Instead of compensating victims, TEPCO compete now into gas business

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Via Bruce Brinkman
 
“In a warm place, people gather.” TEPCO advertises its gas business to move against rival Tokyo Gas, which can also now compete to provide electricity following market liberalization. Instead of compensating victims, evacuees, and all those with radiologically contaminated property, *this* is how they use their taxpayer subsidies — in addition to enriching investors (who would have gone broke without state intervention).
Read also:
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Which Tokyo Electric Company is Cheapest? (And How to Change Providers)
November 2, 2016
 
TEPCO Energy Partner to offer up to 8% cheaper gas rate from July
May 10, 2017
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Fukushima Residents Return Despite Radiation

Evacuees now fear Abe’s determination to put the Daiichi accident behind the nation is jeopardizing public health, especially among children, who are more susceptible. Lifting most evacuations has also ended subsidies for evacuees, forcing many to return despite lingering questions.
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Hiroshi Ueki moved far from the damaged Fukushima power plant and vowed to never return. He now grows grapes in a different region of Japan.
 
Japanese government presses resettlement of Fukushima evacuees back into areas still too radioactive with largest health risks falling on infants, young children and pregnant women.
 
When the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant began spewing radioactive particles after it was clobbered by a tsunami in March 2011Kaori Sakuma fled. She bundled her infant and toddler into a car and left her husband and family in Koriyama, 44 miles west of the ruptured facility. “The truth is, I ran away,” she says. Confronting gas shortages and snarled roads, she transported her children 560 miles away to Hokkaido, about as far as she could get.
 
Radiation from the fuming plant spread over tile-roofed towns and rice paddies across an area the size of Connecticut. The meltdown 150 miles north of Tokyo drove more than 200,000 people out of the region. Most believed they were fleeing for their lives. Now, almost eight years after the accident, the government has lifted most evacuation orders. Nearly 122,000 people have been allowed to return to communities where weeds have overtaken parking lots. Most are elderly, relieved to be resuming their lives. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is determined to end all evacuations by 2020, when Japan will host the Olympic Summer Games. The events will include baseball and softball competitions in Fukushima City, a mere 55 miles from the ruined reactors.
 
Around 35,000 other citizens still wait to return, but they and many others throughout northeastern Japan worry all of this is too soon. Radiation, which is generally linked to cancer, in some places continues to measure at least 5 millisieverts (mSv) a year beyond natural background radiation, five times the added level Japan had recommended for the general public prior to the incident. In certain spots radioactivity is as high as 20 mSv, the maximum exposure recommended by international safety experts for nuclear power workers.
 
In its haste to address the emergency, two months after the accident the Japanese government raised the allowable exposure from 1 mSv annually, an international benchmark, to 20 mSv. Evacuees now fear Abe’s determination to put the Daiichi accident behind the nation is jeopardizing public health, especially among children, who are more susceptible. Lifting most evacuations has also ended subsidies for evacuees, forcing many to return despite lingering questions.
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Kaori Sakuma, from Koriyama, evacuated her two young sons more than 500 miles from the Fukushima accident. She reluctantly brought them back after the government raised the allowable radiation limits for communities, but she does not trust the government’s radiation readings.
 
As more people inside and outside the country absorb the radiation data, Japanese officials are confronting a collapse of public confidence. Before the accident residents in Japan (and the U.S.) were living with background radiation that averaged 3.1 mSv a year,most of it emanating naturally from the ground and space. In Japan and the U.S. many residents experience an additional 3.1 mSv annually, due mostly to medical testing. But the anxiety of Fukushima residents facing even higher levels is palpable. If the government is going to fully restore lives and livelihoods, it needs to regain their trust, says nuclear engineer Tatsujiro Suzuki, a professor at Nagasaki University and former vice chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission. That, he says, should include respecting international safety standards for radiation and lowering the allowable level at least to 5 mSv, although he acknowledges “even 5 mSv is too high for children.”
Running Away from Radioactivity
 
The tsunami that followed the magnitude 9.0 offshore Tohoku earthquake slammed a 40-foot wall of seawater onto Japan’s northeastern coast. The whole event killed more than 15,000 people. The water surge at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Daiichi plant led to meltdowns at three reactors.
 
