Black smoke arises from crippled nuclear plant

16:08, March 23, 2011      

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Black smoke billowed from Reactor Unit 3 of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex in northeastern Japan Wednesday, prompting a new evacuation of all workers from the plant, The Associated Press reported.

Officials with Tokyo Electric Power Co. said that workers from the entire Fukushima Daiichi plant have been temporarily evacuated.

Operators of the power station have been desperately trying to cool the reactors and spent fuel pools at the plant after it was damaged by this month's magnitude 9 earthquake and powerful tsunamis, which knocked out power to the cooling systems.

Meanwhile, tap water in Tokyo tested two times above the limit for radioactive iodine, officials said Wednesday amid burgeoning concerns about food and water safety as the nuclear plant continued to leak radiation.

Levels of radioactive iodine in tap water at a water treatment center in downtown Tokyo measured 210 becquerels per liter of iodine-131 — more than twice the recommended limit of 100 becquerels per liter for infants, officials from the Tokyo Water Bureau said.

Infants are extremely vulnerable to radioactive iodine, which can cause thyroid cancer, experts say. The level found in Tokyo tap water does not pose an immediate health risk to adults.

"We advise against using the tap water for drinking and for making infant formula for babies under one year old," said Shintaro Ishihara, Tokyo's governor.

The unsettling new development affecting Japan's largest city, home to some 13 million in the city center and 39 million residents in the great Tokyo area, comes as nuclear officials struggle to stabilize the damaged power plant in Fukushima.

Explosions and fires have erupted in four of the plant's six reactors, leaking radioactive steam into the air. Progress in cooling down the overheated facility has been intermittent, disrupted by rises in radiation, elevated pressure in the reactors and overheated storage pools.

Radiation, meanwhile, has seeped into vegetables, raw milk, the water supply and even seawater in the areas surrounding the nuclear plant.

Broccoli was added early Wednesday to a list of tainted vegetables that already includes spinach, canola and chrysanthemum greens.

The Health Ministry ordered officials in the area of the stricken plant to step up the monitoring of seawater and seafood after elevated levels of radioactive iodine and cesium were found in ocean water near the complex.

In Washington, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday that it would halt imports of dairy products and produce from the Fukushima region. Other foods imported from Japan, including seafood, will still be sold to the public but screened first for radiation, the agency said.

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