News

    For Japanese Farmers, Lessons From Chernobyl

    Local spinach on sale at a farmers cooperative in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima prefecture, where many still shun regional produce, March 7, 2012.
    Local spinach on sale at a farmers cooperative in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima prefecture, where many still shun regional produce, March 7, 2012.

    Scientists from the former Soviet Union have arrived in Japan's Fukushima prefecture to advise locals on farmland decontamination.

    One of Japan's most valued agricultural regions, the area was irradiated when three nuclear power plant reactors melted down in the wake of last year's earthquake and tsunami on the country's northeastern coast.

    According to Japanese officials, 81,000 hectares of farmland are contaminated at a level above 5,000 becquerels per kilogram, the limit at which rice, by government decrees, cannot be planted.

    Yoshi-ichi Takeda, a Fukushima dairy farmer, says the fallout has destroyed his livelihood along with that of nearby fruit and vegetable farmers.

    "Emergency relief funds are barely enough to subsist," he says, explaining that the government won't allow his ten cows to graze and that officials have yet to indicate when his land will be decontaminated.

    Just down the road in Nihonmatsu, Aiko Saito is trying to cultivate rice, peas, potatoes and radishes, but what she cannot find any buyers for her rice and vegetables. What Saito and neighboring farmers get for their crops has plummeted drastically. Her peas sold last year for half the usual price, and now even her own children refuse to eat what she grows.

    Guidance From Abroad

    At an unprecedented symposium on the outskirts of Koriyama, scientists from overseas meet with their Japanese counterparts and local officials. Invited by the government, they've come to share their experience with farmland decontamination.

    Victor Averin, director of the Research Institute of Radiology in Belarus, says he wants to share knowledge acquired after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident in Soviet-era Ukraine.

    Telling the Japanese they must utilize experiences from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus to reclaim contaminated farms of Fukushima, he offers a practical tip: ferrocene, an organo-metallic compound effective in reducing radiation contamination in milk and poultry.

    According to Rudolf Alexakhin, an expert with the Russian Academy of Sciences, it took nearly 20 years to reduce land contamination to safer levels after Chernobyl.

    Given the large size of the contaminated land in eastern Europe, he says, it was impossible to effectively use absorbents or remove topsoil. But for Fukushima, which has a smaller area vital to Japanese agriculture, he says such methods will be effective.

    One sobering science lesson for Japanese farmers: the soil. While European peat absorbed Chernobyl radiation, limiting transmission to crops, Japan's soil is sandy, which means a reduced absorption rate.

    Victor Korsun, a top official at the Science and Technology Center of Ukraine, says the Japanese accident demonstrates that lessons of Chernobyl were insufficient. Aging nuclear plants, he says, need stricter scrutiny and better safeguards.

    "Human beings the world over continued and continue to be at great risk," says Korsun. "We must recognize that the work of this conference is vital for the future of mankind."

    A National Campaign

    Japan's environment ministry is to begin a full-scale decontamination program next month. But the initiative generates a new dilemma: Where to place the removed radioactive soil?

    Along with an accumulation of radioactive ash from incinerators and a huge amount of debris from the magnitude-nine quake and tsunami, residents in other regions are fighting efforts to have it relocated to their communities.

    The situation has prompted the environmental ministry to launch a national campaign slogan, "Everyone's effort is needed for debris disposal."

    So far, there is little evidence the message is finding a sympathetic audience.

    - Jiyoon Won and Maho Misawa contributed to this report.


    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: TweetyPie
    March 10, 2012 4:24 AM
    Japan was well prepared for earthquakes and tsunamis, only not for one this big (9 on the scale). The fact that almost all of the 20,000 people who died in the disaster drowned, shows that the buildings were successfully prepared for the earth quake, and it was the tsunami that did the most damage. The early reports of the size of the quake underestimated it, so that some people did not evacuate to the tsunami shelters or high ground.

    by: Kevin
    March 09, 2012 9:35 AM
    Right you are, Matt. Hemp has proven to be an effective crop for removing toxins from the soil. Hemp was used in Chernobyl to remove Cs-137. Phytoremediation costs only 10% compared to conventional strategies of removing contaminated soil and landfilling it in a radioactive waste dump. Hemp is legal to grow in Japan and 30 other countries, but not in the U.S. due to stupid drug policies.

    by: Piotr
    March 09, 2012 9:27 AM
    Super powers built nuclear plants and when things go wrong The Republic of Belarus is needed to help with the cleanup. That speaks volumes.

    by: Piotr
    March 09, 2012 8:58 AM
    I am sure that each person connected to the pro nuclear lobby is willing to accept a ton of this soil in their back yard. Right boys? Prove that the danger is nonexistent.

    by: Rick
    March 09, 2012 8:44 AM
    To decontaminate one of the irradiated marshall islands after a nuclear test the USA had to use bulldozers and scrape off the entire top layer of the soil and dump it into a pit, then put a concrete dome over it. The problem with nuclear power is it isn't very tolerant of accidents, you either sqeak by and nobody gets hurt or you end up with a massive disaster. Chernobyl will never get cleaned up, ever.

    by: Mike
    March 09, 2012 8:40 AM
    Could the land be used for bio-fuels for a period of time until the radiation has dropped to acceptable levels? This would keep the farmers in gainful employment which could be subsidised for the duration of the alternative crop.
    This would also enable the radioactivity in the crop to be diluted to a safe level by mixing the fuel with other bio-fuel or conventional.
    Seems a logical solution. Can anyone offer reasons why iy would not?

    by: Matt
    March 09, 2012 8:11 AM
    Time for Hemp and/or sunflower fields Japan and rest of the world! I believe those are the best two potentials to suck up excess radiation... Naturally w/ the least amount of side effects. Please rise above the small things people.. Grow hemp, save forests. That fact should have had us all growing hemp.

    by: Cả Thộn
    March 09, 2012 7:48 AM
    I wish these experts came to Hanoi, Vietnam to teach government officals how to decontaminate Communism and corruption.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.