High radiation levels make Tokyo water unsafe for babies

Tokyo/Fukushima: High levels of radioactive iodine were detected in Tokyo`s tap water prompting government on Wednesday to declare it unsafe for infants, as rising smoke from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant forced another evacuation of Japanese workers battling to restore its cooling functions.

Amid mounting concerns over food safety due to radiation leaks from the nuclear plant, Premier Naoto Kan warned people against consuming leafy vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and spinach harvested in Fukushima in Japan`s northeast rocked by the March 11 magnitude-9 quake and tsunami that left over 24,000 people dead or unaccounted for.

His warning came a day after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that it would ban imports of dairy products and vegetables from areas near the crisis-hit Fukushima power plant, citing "radionuclide contamination."

The measure will cover milk, milk products, fresh vegetables and fruit from Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures, the FDA said, adding the US would not allow imports unless they are confirmed safe.

In Tokyo, the metropolitan government said radioactive iodine exceeding the limit for infants` intake was detected in water at a purification plant, apparently due to the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima plant after the March 11 quake that is estimated to cost up to USD 309 billion, in what is being seen as the most expensive natural disaster in the world.

It said said 210 becquerels of radioactive iodine were detected per litre of water against the limit of 100 becquerels at a water purification plant yesterday in the Kanamachi district of Katsushika Ward, Kyodo reported.

But the amount of the radioactive substance detected at the purification plant is lower than the 300-becquerel limit for people other than infants, it said.

In a survey of its three purification plants, the metropolitan government also detected 32 becquerels of the substance at a plant in Hamura in western Tokyo. However, the substance was not detected at another plant in Asaka, Saitama prefecture.

Tokyo authorities said infants in the central 23 wards, plus 5 adjacent cities, should refrain from drinking tap water, national broadcaster NHK reported.

In Fukushima, 240 kms from Tokyo, the work to restore power and key cooling functions at the nuclear plant was disrupted again today after rising black smoke forced workers to evacuate.

The plant`s operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said it learnt at around 4:20 pm local time that black smoke was seen rising at the No. 3 reactor building, leading to evacuation of workers from the four troubled reactors, but said about an hour later that it was receding.

All six reactors of the plant were reconnected to external power last night and workers scrambled to check each piece of equipment like data measuring instruments and feed-water pumps, before transmitting power to them.

As radioactive materials far exceeding the legal limits were found in vegetables in areas near the troubled nuclear plant, Premier Kan instructed Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato to ask people to refrain from eating vegetables like cabbage, "komatsuna" leaves, broccoli and cauliflower.

The order, which is based on findings by the Health Ministry that said radioactive materials in 11 Fukushima-produced vegetables surpassed legal limits set under the food sanitation law, will take effect "for the time being," officials were quoted as saying by Kyodo.

It is the first time that the government has issued a restriction on food intake in line with a special law for dealing with the nuclear disaster in Japan, whose Pacific coast in the northeast was shaken again by strong earthquakes today, including one measuring 6 on the Richter Scale.

The government said that turnips produced in Fukushima prefecture can be eaten but cannot be shipped.

Premier Kan also asked Masaru Hashimoto, Governor of Ibaraki, a prefecture bordering Fukushima, to suspend shipments of raw milk and parsley produced in his region.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the warning was issued by the Premier as a precautionary measure and denied that the radiation levels could pose an immediate risk to human health.

Edano said Japan has a "strict safety standard" compared to other nations and will seek a "rational response" from them after explaining the facts.

If a person eats 100 grams of the vegetable with the largest detected amount of radioactive materials for about 10 days, it would be equal to ingesting half the amount of radiation from natural environment in a year, officials said.

The government detected 82,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium, 164 times the legal limit, in "kukitachina" leaves from Motomiya on Monday, along with 15,000 becquerels of radioactive iodine, which is more than seven times the limit.

The confirmed death toll from the March 11 twin disaster stood at 9,408 while nearly 15,000 people remained missing.

Police said a total of 5,714 people died in Miyagi Prefecture and nearly 5,200 others were unaccounted for in the region. In Iwate prefecture, 2,875 people were confirmed dead and over 5,000 were missing.

In Fukushima prefecture, 762 people died and nearly 4,500 were missing following the worst natural disaster in Japan since the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake that claimed more than 100,000 lives.

Strong earthquakes jolted the Pacific coast of northeast Japan this morning, following which the Meteorological Agency issued warnings about the possibility of powerful aftershocks, saying they could trigger more tsunami, NHK reported.

A quake with a magnitude 6.0 jolted Fukushima prefecture at around 7:12 am local time, followed by a magnitude 5.8 tremor about 20 minute later.