Basic necessities scarce on Japan store shelves

Posted: Updated:

(AP) - Nearly two weeks of rolling blackouts, distributionproblems and contamination fears prompted by a leaking,tsunami-damaged nuclear plant have left shelves stripped bare ofsome basic necessities in stores across Tokyo. Some people are eventurning to the city's ubiquitous vending machines to findincreasingly scarce bottles of water.

At the source of the anxiety - the overheated, radiation-leakingnuclear plant - there was yet another setback Thursday as twoworkers were injured when they stepped into radiation-contaminatedwater. The two were treated at a hospital.

Supplies of bottled water grew scarce in Tokyo, one day aftercity officials warned that the level of radioactive iodine in thetap water was more than twice what is considered safe for babies todrink. Tests conducted Thursday showed the levels in the city'swater fell to acceptable limits for infants, but they were up inneighboring regions.

Frightened Tokyo residents hoping to stock up on bottled waterand other goods flocked to shops across the city, some of whichtried to prevent hoarding by imposing buying limits.

"The first thought was that I need to buy bottles of water,"said Reiko Matsumoto, a real estate agent and mother of a5-year-old, who rushed to a nearby store to stock up on supplies."I also don't know whether I can let her take a bath."

The shortages were mainly limited to basic staples, such asrice, instant noodles and milk. Vegetables, meat and tofu,meanwhile, were readily available in most places.

Japan has been grappling with an avalanche of miseries thatbegan with a massive, 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11. Thattriggered a violent tsunami, which ravaged the northeast coast,killed an estimated 18,000 people and left hundreds of thousandshomeless. The quake and tsunami also damaged the critical coolingsystem at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, which overheated and beganspewing radiation into the environment.

Workers have been struggling to get the cooling system operatingagain, but their efforts have been hampered by explosions, firesand radiation scares. Lighting was restored Thursday to the centralcontrol room at Unit 1 for the first time since the quake andtsunami.

But two workers were hospitalized after stepping intocontaminated water while laying electrical cables in one unit,nuclear and government officials said. The water seeped over thetop of their boots and onto their legs, said Takashi Kurita,spokesman for plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Co.

The two likely suffered "beta ray burns," Tokyo Electric said,citing doctors. They tested at radiation levels between 170 to 180millisieverts, well below the maximum 250 millisieverts allowed forworkers, said Fumio Matsuda, a spokesman for the Nuclear andIndustrial Safety Agency.

The men will be transferred to a radiology medical instituteFriday, said Hidehiko Nishiyama, another nuclear agency spokesman.Their injuries were not life-threatening.

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