- - Thursday, July 28, 2011

TOKYO Japanese authorities this week released information that paints a more worrisome picture of the ongoing nuclear crisis than the central government has previously admitted.

More than 1,600 workers may have been exposed to dangerous limits of radiation in the first weeks after the March 11 tsunami swamped the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station about 150 miles northeast of Tokyo, according to a government report completed in April.

Meanwhile, the Agriculture Ministry announced that at least 2,900 cattle ate rice straw contaminated with radioactive isotopes above legal limits, leaving thousands of consumers across Japan wondering whether they have ingested cancer-causing particles.

In addition, authorities posted online maps showing the fallout of radioactive cesium and iodine from a “nuclear cloud” that floated over the greater Tokyo area, home to more than 40 million people, on March 15.

The newly released information presents a more troubling scenario than originally described in March and April by government officials, who tended to downplay or withhold bad news to calm a public enduring food shortages and hundreds of aftershocks.

Many longtime foreign residents are discussing among friends and on chat sites whether it is safe to remain in Japan.

“It’s time for sensible foreigners living in Japan to consider moving elsewhere,” said a commentator identified as “Chamade” on the chat site of Japan Today in Tokyo.

“This is only going to get worse, and we can bet there will be numerous other produce - fruit and vegetables - as well as seafoods and meats, that will be dangerous to consume. And announced after the fact.”

Many Japanese also are growing increasingly wary of the government’s handling of the crisis and concerned about the spread of radioactive particles.

A video titled “Japanese government killing its own people in Fukushima” has attracted more than 100,000 hits since it was posted on YouTube on Monday.

The video, with English subtitles, shows Fukushima city residents berating a man identified as “Akira Satoh, director of the local Nuclear Emergency Response headquarters” during a seminar, and then following him to an elevator demanding the government test the urine of children in Fukushima.

The report on workers’ health hazards emerged this week after a nonprofit group, the Tokyo Occupational Safety and Health Center, used a freedom of information request to obtain a Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) document dated April 25, according to Kyodo News.

In the document, Tepco privately estimated that it expected 1,600 workers at the damaged nuclear plant to suffer exposure to radiation surpassing the level deemed the safe limit for workers in a year.

The report then was sent by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) officials to the Health, Welfare and Labor Ministry, but the information was not made public. At that time, Tepco and government officials repeatedly told the public that workers were operating within safe limits.

Earlier this week, NISA posted 600 online maps showing how radiation spread in the first week after explosions began at reactors March 12. The data are based on a system known as SPEEDI that measured the amount of radiation in the air every hour from 9 a.m. March 12 to midnight March 17.

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