Thursday, June 9, 2011

One Shizuoka Tea Tested 679 Becquerels/Kg Cesium in the Final Product

In the morning of June 9 (JST) a local newspaper in Shizuoka Prefecture (Shizuoka Shinbun) vocally questioned the national government policy on the allowed radiation level for teas in various stages of tea processing. By the nightfall the paper had to report that radioactive cesium exceeding that level was detected in the final tea ("seicha") in one of the 11 tea-growing regions whose test results were announced on June 9.

The results for the other 8 tea-growing regions had been announced on June 8, and the growers and tea merchants in Shizuoka were much relieved to see that the numbers for radioactive cesium were below the provisional limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram and declared the Shizuoka tea to be "safe". (They were actually surprisingly high numbers; they were all in 3 digits, the highest being 385 becquerels/kg.)

(When they declare "safe", flee.)

When the paper questioned the validity of the 500 becquerels/kg standard, it cited, of all things, the minutes of the Nuclear Safety Commission's meeting, in which several commissioners expressed their opinion that the standard should be "flexible" (as I posted on June 2). Shizuoka Shinbun took it to mean that the opinion of the nuclear experts at the Nuclear Safety Commission was not reflected in the policy, which is too severe to the tea-growers and tea-merchants in the prefecture.

The Nuclear Safety Commission, as quoted by Shizuoka Shinbun, is of the opinion that the provisional safety limit should not be used as the guideline to restrict sales of the tea.

Vocal questioning of the national standard for teas (Shizuoka Shinbun 8:08AM JST 6/9/2011):

茶の放射性物質検査を検討した原子力安全委員会の議事録によれば、政府が専門家の意見を十分に踏まえた政策判断をしたとは言い難い。背景に「災害対応に追 われる政府が地方の声を吸い上げることができず、放射性物質と食品の安全をめぐる議論が曖昧になっている」(県幹部)実態がある。

In light of the minutes of the Nuclear Safety Commission's meeting in which the testing of radioactive materials in teas was discussed, the policy decision by the national government was hardly based on the expert opinion. The reality is that "the national government is unable to listen to the local people as it is busy dealing with the crisis, and the discussion about radioactive materials and food safety is not conclusive," according to the Shizuoka prefectrual government sources.


The research on radioactivity in teas is lacking in the national government, unlike the regulations on agricultural chemicals and additives. The testing [of teas] this time was done at the express request from the Ministry of Health and Labor who is in charge of testing food items, against the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries who insists the testing of raw tea leaves is enough to ensure safety as "aracha" (bulk tea before the blend) is normally not eaten.


Occasionally, people eat raw tea leaves of "shincha" (new tea) in tempura. However, the government's assessment that "the possibility is not zero that "aracha" will be eaten by the consumers" doesn't specifically say how much ingestion will cause a health hazard.

  福島第1原発事故は想定外の事態であり、国民の健康維持のため食の安全に関する政策が規制強化に傾くのはやむを得ない。ただ、科学的根拠を欠いた政策判断 がまかり通れば社会不安をあおり、仮に製茶が1キロ当たり500ベクレルを上回る結果となれば、県や市町、茶業界はそのダメージ回復の手だてを講ずること すら難しくなる。

The Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident was "beyond assumption", and it can't be helped if the the food safety policies lean toward greater regulation to ensure the health of the citizens. However, if a policy decision without any scientific basis is pushed through, it will only increase the social anxiety and fear. If "seicha" (final product) is tested for more than 500 becquerels/kilogram [cesium], it will be very difficult for the prefecture, local municipalities and the tea industry in Shizuoka to recover from the damage. (By Tadao Nakajima, Political Desk)

Then the tea that exceeded the 500 becquerels/kg was found.

About the tea that exceeded the national standard (Shizuoka Shinbun 8:09PM JST 6/9/2011):

県は9日、県内の11産地13カ所で生産された一番茶のうち販売前の「製茶」について、放射性セシウムの検査を実施した結果、静岡市藁科地区で「本山茶」 を製造した工場から、国の暫定基準値(1キログラム当たり500ベクレル)を上回る679ベクレルを検出したと発表した。

The Shizuoka prefectural government announced on June 9 that it had conducted the test for radioactive cesium in "seicha" (final product) of "ichiban-cha" (first-pick new tea) produced in 13 locations in 11 tea growing regions in Shizuoka, and found 679 becquerels/kg of cesium in "Hon-yama cha" in the Warashina district of Shizuoka City. The national provisional limit is 500 becquerels/kg.


