again today in Asia) was this story on the contaminated rice harvest in Japan from Bloomberg:.

 Rice Futures Halted in Tokyo as Radiation Weighs On First Trades Since '39

Rice futures in Tokyo surged in their first appearance on the bourse since 1939, triggering a suspension of trade, on concern radiation from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant may spread to crops and curb supply.

Trade closed with no deals concluded on the Tokyo Grain Exchange after prices hit 18,500 yen ($238) per 60 kilograms from the opening, compared with the bourse's reference price of 13,500 yen. The bourse posted today's settlement at 14,100 yen after the market closed and expanded the daily maximum price limit to 1,000 yen for tomorrow from 600 yen.

The exchange listed rice contracts today for the first time since the start of World War II to boost flagging volumes and profit. The resumption comes as fallout from the Fukushima Dai- Ichi power plant may spread after it was found cattle had been fed cesium-tainted rice straw. Spinach, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tea, milk, plums and fish have been found to be contaminated with cesium and iodine as far as 360 kilometers (224 miles) from the station operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

"People are very concerned that rice supplies may be smaller on fear of radiation contamination," Nobuyuki Chino, chairman of the exchange's rice futures trading committee, told reporters in Tokyo. "This was reflected in the prices," said Chino, who is also president of Tokyo-based grain company Continental Rice Corp.

‘Worsened Image'

Commercial stockpiles of rice, a Japanese staple, may drop to the lowest level in four years in 2012, after the March earthquake and nuclear disaster curbed production, possibly spurring the government to release its reserves, according to the agriculture ministry.

"Today's session has worsened the image of the exchange," said Kazuhiko Saito, chief analyst at Tokyo-based commodity broker Fujitomi Co. "The reference price and daily maximum limit were too low and too narrow and didn't reflect current consumer concern over supplies in coming years."

Consumers are starting to hoard rice from last year because of radiation fears, Kyodo News reported on Aug. 5. An expansion of the bourse's daily limit may cause excessive speculation, prompting farmers to complain about prices, Saito said.

The Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives, Japan's largest farmer group, strongly opposed the rice trade resumption as it would distort prices with speculation and damage stable supplies, the group, also and known as JA-Zenchu, said in a notice on July 1.

Night Session

In night-session trade, which is settled the following day, the closing price will be a reference price for tomorrow's trade, exchange spokesman Shigeru Nomura said today by phone. If there's no trade during the session, the bourse will set a reference price at 16,400 yen for tomorrow, he said.

Faced with criticism from consumer groups and opposition party politicians that lax government control has endangered food safety, the ministry has tightened rice screening before the harvest begins in eastern Japan.

The government ordered Fukushima and 13 nearby prefectures to test rice samples before the harvest. Authorities will ban shipments from areas where they find grains containing cesium exceeding 500 becquerels a kilogram. Rice production in Fukushima and neighboring Ibaraki, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures amounted to 1.56 million metric tons last year, out of the country's total of 8.5 million tons.

‘Growing Concern'

"The timing couldn't be worse for rice-trade resumption following growing concern over radiation contamination in some food products," said Hiroyuki Kikukawa, general manager of research at IDO Securities Co.

Japan is self-sufficient in the grain as the government protects growers from foreign competition with a tariff of 341 yen ($4.35) a kilogram on imports. Rice harvesting normally starts in some western areas of Japan later this month.

Kansai Commodities Exchange, based in Osaka, also started trading domestic rice futures today. Trading was suspended 72 years ago when the government put grain production and distribution under its control to secure supplies during the war.

The two exchanges list yen-denominated contracts, with deliverable grades including "koshihikari," a popular rice brand grown in Japan. Imported rice is excluded from physical delivery at the exchanges as the government maintains control over foreign purchasing and sales.

The Tokyo exchange selected non-glutinous brown rice produced in the eastern prefectures of Chiba, Ibaraki and Tochigi as the standard grade for the contracts. Deliverable brands include rice grown in 12 other prefectures including Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate, where cattle were contaminated with radioactive rice hay.

The government approved rice futures trading on a trial basis for two years and may decide to halt trading if the market is inactive or unused by hedgers. The Tokyo exchange trades corn, soybeans, coffee, raw sugar and so-called azuki beans.


As usual, SKF has more interesting information on this story.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Radioactive Rice to Come? Rice Growing in a Rice Paddy with 35,000 Becquerels/kg of Radioactive Cesium?


