Sunflowers back in bloom in Fukushima
BY KAZUHISA KUROKAWA STAFF WRITER
Sunflowers bloom July 6 in the Nimaibashi area of Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture. (Toshiyuki Hayashi)
Sunflowers bloom radiantly in small plots of land amid the invisible devastation wrought by the disaster at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
In the Haramachiku-baba area of Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, 24 kilometers northwest of the disabled nuclear power plant, fields lie fallow, the result of fears that radiation could contaminate new crops.
The sunflowers, planted by five local farmers in cooperation with e-Bookland Inc., a Tokyo-based e-book publishing house, are intended to absorb radiation in the soil.
The sunflowers are cultivated over 1.3 hectares in many plots spread out near the town and in areas between mountains and fields.
After the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986, sunflowers, as well as rapeseed, were planted to remove radiation from the soil.
Learning from the Chernobyl experience, people in the prefecture started planting sunflowers, hoping they could not only decontaminate the soil but also serve as a symbol of revival.
Among the farmers is a 55-year-old man who cultivates rice and broccoli on 18 hectares.
He just built a house last November after his daughter and her husband decided to take over the farm and live in the house with their children.
When the Fukushima nuclear accident occurred, he evacuated with his family but returned home soon because he was concerned about his cows that had been left behind.
His house is in the emergency evacuation preparation zone. Rice cultivation has been banned in the area, and most farmers have not planted vegetables this season because of soil contamination concerns.
Learning of the project in April, he tilled a 20-are field, where he initially planned to cultivate potatoes, to prepare for sunflowers.
On June 11 and 12, about 80 volunteers from the Tokyo area pitched in, including students and public employees. They planted sunflower seeds but tried not to touch the ground with their hands.
Radiation levels will be measured five times at all the fields before the sunflowers are harvested.
No decision has been reached on how to dispose of the sunflowers that have absorbed radiation. Some farmers decided against growing the flowers simply because they were unable to figure out a good way to get rid of them after they had served their purpose.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the prefectural government intend to remove topsoil in Iitate to decontaminate the fields. But farmers said it is impossible to remove all the topsoil from all the fields. Also, there are no places to dump the contaminated soil, they added, making the search for a solution elusive.
With the recent detection of radioactive cesium in cows in Minami-Soma, the situation facing local farmers has deteriorated even further.
The rice and broccoli farmer said he hopes he can resume farming soon and live with his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren.