Radiation in milk and spinach has been found to exceed safe levels near the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
By Nick Allen, Tokyo 8:22AM GMT 19 Mar 2011
Japan‘s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said checks of milk in the Fukushima area, and of spinach grown in neighbouring Ibaraki, surpassed limits set by the government.
It was the first official report of food being contaminated by radiation since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear crisis.
Me Edano said the radiation levels posed no immediate threat to humans and urged consumers to remain calm.
He said even if someone drank the contaminated milk for a year the radiation level would only be the same as undergoing one CAT scan.
The discovery of abnormal radioactivity in food came as Japanese engineers were close to restoring electricity to all six reactors at the plant.
The electricity will power cooling systems at the reactors which have been threatening to leak dangerous amounts of radioactivity.
A spokesman for the country’s nuclear safety agency said: “We are scheduled to restore electricity at number one and two reactors within today. Reactors number five and six also will be powered within today. They are scheduled to restore power to number three and four tomorrow.”
The announcement offered some hope of a breakthrough in efforts to prevent a full-blown meltdown, although it was still not clear whether the cooling systems would work properly when electricity is restored.
Engineers also bored holes in the roofs of the buildings housing reactors five and six to avoid a potential explosion of hydrogen gas.
Firefighters began pumping tons of water directly from the ocean into one of the most troubled areas of the nuclear complex, the cooling pool for used fuel rods at reactor three.
It is at risk of burning up and sending a broad release of radioactive material into the environment.
Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency admitted backup power systems at the plant had been improperly protected, leaving them vulnerable to the tsunami.
The failure of the backup power systems, which were supposed to keep cooling systems going in the aftermath of an earthquake, let uranium fuel overheat and were a “main cause” of the crisis, he said.
“I cannot say whether it was a human error, but we should examine the case closely,” he said.
Meanwhile, hopes of a miraculous rescue following the devastation of last week’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake were dashed when it emerged that a man found in the ruins had not been trapped.
Military rescuers thought they had saved Katsuharu Moriya, in his 20s, who was found in the rubble in Kesennuma city.
But it later he emerged he had spent the previous week in an evacuation centre and only gone back to his half destroyed one day earlier. He lay down in a blanket and rescuers stumbled on him.
As the one-week mark passed since the earthquake and tsunami Mer Edano conceded the government had been slow to respond to the nuclear disaster.
He said: “In hindsight, we could have moved a little quicker in assessing the situation and coordinating all that information and provided it faster.”
Japan’s National Police Agency raised the death toll from the earthquake and tsunami, reporting that 7,197 people had died.
That exceeded the number of deaths caused by the 1995 Kobe earthquake. Another 10,905 people were reported missing.
As hopes of finding survivors faded Australian rescuers were due to pull out today from the devastated town of Minamisanriku.
The Australian government said it was not prepared to place the 72-strong team at unnecessarily at risk.