Fukushima Prefecture as if nothing has happened

Fukushima Pref. beach opens to swimmers for 1st time after tsunami, nuclear disasters

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Children play at Haragamaobama Beach, which opened for swimmers for the first time in eight years in the city of Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, on July 21.
July 21, 2018
SOMA, Fukushima — Haragamaobama Beach here was opened to swimmers on July 21 for the first time in eight years after the area was struck in March 2011 by a massive tsunami following the Great East Japan Earthquake.
The beach is the first in the northern part of the prefecture to reopen after the disaster. Three beaches earlier opened in the southern city of Iwaki.
Haragamaobama Beach attracted about 56,500 people in 2010. However, 207 people in the area died in the March 11, 2011 disaster, and the tsunami littered the beach with debris.
The beach is about 45 kilometers away from the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, which was struck by meltdowns following the quake and tsunami. The city has not found any detectable levels of radioactive substances in seawater quality tests it started in 2016. It reopened the beach after preparing tsunami evacuation routes.
Sayaka Mori, 29, a nursing care worker in the northern prefectural city of Minamisoma, came to the beach with her 3-year-old daughter and played at the water’s edge. “I grew up at my home in front of the sea. It was natural to play at the beach. I want my child to know the delight of playing in the sea,” she said.

Only 24 of 70 beaches reopen to public since 2011 tsunami

 

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A family plays on Hirota public beach in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, on July 20.
July 20, 2018
RIKUZENTAKATA, Iwate Prefecture–A public beach officially opened here July 20 for the first time in eight years, underscoring the destruction of sites along the Tohoku coast that bore the initial brunt of the 2011 tsunami.
Hirota beach in Rikuzentakata, a city that was devastated in the disaster, is one of 24 beaches that will be officially open to the public this summer in the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima.
That figure is only about a third of the 70 that were available before the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami struck the Tohoku region on March 11, 2011.
Miho Mitsui, who lives in Rikuzentakata’s Hirotacho district, visited Hirota beach with her two young daughters on the morning of July 20.
“Until this year, we were disappointed at being unable to go into the sea, especially with the water so clear,” the 28-year-old homemaker said. “I want to come here every day.”
Before the 2011 disaster, Hirota and the city’s other public beach, Takata Matsubara, were key parts of social life among the locals.
Takata Matsubara beach became known as the site where a pine forest was wiped out by the tsunami, leaving only one “miracle pine tree” standing. The tree has since died, and the city is still trying to restore sand at the beach, which is still not officially open to the public.
For “officially opened” beaches, municipal governments and other operators provide maintenance and other care, check the water quality to ensure safety, and operate necessary facilities.
But at some of the sites in the Tohoku region, the beaches have essentially disappeared.
In the village of Tanohata, Iwate Prefecture, more than 100 kilometers north of Rikuzentakata, the two public beaches have been closed to the public over the past eight years for the construction of seawalls.
Tanohata Mayor Hiroshi Ishihara decided to use the Tsukuehama beach as a temporary public beach from July 26, saying it is “undesirable to deprive children, who live in the coastal village, of the experience of swimming in the sea.”
Haragamaobama beach in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, about 40 kilometers north of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, is also scheduled to reopen for the first time in eight years on July 21.
But south of the nuclear plant, in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, the city government in May decided that Kattsuo beach could no longer be considered a public beach. Much of the sandy area of the beach disappeared in plate movements caused by the offshore earthquake as well as the construction of seawalls.
Nobiru beach and the surrounding area in Higashi-Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, will remain closed for now.
A city government official said the beach area will reopen once “escape routes are set up (for possible future tsunami).”
The Iwate prefectural government has set up a technical review committee to explore the feasibility of restoring sand at Negishi beach in Kamaishi and Namiita beach in Otsuchi that were hit hard by the tsunami.
 
 
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Fukushima’s nuclear signature found in California wine

The Japanese nuclear disaster bathed north America in a radioactive cloud. Now pharmacologists have found the telltale signature in California wine made at the time.
Throughout the 1950s, the US, the Soviet Union, and others tested thermonuclear weapons in the Earth’s atmosphere. Those tests released vast quantities of radioactive material into the air and triggered fears that the nuclear reactions could ignite deuterium in the oceans, thereby destroying the planet in a catastrophic accidental fireball.
Atmospheric tests ended in 1980, when China finished its program, but the process has left a long-lasting nuclear signature on the planet. One of the most obvious signatures is cesium-137, a radioactive by-product of the fission of uranium-235.
After release into the atmosphere, cesium-137 was swept around the world and found its way into the food supply in trace quantities. Such an addition is rarely welcomed. But in 2001, the French pharmacologist Philippe Hubert discovered that he could use this signature to date wines without opening the bottles.
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The technique immediately became a useful weapon in the fight against wine fraud—labeling young wines as older vintages to inflate their price. Such fraud can be spotted by various types of chemical and isotope analysis—but only after the wine has been opened, which destroys its value.
Cesium-137, on the other hand, allows noninvasive testing because it is radioactive. It produces distinctive gamma rays in proportion to the amount of isotope present. Dating the wine is a simple process of matching the amount of cesium-137 to atmospheric records from the time the wine was made. That quickly reveals any fraud. Indeed, if there is no cesium-137, the wine must date from after 1980.
There is one blip in this record, though. The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 bathed much of Europe, and other parts of the world, in a radioactive cloud that increased atmospheric levels of cesium-137 again. Hubert and colleagues can see this blip in their data from wines.
And that raises an interesting question about the Fukushima disaster of 2011, an accident of Chernobyl proportions caused by a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan following a huge earthquake and tsunami. It released a radioactive cloud that bathed North America in fissile by-products.
Is it possible to see the effects of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in California wines produced at the time?
Today we get an answer, thanks to a study carried out by Hubert and a couple of colleagues. “In January 2017, we came across a series of Californian wines (Cabernet Sauvignon) from vintage 2009 to 2012,” say Hubert and company.
This set of wines provides the perfect test. The Fukushima disaster occurred on March 11, 2011. Any wine made before that date should be free of the effects, while any dating from afterward could show them.
The team began their study with the conventional measurement of cesium-137 levels in the unopened bottles. That showed levels to be indistinguishable from background noise.
But the team was able to carry out more-sensitive tests by opening the wine and reducing it to ash by evaporation. This involves heating the wine to 100 degrees Celsius for one hour and then increasing the temperature to 500 degrees Celsius for eight hours. In this way, a standard 750-milliliter bottle of wine produces around four grams of ashes. The ashes were then placed in a gamma ray detector to look for signs of cesium-137.
Using this method, Hubert and his colleagues found measurable amounts of cesium-137 above background levels in the wine produced after 2011. “It seems there is an increase in activity in 2011 by a factor of two,” conclude the team.
That probably won’t be very useful for fraud detection in California wine—the levels of cesium-137 are barely detectable, and even then, only if the wine is destroyed.
But the result does show how nuclear disasters can have unexpected consequences long after the fact.
Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1807.04340 : Dating of Wines with Cesium-137: Fukushima’s Imprint

Study: Cesium from Fukushima flowed to Tokyo Bay for 5 years

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A photograph taken from an Asahi Shimbun helicopter shows the Edogawa river emptying into Tokyo Bay.
 
June 7, 2018
Radioactive cesium from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant continued to flow into Tokyo Bay for five years after the disaster unfolded in March 2011, according to a researcher.
Hideo Yamazaki, a former professor of environmental analysis at Kinki University, led the study on hazardous materials that spewed from the nuclear plant after it was hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.
Five months after disaster caused the triple meltdown at the plant, Yamazaki detected 20,100 becquerels of cesium per square meter in mud collected at the mouth of the Kyu-Edogawa river, which empties into Tokyo Bay.
In July 2016, the study team detected a maximum 104,000 becquerels of cesium per square meter from mud collected in the same area of the bay, Yamazaki said.
He said cesium released in the early stages of the Fukushima disaster remained on the ground upstream of the river, such as in Chiba Prefecture. The radioactive substances were eventually washed into the river and carried to Tokyo Bay, where they accumulated in the mud, he said.
On a per kilogram basis, the maximum level of radioactivity of cesium detected in mud that was dried in the July 2016 study was 350 becquerels.
The government says soil with 8,000 becquerels or lower of radioactive cesium per kilogram can be used in road construction and other purposes.
The amount of radioactive cesium in fish in Tokyo remains lower than 100 becquerels per kilogram, the national safety standard for consumption.

