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Friday, Jan. 13, 2012

Co-op checking meals for cesium


Staff writer

The Japanese Consumers' Cooperative Union said Thursday it is monitoring how much radioactive material is contained in household meals to help ease consumer worries.

News photo
Better safe than sorry: A radiation detector is used on strawberries from Fukushima Prefecture during an event last April in Tokyo to promote the safety of Tohoku produce. AP

The outcome of the testing will be announced in April, the JCCU said.

The co-op said it started the study Dec. 15 on meals at about 250 households in 18 prefectures.

It will monitor the levels of radioactive substances in the food through the end of March.

"We've received inquiries about radioactive materials in food almost every day since March," said JCCU spokesman Makoto Kasagi.

The group was already inspecting about 2,500 food-related items for radioactive isotopes.

For the new survey, each sample household will place six meals in plastic bags with zippers and keep them over a two-day period in a refrigerator or a freezer.

Afterward, the six meals are sent to JCCU facilities, which check for iodine-131, cesium-134 and cesium-137.

The facilities operate Ge semiconductor detectors, the same type of detectors the government uses for sampling tests for food. They check each meal over a 14-hour span to ensure the accuracy of the tests, the JCCU said.

Meals are being tested from about 10 households in each of the 18 prefectures — disaster-hit Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate, as well as Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Niigata, Nagano, Shizuoka, Yamanashi, Aichi, Gifu, Mie and Fukuoka.

The JCCU said it will consider possibly in April whether to carry out similar tests in other prefectures.

In a survey conducted in November in Fukushima Prefecture ahead of this large-scale test, up to 4.4 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram were detected in meals made by three of the 11 households in the study.

A person taking in that level of radioactive cesium over the course of one year would be exposed to an aggregate 0.05 millisievert or less.

According to the International Commission on Radiological Protection, exposure to a cumulative radiation dose of 100 millisieverts could increase the cancer mortality risk by about 0.5 percent.



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