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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant -Engineering -Renewable Energy

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive: SThree: As an Associate Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map