- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2011

NARA, Japan | Fears of nuclear fallout grew during a wet Sunday after officials reported traces of radioactive elements in milk, spinach, water and rain across northern and central Japan and technicians continued to battle overheated reactors at the Fukushima power plant.

Crews from the Tokyo fire and police departments, using an unmanned vehicle, sprayed seawater for 13 hours onto the decimated reactor Unit 3, which contains plutonium and uranium, only to see pressure rise and then stabilize on Sunday, government officials said.

They also tried to top up pools holding potentially exposed spent fuel rods thought to be emitting radiation into the cold, rainy atmosphere around Fukushima prefecture.

Crews connected electrical cables to Unit 2 but continued to delay plans to restart vital cooling systems, possibly damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan.

More than eight days after the quake, police rescued a teenage boy and an 80-year-old woman who survived on yogurt inside their collapsed home.

The efforts cheered some of the estimated 500,000 survivors in shelters who are still looking for loved ones in obliterated communities across northeastern Japan, where increasing numbers of volunteers are hoping to bring supplies to remote areas lacking electricity on freezing nights.

Consumers across Japan and neighboring countries grew increasingly wary of agricultural products from the crisis area. Taiwan found small, unharmful traces of iodine in Japanese fava beans, and Japanese officials reported small traces of iodine and cesium in Spinach in Ibaraki province, far beyond the government’s 18-mile danger zone and an 50-mile radius designated by the United States and other countries.

Japan’s chief Cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, said the low levels of radiation posed no public health risks.

“If you eat it once, or twice, or even for several days, it’s not just that it’s not an immediate threat to health. It’s that even in the future, it is not a risk,” he said. “Experts say there is no threat to human health.”

No contamination has been reported in Japan’s main food export, seafood, worth about $1.6 billion a year and less than 0.3 percent of its total exports.

About 435 miles southwest of the smoldering nuclear power plant, people who fled Tokyo and the northeast filled hotels in Osaka, Kobe and the ancient capitals of Kyoto and Nara.

Etsuko Okamoto, a retiree from Tokyo staying at the Nikko hotel in Nara, said she was still afraid to go back to Tokyo, beset with a record number of aftershocks and fears of contamination.

“I am too old to escape from my old house by myself,” she said. “I don’t know how long I will have to stay here, and it is rather expensive. But at least I am safe.”

Keith Paddington, an English teacher from Britain, said he has been camping in a park near Nara’s ancient palace because he distrusts the government’s assurances that radioactive elements found in the Tokyo water supply are safe.

“I’ve been to Nara four times now, and it’s beautiful, but I really don’t want to be here,” he says, sitting near a mountain bike and a few small bags of clothing he brought on the train from Tokyo last week.

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