Japan's Nuclear Crisis Stabilizes, But Some Foods Contaminated

PHOTO Work to stabilize the damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was temporarily halted because radiation leaking from the units made the situation unsafe, Japanese officials said March 16, 2011.
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Japanese officials today said that radiation from the country's stricken nuclear complex have contaminated the food supply, causing radiation levels in spinach and milk from local farms to exceeded government safety limits.

Meanwhile iodine has been detected in the water supply in Tokyo and other areas, though experts have said that it is not at levels that will pose health risks to the public.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the contaminated foods "pose no immediate health risk."

The tainted milk was found 20 miles from the plant, a local official said. The spinach was collected from six farms between 60 miles and 75 miles to the south of the reactors.

Those areas are rich farm country known for melons, rice and peaches, so the contamination could affect food supplies for large parts of Japan.

An expert in the United States also said the risk appeared limited and urged calm.

"The most troubling thing to me is the fear that's out of proportion to the risk," Dr. Henry Duval Royal, a radiologist at Washington University Medical School, told The Associated Press.

More testing was being done on other foods and if they show further contamination, shipments from the area would be halted, Edano said.

Japanese officials attempted to calm the jittery public, saying they would have to consume unimaginable amounts of the tainted food to endanger their health.

The Health Ministry said iodine levels slightly above the safety limits have fallen consistently over the past three days.

The March 11 quake that spawned a tsunami that ravaged Japan's northeastern coast, killing more than 7,300 people and knocking out cooling systems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, has caused the complex to leak radiation.

More than 11,000 people are still missing since the catastrophe, while more than 452,000 are now living in shelters.

Officials said today that the crisis at Fukushima Dai-ichi appears to be stabilizing. The dangerously overheated reactors and uranium fuel are being continually doused with water to keep them cool, but the situation was still far from resolved.

Situation at Nuclear Complex Has 'Stabilized'

Edano said conditions at the reactors in Units 1, 2 and 3 -- all of which have been rocked by explosions in the past eight days -- had "stabilized." Unit 3 is reportedly the most toxic of all, being the only unit where the fuel mix includes volatile plutonium.

While seawater pumping continues on Units 1 and 2, Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) is saying that spraying of Unit 3 continues with a set spray hose that does not need to be operated by humans.

To prevent build-up of hydrogen -- which could cause more explosions -- they've cut a hole in the wall of Unit 2, and three holes in the roofs of Units 5 and 6, which contained inactive reactors, to vent buildups of hydrogen gas.

Water levels in all three of the active reactor cores reportedly remain between one and two meters below the top of the fuel rods.

Uranium rods will remain very hot, and must be cooled for months or longer to prevent them from heating up again and emitting radioactivity.

NISA is saying that the drainage efforts are effective. They believe the tank that holds the rods is filled with water, meaning that the rods are covered. They believe that the radiation levels dropped by 500 micro sievert.

"We more or less do not expect to see anything worse than what we are seeing now," said NISA's Hidehiko Nishiyama.

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