Government officials ordered evacuations in areas called “difficult to return” zones, where radiation was above 50 mSv, enough to cause skin cancer. They quickly added areas between 20 and 50 mSv, then those below 20 mSv. Evacuations continued for months as Japan struggled to find housing for a large population exposed to radioactive iodine 131, cesium 134 and cesium 137. In May 2012 officials reported relocating 164,865 people. Another 26,600 people living outside the evacuation zones left voluntarily, according to Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, a Tokyo-based organization opposed to the nuclear industry.
 
The evacuations did not go well. Evacuees, many elderly and frail, were moved repeatedly without any plans in place, says Jan Beyea, a physicist with Consulting in the Public Interest who worked on a 2014 U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report about the accident. Disrupted medical care and the trauma of moving were fatal to nearly 2,000 people, according to the World Nuclear Association. Many of those who survived reportedly suffer from alcoholism and clinical depression.
 
As radiation levels declined, the government began allowing evacuees home—one town at a time. By May 2013, coastal communities such as Minamisoma, 25 miles north of Daiichi, were reopening ramen shops, and trains resumed their scheduled runs despite a dearth of customers.
 
Shuzo Sasaki, 56, was one of the first evacuees to return to neighboring Odaka, a quiet seaside village. The long-time employee of Fukushima Prefecture (prefectures are equivalent to states) directs Real Fukushima, a government-sponsored organization providing tours as communities rebuild. In Odaka, where radiation plumes streamed overhead but dropped relatively few radioactive atoms on the ground, levels have stabilized at 1.26 mSv per year, well within the safe range. Today a few rice paddies are productive, with round bales of rice straw drying in the sun. Most, however, are vacant. The market for Fukushima rice is poor, even from farms where contaminated soil has been removed. Some paddies sport solar panels. Many are no longer farmed, instead covered with some of the 16 million bags of contaminated soil removed from other sites.
 
Less than a quarter of Odaka’s 12,800 residentshave returned. Most are over 60, says Sasaki, who wears a starched white shirt and dark blue suit. Some people have found new lives elsewhere; many are afraid to return. “Young people with families—they don’t believe the government radiation measurements,” he says.
 
Concern about children is one of the most controversial issues. When officials raised the allowable level of radiation to 20 mSv, including in schools, it was under the guise of giving people a measure of normalcy. But the May 2011decision became a flash point for opponents of the government’s handling of the accident. They were furious children would be subjected to the maximum radiation allowed for nuclear workers, spending day after day in buildings that increased their cancer risk to one in 200 people.
 
Sakuma was one of those who returned to Koriyama, from her outpost in Hokkaido. She did not want her young children to touch contaminated soil or water along their walk to school, so she carried them both on her small back. “We all want our kids to play in the dirt and pick flowers but I was afraid. We all were,” says Sakuma, now 46.
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Bags of radioactive soil, scraped from certain rice farms, are stored on other farmland.
 
Lack of Public Trust
 
In the year after the accident Koriyama was one of 12 communities where the ongoing radiation rate measured between 3 and 5 mSv above background, but the town had not been evacuated. Today’s levels have stabilized at 1.5 mSv, but doubts remain. Skeptical of the government’s readings, Shigeru Otake, 49, takes his own. A slim man who wears a Dollar Store rope belt to give him “strength like a samurai,” he says he has measured radiation spikes at 15 mSv in Koriyama, where his family has lived for generations. Sakuma walks her sons, now eight and 10 years old, to school past a government monitoring post that she claims reads six times lower than her own dosimeter does.
 
Misgivings about government assurances of safety drove Hiroshi Ueki, 48, to move his family to Nagano Prefecture, where he is now growing “the best grapes in the world.” His parents stayed behind in Fukushima Prefecture. Ueki says he will never move back. “The prime minister says the accident is over but I won’t ever feel safe until the Daiichi plant itself is finally shut down. That will take 100 years.”
 