It was the first time that radioactive materials were detected in the tea leaves in Shizuoka in the amount exceeding the provisional limit. At the remaining 12 locations, the numbers did not exceed the limit.


The Shizuoka government says "It is not the level that will affect health." The government will request 100 tea processing plants in the district not to ship the tea on a voluntary basis, and also request the wholesalers not to distribute.

As Nikkei Shinbun reports, this "Hon-yama cha" exceeding the provisional limit was only discovered because a food grocer located outside Shizuoka Prefecture tested the tea on its own and alerted the Shizuoka government.

I am really losing faith in the Japanese growers.


Anonymous said...

For perspective, the human body contains about about 4000 becquerels of a naturally occurring radioisotope of potassium (K-40). Its decay products (beta, gamma) and their energies are (very roughly) comparable to those of Cs-137.

I just looked this up, trying to interpret the meaning of the numbers you quoted based on physics, rather than government.

By the way, I've become a regular reader of your blog. It's valuable!

netudiant said...

This is a story that has legs, if only because it will be played out again and again as the various foods grown in Japan come under individual scrutiny.
Unfortunately, cesium is very water soluble, so it will be in the tea, not remaining in the leaves. It may be a different situation for vegetables such as cabbage, where the water is left behind.
In any case, the Japanese people are being very gradually introduced to the reality that their homeland has been contaminated. Does anyone care or is everyone resigned to this new reality?

Alex75 said...

I used to trust Japan. Now I must reconsider.
Where's money there are liars.

xanteacher said...

I live in Osaka and the issue of food safety is of great concern to us. From the outset of the nuclear disaster we have adopted strict habits about food.

1) Eat only what you cook. You don't know what standard restaurants are using to source their ingredients. When we've asked, they either don't know or are offended that we should ask.

2) Buy products only south of the Nagano mountain range, which seems to be the cut off for contamination. Preferably buy products through cooperative (COOP) supermarkets which do independent testing of their produce for radiation (with facilities that were set up for testing EU products in the aftermath of Chernobyl).

3) When in doubt, wash vegetables with zeolite, the same mineral they are using to absorb the radiation on a wider scale at Fukushima.

Clearly this has destroyed much of our joy in the culinary culture here as well as in social dining at other's homes: to demand a host holds to the same standard of safety is culturally difficult to do here; embarrassing a host is taboo anywhere, and especially here.

I shiver at the thought of the school lunches that children have no choice but to eat, especially when ingredients fall under the provisional 500 Bq/kg limit. And now that they want to raise that. . . It's unconscionable and more likely criminal. What a thing to do in a country with a birthrate of 1.27!

Clearly what needs to happen is enough public outcry to more stringently test all food and demand that restaurants and food producers state the sources of ingredients -- allow the public to make an informed decision, especially when the safety of children is at stake. Instead, you see the agricultural and business community circling wagons and allowing the consumer to suffer in their push to ensure fiscal survival.

There is an element here, as the creator of this blog knows, of "we're all in this together", which in different times and circumstances is admirable, but not when the genetic integrity of the young is at risk. Shame on those who would allow the youth to suffer the consequences of not making the tough call to necessarily be more dependent on imported food (and thus undermine the primacy of Japan Agriculture [JA]).

Great work with this blog -- I have recommended it to dozens of friends and hundreds of university students.

Anonymous said...

@netetudiant: I think people do care but -strangely- it will take time for it to sink in that the Jgov and related are not telling the truth and then a joint voice will need to be established.

I see that there are efforts underway in some cities affected by the Chiba hotspot to gather signatures for the cities not to just accept the "new reality" and do something about it. Of course this is as usual a very patient and civil affair and since the mass media aren't exactly interested, a lot relies on the web. But there is certainly momentum. Every mother I talk to on the playground knows what's going on and they're not happy about it. They are all on Twitter, Mixi etc. so now there needs to be some articulation of this discontent.

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