Popular fast-food chain to grow food 60 miles from Fukushima plant

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (third from right) is briefed about tanks containing radioactive water on a tour of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Sept. 19, 2013. AFP - Getty Images, file

TOKYO -- A Japanese fast-food chain has announced plans to grow rice and vegetables on a farm 60 miles from the crippled Fukushima power plant, site of the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Yoshinoya Holdings, which sells "gyudon'', or stewed beef over rice, has formed a joint-venture with local farmers to grow onions, cabbage and rice for use in outlets across the country.

About 160,000 people nearest the plant were ordered to move out and the government established a 12 mile compulsory evacuation zone after an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 caused reactor meltdowns and contaminated water, vegetables and air.

A Yoshinoya fast-food restaurant in Tokyo. Yuriko Nakao / Reuters, file

A voluntary evacuation zone was extended to 19 miles and separate areas were evacuated further afield depending on the wind direction.

The leaks prompted many consumers to shun products from Fukushima prefecture, which was once well-known for its fruit, mushrooms and vegetables.

The crops will be grown in Shirakawa, to the south-west of the plant, the company said. Yoshinoya said it would ensure that the vegetables were safe.

"We will employ local people in the factory. We think this will lead to support for reconstruction,'' Yoshinoya said in a statement.

Japan applies strict food monitoring and says that any products allowed on the market are safe. Despite these assurances, public fears have led to a drop in price for Fukushima produce and huge losses for farmers.

The operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co, is struggling to contain contaminated water at the site 150 miles north of Tokyo. There have been multiple leaks and glitches over the last two and a half years.