The Atomic Energy Council (AEC) yesterday announced that it has established the nation’s first food testing laboratory for radioactive contamination in response to calls from civic groups following last year’s public hearings on the issue of Japanese food imports.
The facility is the first of its kind to obtain certification from the Taiwan Accreditation Foundation (TAF), AEC Department of Radiation Protection Director-General Liu Wen-hsi (劉文熙) said.
The council had already been testing food products for radiation, but the new laboratory would be a separate branch entirely dedicated to testing food, Liu said.
Last year, the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s plan to lift a ban on food imports from Japan’s Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki and Chiba prefectures led to a public outcry, amid fears that food from these areas were affected by the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster in March 2011.
At the public hearings, many experts and civic groups questioned the capability of the nation’s ability to detect radioactive contamination in food products.
The council said it receives about 1,400 food samples from the ministry each month and that the new laboratory would be able test up to 1,700 samples per month.
The council received 2,200 food samples in a single month following the Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster, but the monthly average of food samples received for the rest of 2011 was about 1,600, Liu said.
The number of samples sent to the council has not increased significantly over the past few years, the council added.
The new laboratory in Taoyuan’s Longtan District (龍潭) is equipped with five high-purity germanium detectors and employs 12 specialists, increasing resources by one detector and two staff members, Liu said, adding that the laboratory will be testing samples sent by the customs offices in northern Taiwan.
A smaller laboratory run by the council in Kaohsiung tests samples from Taichung and Kaohsiung ports, and is waiting for TAF certification for food testing, he added.
The ministry has determined the maximum allowable level of radioactive residue in foods for three isotopes — iodine-131, cesium-134 and cesium-137 — in the Standards for the Tolerance of Atomic Dust and Radioactivity Contamination in Foods (食品中原子塵或放射能污染容許量標準).
For dairy products and baby foods, the limit is set at 55 becquerels (Bq) of iodine-131, 50Bq of cesium-134 and 50Bq of cesium-137 per kilogram of food, while beverages and bottled water can contain up to 100Bq of iodine-131, 10Bq of cesium-134 or 10Bq of cesium-137 per liter.
As iodine-131 and cesium-134 have shorter half lives, the council is more concerned with cesium-137 contamination in food imported from Japan, Liu said.
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