In spite of these concerns, Japan has continued to showcase repatriation as a barometer of progress toward recovery. By April 2017, the government had lifted all evacuations except for the most contaminated places closest to Daiichi. That decision also ended rent-free housing provided to people who were forced to leave as well as to some 26,600 people like Ueki who vacated voluntarily. Left without the $1,000 monthly subsidy provided by Tokyo Electric Company, some people have been forced to return home despite their safety concerns.* They have no other economic options, says Hajime Matsukubo, general manager of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center. Some 16,000 people who refuse to return have been financially abandoned, according to the center.
 
It is unclear if such fear is justified. The danger to people chronically exposed to low levels of radiation is the subject of ongoing scientific debate. “It’s not a bright line where we can say this dose rate is going to kill you,” says Kathryn Higley, a nuclear science professor at Oregon State University.
 
Scientists generally agree on a few basics: The risks of getting leukemia or other cancers are higher for children than adults, and the risks for everyone increase significantly with exposure above 100 mSv annually. Various national agencies have set 20 mSv per year as a maximum for occupational exposure. Public exposure should be no more than 1 mSv per year above background levels, according to the International Commission for Radiological Protection. That raises questions about Japan’s 2011 emergency declaration of 20 mSv per year as the allowable exposure. Five years after the 1986 explosions at Chernobyl, Ukrainian officials lowered the allowable level to 5 mSv per year. Japanese officials note there have been no reported deaths from radiation exposure.
 
The public perception is that the Daiichi nuclear accident continues to pose health risks and, significantly, nuclear power is not safe. More than 80 percent of the Japanese public wants to phase it out, according to an October 2018 study by Suzuki, the former Japan Atomic Energy commissioner. He calls the erosion of public trust “the most unfortunate impact of the accident.”
 
Sakuma, the Koriyama mother, is using the Daiichi accident as a lesson in radical civic involvement. She intends to keep her sons in Koriyama despite radiation concerns. “I want them to grow up here so they can learn what the government does. I want them to tell other people about how it is to live with radiation,” she says. “This accident is not over.”
 

TEPCO’s refusal to settle money talks prompts center to bow out

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Masakazu Suzuki, 68, head of the group of plaintiffs that filed a damage compensation lawsuit with the Fukushima District Court against Tokyo Electric Power Co. in November 2018, stands in a garden of his home in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, on Dec. 17.
January 15, 2019
A government body set up to mediate in compensation disputes with Tokyo Electric Power Co. over the 2011 nuclear disaster is throwing in the towel because of the plant operator’s repeated refusal to play ball with aggrieved residents.
Officials of the Nuclear Damage Compensation Dispute Resolution Center complained that TEPCO, operator of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, keeps rejecting settlement proposals offered in an alternative dispute resolution process.
The center discontinued trying to offer assistance in 19 cases in 2018 and another one on Jan. 10, affecting 17,000 residents in total.
If the center discontinues its mediation work, residents will have no recourse but to file lawsuits, which take time and money to resolve.
The center was set up in September 2011 to quickly settle disputes between TEPCO and residents who are unhappy with the amounts of compensation offered by the company based on the government’s guidelines.
When residents applied to the center for higher levels of compensation, lawyers working as mediators listened to what they and TEPCO had to say to draw up settlement proposals.
Residents and TEPCO are not legally obliged to accept the proposals.
As a result, some residents resorted to filing lawsuits because they got no joy from TEPCO.
Between 2013 and 2017, the center discontinued mediation work on 72 cases, all of which concerned TEPCO employees or their family members.
The 19 cases that were discontinued last year and the one last week had been mainly brought by groups, each of which consisted of more than 100 residents.
The largest group comprised 16,000 or so residents of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture.
Immediately after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima plant in 2011, all of the town’s residents were ordered to evacuate to other municipalities.
In March 2014, the center offered to add 50,000 yen ($460) to compensation amounts ranging from 100,000 yen to 120,000 yen a month that were offered to each of the 16,000 residents by TEPCO under the government’s guidelines.
It also offered an additional 30,000 yen if any residents were aged 75 or older.
However, TEPCO rejected the proposal, prompting the center to abandon its mediation efforts in the case last April.
Some of the residents filed a lawsuit with the Fukushima District Court in November.
With regard to cases involving groups of residents, the center continued to urge TEPCO to accept its settlement proposals for several years.
As the company kept turning a blind eye to the requests, the center began to discontinue its mediation efforts in those cases from last year.
In its management reconstruction plan, TEPCO says that it will respect settlement proposals made by the center.
However, Masafumi Yokemoto, a professor of environmental policies at Osaka City University, believes it is doubtful that TEPCO will make good on that pledge.
“If TEPCO agrees to offer compensation amounts that exceed the government’s guidelines, people in other areas could also seek increased compensation amounts,” he said.
A TEPCO representative, meantime, said that as settlements (with residents) are closed and individual procedures, “we will refrain from expressing our opinions.”

