Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Cleaning up with rice, in Fukushima

  • Print

TOMIOKA, Japan — On a sunny day last month, farmers emptied 30-kilogram rice bags one after another. They had harvested the rice a few days earlier, but all the grains were scheduled to be thrown out. As the pile of brownish unpolished rice - 1.5 tons in total — grew, one farmer gritted his teeth.

"One day, I will grow rice that people will enjoy eating," said Yasuo Watanabe, 63, chief of Furusato Seisan Kumiai, a rice growers association formed by 14 farmers in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture. The association was launched five years ago.

On Oct. 9, the association members harvested Hitomebore brand rice as well as rice for animal consumption at a 3,000-square-meter rice paddy in a former no-entry zone from the nuclear accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Now the area is part of zones being prepared for residents’ return.

It was their first harvest in three years, but the members could not enjoy the harvest fully — the purpose of growing the rice there was only to collect radiation data and to preserve the farmland.

In May, the Fukushima prefectural government and the Tomioka municipal government sprayed zeolite and potassium chloride on the fields to absorb radioactive cesium emitted during the nuclear crisis.

Before the rice was planted, it was decided that all harvested rice, except for that used for checking radioactive substances, would be thrown away.

When the farmers began growing the rice, weeds grew wildly in the paddy because no one had tended to the land for more than two years. Pig-boar hybrids, known as inobuta, were ruining seedlings.

Association members drove frequently to the paddy from their evacuation sites to plant rice and cut grass. The farmers believe they grew rice as good as that grown before the 2011 disaster.

Just as the rice growers association’s market began to spread to Tokyo, the nuclear disaster struck Tomioka.

The Tomioka town government plans to return residents to the area around the spring of 2017, but the date may be pushed back because it is taking longer to decontaminate the town than the local government had anticipated.

Fewer residents want to return to Tomioka as time goes by, according to the town government.

Although the test results for radioactive substances in the harvested rice were lower than the standard set by the government, Watanabe and the association members do not think producing rice there for human consumption is feasible for the time being. First, they plan to grow rice for biofuel. With the cooperation of Kyushu University and other institutions, the association started experiments for the project last year.

"Look at our rice. It looks so good. What is the meaning of a rice farmer if we cannot grow rice?" Watanabe said with great sorrow as he harvested the rice. As Watanabe tightly gripped the rice, many of the grains stuck to his hand with their remaining moisture.


— The Yomiuri Shimbun

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Trucks power through flooded underpass at Main St and Higgins

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local-(Standup photo)- Humming Around- A female ruby -throated hummingbird fly's through the bee bomb  flowers Friday at the Assiniboine Park English Garden- Nectar from flowers are their main source of food. Hummingbirds wings can beat as fast as 75x times second. Better get a glimpse of them soon the birds fly far south for the winter - from Mexico to South America- JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS- Sept 10, 2009
  • Young goslings are growing up quickly near Cresent Lake in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba- See Bryksa 30 Day goose project- Day 11- May 15, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Do high-profile endorsements for political candidates influence your voting decisions?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google