More countries halt Japanese food imports

Japanese authorities also mulled plans to import bottled water as stores in Tokyo were running out of the commodity despite the local government lifting the tap water warning for infants, which was issued yesterday after detection of high levels of radioactive iodine considered unsafe for babies.

Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Philippines, Canada and Russia placed restrictions on imports of Japanese food after the US slapped a ban on dairy products and vegetables produced on farms contaminated by radiation leaks from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

Other countries, including South Korea, said they were considering similar measures, two weeks after the March 11 quake of magnitude 9 and massive tsunami left over 26,000 people dead or unaccounted for. At the Fukushima nuclear plant, three workers were exposed to high radiation while laying cable at the No.3 reactor's turbine building. Two of them were hospitalised and diagnosed with possible beta ray burns, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.

They were exposed to 170-180 millisievert of radiation, the agency was quoted as saying by Kyodo news agency. The radiation exposure level was, however, lower than the maximum limit of 250 millisievert set by the Health Ministry for workers tackling the crisis at the Fukushima plant.

The plant's operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said radioactive water may have seeped through the workers' radiation protective gear, causing radioactive materials in the water to stick to their skin.

Following the incident, workers at the first floor and the basement of the No.3 reactor's turbine building were evacuated from the area. With the latest exposure cases, the number of workers who have been exposed to radiation exceeding 100 millisieverts at the plant reached 17, TEPCO said.

Authorities detected radiation levels considered to be unsafe for infants to drink at several purification plants outside Tokyo, local officials said. However, Tokyo officials' latest survey showed that the radiation levels dropped to 79 becquerels from 210 becequerels at a purification plant in Kanamachi district, prompting them to say that they would no longer warn against consumption of tap water in the metropolitan area.

"I believe readings will go up and down. But even if levels exceed standards temporarily, it will be no problem as long as they stay (most of the time) within the range throughout the year," Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara said. "I hope people in Tokyo would act calmly."

Chiba Prefectural officials said they detected traces of radioactive iodine at about twice the stipulated safe limit for infants in water taken from two purification plants in Matsudo yesterday.
Local officials there recommended residents not give tap water to infants as levels of iodine-131 rose to 220 becquerels per one litre of water at one of its purification plants and 180 becquerels at another facility.
The city of Kawaguchi in Saitama Prefecture said the iodine level rose to 120 becquerels per litre of water at its treatment facility on Tuesday, adding that the levels today have stayed below the limit of 100 becquerels for infants. However, Kawaguchi officials said tap water in the city is safe enough and they would not issue a warning on its consumption.
Notwithstanding the lifting of tap water warning by Tokyo authorities, people in the capital city rushed to buy the limited supplies of bottled water from shops and vending machines.
This forced the metropolitan government to start distributing a total of 240,000 bottles of water, each containing 550 milliliters, to families with infants. The officials said three bottles will be given per infant.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said that the government would ask manufactures to increase their output of bottled water.
Edano also said the government does not rule out the possibility of importing more bottled water from abroad.
The top government spokesman, however, stressed that levels of radiation detected so far pose no risk to the health of children and adults, asking people without infants to refrain from buying bottled water.
Japan continued to be rocked by aftershocks as a strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.1 jolted tsunami-ravaged Miyagi prefecture and its vicinity today, the Meteorological Agency said. Earlier in the morning, a magnitude 4.9 jolted the Kanto region surrounding Tokyo.
According to the National Police Agency, more than 9,737 people were confirmed dead and 16,423 remained missing following the March 11 killer quake and tsunami. Of the dead, 5,889 were in Miyagi Prefecture, 2,976 in Iwate and 814 in Fukushima.
A total of around 250,000 people were staying at 1,900 evacuation centres in 16 prefectures, mostly in northeastern and eastern Japan.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan discussed the latest situation in Japan with his British counterpart David Cameron on phone, the Foreign Ministry here said.
Cameron told Khan he would urge other European leaders to support Japan when he attends the two-day EU summit in Brussels, it said.
Kan thanked Cameron for Britain's assistance and briefed him about the ongoing efforts to contain the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the ministry was quoted as saying by Kyodo.


The Japanese government said that leafy vegetables and milk produced in farms in Fukushima and three other nearby prefectures have been contaminated by radiation released from the stricken nuclear plant.

Abnormally high levels of radioactive materials were again detected in the sea near the crisis-hit nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, TEPCO said, warning that the radiation levels in seawater may keep rising.

It said radioactive iodine-131 which was 146.9 times higher than the legal concentration limit was detected yesterday in a seawater sample taken around 330 metres south of the plant, near the drain outlets of its troubled four reactors, Kyodo reported. The search for missing people has been affected in Fukushima due to the ongoing nuclear crisis, rescue workers said.

Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa visited the northeastern Japanese prefecture to encourage the Self-Defense Force personnel battling to contain the nuclear crisis as well as those helping evacuees. In Iwate Prefecture, construction of temporary housing started in the coastal city of Kamaishi, while the municipal governments of Ofunato and Miyako announced they would begin the construction work tomorrow, Kyodo said.

At least 8,800 units of temporary housing will be built in the prefecture. The Tohoku Expressway, which was closed following the twin disaster, was fully reopened to ordinary traffic this morning, enabling full-fledged support for reconstruction.

Highway use was previously restricted to authorised emergency vehicles to give priority to transporting relief goods and workers. 

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