Fukushima Surprise: Radioactive Rice “Far Exceeding” Safe Levels Found in Japan

A rice field 25 miles north of crippled Fukushima Daiichi nukes via Reuters

TOKYO  – Japan found the first case of rice with radioactive materials far exceeding a government-set level for a preliminary test of pre-harvested crop, requiring thorough inspection of the rice to be harvested from the region, the farm ministry said late on Friday.

The ministry said radioactive caesium of 500 becquerels per kg was found in a sample of the pre-harvested rice in Nihonmatsu city, in Fukushima Prefecture, 56 km (35 miles) west of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant which was crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, triggering the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.  The ministry said the Fukushima Prefecture will expand the inspection spots nearly ten-fold to around 300 areas.

Pretty big news from Japan, via Reuters.  Needless to say, rice is central to both the Japanese culture and diet.

And it’s one more threat to a world food supply on the edge (see “Global Food Prices Stuck Near Record High Levels“).

Here’s more on the radioactive rice:

It is the first case in Japan of rice containing radioactive caesium exceeding 200 becquerels per kg, a level which requires further thorough testing of the area for the harvested rice.The government introduced inspection guidelines in August, with preliminary tests followed by more before approving shipments.

If preliminary tests found rice to contain radioactive caesium levels of 200 becquerels per kg or more, the crop will be tested more thoroughly before approvals are made for shipments.

If the level of caesium in rice exceeded the government-imposed cap of 500 becquerels per kg, shipments from locally produced rice will be halted.

So far, no rice crop has been banned for shipments.

If the follow-up tests of rice harvested from Nihonmatsu city find radioactive materials exceeding the government-imposed cap, it would deal a huge blow to Japan.

The country has been struggling to regain public trust in the safety of nuclear power so it can resume operations of nuclear reactors to supply energy as well as food safety after wide-ranging products from water to vegetables were found with radiation contamination.

The bottom line is that the Fukushima disaster will continue to reverberate throughout the world for a long, long time (see “Japan scraps plan for 14 new nuclear plants” and “Siemens Stunner: Global Energy Giant Quits Nuclear Industry“).




30 Responses to Fukushima Surprise: Radioactive Rice “Far Exceeding” Safe Levels Found in Japan

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    This tragedy will unfold further for our entire lifetimes. America bears some responsibility, since Fukishima came out of our misguided “atoms for peace” effort, which underdesigned for safety from the beginning.

    Unlike us, Japan has a functioning social contract, and will have little political difficulty in pivoting to safe and renewable power. Their problem is geology- solar and wind power will cost much more than in the US.

    We have some of the best solar and wind resources in the world. The Kochs and Exxons, and the banks that support fossil fuels, will continue to fight clean energy deployment. Historians will view this effort as the biggest atrocity of the 21st century.

  2. John Tucker says:

    I would actually expect some higher readings that close and in more than one sample.

  3. Lou Grinzo says:

    Given the truly spectacular job the gov’t and TEPCO have done to date in screwing up, most notably in terms of keeping the public informed, this is an excellent opportunity for Japan to employ extreme levels of transparency.

    Invite universities, companies, even individuals with the right training, to participate in doing massive numbers of measurements across the entire country and surrounding waters, and make all the data publicly available.

    Yes, this will lead to some misinterpretation by the public; look at the bizarre levels of cherry picking we see from the climate change deniers on almost a daily basis. But it would still serve to get a huge amount of information out in a way that will ultimately restore trust, and it would likely teach many lay people (including me) a lot about radiation exposure.

    (I’m assuming that the gov’t of Japan doesn’t already know that the situation is much worse than is publicly recognized, even with these findings about readings in rice. I’ll leave that level of conspiracy thinking to others.)

  4. Leif says:

    I used to drink a lot of Green Tea and stocked up before the new harvest could hit the shelves. It is unlikely that I will buy any more.

  5. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Mike –
    your assessment of Japan’s difficulty in switching to renewables is perhaps a bit pessimistic.

