Countries around the world shunned Japanese food imports yesterday as radioactive steam leaked from a disaster-struck nuclear plant, straining nerves in Tokyo.
The grim toll of dead and missing from Japan’s monster quake and tsunami on March 11 topped 26,000, as hundreds of thousands remained huddled in evacuation shelters and fears grew in Tokyo over water safety.
The damage to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant from the calamity and a series of explosions has stoked global anxiety. The US and Hong Kong have already restricted Japanese food, and France wants the EU to do the same.
Russia ordered a halt to food imports from four prefectures — Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki and Tochigi — near the stricken plant 250km northeast of Tokyo.
Moscow also placed in quarantine a Panama-flagged cargo ship that had passed near the plant and put its 19 crew under medical supervision after detecting radiation levels three times the norm in the engine room.
Australia banned produce from the area, including seaweed and seafood, milk, dairy products, fresh fruit and vegetables.
However, it said that Japanese food already on store shelves was safe, as it had shipped before the quake, and that “the risk of Australian consumers being exposed to radionuclides in food imported from Japan is negligible.”
Singapore also suspended imports of milk products and other foodstuffs from the same four prefectures and Canada implemented enhanced import controls on products from the quartet.
“Food safety issues are an additional dimension of the emergency,” three UN agencies said in a joint statement issued in Geneva, pledging they were “committed to mobilizing their knowledge and expertise” to help Japan.
Japan was taking the right actions, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization said, adding that: “Food monitoring is being implemented, measurements of radioactivity in food are taking place, and the results are being communicated publicly.”
At the source of the radiation, white smoke could be seen wafting from four of the Fukushima plant’s six reactors.
Fire engines again aimed their high-pressure water jets at the No. 3 reactor, a day after a plume of dark smoke there forced workers to evacuate.
Highlighting the risks taken by the emergency crew, three workers were exposed to high radiation — at least 170 millisieverts. Two of them were sent to hospital after they stepped into a puddle of water that reached the skin on their legs despite their radiation suits.
Engineers have now linked up an external electricity supply to all six reactors and are testing system components and equipment in an effort to restart the cooling systems and stabilize the reactors. They partially restored power to the control room at reactor No. 1.
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