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The World

March 19, 2011

Japan cites radiation in milk, spinach near plant

FUKUSHIMA, Japan — Japan said radiation levels in spinach and milk from farms near its tsunami-crippled nuclear complex exceeded government safety limits, as emergency teams scrambled Saturday to restore power to the plant so it could cool dangerously overheated fuel.

The food was taken from farms as far as 65 miles (100 kilometers) from the stricken plants, suggesting a wide area of nuclear contamination.

While the radiation levels exceeded the limits allowed by the government, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano insisted the products "pose no immediate health risk."

Firefighters also pumped tons of water directly from the ocean into one of the most troubled areas of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex — the cooling pool for used fuel rods at the plant's Unit 3. The rods are at risk of burning up and sending radioactive material into the environment.

The first word on contaminated food in the crisis came as Japan continued to grapple with overwhelming consequences of the cascade of disasters unleashed by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11. The quake spawned a tsunami that ravaged Japan's northeastern coast, killing more than 7,200 people and knocking out backup cooling systems at the nuclear plant, which has been leaking radiation.

The tainted milk was found 20 miles (30 kilometers) from the plant, while the spinach was collected between 50 miles (80 kilometers) and 65 miles (100 kilometers) to the south, Edano told reporters in Tokyo.

More testing was being done on other foods, he said, and if tests show further contamination then food shipments would be halted from the area.

"It's not like if you ate it right away you would be harmed," Edano said. "It would not be good to continue to eat it for some time."

Edano said someone drinking the tainted milk for one year would consume as much radiation as in a CT scan; for the spinach, it would be one-fifth of a CT scan. A CT scan is a compressed series of X-rays used for medical tests.

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