Japan cites radiation in milk, spinach near plant

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(AP) - Japan said radiation levels in spinachand milk from farms near its tsunami-crippled nuclear complexexceeded government safety limits, as emergency teams scrambledSaturday to restore power to the plant so it could cool dangerouslyoverheated fuel.

The food was taken from farms as far as 65 miles (100kilometers) from the stricken plants, suggesting a wide area ofnuclear contamination.

While the radiation levels exceeded the limits allowed by thegovernment, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano insisted theproducts "pose no immediate health risk."

Firefighters also pumped tons of water directly from the oceaninto one of the most troubled areas of the Fukushima Dai-ichinuclear complex - the cooling pool for used fuel rods at theplant's Unit 3. The rods are at risk of burning up and sendingradioactive material into the environment.

The news of contaminated food came as Japan continued to grapplewith the overwhelming consequences of the cascade of disastersunleashed by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11. The quakespawned a tsunami that ravaged Japan's northeastern coast, killingmore than 7,300 people and knocking out backup cooling systems atthe nuclear plant, which has been leaking radiation.

Nearly 11,000 people are still missing.

The tainted milk was found 20 miles (30 kilometers) from theplant, a local official said. The spinach was collected from sixfarms between 60 miles (100 kilometers) and 75 miles (120kilometers) to the south of the reactors.

Those areas are rich farm country known for melons, rice andpeaches, so the contamination could affect food supplies for largeparts of Japan.

More testing was being done on other foods, Edano said in Tokyo,and if tests show further contamination then food shipments fromthe area would be halted.

Officials said it was too early to know if the nuclear crisiscaused the contamination, but Edano said air sampling done near thedairy showed higher radiation levels.

Iodine levels in the spinach exceeded safety limits by three toseven times, a food safety official said. Tests on the milk doneWednesday detected small amounts of iodine 131 and cesium 137, thelatter being a longer lasting element and can cause more types ofcancer. But only iodine was detected Thursday and Friday, a HealthMinistry official said.

Officials from Edano on down tried to calm public jitters,saying the amounts detected were so small that people would have toconsume unimaginable amounts to endanger their health.

Edano said someone drinking the tainted milk for one year wouldconsume as much radiation as in a CT scan; for the spinach, itwould be one-fifth of a CT scan. A CT scan is a compressed seriesof X-rays used for medical tests.

Low levels of radiation have been detected well beyond Tokyo,which is 140 miles (220 kilometers) south of the plant, buthazardous levels have been limited to the plant itself.

Nuclear reactors at the Fukushima plant began overheating andleaking radiation into the atmosphere in the days after the March11 quake and the subsequent tsunami overwhelmed its coolingsystems. The government admitted it was slow to respond to thenuclear troubles, which added another crisis on top of naturaldisasters, which officials believe killed more than 10,000 peopleand displaced more than 400,000 others.

There were signs of progress in bringing the overheatingreactors and fuel storage pools under control.

A fire truck with a high-pressure cannon was parked outside theplant's Unit 3, about 300 meters (yards) from the Pacific coast,and began shooting a stream of water nonstop into the pool forseven straight hours, said Kenji Kawasaki, a spokesman for thenuclear safety agency.

A separate pumping vehicle will keep the fire truck's water tankrefilled. Because of high radiation levels, firefighters will onlygo to the truck every three hours when it needs to be refueled.They expect to pump about 1,400 tons of water, nearly the capacityof the pool.

Edano said conditions at the reactors in units 1, 2 and 3 - allof which have been rocked by explosions in the past eight days -had "stabilized."

Holes were punched in the roofs of units 5 and 6 to ventbuildups of hydrogen gas, and the temperature in Unit 5's fuelstorage pool dropped after new water was pumped in, Tokyo ElectricPower Co. said.

Although a replacement power line reached the complex Friday,workers had to methodically work through badly damaged and deeplycomplex electrical systems to make the final linkups withoutsetting off a spark and potentially an explosion. Company officialshoped to be able to switch on the all the reactors' power onSunday.

Even once the power is reconnected, it is not clear if thecooling systems will still work.

The storage pools need a constant source of cooling water. Whenremoved from reactors, uranium rods are still very hot and must becooled for months, possibly longer, to prevent them from heating upagain and emitting radioactivity.

More workers were thrown into the effort - bringing the total atthe complex to 500 - and the safety threshold for radiationexposure for them was raised two-and-a-half times so that theycould keep working.

Officials insisted that would cause no health damage.

A spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co., which owns and runsthe plants, said that while the generators themselves were notdirectly exposed to the waves, some electrical support equipmentwas outside. The complex was protected against tsunamis of up to 5meters (16 feet), he said. Media reports say the tsunami was atleast 6 meters (20 feet) high when it struck Fukushima.

Spokesman Motoyasu Tamaki also acknowledged that the complex wasold, and might not have been as well-equipped as newer facilities.

People evacuated from around the plant, along with someemergency workers, have tested positive for radiation exposure.Three firefighters needed to be decontaminated with showers, whileamong the 18 plant workers who tested positive, one absorbed aboutone-tenth tenth of the amount that might induce radiationpoisoning.

As Japan crossed the one-week mark since the cascade ofdisasters began, the government conceded Friday it was slow torespond and welcomed ever-growing help from the U.S. in hopes ofpreventing a complete meltdown.

The United States has loaned military firefighting trucks to theJapanese, and has conducted overflights of the reactor site,strapping sophisticated pods onto aircraft to measure radiationaloft. Two tests conducted Thursday gave readings that U.S. DeputyEnergy Secretary Daniel B. Poneman said reinforced the U.S.recommendation that people stay 50 miles (80 kilometers) away fromthe Fukushima plant. Japan has ordered only a 12-mile(20-kilometer) evacuation zone around the plant.

The government on Friday raised the accident classification forthe nuclear crisis, putting it on a par with the Three Mile Islandaccident in Pennsylvania in 1979, and signifying that itsconsequences went beyond the local area.

This crisis has led to power shortages and factory closures,hurt global manufacturing and triggered a plunge in Japanese stockprices.

Police said more than 452,000 people made homeless by the quakeand tsunami were staying in schools and other shelters, as suppliesof fuel, medicine and other necessities ran short.

On Saturday evening, Japan was rattled by 6.1-magnitudeaftershock, with an epicenter just south of the troubled nuclearplants. The temblor, centered 150 kilometers (90 miles) northeastof Tokyo, caused buildings in the capital to shake.

Links and information for relief efforts

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