Fukushima starts radiation checks on rice

NIHONMATSU, Fukushima - The Fukushima prefectural government on Saturday began checking all bags of rice for radiation in Nihonmatsu, home to the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The prefecture decided on radiation checks for the entire 2012 rice crop following the outbreak of the crisis at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant.

Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato, who visited an inspection centre, said he wanted "safe Fukushima rice to be delivered across the country."

Fourteen bags were subject to the check on the day, each containing 30 kilograms of early harvest rice produced in Nihonmatsu.

The inspection took only about 10 seconds for each bag, with none of the bags showing measurable levels of radioactivity. The lowest measurable level is 11 becquerels per kilogram.

Rice farmer Takayuki Anzai, 58, smiled after his first bag passed the check. "I don't think consumers will feel safe immediately, but we have to demonstrate scientifically proved safety and security," he said.

The rice harvest this year in Fukushima Prefecture is expected to total about 360,000 tons, or about 12 million bags, according to the prefectural government. Most of the checks will be finished by the year-end.

In October, the national government plans to lower the allowable level of radioactive cesium in rice to 100 becquerels per kilogram from the current 500 becquerels.

However, the Fukushima prefectural government is applying the lower limit to all newly harvested rice in advance. Rice with radioactivity levels above the limit will be discarded.