TOKYO (majirox news) – Tea leaves grown outside the city of Minamiashigara at Mount Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture exceeded the legal limits of radioactive material. Kanagawa Prefecture is located in the southern Kanto region of Japan and Minamiashigara is about 100 km (about 60 miles) southwest of Tokyo and 280 km from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The plant has been leaking radiation since the quake and tsunami struck two months ago.
According to The Tea County Agricultural Center, the tea leaves collected May 11 contained cesium. Inspectors reported initial measurements of 550 becquerels of cesium per kilogram in one sample. A second test to confirm the first readings showed 570 becquerels per kilogram. Readings more than 500 is above the safety limit.
“It was the first detection of radiation above the legal limit in farm products grown in our prefecture” said Hideto Funahashi, of the Kanagawa agricultural bureau. “We have not specified the source of radiation, but we cannot imagine any other than the nuclear power plant.” He added that the levels were unlikely to affect human health.
Some tea was already shipped from Minamiashigara May 6. The tea would have been shipped earlier, but because of the bad weather this year harvesting, which normally starts in spring, was delayed.
The Tea Center held an emergency board meeting and decided to suspend harvesting and shipping tea from Minamiashigara until results from sample testing in an additional 10 areas of the prefecture. After the meeting, representatives of the farmers gathered in the city and were urged to stop harvesting the tea.
Radiation in tea leaves is worrisome. “I don’t worry about radioactive material in vegetables because I can just wash them off,” said a resident in Kawana City in Shizuoka Prefecture, a tea growing area which neighbors Kanagawa Prefecture. “But you can’t wash it off tea because the leaves are dried and it gets in your tea.”
The concern now is that other products in regions far away from Fukushima may also have been contaminated by cesium.
Cesium 137 and Strontium 90 are two of the radioactive substances that poisoned the area around Chernobyl for hundreds of years. Cesium 134 and 135, which are by-products of the radiation the core of a nuclear reactor produces breakdown relatively quickly, but cesium 137 does not. It remains to be seen if the cesium found in the products are the more benign type or the long lasting type.