As Japan Tries Out Immigration, Migrant Workers Complain Of Exploitation

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An employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co. works at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant to decontaminate the area after the 2011 nuclear meltdown. A Vietnamese laborer in Japan on a training program says he was also put to work cleaning up the site, but with inadequate gear.
January 15, 2019
The wind howls and snow drifts around a house in Koriyama, in northeastern Japan’s Fukushima prefecture. The town is inland from Fukushima’s coastal areas that were devastated by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown.
Inside the home, several Vietnamese laborers prepare dinner. The house is a shelter, run by local Catholics, for foreign workers who are experiencing problems in Japan.
One of the workers is surnamed Nguyen. He came to Japan in 2015 as part of a government program for technical trainees. He asked to use only his last name, as he doesn’t want his family in Vietnam to know what he’s been through.
He says he paid the equivalent of about $9,200 to a Vietnamese broker and signed a contract with a private construction company in Koriyama, Japan, to get on-the-job training as a rebar worker.
“I expected to come to a country more developed, clean and civilized than my own,” he recalls. “In my mind, Japan had many good things, and I wanted to learn professional skills to take home.”
 
Instead, he says he was ordered to do jobs such as removing radiation-contaminated soil from land around the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
“We were deceived,” Nguyen says, referring both to himself, and technical trainees in general.
He would not identify the company by name so as to avoid undermining negotiations he and a workers union are holding with the firm to get compensation.
He says the company issued him gloves and a mask, but not the kind of gear that would protect him against radiation. He did receive a radiation detector to wear, but only before safety inspectors paid a visit. He complained to the company, which ignored him.
Complicating matters, he had borrowed money from a bank and family members in Vietnam to pay the broker who helped him get to Japan.
“I wanted to sue my company, but I didn’t know how,” Nguyen explains. “I didn’t speak Japanese, or understand Japan’s legal system. So all I could do was be patient, and keep working to pay off the debt.”
Technical trainees like Nguyen now account for about 20 percent of the 1.3 million foreign laborers in Japan, according to government data cited by local media.
The Japanese government intends to bring in 345,000 more foreign workers in the next five years, to staff sectors including restaurants, construction, agriculture and nursing. Many will come from nations such as China, Myanmar, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Japan has both the world’s third-largest economy, and fastest-aging population. It also faces an acute labor shortage. Now, it is doing something previously unthinkable: allowing immigration — even as its prime minister denies it.
But advocates for the foreign workers warn that without an overhaul of the technical training program, many of the newcomers could be subjected to the same sort of exploitation Nguyen says he has experienced. Critics equate the training program with “slavery,” and deride it as the creation of labor without a labor force.
Most trainees are paid below minimum wage. They die of work-related causes at twice Japan’s overall rate, according to an analysis of government data by The Japan Times.
The problem of labor brokers using debt to enslave would-be immigrants is an element in human trafficking in many countries around the world.
The Japanese government has promised to crack down on unscrupulous brokers, establish 100 “consultation centers” where trainees can report abuses, increase Japanese language training for enrollees and generally strengthen oversight of the program.
But the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report for 2018 says that, so far, Japan has failed to prevent brokers from holding technical trainees in “debt bondage,” and sometimes the authorities arrest trainees who escape from “exploitative conditions,” instead of helping and protecting them.
Many conservative opponents of immigration would prefer that foreign workers don’t stay in Japan after finishing the program.
Speaking before the Diet, Japan’s parliament, in October, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied that the country is opening its door to immigration.
“We are not considering adopting a so-called immigration policy,” he insisted. “To cope with the labor shortage, we will expand the current system to accept foreign workers in special fields. We will accept foreign human resources that are skilled and work-ready, but only for a limited time.”
Japan’s parliament, which is controlled by the ruling right-wing Liberal Democratic Party, passed Abe’s plan last month.
Shiro Sasaki, secretary-general of the Zentoitsu Workers Union, which represents some of the foreign workers, rejects Abe’s argument, and adds that Japan’s government is not facing up to the reality of immigration.
“Abe’s definition of an immigrant is someone who lives in Japan long-term, with family,” he says. “But by international standards, the trainees are immigrants. In this sense we can say that Japan is already an immigrant society.”
Sasaki says that opening Japan’s door to immigrants even a tiny crack is better than tricking them into coming.
He says Japan has never experienced mass immigration in modern times, and it has failed to assimilate those few immigrants it has taken in. He sees the whole issue as a test of character for this island nation.
“Japan has never been able to examine itself and define itself in terms of diversity,” he argues. “Now we must live with diversity, and every single Japanese person must think about it.”
Then again, Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University in Tokyo, argues that Abe may have no choice but to reform by stealth.
“Immigration is unfortunately not popular even in countries like the U.S. … which historically have been nations that have been built on immigration. So obviously he’s not going to say: ‘Vote for me, I will bring in 10 million foreigners.'”
Many analysts compare the technical training program to Germany’s gastarbeiter or guest worker program of the 1950s-70s. It too took in laborers from poorer neighboring countries — particularly Turkey — but tried to limit workers’ stay in order to prevent immigration. But the cost of hiring and training temporary workers was too high.
Many workers stayed on, paving the way for Germany to see itself as a de facto immigration nation.
Current trainees like Nguyen may be eligible to remain in the country for up to five years on a new class of visas.
But Nguyen says that without decent pay and a chance to learn new skills, he has no interest in staying on.