China opens the door a crack wider to Japanese rice imports

May 15, 2018
Beijing approves more processing facilities but many restrictions remain
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China allows imports of Japanese rice only from approved mills. There is only one such facility now, but Beijing will add two more to the list, potentially expanding Japan’s export market.
TOKYO — The Japanese ramen noodle chain, Ajisen Ramen, operates around 600 restaurants in China. But if you want Japanese rice with your noodles, you must pay about four times the price of a domestic variety. In China, Japanese rice is only for the deep-pocketed.
One reason Japanese rice is so expensive is that China imposes strict controls on imports of the food staple from Japan. Some of these restrictions were introduced after the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011.
But things may soon start to change. On May 9, the two counties struck a deal to increase the Japanese facilities that Beijing approves to process rice bound for its shores. China is a potentially a huge market for Japanese rice, but currently accounts for only 3% of overall exports. Hong Kong and Singapore, the two largest markets, take about 60% of the total.
Japan’s agriculture ministry sees China as vital to achieving its target of increasing annual exports of rice and related products to 100,000 tons. In 2017, Japan exported 11,800 tons of rice, of which only 298 tons went to China. According to one estimate, China consumes about 20 times more rice than Japan.
While the recent deal between the two countries is a step forward, Chinese restrictions and high costs remain major hurdles for Japanese exporters. Most experts also say Japan’s rice exports will remain vulnerable to any political tensions between the two countries.
To export white rice to China, brown rice must first be milled and fumigated at facilities that China has approved as safe. The new deal will expand the number of approved mills and fumigation facilities.
There is currently only one rice mill in Japan approved by China, operated by the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (Zen-Noh) in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo.
The agreement adds two more mills. One is located in Ishikari, on the northern main island of Hokkaido, operated by Hokuren Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives. The other is in Nishinomiya in western Hyogo Prefecture, operated by Shinmei, the nation’s largest rice wholesaler.
A Shinmei executive welcomed the agreement, saying it would enable the company to “respond more swiftly to needs in China.”
In Beijing, Shinmei sells the popular Koshihikari rice variety, grown in central Toyama Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast, for about 2,600 yen ($23.70) per 2kg. That is nearly double the retail price in Japan, and 80% higher than the price of Koshihikari produced in northeastern Niigata Prefecture and sold in Hong Kong.
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A Japanese farmer in Ibaraki Prefecture tends to his crop using a rice planting machine
One reason Japanese rice is so expensive in China is because of transport costs and distributor margins. Reducing costs is a principal challenge for Japanese rice exporters.
A Shinmei executive said that in addition to an effective marketing campaign in China, increasing rice exports requires serious cost-cutting in Japan.
For its rice exports to China, Shinmei has had to outsource the milling process to Zen-Noh. That means the rice wholesaler has to send rice harvested all across the country to the Zen-Noh plant in Kanagawa.
Since Zen-Noh’s mill and warehouses are not always available, this arrangement requires the time-consuming process of coordinating schedules between the two sides in advance.
As for fumigation to control insects, Beijing has approved only two facilities in Japan, both in Kanagawa. Under the new deal, Japan’s agriculture ministry will register five more fumigation warehouses for exports to China, including facilities in Hokkaido and Hyogo.
The new agreement will allow Shinmei to polish rice at its own mills and to fumigate it at a warehouse in Kobe for shipment to China from Kobe’s port.
China’s restrictions on food imports from Japan following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster are also a barrier to Japanese rice exports. China bans all food from 10 Japanese prefectures, including Fukushima, Miyagi and Niigata.
The import curbs, which cover rice snacks, sake and other rice products, hit the rice industry hard, said Kosuke Kuji, president of Nanbu Bijin, a sake brewer based in Ninohe, Iwate Prefecture.
While Japan and China have set up a task force to discuss steps to ease the restrictions, there is not much reason for optimism about the outcome of the talks, an agriculture ministry official said.
The chairman of the Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives, Toru Nakaya, is also cautious about the outlook for rice exports to China.
“We do not expect rapid progress, but we welcome the step forward,” Nakaya said of the recent agreement.

Intensive campaign from Japanese diplomats to push other countries to lift their ban on Japanese contaminated produce

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Japan requests Hong Kong to lift ban on food from Fukushima, vicinity
March 25, 2018
HONG KONG (Kyodo) — Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono met with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Sunday and requested the territory lift a ban on imports of agricultural products from Japanese prefectures near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
 
Hong Kong has banned imports of fruit and vegetables from Fukushima Prefecture and four surrounding prefectures, citing the nuclear disaster at the plant triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
 
The Japanese government hopes to enhance economic ties with the territory by paving the way for Hong Kong to lift the import ban. Tokyo also hopes Hong Kong’s action would lead China to relax similar restrictions, as Beijing has banned food imports from 10 Japanese prefectures.
 
Kono and Lam also affirmed cooperation in preventing North Korea from evading sanctions through ship-to-ship cargo transfers in international waters.
 
A Hong Kong-flagged vessel is believed to have secretly transferred oil to a North Korean vessel in October in a ship-to-ship transfer prohibited by the U.N. Security Council.
 
