May 17, 2011
The mountain mists that roll through the valley are near unbearably melancholic today. The fine drizzle falling after a day of sowing that should bring such joy to the heart of a farmer instead gives rise to a sick feeling in the pit of the stomach.
Three days into our first tea harvest we made the very difficult decision to abandon it. Not only are we great lovers of green tea but we had been aiming to make tea production one of the ways we generate the modest income that we require. The prefecture where we live is well known as a tea growing region and the forests surrounding us are full of wild tea plants (Camellia sinensis). It is a tea lovers paradise, or was, until cesium began showing up in samples of tea grown in our prefecture. At first it was in tea grown in Kanagawa prefecture (southwest of Tokyo) that high levels of cesium were discovered then later lower but significant levels were found in tea from Shizuoka prefecture where we are based.
In the soil cesium acts like potassium so plants, like Camellias, that are heavy users of potassium will tend to take up more cesium. The cesium moves through the plant and is concentrated in the young shoots and new leaves – precisely the parts of the plant that are utilised in the production of tea.
So, the list of highly suspect foods in Japan (outside of Fukushima prefecture that is) now includes fish, seaweed, shiitake mushrooms (and other fungi grown outdoors) and tea. Add rice and soy to that list and you’d have covered all of the most consumed foods in Japan.
It should be noted that both Kanagawa and Shizuoka prefectures are south of Tokyo while the Fukushima Daiichi disaster site is north of Tokyo. While there is still only a 30km evacuation zone around the stricken power plant highly radioactive isotopes from the plant are showing up in vegetation hundreds of kilometres to the south. And in between is one of the worlds most populated cities.
Japan’s nightmare continues to unfold and all indications are that it may continue to get much worse yet. The situation at Fukushima Daiichi is very unstable. The video Fukushima – One Step Forward and Four Steps Back as Each Unit Challenged by New Problems outlines just how bad it is.