Food 'seriously contaminated' by Japanese radioactive waste
FEARS are mounting that food and milk from areas surrounding the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant could be seriously contaminated with radioactive waste.
Experts from the World Health Organisation said the tainting problem was "far worse" than previously thought.
Yukio Edano, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, said shipments of spinach from four provinces surrounding the plant had been halted. Milk shipments from Fukushima province have also been banned.
But Mr Edano, the face of the government's response to the crisis, also sought to quell fears by saying radiation levels in food were not harmful, and insisting that he was prepared to eat contaminated produce himself.
He said: "Even if you eat and drink them several times it will not be a health hazard. So I would like you to act calmly without reacting." Asked if he would be happy to give spinach and milk to his family, he said: "Of course."
The World Health Organisation appeared to disagree with Mr Edano, announcing that radiation seeping into food and water was "a lot more serious" than thought.
Peter Cordingley, the organisation's Western Pacific spokesman, said: "Quite clearly, it is not what we thought in the early stages.
"It is more serious. We have seen Japanese people in grocery stores paying close attention to where their produce is coming from, and we think this is a wise practice."
In a Tokyo supermarket, shoppers noticeably avoided spinach from northern Japan. Shopper Yukihiro Sato (75), said: "I won't buy vegetables from that area."
Meanwhile, work at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was delayed after workers were evacuated when smoke began billowing from buildings housing two reactors.
There was no immediate indication of raised levels of radiation but members of the "Fukushima 50" emergency crew were moved away to nearby buildings.
The plumes of smoke stalled work to reconnect power lines and restore cooling systems needed to help stabilise the overheated reactors. Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for Japan's nuclear safety agency, said work had been delayed to ensure safety, but would resume today.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the operator of the plant, said it did not know what had caused the latest problems.
Positive news emerged from US nuclear regulators, who said the concrete and steel containment built to prevent radioactive fuel from leaking from the reactors was still intact. Earlier, Tepco had said it was making good progress and had successfully rigged power cables to all six reactors at the plant, a crucial step toward getting cooling systems working again.
When asked whether the worst of the 10-day nuclear crisis was over, Steven Chu, the US energy secretary, said: "Well, we believe so, but I don't want to make a blanket statement."
However, Andre-Claude Lacoste, head of France's nuclear safety authority, said local contamination would be a problem "for decades and decades". (�Daily Telegraph, London)