Farmers in eight prefectures are stuck with about 7,200 tons of rice straw contaminated with radioactive cesium, the farm ministry said Oct. 17, as local governments struggle to find storage areas.
Although the farm ministry’s guideline allowed farmers to bury straw with cesium levels of 8,000 becquerels or less per kilogram, that work never got under way because Environment Ministry officials said a managed processing facility was a more desirable way of dealing with the contaminated straw. Many farmers thus have no choice but to keep the contaminated straw in their storage facilities or other sites because local opposition is preventing them from incinerating the straw, ministry official Masahiro Seki said.
Farm ministry officials had sent out notices to cattle ranchers asking that contaminated straw be kept separate and colored to differentiate it from other straw.
In a separate phone interview, another official, Hiroaki Ogura, refused to identify the eight prefectures or give a breakdown of the contaminated straw they’re stuck with, but a media report said the straw, as of Oct. 7, was being kept by 1,018 farms in Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate, Tochigi, Hokkaido, Akita, Yamagata and Ibaraki prefectures.
For straw with cesium levels above 8,000 becquerels, government officials asked that the straw be temporarily stored in isolated areas and kept off-limits. Now, 1,018 farmers are stuck with 7,200 tons of contaminated straw in storage awaiting processing in Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate, Tochigi, Hokkaido, Akita, Yamagata and Ibaraki prefectures, according to the farm ministry.
Cattle fed the contaminated straw were found to have high levels of radioactive cesium in July, leading the central government to temporarily suspend cattle shipments from Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate and Tochigi prefectures.
Livestock farmers in three disaster-hit prefectures in the Tohoku region are having difficulty disposing of rice straw contaminated with radioactive cesium from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Cattle farmers are complaining that the central and local governments have not decided how to get rid of the contaminated straw.
“We have no space to store new straw, even though the rice harvest season has started. We want the government to remove the contaminated straw as soon as possible,” one farmer said.
More than 600 bales of straw sat in one greenhouse at a cattle farm in southern Iwate Prefecture. Their combined weight was more than 60 tons, the farmer said.
Radioactive cesium of more than 8,000 becquerels per kilogram was detected in the straw, more than the limit allowed for incinerating the straw or taking it to a landfill.
A woman at the farm said in bewilderment, “How long will this situation continue?”
The contaminated rice straw was distributed to 16 prefectures, and about 5,000 head of cattle shipped from ranches may have eaten the straw.
Miyagi Prefecture has the most contaminated straw, with about 4,700 tons, followed by Fukushima with 1,500 tons, Iwate with 600 tons and Tochigi with 270 tons.
Farm ministry officials are taking charge of dealing with the straw at 43 ranches in Fukushima and Tochigi prefectures where cesium levels exceed 100,000 becquerels.
In Fukushima Prefecture, 143 livestock farmers currently store contaminated straw. The prefectural government instructed them to separate contaminated straw from ordinary straw by covering contaminated straw with sheets or coloring it with a spray.
“We have only found sites for some areas,” a Miyagi prefectural government official in charge said. “We want to move the straw as soon as possible to avoid having ranchers mistakenly give the contaminated straw to their cattle.”
“In addition to concerns about radiation held by residents, the main reason is that no final decision has yet been made on what method will be used for final processing of the contaminated straw,” a city official said.
Shigemi Takaizumi, chairman of a commercial cattle production organization in Ichinoseki, Iwate Prefecture, comprising 28 cattle farmers, said: “It will snow in a month. If the contaminated straw isn’t removed by then, we can’t store this year’s straw.”
Takaizumi, 60, said cattle farmers who have a large amount of contaminated straw have to rent land to store new straw or leave the new straw outside.
(Fukushima prefecture) As of October 8th, 2011