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.

News
i100
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsAll just to promote a new casino
News
i100
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
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

Creche Assistant or Nursery Nurse

£8 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: The Job Creche Assistant to start asap ...

Nursery Nurse Level 3

£8 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: The Job Nursery Nurse Leeds We are now ...

Web Developer/UI Developer (HTML5, CSS3,Jquery) London

£55000 - £65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organi...

Data Scientist (SQL, PHP, RSPSS, CPLEX, SARS, AI) - London

£60000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A prestigious leading professiona...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering