Farming slowly recovers in Japan’s disaster-hit Fukushima region

UNTV News   •   January 23, 2020   •   308

Strawberries at a cooperative in the town of Ono, where farmers are struggling to convince the public that their products are no longer contaminated from the nuclear disaster in 2011, in Fukushima, Japan, Jan. 21, 2020 (issued Jan. 23, 2020). EFE/AGUSTIN DE GRACIA

By Agustín de Gracia

Fukushima, Japan
– The farmers and fishermen of Japan’s Fukushima region are slowly regaining their production rate nine years after the deadly nuclear accident in 2011, and believe that things could return to normal with time and patience.

“It will happen gradually. We have to be patient,” said Koichi Aoki, director of the Hydroponic Producers’ Association in Ono, around 50 kilometers (31 miles) southwest of the Daiichi nuclear reactor, the site of the 2011 nuclear disaster.

Aoki was at a greenhouse full of strawberries ready to be picked. The facility also produces tomatoes and asparagus, mainly selling to large supermarkets.

On Mar. 11, 2011, a magnitude-9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami destroyed four of the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which led to the worst nuclear tragedy since Chernobyl in 1986 and forced the evacuation of around 164,000 people.

The region’s farms were affected due to the soil, water and tree bark getting contaminated by radioactive matter.

This destroyed the local economy in a prefecture which has the third-highest agricultural production in the country.

However, farmers’ prospects are improving with time, as official data showed that in 2018 agricultural exports reached 218 tons, a 42 percent rise from the year after the disaster.

Even the schools in Fukushima now use around 40 percent local produce as ingredients — a similar level to before the 2011 disaster.

“People have begun to understand that what we produce here is safe,” said Aoki, who heads a cooperative formed by 21 farmers.

Fukushima farmers attribute “rumors” to bad press surrounding their products after the disaster, as the produce is monitored for radioactivity in regular inspections.

A center for agricultural technology situated near Fukushima continuously tests samples of farm and marine products in order to check their radiation levels.

In 2019, none of the samples of the agricultural and aquaculture products showed radioactivity levels above acceptable standards.

In Japan, the food radiation limit is 100 becquerels per kilogram, much lower than the 1,250 becquerel limit established by the European Union and 1,200 in the United States.

However, despite the inspections and growing exports, countries such as China have maintained a ban on a wide range of farm products from Fukushima, while the US has imposed restrictions on some goods.

Authorities have also established facilities to test marine samples, including a center near the city of Iwaki which analyzes 150 samples every week and where 99.8 percent of the samples analyzed since 2018 have tested negative for concentration of hazardous levels of radioactive cesium.

However, Fukushima’s fishing industry is yet to recover from the disaster, with the catch in 2018 barely reaching 15.5 percent of the levels before the nuclear accident.

Despite favorable test results, Fukushima fishermen have faced many hurdles in finding markets for their products, which continue to hold a bad reputation, with buyers opting to purchase from other regions.

Hishashi Maeda, manager of a trawlers’ cooperative in Onahama, 66 km south of Daiichi, expressed hope that the sector will return to normalcy with time.

“We are determined to be patient and keep working hard… otherwise the distribution of fish will drop,” said Maeda, holding the limited catch of the day on his back, ready to be sold. EFE-EPA

ag/ia/tw

Japan’s Hokkaido prefecture to close all public elementary, junior high schools

UNTV News   •   February 26, 2020

The board of education in Japan’s northern Hokkaido prefecture will close all public elementary and junior high schools for a few days starting from Thursday (February 27).

Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island, has confirmed a total of 35 coronavirus cases — the highest number outside Tokyo.

A number of them have been discovered in people who have strong links to schools, including students, teachers, school bus drivers, and cafeteria workers. For some mothers whose children will now not be attending school on Thursday it was too little, too late.

Others thought that the decision wouldn’t necessarily make the children safer as it might expose them to other sources of the virus outside the school.

Hokkaido’s decision comes as pressure mounts on the Japanese government, as well as other governments around the world, to quell the rising number of those infected by the virus.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called for sports and cultural events to be scrapped or curtailed for two weeks as the country battles to stem coronavirus contagion amid mounting concerns the 2020 Tokyo Olympics could be canceled. As of mid-afternoon on Wednesday, Japan had close to 170 cases of infections from the flu-like coronavirus, separate from 691 reported from a cruise ship that was quarantined of Tokyo earlier this month. (Reuters Connect)

(Production: Jack Tarrant, Hideto Sakai, Akiko Okamoto)

DOH: Repatriated Filipinos from Japan cruise ship can still test positive for COVID-19

Aileen Cerrudo   •   February 26, 2020

The Department of Health (DOH) is still not dismissing the possibility that the repatriated Filipinos aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship might still test positive for COVID-19.

The Health department said the 445 Filipino repatriates will undergo the 14-day quarantine period.

Health experts are still studying why some individuals tested positive for COVID-19 despite not showing any symptoms.

The DOH said the repatriating Filipinos underwent five screening assessments in Japan before they were taken to the quarantine facility in Capas, Tarlac.

Meanwhile, the DOH also clarified that the 10 Filipino crew members who recovered from COVID-19 are not among the repatriated Filipinos. However, when they return to the Philippines they will still undergo the quarantine process.

There are currently 101 patients under investigation for COVID-19 in the country.—AAC (with reports from Aiko Miguel)

850 people infected with coronavirus in Japan

UNTV News   •   February 25, 2020

Japan confirmed ten new cases of novel coronavirus infection on Monday, driving the number of infected patients up to 850.

Of the ten infected, four were in Hokkaido and one of them a teacher. Thus the local authorities decided to suspend classes of the school where the teacher works from Tuesday to March 6.

The total confirmed cases in Tokyo Prefecture reached 32, including three new confirmed cases on Monday.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare confirmed on Monday that a staff member of the Ministry and a quarantine officer who worked at the cruise ship got infected.

So far, six civil servants, two quarantine officers, three staff members of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and a staffer of the Cabinet Secretariat, who worked on Diamond Princess cruise ship have been infected with the disease.

Japanese experts on Monday issued a statement saying the coming one to two weeks will be a critical time for the disease to spread rapidly or subside.

The statement also says confirmed cases without identified infection sources have emerged in several places, implying that the epidemic may speed up spreading and asks the people to avoid gathering. (CCTV via Reuters Connect)

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