August 10, 2011, 9:00 PM EDT
By Kanoko Matsuyama
Aug. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Japan’s rice harvest is a time of festivities celebrated even by the emperor as farmers reap the rewards of four months of labor in a 2,000-year-old tradition. Not this year, with radiation seeping into the soil.
Farmers growing half of Japan’s rice crop are awaiting the results of tests to see if their produce has been contaminated by radiation from Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s wrecked Fukushima atomic plant. Rice, used in almost all Japanese meals and the key ingredient in sake, is being tested before the harvest starts this month. Radiation exceeding safety levels was found in produce including spinach, tea and beef.
Shigehide Ohki, a 61-year-old farmer near Tokyo, this week passed the first hurdle after a preliminary round of tests showed no trace elements of radioactive cesium, the main source of concern. Losing his crop of about 80 tons of rice would “destroy” him, he said.
“I’m very relieved and I’m telling customers that I can be 90 percent certain my rice is safe,” said Ohki, who’s been farming rice for 40 years in Katori about 190 kilometers (118 miles) south of the nuclear station. “But I’m also saying it’s not the end yet because we still have to pass the main part of the survey after the harvest.”
The government is asking 17 prefectures in eastern Japan to test farmland for radiation, an area accounting for 54 percent of domestic rice production. If initial surveys show a certain level of radiation, wider tests will be carried out, the government said.