Japan faces a further crisis with concern escalating about radioactive contamination of its food and water, even as the fight to stabilise the earthquake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant appears to be making progress.
Tests found levels of radioactive iodine up to seven times the legal limit in samples of raw milk, spinach and two leaf vegetables as far away from the nuclear plant as Chiba prefecture, to the east of Tokyo.
The results mean Japan faces a food safety scare on top of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis. Almost 300 engineers have been battling to bring six reactors under control at the plant, 240km north of Tokyo, since their cooling systems were knocked out 10 days ago by the tsunami.
Meanwhile the IAEA, the UN atomic watchdog, said on Sunday that there had been some positive developments at the Fukushima plant in the past 24 hours, though the overall situation remained “very serious”.
The government halted shipments of raw milk from Fukushima prefecture and spinach from Ibaraki prefecture. It will decide tomorrow whether to widen the freeze. Officials admitted that some food with radioactivity above the safety limit might be on shop shelves.
Tests also showed slightly elevated radioactivity in Tokyo’s drinking water although the measurement was still 100 times below the legal safety limit.
Experts and the Japanese government said the levels of radioactivity recorded in milk and spinach did not pose an immediate threat to human health.
“I have never let my children drink much milk but at the current level of concentration I would have no hesitation in letting them consume spinach and tap water,” said Tetsuro Fukuyama, the deputy chief cabinet secretary.
An average consumer would have to drink such milk for a year to get the equivalent radioactive dose to a single CT scan.
Even if the food shipments are not halted, fear of contaminated food could hurt Japanese food exports for years to come. If people do not buy food from Japan that could put yet another dead weight on thier export driven economy.Only four of 37 milk samples from the Fukushima area were above the legal limit but the range of affected sites suggests halting food shipments could have a big economic impact.