Russian nuclear firm wins contracts to clean up Fukushima

Already announced quite a few times by the Russian press over the past few years but nothing took place…Is this time for real or just another of such empty self-promoting announcements?
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Workers, wearing protective suits and masks, are seen near the No. 3 and No.4 reactor buildings at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant
14 Jan, 2019
Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom will help Japan in handling the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant (NPP) and will be engaged in the nuclear control plan, according to the company’s CEO Aleksey Likhachev.
“We have been engaged by Japan to implement the nuclear accident management plan at the Fukushima NPP. We have won two tenders and are going ahead,” Likhachev told Russia-24 news channel.
In September 2017, Rosatom’s First Deputy CEO Kirill Komarov said that Rosatom offered their Japanese counterparts assistance in cleaning up at the Fukushima NPP and in decommissioning other unsafe nuclear power plants.
That followed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that Russia and Japan will start joint efforts to clean up after the accident.
The decommissioning of the wrecked Fukushima reactors could take several decades and cost $200 billion. Japan plans to restart 16 out of the 45 Fukushima-type reactors, while the others will be mothballed. The country intends to reduce the share of nuclear energy from 29 percent in 2011 to 21-22 percent by 2030.
The accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant occurred in March 2011 when a massive tsunami triggered by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake overwhelmed the reactor cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in northeastern Japan. It caused reactor meltdowns, releasing radiation in the most dangerous nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

