Food contamination and fresh leaks renew fears over radiation levels

Fresh concerns were raised yesterday about radiation leaking out of Japan's damaged nuclear reactors, after the World Health Organisation said food contamination was more serious than previously thought and smoke or steam was seen coming out of two of the facilities.

On the day that Japan's Prime Minister said "slow but steady progress was being made" at the Fukushima plant and workers succeeded in attaching power cables to all six reactors to restart the pumping of cooling water, the warning by the WHO was seen as another backward step. The plumes of smoke coming from units No 2 and No 3 also forced the evacuation of engineers and a halt to work.

"Quite clearly it's a serious situation," Peter Cordingley, a WHO spokesman, told reporters. "It's a lot more serious than anybody thought in the early days when we thought that this kind of problem can be limited to 20 to 30km."

Though the WHO said there was no evidence that radiation had been found in food being exported, China, South Korea and India said they were monitoring imports for such signs.

"Japan's nuclear leak has sounded an alarm bell for the international community about the safety of nuclear energy," Yang Jiechi, the Chinese Foreign Minister, said.

The potential contamination of food is one of the major worries for the Japanese authorities, desperate to avoid a public panic. The government has so far insisted that the level of radiation discovered in certain foods – spinach and milk, for instance – is not at a level that is harmful to health. But it has urged residents in some of the areas surrounding the reactors to stop drinking tap water and has banned the sale of raw milk from Fukushima and rapeseed and spinach.

In Tokyo, which has experienced some hoarding of food by residents, there have not yet been any major reports of food contamination. "Please do not overreact, and act calmly," Yukio Edano, a government spokesman said. "Even if you eat contaminated vegetables several times, it will not harm your health at all."

In another setback yesterday, workers had to be evacuated from the reactor after smoke or steam was seen pouring from two of the units. There was confusion as to what was responsible for the release. Plant officials overseeing the effort to cool reactors said they were unsure what caused it. The smoke later receded and Japan's nuclear safety agency said there had been no significant change in radiation levels at the site.

Earlier in the day it was announced that engineers had been able to reconnect power supplies to the units, something that should allow the pumping of cooling water. The announcement suggested that the authorities had created some sort of momentum as they battled to deal with a crisis already rated worse that the incident at Three Mile Island.

The head of the UN atomic agency said yesterday that while Japan's nuclear situation was still very serious, he had no doubt the country will "effectively overcome" the crisis.

However, Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also said that the disaster had exposed serious weaknesses in the ways the international community responds to such emergencies.

Mr Amano praised his agency's on-going response to the recent crisis at the Fukushima plant, but highlighted that current conventions for emergency responses to such situations are out dated and need to be "reassessed".

Speaking at a closed-door IAEA board meeting of 35 member nations to discuss the findings of his trip to the plant, Mr Amano told delegates that a "thorough review of the accident will be necessary" to strengthen current nuclear safety standards. Afterwards, he told reporters that the agency is "doing exactly what we are asked according to treaties and conventions, however all of these frameworks were established in the 1980s after Chernobyl".

Police now estimate that more than 18,000 people died in the earthquake and tsunami. Thousands remain missing. The World Bank said that rebuilding the stretch of north-east coastline devastated by the disaster could cost £144bn and take five years.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
This weekend's 'Big Hero 6' by Disney Animation Studios
arts + ents
News
i100
News
Budapest, 1989. Sleepware and panties.
newsDavid Hlynsky's images of Soviet Union shop windows shine a light on our consumerist culture
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
News
In humans, the ability to regulate the expression of genes through thoughts alone could open up an entirely new avenue for medicine.
science
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Austen Lloyd: In-House Solicitor / Company Secretary - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: IN-HOUSE - NATIONAL CHARITY - An exciting and...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee