News / Asia

    Farm Products Contaminated Near Japanese Nuclear Plant

    Evacuees from Futaba, a town near the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Fukushima Prefecture, arrive their new evacuation shelter at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, near Tokyo, Japan, March 19, 2011
    Evacuees from Futaba, a town near the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Fukushima Prefecture, arrive their new evacuation shelter at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, near Tokyo, Japan, March 19, 2011

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    Japanese officials say some progress is being made in their mission to stop radiation leaks, but warn the crisis is still far from resolved.

    The officials say fire trucks have been able to focus a near constant stream of water on overheated reactors and nuclear fuel, helping to stabilize the situation.  However, they acknowledge the gains could be temporary

    Japan has confirmed radiation contamination of some agricultural products near a nuclear power plant crippled by last week's earthquake and tsunami that is still spewing radiation.

    In what is likely to deal a heavy blow to agriculture in the Tohoku region, hard hit by the huge quake and tsunami, the Japanese government is confirming the first reports of radioactive contamination to farm products near a nuclear power plant.

    Yukio Edano, the chief Cabinet secretary, says high levels of radiation have been detected in milk in Fukushima prefecture and spinach from Ibaraki prefecture have been found to be contaminated. He tells reporters there is no immediate health risk and the government is considering regulating shipments of farm products from the affected area.

    At the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant efforts continue to try to cool overheating reactor cores and water in tanks containing spent fuel rods.



    Tokyo Electric Power Company officials say they hope to switch back on pumps Sunday that would automatically begin cooling the radioactive materials. Japan's nuclear safety agency says electrical lines have now been restored to two of the reactors.

    In the meantime, firemen using high-powered hoses on fire trucks, have been shuttling in and out of the plant to spray water directly on reactor elements. They are attempting to prevent a further deterioration of the situation, which could lead to a renewed nuclear chain reaction.

    That would disperse significantly higher levels of radiation into the atmosphere.

    The Fukushima Prefectural Government tells VOA News that for the second day in a row the highest radiation level it registered outside the plant was in the village of Iitate, 40 kilometers northwest of the nuclear facility. The reading there, very slightly elevated from Friday, was 21.80 micro-sieverts per hour at 6 p.m. Saturday. Assuming these levels are staying consistent throughout the day, that means residents there are receiving about the equivalent of a plain film chest X-ray every hour.

    Japan's government has imposed a 20-kilometer evacuation zone around the crippled plant. Those living between 20 and 30 kilometers away are supposed to remain indoors and keep their windows shut.

    More than 200,000 people living near the 40-year-old nuclear powered generating facility have left their homes, with most of them moving into makeshift shelters farther away from the plant.


    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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