Monday 4 July 2011

Sato-san's blueberries

For the past couple of years I've joined a wonderful group of people helping plant and harvest rice in Hirata-mura, about 20 miles south-east of Koriyama. Sadly, Sato-san died last summer.  The rice growing has been contracted out to an organic farmer but a core of friends continue to look after the old farmhouse and a field of blueberries. I was invited to go this weekend but dithered on two counts. First, not being  shacho (CEO) of the company anymore I've lost use of the company car, and secondly, being exposed to all this radiation here in Koriyama I wasn't sure if I wanted to be outside all day working in the fields.

The first problem was solved by me getting a train on the Banetsu Tosen, a dinky little single track line that took me to Ono-machi (near the Abukuma Caves) where I met up with the rest for unagi (grilled eel) at a wonderful old restaurant. Delicious.  

It turns out that someone had been that very day to measure radiation levels in the blueberry field and levels were a mere 0.2 microsieverts/hr. That is remarkable. Hirata-mura is nearer the nuclear plant than we are but levels are so much lower. (Koriyama 1.2 today.) We now know that on 15 March when there was an explosion in Reactor 4 and a suspected explosion in Reactor 2 a plume was carried north over Iitate-mura (which has lately been evacuated), hit the mountains and veered west, over Date-city (where evacuations are now taking place) on to Fukushima city, then headed south towards Nihonmatsu and Koriyama. Where rain fell that day, the radioactive materials fell into the soil. More 'hotspots' as they are called are being identified every day and seem to coincide with areas of heavy rain.

But back to blueberries. Discussion as to what to do with the crop this year. Everyday the local paper prints the results of the prefecture's tests (and they're on the website). Currently fruit and vegetables (outside the 20 km restricted area and Iitate-mura) are in the clear although there is a ban on ume, sour plums, from Fukushima city and Date. All the people in the group were happy about eating the blueberries but some were uneasy about giving them away to their friends in Tokyo. People might be offended. I thought we should get them tested but that's easier said than done. The prefecture and JA do random tests but samples have to be sent to special laboratories and the testing takes time and there's a long waiting list. It's not as if you can turn up at the local JA agricultural coop and have your produce tested.

But having ascertained that radiation levels in the soil at least were low I spent a happy few hours this morning weeding and cultivating the blueberry patch.

Fukushima's had some high profile visitors this weekend. Hosono, the new Nuclear Accident Minister, did the rounds and has promised better monitoring and measures to deal with soil and sludge contamination. And Matsumoto, the new Minister for the Recovery met the governor and other local officials. So it looks like central government is at last listening to what we have to say.

Hosono said he's hoping that Step One of Tokyo Electric's schedule, stable cooling of the nuclear plant, will be reached by 17 July. But reactor 3 is not stable yet. A robot went in today with a hoover to clean up the dust but radiation levels are still far too high for people to go in.

Here are a few photos taken today.
Good night

The old farmhouse (minka 民家)

There were a lot of weeds

This is a mino-mushi. Mino is the word for those straw raincoats people wear in Hokusai prints. So this insect has made a little coat for camouflage. Pity it's a pest.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Anne
    Fascinating as always, keep them coming - am really enjoying reading them!
    Enjoyed a handful of blueberries on the top of Sutton Bank at the weekend, there were loads - perhaps people have forgotten they grow in anything other than a plastic tub!
    lots of love Jxxx