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The World

March 24, 2011

Anxiety in Japan over radiation in tap water

TOKYO — Shops across Tokyo began rationing goods — milk, toilet paper, rice and water — as a run on bottled water coupled with delivery disruptions left shelves bare Thursday nearly two weeks after a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The unusual sights of scarcity in one of the world's richest, most modern capitals came a day after city officials reported that radioactive iodine in the Tokyo's tap water measured more than twice the level considered safe for babies.

Radiation has been leaking from a nuclear plant 140 miles (220 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo since it was slammed by the March 11 quake and engulfed by the ensuing tsunami. Feverish efforts to get the plant's crucial cooling system back in operation have been beset by explosions, fires and radiation scares.

On Thursday, two workers at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant were being treated at a hospital after stepping into contaminated water while laying electrical cables in one unit, nuclear and government officials said.

The two workers likely suffered "beta ray burns," said officials at plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Co, citing doctors. They tested at radiation levels between 170 to 180 millisieverts, well below the maximum 250 millisieverts allowed for workers, said Fumio Matsuda, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industry Safety.

More than two dozen people have been injured trying to bring the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant under control.

The developments highlighted the challenges Japan faces after a magnitude-9 quake off Sendai triggered a massive tsunami. An estimated 18,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been left homeless as officials scramble to avert a major nuclear crisis.

Radiation has seeped into raw milk, seawater and 11 kinds of vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower and turnips, grown in areas around the plant.

The U.S. and Australia were halting imports of Japanese dairy and produce from the region, Hong Kong said it would require that Japan perform safety checks on meat, eggs and seafood, and Canada said it would upgrade controls on imports of Japanese food products.

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