TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese fast-food chain has announced plans to grow rice and vegetables on a farm 100 km (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 20-km compulsory evacuation zone after an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 caused reactor meltdowns and contaminated water, vegetables and air.
A voluntary evacuation zone was extended to 30 km 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 240 km north of Tokyo. There have been multiple leaks and glitches over the last two and a half years.
(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Nick Macfie)