Can You Eat Food Grown Near Fukushima? Yes, Yes You Can

A rice paddy in Fukushima Prefecture. Image credit: Stray Toki /

The prospect of eating produce from an irradiated farm might raise a few eyebrows, but there was a time when growing produce exposed to radiation was all the rage. Now that the UK has scrapped all restrictions on food imports from Fukushima, site of the infamous nuclear power plant incident, questions are being asked, is it safe? According to a review by the UK's Food Standards Agency: yes, it is.

A major earthquake that triggered a 15-meter tsunami disabled three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on March 11, 2011. The resulting radioactive disaster saw more than 100,000 people evacuated after the meltdown due to unsafe levels of radioactive contamination.

Environmental radiologists, like Thomas Johnson from Colorado State University, have since been studying the area to establish if or how dangerous the levels of radiocaesium in the region remain. As Discover reports, analyses of local wildlife back in 2018 revealed that, actually, levels in some parts weren’t all that much higher than the naturally existing levels found in other parts of the globe.

As for those that remain dangerous to this day, it’s expected the danger will drop off around the year 2041 as radiocaesium has a half-life of around 29 years. In the meantime, living in these areas in constant exposure to the radiation can have negative implications for human health, but what about produce that’s grown there?

Restrictions were in place on the trade of produce grown in Fukushima, but The Telegraph reports that in 2019 the European Union began relaxing its rules regarding imports from the region. Now, the UK is lifting all restrictions once placed on Fukushima’s exports following a review by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) who are now ditching a rule which stated imports couldn’t contain more than 100 becquerels of radiocaesium per kilogram (Bq/kg).

“Our risk assessment shows that removing the [100 Bq/kg] maximum level of radiocaesium for food imported from Japan to the UK would result in a negligible increase in dose and any associated risk to UK consumers,” the FSA said.

In fact, Japan's radiation levels in food are the strictest in the world, with an upper limit for radioactive cesium in ordinary foodstuffs stricter than both the EU and the US. Rigorously tested, the Fukushima prefectural government told the Guardian in 2020 that its food safety standards are among the most stringent in the world. “Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency come every year to check our work,” director general of Fukushima's agricultural safety promotion department, Kenji Kusano, said during a tour of the facility. “We always receive an A grade.”

Food grown there was even served in the athletes' village during the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. 

Between 2011 and 2014, Japan implemented an ambitious program to test and sample the radiation levels of every kind of food produced in the area, with nearly a million samples checked, something that Georg Steinhauser, a chemist and colleague of Johnson's at Colorado told Wired in 2015 "hasn’t been done in the history of mankind.” By mid-2014, just 0.6 percent of samples exceeded Japan's radiation limits, which were one-sixth of what Europe allowed at the time. 

Convincing people that the food is safe is an uphill battle for scientists but with countries like the UK removing restrictions, evidence is slowly winning out. 

However, while the historic nuclear tragedy in Fukushima Prefecture was an accident, in times gone by humans have actually purposefully wielded radiation as a means of growing produce.

Atomic Gardens once used radioactive sources like cobalt-60 to effectively hyperdrive the kinds of mutations which naturally occur but take a lot longer to come about. While some plants were burned in the process, others emerged with beneficial mutations like atomic activist and Atomic Gardening Society Founder Muriel Howorth’s 0.6-meter-tall (2-foot) peanut plant that produced unusually large nuts.


If you liked this story, you'll love these

This website uses cookies

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By continuing to use our website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.