    While onshore wind and solar potentials don’t match those of the US, Japan does have some exceptional advantages, including –
    – very strong widespread geothermal energy reserves;
    – widespread forestry resources with potential for sustainable coppicing for biochar, energy & fuels;
    – immense offshore wave energy and strong offshore wind energy potentials;
    – all of these resources being within easy transmission range of large populations;
    – an exceptional R&D capacity in its universities and corporations;
    – much experience of exporting technologies abroad to help lower the costs of home deployment.

    Given a competent government policy of supporting technical innovation, I suspect the earthquake’s hit on Japan’s nuclear industry may actually trigger both transformation at home and the provision of new baseload renewable power technologies internationally.

    Certainly they’d be unwise to try to rely on solar and onshore wind to replace their nuclear fleet.



  6. Lollipop says:

    I did the same. I bought $200 worth of Japanese tea the week of the disaster.

    I didn’t know what else to do.

  7. BA says:

    I planted a tea bush. It seems to be doing pretty well. Next year I will plant another.

  8. Mike Roddy says:

    I agree about geothermal, Lewis, and don’t understand why it’s not deployed more widely everywhere- must have to do with transmission lines.

    I don’t see much solar potential in Japan except at high prices, though- too many cloudy days. And offshore wind is a great idea, but the price is really high. Wind farms on flat land pencil out much better.

  9. Mike#22 says:

    Japan has been very lucky. Prevailing winds during the meltdowns/explosions sent the airborne radioactive materials out to sea, and of course all the water pumped through the meltdowns went to sea also. If this spectacular engineering/management failure had been inland–say on the Susquehanna, which is up river from a big bay and some important cities–the impacts would be enormous. I expect some one will do the analysis and tell us just how many trillions in lost land and poisoned water a Fukushima event will cost us, or some other country, next time it happens.

  10. BlueRock says:

    The bad news for Japan just keeps piling higher. :(

    P.S. Good news elsewhere:

    * One of UK’s largest energy companies, Scottish and Southern Energy, ends involvement with nuclear power to focus on renewable green energy.

    P.P.S. A good debunking of the BBC’s recent pro-nuke propaganda film:

    * BBC – Fukushima: Is Nuclear Power Safe? Debunked.

  11. Joan Savage says:

    Interesting what we stock up on in a perceived emergency.

    The tea-growing Uji and Shizuoka areas are about 450 km south-southwest from Fukushima.
    It would not have occurred to me to worry about the tea supply.

  12. Bill G says:

    Nuclear energy is the ONLY possible source to replace fossil fuels.

    Balance some radioactive rice against destruction of life on earth.

    Pick one

  13. John Tucker says:

    Is it safe in here?

    Anywho I wonder how large the sample was and if the cesium was taken up or contaminated the kernels, rice farming is notorious for that. Many of these reports concern a very small isolated sample.

    Also as radiation readings in agriculture go its very high for rice – but considering not that much. Phosphate fertilizer is usually around 600 Bq/kg ranging up to over 4000. Many root crops are over 100 and nuts around 500. Some countries have the limits for meats at over 1000. Water from natural springs can go over 2000.

    Interestingly coal ash which is aerosolized can contain upwards of 4000 bq/kg and far over depending on the coal deposit. Average seems about 2000 Bq/kg released 24/7 365 days for over 50 years now in the US. And radiation from coal doesn’t even rate as an health issue.

    I think most of the Japanese need to be more concerned for us.

  14. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Resorting to offering an entirely false choice doesn’t make your bald assertion of nuclear power’s unique capacity to displace fossil fuels any less laughably thin.

    Japan and Germany too are going to demonstrate by example just how wrong you are.



  15. John Tucker says:

    ¨are going¨ being the functional modifier here.

    Unfortunately, really as everything seems to have a cost, nuclear power is the most successful clean energy replacement to date when looking at real generated power. When you look at just the last 30 years it is the most successful by far. For me it looks like the only really successful replacement so far. By the numbers.

    Pretty much I think its going to take hard advocacy for all clean energy to make a dent in fossil fuels. And not at the expense of one another.

    I think its time for some real specific and difficult discussion on the matter.

  16. David B. Benson says:

    I don’t know about Japan, but the German plan includes buiding more coal burners, I believe.

  17. David B. Benson says:

    These radiation readings strike me as ignorably low. All should read Prof. Cohen’s “Understanding Risks”.

  18. BA says:

    Not all that worried but I have been drinking a ton of the stuff—a lot from China. I heard a report a while back about high levels of heavy metals found in Chinese grown tobacco and that made me wonder about the tea I was drinking. I have seen pictures from space of of the big toxic cloud that hangs over most of the country. Of course the same mercury and so forth eventually blows across the ocean and rains on us—in smaller quantities no doubt but still accumulates in the soil and plants. So what are you going to do? At least if I grow it in the backyard it doesn’t have to get shipped 5000 miles. It’s a hobby.

  19. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    To qualify the verb :

    “Are going to . . . . with Seimens’ and Toshibas’ world class engineering assistance, now that they’ve recognized that the world market for nuclear power is so poor that it’s not worth their participation.”



  20. John Tucker says:

    So the corporate world is now motivated by morality? I dont think so. Those were market decisions. Seimons as a European company is in dire straights now anyway and something tells me there isnt about to be a boom in Japanese reactor construction.

    None of it changes the reality of the situation except that the current market downturn and world recession is likely to scuttle any large commitment to clean energy for the time being. But who knows, it could get so bad they start financing everything.

  21. duckster says:

    Shizuoka? Sounds far enough away, but it wasn’t. In mid-June, the Japanese government was forced to announce a recall all tea from Shizuoka, after high radiation levels were detected (over 1000 bqls/kg), and allegations of data being covered up.

    Much of the tea crop from this year was destroyed if my memory serves me correctly.

  22. quokka says:

    How serious is this? The US FDA standards may be found here:

    It seems there are two levels of contamination defined –

    Level of Concern which is a limit applied when all food intake is considered contaminated and would be consumed for one year. The Cs level for infant and other food is 370 Bq/kg

    Direct Intervention Level which as the title suggests implies a level of contamination the may warrant intervention. This level is set at 1200 Bq/kg.

    This report suggests a single case of 500 Bq/kg contamination and that no other case in excess of 200 Bq/kg has been reported.

    Risk to the general population would seem to be slight.

  23. quokka says:

    Most of the geothermal resource (>80%) lies inside national parks.

  24. quokka says:

    Unless something indicating a much worse level of contamination than this single sample turns up, fear of “radioactive rice” could easily do a lot more harm than the rice itself.

    Adding to that fear, without good reason is very unwise.

  25. Bill G says:

    Settle down, Lewis. I was trying to simplify things.

    But, sad to say, all the learned discussion is moot. To repeat the often repeated: we are at 390 and change parts per million CO2 now. Climate scientists agree anything over 350 ppm is extremely dangerous.

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t see a chance we will stop the CO2 build up. We have not come close to even pausing that climb.

    We are going to find out what happens at 400, 500ppm and above. Nukes could have saved us if we stated in say 1970.

  26. Speedy says:

    I’ll go further and say that the risk is none.

    1 kg potassium has an activity of 31 825 Bq from K-40. The human body contains about 0,2% K, which gives an activity of 64 Bq/kg from K-40 alone, ignoring other naturally occuring radioisotopes. A person weighing 80 kg already has 5 kBq from K-40 in his or her body, so 500 Bq/kg in rice can be safely ignored.

  27. Theodore says:

    There is no need to be concerned if the rice is dangerous. If it’s too hot to eat, it can always be exported. Americans don’t even test their imports. They will eat anything.

  28. Joan Savage says:

    Japan Times, Sunday, Sep. 11, 2011

    Cesium absorption through roots may have long-term effect on farming
    Effect of contaminated soil on food chain sparks fears

    Staff writer

    Six months after the nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima Prefecture, the public’s awareness of the threat posed by radiation is entering a new phase: the realization that the biggest danger now and in the future is from contaminated soil.
    Note: includes a caesium distribution map.

  29. John Tucker says:

    It is, as long term anxiety surrounding disasters is usually extremely detrimental on the health of survivers. The anxiety after Chernobyl shows up as being far worse than the radiation exposure in study after study, if people want to believe it or not.

    Even though its denied, stress has been proven in some cases more dangerous.