Hanawa farmers face uncertainty of low-level contamination


[This is a guest written article, views expressed are the authors alone and may not be endorsed by Safecast]

Our documentary Uncanny Terrain, about organic farmers facing the nuclear crisis, begins in Hanawa, Fukushima, a mountain farming town 45 miles from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.  Hanawa was spared the worst of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear fallout, and the farmers we’ve met mostly see the stigma of being from Fukushima as their biggest obstacle.  Soil samples here registered 250 becquerels of cesium 137 and 137, far below the legal limit for cultivation of 5,000 becquerels.  The air outside mostly reads about .15 microsieverts per hour, 50% above natural background levels but a fraction of the levels seen closer to the power plant.  But there are hotspots here that are much higher.  We found levels of nearly 1,000 counts per minute on stones in front of a house where a one-year-old baby lives.

We’re staying with the Yoshida family, who’ve farmed this land for nine generations, over 200 years.  They grow premium quality rice free of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, that they supply to international consumers and macrobiotic restaurants.  Their soil showed low levels of contamination, but it will not be certain whether the rice is contaminated until it’s been grown, harvested and analyzed.  So they planted their five rice fields, though orders are down to nearly zero.  The Yoshidas are not sure they can stay here, but they’re not sure they can leave either.  The family patriarch, Hiroaki Yoshida, talks about trying to make the farm completely self-sufficient, so they can survive on what they grow even if they can’t sell their crops.

Farmers across the region face similar dilemmas.  Those outside the evacuation zone are told to go about their business as normal, so long as their crops stay below the high maximum levels set by the government.  But what health risks do they face by staying here, and what risks are posed by foods with legal levels of contamination?