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Japan Nuclear Rescue Advances, But Radiation Seeps

National GovernmentJapan Earthquake and Tsunami (2011)EarthquakesNuclear PowerTokyo Electric Power Co.

* Some progress in trying to stabilise reactors

* Radiation traces found in food and water

* Quake and tsunami give Japan vast rebuilding task

* More than 7,500 dead, 11,700 missing

Engineers enjoyed some successin their mission to stop disaster at Japan's tsunami-damagedpower plant, though evidence of small radiation leakshighlighted perils from the world's worst nuclear crisis sinceChernobyl 25 years ago.

Three hundred technicians have been battling inside a dangerzone to salvage the six-reactor Fukushima plant since it was hitby an earthquake and tsunami that also killed 7,508 people andleft 11,700 more missing in northeast Japan.

The unprecedented multiple crisis will cost the world'sthird largest economy nearly $200 billion in Japan's biggestreconstruction push since post-World War II.

It has also set back nuclear power plans the world over.

Encouragingly for Japanese transfixed on the work atFukushima, the situation at the most critical reactor -- No. 3which contains highly toxic plutonium -- appeared to come backfrom the brink after fire trucks doused it for hours.

Work also advanced on bringing power back to water pumpsused to cool overheating nuclear fuel.

"We are making progress ... (but) we shouldn't be toooptimistic," said Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy-general at Japan'sNuclear Safety Agency.

Engineers attached a power cable to the No.1 and No. 2reactors, hoping to restore electricity later in the day. Theyalso hope to reach No. 3 and 4 soon to test turning the pumpson.

If successful, that could be a turning point in a crisisalready rated as bad as America's Three Mile Island accident in1979. If not, drastic measures may be required such as buryingthe plant in sand and concrete as happened at Chernobyl afterthe world's worst nuclear reactor disaster in 1986.

Cooling systems have been restored at the least critical ofthe six reactors, No. 5 and 6, using diesel generators.

"It appears that the situation has somewhat stabilised butit is still very severe," said Bo Stromberg, an analyst at theSwedish Radiation Safety Authority.

On the negative side, evidence has begun emerging ofradiation leaks from the plant, including into food and water.

Though public fear of radiation runs deep, and anxiety hasspread as far as the Pacific-facing side of the United States,health officials say levels so far are not alarming.

Traces exceeding national safety standards were, thoughfound in milk from a farm about 30 km (18 miles) from the plantand spinach grown in neighbouring Ibaraki prefecture.


Tiny levels of radioactive iodine have also been found intap water in Tokyo, one of the world's largest cities about 240km (150 miles) to south. Many tourists and expatriates havealready left and residents are generally staying indoors.

The sample contained 1.5 becquerals per kg of iodine 131,well below the tolerable limit for food and drink of 300becquerals per kg, the government said.

Japan said the traces so far found posed no risks.

Yet U.N. atomic watchdog the International Atomic EnergyAgency said Japan was considering whether to halt all foodproduct sales from Fukushima prefecture.

The first discovery of contaminated food since the March 11disaster is likely to heighten scrutiny of Japanese foodexports, especially in Asia, their biggest market.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who has kept a low profile duringthe crisis except for shouting at plant operator Tokyo ElectricPower Co (TEPCO), sounded out the opposition aboutforming a government of national unity to deal with the crisis.

But the largest opposition party rejected that.


Showing the incredible power of the 9.0 magnitudeearthquake, the largest in tremor-prone Japan's recordedhistory, Oshika peninsula in Miyagi prefecture shifted a whole5.3 metres (17 ft) east and its land sank 1.2 metres (4 ft).

In contrast to the generally negative images so far, onevideo emerged showing the crew of a Japanese coastguard vesselsuccessfully riding a massive wave by turning the bow directlyat the wall of waters.

The quake and ensuing 10-metre high tsunami devastatedJapan's north east coastal region, wiping towns off the map andmaking some 3 6 0,000 peoplehomeless in a test for the Asian nation's reputation forresilience and social cohesion.

Food, water, medicine and fuel are in short supply in someparts, and near-freezing temperatures are not helping.

The grim search for bodies continues.

"This morning my next door neighbour came crying to me thatshe still can't find her husband. All I could tell her was,'We'll do our best, so just hold on a little longer,'" said firebrigade officer Takao Sato in the disaster zone.

About 257,000 households in the north still have no electricity and at least one million lack running water.

In the face of mounting criticism, plant operator TEPCO'spresident issued a public apology for "causing such greatconcern and nuisance".

The crisis has been an unwelcome reminder for Japanese oftheir previous nuclear nightmare, the 1945 atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

(Additional reporting by Nathan Layne, Kiyoshi Takenaka, EalineLies Mayumi Negishi, Tomasz Janowski in Tokyo, and Yoko Kubotaand Chang-ran Kim in Rikuzentakata; Alister Doyle in Oslo;Writing by Andrew Cawthorne and Jason Szep. Editing by JeremyLaurence.)

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