The Japanese government on Saturday confirmed for the first time that the unfolding nuclear catastrophe had affected the country’s food chain.
It said it had found higher than normal levels of radioactive materials in spinach and milk at six farms in Ibaraki
prefecture, near the ravaged Fukushima nuclear power plant. It also reported trace amounts of radioactive iodine in tap water in Tokyo and five other areas.
"These levels don’t pose an immediate threat to your health,” government spokesperson Yukio Edano said. “Please stay calm.”
The government has halted the sale of all farm products from the area, the International Atomic Energy Agency said.
At the Fukushima plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company — with help from the Japan Self-Defence Force, police and firefighters — managed to connect a power line to reactors 1 and 2. They hope to restart the cooling system on Sunday.
Edano said spinach and milk were only products found with abnormally high levels of radioactive material but the government was considering comprehensive tests at farms away from the plant. Food safety inspectors said the amount of iodine-131 found in the tested milk was five times the level deemed safe. In spinach it was more than seven times higher. The spinach also contained slightly higher amounts of cesium-137. Iodine-131 can accumulate in thyroid and cause cancer. Cesium-137 damages cells and leads to an increased risk of cancer.
A 6.1-magnitude quake rocked Ibaraki and its vicinity. There was no immediate report of any damage. The toll from the twin tragedy continued to mount with the National Police Agency saying there were at least 7,200 confirmed deaths so far while 11,000 people remained missing. Authorities expect the final toll to exceed 10,000.