Sat, Mar 19, 2011 - Page 5 News List

JAPAN DISASTER: Radiation risk from Japan remains localized: WHO

AP, BEIJING

The WHO offered reassurances yesterday that the radiation risk from Japan’s nuclear crisis remains highly localized, with no sign it threatens anywhere else in Asia.

“To date, we don’t have any information of a significant spread of radioactive material beyond the evacuation zone,” said Michael O’Leary, head of the WHO in China. “At present, we still understand it’s very confined. That’s why there’s an evacuation zone around the nuclear reactor itself.”

Workers were fighting to cool the overheating reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in northeast Japan, critically damaged by last week’s earthquake and tsunami. The zone within 20km of the plant has been evacuated, while people within 30km were told to stay indoors.

Health experts say there is little risk beyond that, including in the capital of Tokyo, 220km away.

Still, China and other neighboring countries increased monitoring of radiation levels and fears of radioactive contamination have prompted panic-buying across China of iodized salt.

Shoppers in Beijing, Shanghai and other parts of China have stripped supermarket shelves empty of table salt in recent days in the false belief that it either wards off radiation injuries or that China’s supply would be contaminated by radioactive fallout.

Experts have said the first rumor is not true and the second is unlikely: Any catastrophe at the Japanese nuclear plant would most likely affect the immediate area and wind patterns usually blow away from China at this time of year.

The rumors are part of a swirl of misinformation regarding Japan’s nuclear emergency.

China Central Television (CCTV) reported yesterday that China’s salt makers have 1.8 million tonnes of salt in reserves and have stepped up production as the government seeks to control rampant sales.

“The panic buying at such a large scale tests our coordination and distribution abilities, but we have confidence we can resume the normal supply to the market within 2 weeks,” China National Salt Industry Co deputy general manager Dong Yongsheng (董永勝) told CCTV.

Beijing started a seven-day inspection on table salt prices.

Those found to have illegally hiked prices would be punished, the city government said.

The Chinese National Marine Environmental Forecasting Center reported late on Thursday that air and seawater levels in China are not under immediate threat. Ocean and wind currents are moving east, so any contaminants would be pushed into the Pacific Ocean, the forecasting center said in a statement.

China said it was providing 30 million yuan (US$4.6 million) worth of humanitarian assistance — along with delivering nine tonnes of bottled water on Thursday at the request of the Japanese government, the official Xinhua news agency reported. Earlier this week, the first batch of Chinese relief supplies — blankets, tents and emergency lights — arrived.

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