Radioactive Food Shipments Halted

Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan has ordered two prefectures near the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant to halt shipments of vegetables and other foods found to have radiation levels up to 164 times the legal limit.

Local media says Mr Kan told prefectural governors to stop the shipments of broccoli and green leaf vegetables from Fukushima, and untreated milk and parsley from neighbouring Ibaraki.

Public broadcaster NHK says Mr Kan has told people in those areas not to eat the vegetables, which were found to have abnormal radiation levels because of releases from the nearby crippled nuclear power plant.

The health ministry says radioactivity drastically exceeding legal limits set under Japan’s food sanitation law has been found in 11 kinds of vegetable grown in Fukushima.

The ministry says radioactive cesium at 82,000 becquerels – 164 times the legal limit – was found in one type of leaf vegetable, along with 15,000 becquerels of iodine, more than seven times the limit.

It says if people eat 100 grams a day of the vegetable for about 10 days, they would ingest half the amount of radiation typically received from the natural environment in a year.

Even if the short-term risk is limited for now, scientists pointing to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster warn that some radioactive particles stay in the environment for decades and concentrate as they travel up the food chain.

In Tokyo, authorities have detected radioactive iodine in the city’s tap water that exceeds the level considered safe for infants, a government official said.

Meanwhile, the city’s largest vegetable wholesale market has reopened but skittish buyers are steering clear of any produce from areas suspected of radiation contamination.

Vegetable sellers have had to throw out entire boxes of spinach because the produce comes from radiation-affected Ibaraki.

Wholesaler Hiroshi Fujita says he was able to sell some of the boxes before the ban came into effect.

“[But] the buyers don’t want it now and we haven’t found new buyers,” he said.

The United States today announced it will block imports of milk and fresh produce from areas of Japan near the crippled nuclear power plant.

The Food and Drug Administration says all milk and milk products and fresh fruits and vegetables from four Japanese prefectures – Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma – will be stopped from entering the US.

The health ministry has also ordered increased inspections of seafood after seawater off the plant site recorded radioactive iodine at 80 times the normal level.

The entire fishing industry in the region has been wiped out by the tsunami.

The death toll from Japan’s earthquake and tsunami disaster has passed 9,000 and more than 13,500 people remain missing, with many unlikely to be found.

Crippled nuclear plant

Japanese authorities say a strong aftershock near the Fukushima nuclear complex caused no new damage.

The 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck not far from the damaged plant. It was one of two large tremors across northern Honshu.

But there were no tsunami warnings and no reports of injuries or damage.

Fukushima engineers say it will not delay their work to restart cooling systems.

Electricity cables have been connected to all six reactors, and lights have been restored in the control room of reactor No. 3 for the first time since the tsunami.

But the plant is still believed to be emitting radiation and officials are concerned about the high temperatures in the core of reactor No. 1.

Aid effort

As the nuclear crisis is being dealt with, the long-term effects of the disaster on children is one of the key concerns for aid agencies, which have had assessment teams planning for the ongoing relief effort.

Stephen McDonald is with Save the Children in the coastal city of Ishinomaki, where tens of thousands of people lost their homes.

He says while they are still in the emergency phase, plans are being developed for the next six months to three years.

“We don’t want to establish a sort of short-term relief operation without thinking about what do we do next,” he said.

“In the medium-term we’re going to be looking at providing more social support to children and their families, training and workshops for both teachers and parents on how to deal with children who are exhibiting signs of post-traumatic stress.”

Save the Children estimates 100,000 children have been displaced and many schools damaged.

Mr McDonald says they are putting together school kits, but he says schools that escaped the tsunami are now being used as evacuation centres.

“This is one of the things that we’re talking to education officials about – as to what are their plans,” he said.

“What we expect will happen is that in the medium-term, prefecture and local government will have to look at some kind of transitional shelter arrangements.

“One of the things that children have been asking us for, even as early as last week – some of them were saying to us that they just… all they want to do is go back to school so they could see their friends.”

World Vision is also drawing up long-term plans to help children.

This includes setting up specific areas where children can play and also be monitored for signs of any psychological impacts from the disaster.

Chris Webster, an emergency response worker, says creating a sense of routine is important.

“We try to set them up as soon as possible after a disaster because the sooner you can create that sense of routine and places for children to go the better chances they have of getting over a big event like this,” he said.

“As soon as we practically can reach them in those areas we will set those up, and then we will run them over that longer term period as well.”