Positive signs for Japan nuclear crisis

Some optimistic signs emerged today in Japan’s quake-triggered nuclear crisis as a crucial power cable was laid and officials spoke of some stability at crippled reactors, but radiation-tainted farm products and tap water were also found, indicating the widespread impact of the disaster.

For the first time since the crisis hit the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, excessive levels of radiation were found in milk and spinach in Fukushima and adjacent Ibaraki prefectures, traces of radioactive iodine were detected in tap water in Tokyo and nearby prefectures, and cesium in some samples, but government officials denied there are risks to human health.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said that conditions at the plant’s highly dangerous No. 3 reactor unit have likely become relatively stable on the third day of an unprecedented mission to douse massive amounts of water from outside the damaged building to fill an overheating spent fuel pool, which is vital to prevent the release of radioactive substances.

Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said separately the surface temperatures at the No. 1 to No. 4 reactors were found by a Self-Defense Forces helicopter in the morning to be 100 C or lower, adding they were lower than feared.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan instructed the Defense Ministry to continue monitoring around the plant, Kitazawa said.

The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., meanwhile, basically finished preparations to supply the No. 1 and No. 2 reactor buildings with a stable source of electricity as early as Sunday through a power cable.

TEPCO is expected to start checking equipment Sunday to see which will work with the electricity, the government nuclear agency said.

Milk and spinach from the areas near the plant were found with radiation above Japan’s regulated standards, showing the impact of the disaster is spreading.

Small amounts of radioactive iodine were also detected in tap water sampled in Tokyo, Tochigi, Gunma, Chiba, Saitama and Niigata prefectures, and cesium, another radioactive substance, was also found in Tochigi and Gunma prefectures, the science and technology ministry said, adding the levels would not affect human health even if ingested.

The government has set an exclusion zone covering areas within a 20-kilometer radius of the plant and has urged people within 20 to 30 km to stay indoors.

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