It is the first time in 21 years that a Japanese foreign minister has visited Hong Kong apart from international conferences. During their meeting, Kono and Lam also agreed to accelerate cooperation on tourism.
 

Amount of food with radioactive cesium exceeding gov’t standards ‘dropping’, so they claim

So they say…..But why should we believe such study coming from the Japanese Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry research team to be true? Especially when we know that their main policy has been a constant denial of the existing risks for the past 7 years…..
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March 22, 2018
The number of cases in which radioactive cesium exceeding Japanese government standards was found in food items dropped to less than 20 percent over a five-year period from fiscal 2012, a health ministry study has found.
 
The government standards for radioactive cesium came into effect in April 2012, which assumed that half of distributed food products contained the radioactive element generated by the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. It is set at 100 becquerels per kilogram for common food items, 50 becquerels per kilogram for baby food and cow milk and 10 becquerels for drinking water.
 
Based on central government guidelines, 17 prefectural governments, counting Tokyo, check food products in which radioactive cesium is likely to be detected, including items that have been distributed, for the radioactive element. Other local governments have also been independently inspecting such food products to confirm their safety. A Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry research team analyzed data compiled by local governments, excluding that of beef, which has an extremely low detection rate for cesium, as well as products that go through bag-by-bag inspections such as rice from Fukushima Prefecture.
 
As a result, the number of cases that exceeded the threshold set under the Food Sanitation Act totaled 2,359 of 91,547 food products inspected in fiscal 2012. In fiscal 2013, it was 1,025 out of 90,824 products, 565 out of 79,067 in fiscal 2014, 291 out of 66,663 in fiscal 2015 and 460 out of 63,121 in fiscal 2016.
 
Broken down by categories, 641 cases of food items among agricultural produce were found to have exceeded the government standards for radioactive cesium and 1,072 cases were detected among fishery products in fiscal 2012, but the figure had dropped to 71 and 11, respectively, in fiscal 2016. For fishery products, this is believed to be attributed to the reduction of cesium concentration in the seawater as the element had diffused in the ocean. It is also believed that the concentration in agricultural items had dropped as a result of decontamination work and other efforts.
 
At the same time, the number of cases exceeding national standards totaled 493 for game meat in fiscal 2012, and 378 in fiscal 2016. Researchers suspect that because wild animals continue to feed on wild mushrooms and plants with high concentrations of radioactive cesium growing in forests that have not been decontaminated, the figure does not drop among game meat products.
Almost all the foods that exceeded the government standards for radioactive cesium had not been available to consumers as the contamination was detected during inspections before being shipped to markets. However, Akiko Hachisuka of the National Institute of Health Sciences Biochemistry Division who headed the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry research team says game meat and wild mushrooms need to be prioritized in inspections for the time being and also in the future.
 
Among wild mushrooms and other products that had been distributed to markets, 19 cases exceeding government standards were reported in fiscal 2012, seven in fiscal 2013, 11 in fiscal 2014, 12 in fiscal 2015 and 10 in fiscal 2016.
 

Fukushima flounder exported for first time since nuclear disaster March 1, 2018

March 1, 2018
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A worker hefts a flounder into a box for export to Thailand in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Feb. 28, 2018.
 
SOMA, Fukushima — Known as the pride of the Joban region along the Pacific coast, flounder caught off Fukushima Prefecture were exported on Feb. 28 for the first time since the nuclear disaster seven years ago.
The shipment will make its way to Bangkok, where it will supply Japanese restaurants in the Thai capital with close to 1 ton of flounder by the end of March. On Feb. 28, the roughly 100 kilograms of ocean-caught fish were stacked into ice-filled cases at the market in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture. Each flounder weighed between 1.5 to 2 kilograms, and Soma Futaba fisheries cooperative head Kanji Tachiya, 66, said, “While the number of fish caught along the coast is still few, the fact that Fukushima fish will be tasted abroad motivates us.”
The flounder along Fukushima’s coastline have thick white flesh and excellent flavor, even fetching high prices at Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji wholesale market. Restrictions on their export were lifted in 2016, and while business will continue on a trial basis, the flounder still cost 10 to 20 percent less than those caught in other regions.
The Fukushima Prefectural Government negotiated with a trading company in Thailand that did not impose import restrictions on marine products from the region following the nuclear disaster. Levels of radioactive cesium in all of the roughly 25,000 types of marine products caught off the Fukushima coast surveyed by the prefecture have fallen below the domestic standard of 100 becquerels per kilogram since April 2015, and the aim is to increase the amount, type and destinations for exported fish in the future.