SHIROISHI, Miyagi — Radiation fears stemming from the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant and radiation monitoring activities are raising concern among people handling trees to grow mushrooms and make charcoal.
Forest workers are very concerned about any potential fallout from the nuclear crisis because they have to independently monitor radiation before applying to the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), for compensation, unlike farmers and fishermen who have standing in law.
Decontamination work in the mountains is said to be much more difficult than on flat land and some forest workers are considering switching jobs.
The Forestry Agency in October set a ceiling of 150 becquerels per kilogram for raw wood for mushroom cultivation and in November set limits on radioactive cesium found in firewood and charcoal for cooking at 40 becquerels and 280 becquerels, respectively.
The governmental agency advised Tokyo and other prefectures concerned not to market forestry products that exceed those ceilings. While local governments conduct radiation checks on farm and marine products under the Food Sanitation Law, there is no law for contaminated raw wood or charcoal. The agency says it is simply requesting members of the forest products industry to unilaterally check radiation and make redress requests.
“Even if I prepare expensive testing equipment, I can’t do business because of a dwindling number of clients,” Tomio Takahashi, a 58-year-old forestry operator in Shiroishi, Miyagi Prefecture, near the border with Fukushima Prefecture, said with a sigh.
He started his forest business 35 years ago using wood from southern Miyagi and Fukushima Prefecture to produce and sell raw wood for mushrooms, charcoal and firewood. The nuclear crisis triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami occurred as his firm’s annual turnover reached 90 million yen.
His firm is located 70 kilometers away from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. His business partners asked him about radiation contamination and subsequent examinations by an inspection entity of raw wood for shiitake mushrooms found a cesium level of 333 becquerels per kilogram.
Massive cancellations ensued, and one firm said it cannot accept his forest products for the next two years.
Cesium levels of about 1,800 becquerels per kilogram were also found in ash in the firm’s charcoal kilns. Takahashi wonders if the firm’s six kilns have been contaminated due to the burning of timber. Tearing down the kilns would cost about 30 million yen and disposing of them afterward poses a challenge as well.
“I don’t know how long radiation will remain in the mountains,” he says, adding he is considering quitting charcoal production because “there is no guarantee when his customers will come back.”
The Miyagi Prefectural Government has launched a search for forests with low levels of cesium to pass on information to forest workers and owners.
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(Mainichi Japan) December 26, 2011