TOKYO — The government set its first radiation safety standards for fish Tuesday after Japan's tsunami-ravaged nuclear plant reported radioactive contamination in nearby seawater measuring at several million times the legal limit.
The plant operator insisted that the radiation will rapidly disperse and that it poses no immediate danger, but an expert said exposure to the highly concentrated levels near the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant could cause immediate injury and that the leaks could result in residual contamination of the sea in the area.
The new levels coupled with reports that radiation was building up in fish led the government to create an acceptable radiation standard for fish for the first time. Some fish caught Friday off Japan's coastal waters would have exceeded the new provisional limit.
"Even if the government says the fish is safe, people won't want to buy seafood from Fukushima," said Ichiro Yamagata, a fisherman who used to live within sight of the nuclear plant and has since fled to a shelter in Tokyo.
"We probably can't fish there for 10 to 20 years," he said.
Radiation has been leaking into Pacific near the plant on the northeastern Japanese coast since a 9.0-magnitude earthquake spawned a massive tsunami that inundated the complex. Over the weekend, workers there discovered a crack where highly contaminated water was spilling directly into the ocean.
The tsunami pulverized about 250 miles (400 kilometers) of the northeastern coast, flattening whole towns and cities and killing up to 25,000 people. Tens of thousands more lost their homes in the crush of water, and several thousand were forced from the area near the plant because of radiation concerns.
Many of those "radiation refugees" have grown frustrated with the mandatory 12-mile (20-kilometer) no-go zone, and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. — whose stock value has plunged to the lowest level in its 60-year history — said Tuesday it would give affected towns 20 million yen ($240,000) each.