Friday, June 3, 2011

Japan halts shipment of tea leaves in 4 prefectures over high radiation levels

The government on June 2 ordered a halt to shipments of tea leaves produced throughout Ibaraki Prefecture and parts of Kanagawa, Chiba and Tochigi prefectures, after detecting radioactive cesium in leaves exceeding the legal limit.

Tests carried out in the wake of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, from which large amounts of radioactive materials have leaked, detected radiation exceeding the legal limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram of tea leaves.

It is the first time for the government to halt shipments of tea under the Special Law on Nuclear Disaster Countermeasures. Since the concentration of cesium changes during each of the steps in which tea is produced -- from drying the leaves to create unrefined tea to processing them and making them into a drink -- the government had been considering which stages of the production process to halt.

Most of this season's first crop of tea has already been processed into unrefined tea, or "aracha," and on June 2 the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare ordered new inspections of aracha. Up until now, there have been hardly any inspections of tea at this stage of the production process, and it is possible that tea containing radioactive materials exceeding the legal limit has already been shipped out.

"If we find that it has exceeded the limit, we will take measures under the Food Sanitation Law, such as recalling products," a ministry representative said. (read more)

This post was reader contributed.