No wonder the first trading of rice futures in Osaka fetched 40% premium over the exchange-suggested contract price.

If this number is correct, the harvest season in Japan will be indeed "chaos".


From the tweet of Ryuichi Kino, who has attended and reported on almost all TEPCO/government press conferences regarding the Fukushima accident since March, reporting on the TEPCO/government joint press conference on August 8 [English Translation of Japanese tweet]:

Germany's ZDF Television is here. Said 35,000 becquerels/kg [of radioactive cesium, most likely] has been found in the soil of a rice paddy planted with rice, and asked if the government does any thorough check. Hosono [minister in charge of the nuclear accident] consulted with his staff for a very long time, and said they will confirm the number. He said the government will check the rice as they grow in the rice paddies.

The transfer factor from the soil to rice is considered to be about 0.1.

35,000 becquerels/kg in soil may result in 3,500 becquerels/kg of harvested rice, 7 times the provisional safety limit which is already far too loose for the staple like rice.


I've found the video clip for this part. It's the rice paddy in Fukushima City. Fukushima City was OUTSIDE the evacuation zone of any kind, so the soil was apparently never tested by the prefectural government. The reporter asks the question in English, with a Japanese interpreter.

[VIDEO embedded at SKF link]


Japanese people who watched the video or knew about it from Kino's tweets are thanking ZDF for having shown up and asked questions at the press conference. It's been a very long time any foreign media showed any interest in these conferences given by TEPCO/government on Fukushima I Nuke Plant and radiation contamination.


I hope more foreign media (not their Japanese bureaus) will come and ask hard questions.


35,000 becquerels/kg of cesium in soil would translate into 2,275,000 becquerels/square meter (35,000 x 65), which is way above the forced evacuation criterion in the Chernobyl accident (1,480,000 becquerels/square meter).


The New York Times ran the article below yesterday. It puts a very human face on what happened at the time the explosions where spewing radiation into the atmosphere over Japan and what authorities DIDN'T do. As readers of these updates know, Dr. Busby of the Low Level Radiation Campaign (www.llrc.org) was the first to maintain way back in March that the authorities should have evacuated a 200 mile radius of the plant immediately.


Japan Held Nuclear Data, Leaving Evacuees in Peril

"The day after a giant tsunami set off the continuing disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, thousands of residents at the nearby town of Namie gathered to evacuate.

Given no guidance from Tokyo, town officials led the residents north, believing that winter winds would be blowing south and carrying away any radioactive emissions. For three nights, while hydrogen explosions at four of the reactors spewed radiation into the air, they stayed in a district called Tsushima where the children played outside and some parents used water from a mountain stream to prepare rice.

The winds, in fact, had been blowing directly toward Tsushima – and town officials would learn two months later that a government computer system designed to predict the spread of radioactive releases had been showing just that.

But the forecasts were left unpublicized by bureaucrats in Tokyo, operating in a culture that sought to avoid responsibility and, above all, criticism." […full article at link]

Here is the ENERGY NEWS summary of this article:

The Reasoning

* Some current and former government officials have admitted that Japanese authorities tried "to limit the size of costly and disruptive evacuations in land-scarce Japan and to avoid public questioning of the politically powerful nuclear industry."

* Current and former officials interviewed by the Times said "a wider evacuation zone would have meant uprooting hundreds of thousands of people… the government [was] desperate to limit evacuations beyond the 80,000 people already moved from areas around the plant."

* Toshiso Kosako, a top Japanese expert on radiation measurement who resigned from an advisory group to Japan's Prime Minister said "the prime minister's office refused to release the results even after it was made aware of Speedi, because officials there did not want to take responsibility for costly evacuations if their estimates were later called into question."

The Pattern

* "Officials have admitted that Japanese authorities engaged in a pattern of withholding damaging information and denying facts of the nuclear disaster."

* "The computer forecasts were among many pieces of information the authorities initially withheld from the public."

* Meltdowns went officially unacknowledged for months.

* "In one of the most damning admissions, nuclear regulators said in early June that inspectors had found tellurium 132, which experts call telltale evidence of reactor meltdowns, a day after the tsunami – but did not tell the public for nearly three months."

Namie's mayor Tamotsu Baba said the withholding of information was akin to "murder."



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