The Biggest Gamma Field in Japan!

Gamma rays didn’t just create the Incredible Hulk! The term alone can be quite daunting, but atomic gardening has been a program that has been practiced since the 1950’s.

Irradiation. | ben klocek

Atomic gardens or gamma gardens were initially established in the United States, Europe, India, some areas of the former USSR, and Japan. Gamma gardens were created to test the effects of radiation on plant life, but the research slowly paved the way in using the technology to introduce useful mutations that could give plants beneficial characteristics.

Atomic gardening is a form of mutation breeding, where seeds are exposed to radiation or chemicals to generate mutations with desirable traits to be used for breeding with other cultivars. Plants are exposed to radioactive sources such as cobalt-60 (a synthetic radioactive isotope of cobalt), to generate useful plant mutations.

In the early 1950’s, gamma gardens were part of “Atoms for Peace”, a program aimed to develop peaceful uses of fission energy after World War II. The Atomic Gardening Society was established in 1959 by  an atomic activist from the United Kingdom, Muriel Howorth.

Muriel Howorth

There was also a growing movement to bring atomic energy and experimentation into the lives of ordinary citizens. Howorth published a book entitled “Atomic Gardening for the Layman” and even successfully created a two-foot-tall peanut plant after planting an irradiated nut. The practice of plant irradiation has stemmed the development of more than two thousand new varieties of plants which are used today in agricultural production.

The Institute of Radiation Breeding of Japan established the country’s biggest gamma field in 1962 with the boom in atomic vegetables.

Nijisseiki pear. | « R☼Wεnα »

The gamma field is about 33 feet from the center of the field and stretches to its perimeter, to about 330 feet. It is located 2 hours northeast of Tokyo. This is the world’s largest facility for radiation-induced plant breeding.

There are about 20 other similar facilities around the world. These places produce new varieties of vegetables by bombarding plants with radiation to induce mutations to create crops that are easier to grow and market. The plants closest to the cobalt are exposed to a dose of about 300,000 times of radiation compared to most similar facilities around the world. Japan’s Institute of Radiation Breeding can grow plants such as flowers, fruit trees and rice. The facility is surrounded by a wall of more than 25 feet tall to shield the surrounding forests and people from radiation. The Institute of Radiation Breeding have developed hundreds of mutant varieties of plants like the Gold Nijisseiki pear, which is resistant to black spot disease.