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For Fukushima's Farmers, Growing Uncertainty

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For Fukushima's Farmers, Growing Uncertainty


For Fukushima's Farmers, Growing Uncertainty

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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We've come to know, in recent weeks, the Japanese prefecture or state at the center of the catastrophe there. The roads throughout Fukushima were damaged in the earthquake, much of its coast was destroyed by the tsunami and now radiation leaking around the crippled nuclear complex has made parts of Fukushima unlivable. NPR's Jason Beaubien spent much of the last week there and has this report.

JASON BEAUBIEN: The tsunami pushed seawater, in some places, more than two miles inland. Rail lines in Fukushima were destroyed along the coast and train traffic still hasn't resumed through the prefecture. Radiation from the leaking nuclear complex has forced tens of thousands of residents from their homes. The sale of many vegetables from Fukushima has been banned.

Mr. AKIO NAGATO: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Akio Nagato, the director general of the Fukushima governor's office, says the tsunami and the earthquake mainly affected the coast, but the radiation is affecting the entire prefecture. Fukushima is the third largest prefecture in Japan, spanning over 5,000 square miles.

Even outside the 12 mile mandatory evacuation zone around the nuclear plant, Nagato says businesses are packing up and moving. And he says the cleanup along the coast has barely started because vehicles can't travel through the nuclear exclusion zone.

Mr. NAGATO: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: We are not just talking about rebuilding houses, Nagato says, speaking of the Fukushima coast. We are talking about places of work, ports, railroads all being unusable. We're talking about the big picture here. We're talking about putting everything back together.

The nuclear disaster is now also a disaster for Fukushima's farmers. The government has banned the sale of milk, spinach and other leafy vegetables, not just from here but also from neighboring prefectures. The Japanese Health Ministry found that the radiation level in these foods exceeds the legal limits for human consumption.

This has left farmers like Shinichi Asaka with rows and rows of green spinach that he can't sell.

Mr. SHINICHI ASAKA (Farmer): (Through translator) We're going to have throw it out. I've got a big tractor, and I'm just going to load it up and throw it out. There's nothing else to do.

BEAUBIEN: Asaka has a few fruit trees, but he makes his living primarily off spinach. Now he's thinking about maybe planting carrots or cucumbers but he worries that by the time they mature, the government may have banned the sale of them, too. Asaka laughs at the idea of doing anything other than farming.

Mr. ASAKA: (Through translator) I was born in a field, some 70 years ago. So, I've been doing this my whole life.

BEAUBIEN: Right now the Japanese government is telling farmers here to do nothing. Don't harvest your crops. Don't plant anything new. Don't till your soil. Just wait and see what happens with the crisis at the nuclear plant.

The government has promised to compensate farmers for the products they're being forced to dump, but it's still unclear where the money will come from for such a program.

Takashi Kano, with the local farmers union, says growers can't afford to wait indefinitely.

Mr. TAKASHI KANO: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Kano says farmers are very concerned about when they'll be able to re-start planting. He says if work preparing rice paddies doesn't start in the next week, Fukushima probably won't produce a rice crop at all this year.

Fukushima, along with the two neighboring prefectures, produces roughly 15 percent of Japan's rice. Kano says he understands the uncertainty surrounding the situation at the nuclear plant but he says the government needs to give farmers more guidance so they can move forward with their lives.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News.

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