COMMENTARY | Radiation is an ongoing problem for Japan with recent reports focusing on contaminated rice. The lasting impact of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami continues to affect the country. However, I am forced to question why the rice was being grown in areas contaminated by the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. Officials were aware of the nuclear plants releasing iodine 131 and cesium 137 into the air in March, yet they seem to have allowed food production to continue.
The March 11 earthquake and tsunami led to the damage of several Japanese nuclear power plants. The release of radioactive materials including iodine 131 and cesium 137 forced officials to caution residents about drinking milk and eating contaminated food. However, they also assured residents that the land surrounding the nuclear plants would be free from the effects of radiation within a few weeks. This was misleading information because cesium 137's half-life, the time necessary for half of it to decay, is 30 years.
Scientists warned Japan that the effects of radiation would not disappear quickly. Soil and water contamination would continue to be hurdles for many years. Although Japan made a commitment to continue testing food for radiation levels, it has allowed crops to grow in contaminated areas. The impact of eating food contaminated with radioactive particles may be difficult to measure initially. However, there is a strong link to cancer.
Rice and Tea
Japan's contaminated rice may have grabbed more headlines, but it is not the first time that the issue of radiation and food has come to the surface. In June, the Japanese government attempted to stop tea shipments because high levels of cesium 137 were found. The tea contained 3,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium. Compared to Japan's regulations of not exceeding 500 becquerels of cesium per kilogram, this was an extremely high amount.
The most disturbing aspect of the tea story is that it questions the officials' ability to stop shipments. The governor of the area with the contaminated product was defiant and blatantly announced his refusal to follow the government's instructions. How safe is Japan's food supply and how is this affecting other nations who receive the imports? Although it is obvious the country is making a strong effort to test food and shipments, are they able to control all of the situations and how many products go untested? Japan must face these uncomfortable questions as the country continues to deal with the aftermath of March 11.