Japan's Nuclear Crisis Stabilizes, But Some Foods Contaminated

As nuclear plant reportedly stabilizes, food contamination fears emerge.

ByKEVIN DOLAK, JAMES HILL and Clayton Sandell
March 19, 2011, 5:03 PM

March 19, 2011— -- 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.

Power has now been restored to Units 2, 5, and 6 now that a replacement line from the United States reached the complex on Friday, and crews are working to restore power to Unit 3. It's still unclear when they will turn the power on and restart the cooling systems.

There is still no new information regarding the spent fuel pool at unit 4, and it appears that they have yet to begin dousing it with water.

Low levels of radiation have been detected well beyond Tokyo, which is 140 miles south of the plant, but according to Japanese officials hazardous radiation levels have been limited to the plant itself.

Radiation From Japanese Nuclear Reactor Hits California

Fears that radiation from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility will reach the West Coast of the United States have caused alarm since last week, and it was recently confirmed that the plume from Japan did arrive in California.

"Radiation is very scary. You can't see it and in high doses it's very, very dangerous," Philip Fine of the South Coast Air Quality Management District told "Good Morning America."

Electronic sentries have been on guard, watching for any sign of radiation spikes from that radioactive plume advancing on the west coast.

One detector in Sacramento indicated a "miniscule" amount of radiation that officials believe originated in Japan.

But the particle was miniscule -- equal to one-millionth the typical dose from natural sources like rocks or the sun.

Still, the crisis in Japan has caused a frenzy amongst some Americans who have gone into panic mode.

Potassium iodide pills and other protection from radiation poisoning have disappeared from store shelves. The frenzy has prompted the Food and Drug Administration to warn people to be aware of online scams offering fake radiation treatments.

Health experts say that real potassium iodide pills can have negative health effects, while an air quality specialist told "GMA" that breathing in smog is more dangerous than the current risk of breathing in radiation.

ABC News' David Wright and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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