Radioactive Cesium Found in Newly Harvested Japanese Tea

TOKYO, Japan

Radioactive cesium was discovered this week in newly harvested Ashigara tea in Kanagawa Prefecture 280 km southwest of the badly damaged Fukushima nuclear reactor.

The newspaper Sankei Shimbun reports “the city and county of Minamiashigara called for a voluntary recall of tea” just six days prior to shipment.

Inspectors reported readings of 550 Bq/kg (becquerels per kilogram) in one sample. A second test to confirm the initial reading showed 570 Bq/kg. Readings greater than 500 exceed the provisional limit established shortly after the reactor began leaking dangerous amounts of radiation into the air, sea and ground water. No radioactive iodine was discovered. Iodine isotopes break down in a few days, cesium isotopes take up to 30 years.

Officials reported that most of this tea is consumed within the prefecture. Shipments of all tea were suspended pending additional tests.

“It was the first detection of radiation above the legal limit in farm products grown in our prefecture,” Hideto Funahashi told the newspaper. Funahashi, who works for the Kanagawa agricultural bureau, said the levels are “unlikely to affect human health.”

The Wall Street Journal reported “Japan is still struggling to cope with its worst-ever nuclear disaster at the stricken power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, but concerns over radioactivity in food and drinking water had been easing over the past few weeks, at least outside the most-contaminated areas near the plant. In some prefectures, previously banned shipments of certain vegetables have since resumed, as repeated tests showed declines in contamination levels."

The last time any prefecture outside Fukushima reported higher-than-permissible contamination in any agricultural product was spinach from Ibaraki Prefecture on April 12, according to Japan's health ministry.

The largest portion of Japan’s tea is shipped through the Port of Yokohama which is in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Sources: Sankei Shimbun, Wall Street Journal