High radiation found in milk, spinach

Japan disaster: Efforts to cool damaged nuclear reactors continue

A fire truck sprays water at No 3 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Tomioka, Fukushima prefecture, in this image taken from a video by the Self Defence Force Nuclear Biological Chemical Weapon Defence Unit on Friday. ReutersWhile officials downplayed the immediate risks to consumers, the findings are likely to further unsettle a nation worried about the long-term effects of the damaged nuclear power plants.

The crisis, which has entered its second week, has caused alarm in some countries that fallout from Japan might reach their shores.

Tokyo Electric Power Company, with help from the Japan Self-Defence Force, police and firefighters, continued efforts to cool the damaged reactors on Saturday. About 500 workers from the utility connected a transmission line almost a mile long to Reactor No 2 at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Station.

Restoring power at the reactor could provide a glimmer of hope after days of increasingly dire news that now includes contaminated food. Yukio Edano, the chief cabinet secretary, said spinach and milk were the only two products that were found with abnormally high levels of radioactive materials.

The newly discovered radioactivity contained in the average amount of spinach and milk consumed during an entire year would be equal to the amount received in a single CAT scan.

“These levels do not pose an immediate threat to your health,” Edano said.
The government is considering conducting more comprehensive tests of agricultural products from areas further away from the damaged reactors to address public anxiety about the country’s food supply, he said.

Food safety inspectors said that the amount of iodine-131 found in the tested milk was five times higher than levels deemed safe. They said that the iodine found in the spinach was more than seven times higher. The spinach also contained slightly higher amounts of cesium-137.

Iodine-131 and cesium-137 are two of the more dangerous elements that are feared to have been released from the plants in Fukushima. Iodine-131 can be dangerous to human health, especially if absorbed through milk and milk products, because it can accumulate in the thyroid and cause cancer. Cesium-137 can damage cells and lead to an increased risk of cancer.

Health inspectors are still trying to determine whether any spinach had been shipped from the six farms in Ibaraki Prefecture where the contaminated produce was found, according to Taku Ohara, an official in the food safety division of the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry. No contaminated milk had been shipped from the three farms where higher than normal radioactive levels had been detected.

Asparagus, cucumbers, radish, tomatoes and other vegetables are also grown in Fukushima, but have not been found to be contaminated. However, only a small number of farms have been tested because officials have been overwhelmed in the wake of the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear crisis that followed, Ohara said.

The government has not banned shipments of milk or spinach from the affected areas, but it would further study the issue, Edano said. The milk that contained higher levels of radioactive material was tested at farms about 19 miles from the hobbled nuclear plants in Fukushima Prefecture. The spinach was found in Ibaraki Prefecture farther south.

The news of the contamination had an immediate impact on consumers. Katsuko Sato, 76, said she would stop buying spinach and, after watching Edano’s news conference, she called her family and friends to urge them not to, either.

“Everything that we are going through now is a lot scarier than the bombing attacks during World War II,” she said.

While only spinach and milk were found to have radioactive materials above established limits, some countries have been testing food imports from Japan since the day after the quake and tsunami. In Japan, the damage to the reactors has reduced the electricity supply in the greater Tokyo region, leading to rolling blackouts.

The government is rushing to find a way to cool the damaged reactors in Fukushima to prevent a full-scale meltdown. In a news conference Saturday, Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said that temperatures outside the four hobbled nuclear reactors in Fukushima were lower than expected, but he was unable to confirm how hot it was inside the damaged buildings, leaving open the possibility that nuclear fuel may still be overheating.

Kitazawa said that the temperature readings had increased hopes that the nuclear fuel could be kept cool through further efforts to spray the reactors with water, while technicians worked on restoring power to the cooling systems.

The National Police Agency said on Saturday that there were nearly 7,200 confirmed deaths so far, and nearly 11,000 people remained missing. Authorities have said they expect the final death toll to exceed 10,000.

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