Schoolchildren co-opted to promote propaganda on Fukushima food safety

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Students tasked with developing dishes using Fukushima produce to promote prefecture’s recovery
Students sample local farm products with the aim of creating their own dishes as part of a campaign to highlight recovery efforts in the prefecture of Fukushima and its capital, on Dec. 16.
January 13, 2019
A group of elementary, junior high and high school students in the city of Fukushima are taking part in an initiative to develop original recipes using local agricultural products as part of a broader project to highlight the city’s recovery from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
The first phase of the campaign, known as the Fukko Project, whereby the students create new dishes, started Dec. 16. It is designed to help the children learn about local agriculture so they will be able to implement their own action plans to assist Fukushima’s recovery.
“I am convinced that the experiences of thinking about and taking actions to better their hometown will serve as a driving force for these children in the future,” said Kimio Suzuki, the director of the municipal Mikawadai Learning Center, the organizer of the campaign.
The dishes they create will be served at several locations, including the cafeteria in Fukushima City Hall.
Eighteen students ranging from fifth grade in elementary school to second grade in high school from five schools are participating in the initiative. Those schools are Sakura no Seibo High School, Sakura no Seibo Junior High School, Gakuyo Junior High School, Mikawadai Elementary School and an elementary school affiliated with Fukushima University.
In February, a group of judges, including Minoru Honma, the head of the city board of education, will select two dishes that will be served by the students who have been divided into two groups.
In addition to city hall, the Kiichigo restaurant located in the Corasse Fukushima complex will also serve the dishes. The building has a store that features regional products. The hope is the children’s efforts will increase the chances that visitors will want to try dishes made from local produce.
On the initiative’s first day, a city official explained to the students about the harmful rumors related to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant meltdowns and about regional specialities such as peaches, freeze-dried tofu and gyōza (dumplings). The students, some of whom were just 3 or 4 years old when the 2011 earthquake happened, sampled some of the products before setting off to plan their own dishes.
“I now understand the thoroughness of the (city and prefecture’s) decontamination and inspection processes,” said Ikumi Nakatsuka, 12, a sixth-grader at Mikawadai Elementary School. “I am amazed by the different efforts done up until this point.”
Mariko Chiba, 16, a Sakura no Seibo High School student, said she is enthusiastic about the project.
“I want to guide elementary and middle school students in this project and complete a menu featuring what the city has to offer,” she said.
After the food project is complete, the learning center is hoping to start another similar project wherein students would devise a plan to attract tourists to local festivals and hot spring areas.

Chinese residents concerned over imports of rice produced near Fukushima disaster area

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Consumers buy rice at a supermarket in Taiyuan, North China’s Shanxi Province in March, 2018
January 10, 2019
Chinese residents expressed concerns over the safety of Japanese rice produced nearby the Fukushima disaster area, after the Chinese government lifted an eight-year ban on the import of the rice. 
 
Japan’s National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (JA) on Tuesday held a ceremony at Yokohama, Japan for exporting the Niigata rice into China for the first time after the Chinese government lifted the ban on imports of rice produced in Niigata Prefecture, the Japan News reported on Wednesday.
 
China’s General Administration of Customs announced in November that it had lifted a ban on rice imports from Niigata, one of a number of prefectures neighboring Fukushima, home to the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which went into meltdown and released radioactive material in the aftermath of a tsunami in March 2011.
 
The rice will be sold before the Spring Festival, which falls on February 5, a season which will see booming demand for rice in China.
 
An official of JA said he had confidence that the rice is of high quality and safe, and could satisfy Chinese consumers. Niigata rice will have a trial sale of 500 bags totaling two tons to Shanghai, the Niigata Daily reported on Wednesday.
 
However, Chinese residents don’t seem to have much desire to buy the rice.
 
“I actually don’t care much about the production place when I buy rice, but I still won’t buy the Niigata rice out of food safety concern, and I’m more confident about the quality of the rice produced in the Northeast China,” Chinese student Lei Yue majoring in Japanese told Global Times on Thursday.
 
Varieties of Japanese rice can be seen now being sold on Taobao,  many of which are priced higher than those produced in China. 
 
A Taobao shop is selling Japanese rice for 145 yuan ($21.4) per two kilograms, almost twice the price of domestic rice. 
 
The rice is produced in Yishigawa, Japan, 400 kilometers away from Fukushima Nuclear Power Station, implying that the rice is safe. The staff added it is popular due to its good fragrance and taste and has monthly sales of 95 bags.
 
Comparatively, a Taobao shop which sells rice from Northeast China has monthly sale of more than 30,000 bags. 
 
Exports of Niigata rice were permitted after General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine of China issued announcement in November 2018.