Japan: Over 500 Britons Given Iodine Pills To Counteract Radiation: UPDATED

20 Mar

More than 500 Britons in Japan have been given iodine tablets to counteract the affects of radiation leaking from the country’s crippled nuclear facility.

Britons in Japan given iodine pills Enlarge photo

The Foreign Office said the tablets, which are used to stop the body absorbing radioactive iodine, have been distributed to around 540 British nationals so far.

The revelation came as engineers at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant managed to restore power to two reactors.

But the breakthrough was tempered with the news that pressure had unexpectedly risen at another unit at the plant.

The Japanese government also advised villagers in Fukushima not to drink tap water because of radioactive iodine.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said the tablets were handed out only to those people who had requested them.

She explained: “The British Embassy is distributing iodine tablets in Tokyo and Niigata as a contingency measure. People should wait until advised to take the tablets. Iodine tablets have been distributed to around 540 British nationals.”

The exodus of British nationals from Japan continued on Sunday but the Foreign Office said there would be no more government-chartered seats made available on flights out of the country on Monday

Seven Britons left Japan on a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong on Sunday. It was the fourth flight that had been made available with government-chartered seats in the last few days. A total of six government-chartered buses have also run from tsunami-levelled Sendai to Tokyo in the same period, carrying 66 British Nationals.

Some 17,000 Britons are believed to have been in Japan when the catastrophe occurred but there are no reports of British casualties yet. The number of British citizens now remaining in the country is not known.

NEWS UPDATE ADDITION:

Voters handed German Chancellor Angela Merkel a wake-up call Sunday on nuclear power after the Japan crisis as the Greens more than doubled their score in the second of 2011’s seven state elections.

Members of Germany’s Green Party celebrate after the first projections Enlarge photo

The result will give the ecologist party high hopes for a much bigger prize: success in an election next Sunday in the wealthy southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, the most important of the year’s electoral tests.

Projections in Saxony-Anhalt indicated Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) came first and were likely to stay in power in coalition with their sworn enemies at national level, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).

This was despite the CDU’s share of the vote slipping some three percentage points. The SPD’s share of the vote was little changed on 21.4 percent, behind the far-left Die Linke, on 23.5 percent, also little changed.

But the big winners of the vote in the impoverished eastern state — unemployment stands at 13 percent — were the Greens, who more than doubled their score to seven percent.

The far-right NPD won 4.5 percent, below the five percent needed to enter the state parliament. The pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), Merkel’s coalition partners at federal level, will also be unrepresented, scoring 3.5 percent.

The surge in the Greens’ support was seen as being in large part down to Merkel’s stance on nuclear power after Japan’s earthquake and tsunami on March 11 pushed reactors at the Fukushima plant to the brink of a meltdown.

People “want to know, particularly after the tragedy in Japan, what a responsible energy policy will look like”, Greens co-head Claudia Roth said.

The result, although driven to a large extent by local issues, “showed one thing: that the rise of the anti-nuclear movement is only boosting the Greens”, the Stuttgarter Zeitung daily said in a Monday editorial.

Baden-Wuerttemberg, where the CDU have ruled since 1953 — the year before Merkel was born, is home to four nuclear reactors. Saxony-Anhalt has none, but has several wind farms.

Germany decided a decade ago to go nuclear-free by around 2020 but Merkel last year postponed the switch-off until the mid-2030s despite strong public unease about atomic energy.

But Japan’s nuclear emergency prompted her last week to announce a three-month moratorium on the postponement and the temporary shutdown of Germany’s seven oldest reactors pending a safety review.

She also said she would speed up the transition to renewable energy.

This has not gone down well with voters, however, with a survey Friday showing that nearly seven out of 10 voters thought her moves were “pure electioneering”.

A YouGov poll the day before showed that 81 percent of voters thought her actions over nuclear power were “not credible”.

“Merkel: no one believes her any more” ran the front-page headline in the Berliner Kurier tabloid.

“What Merkel has started is a risky game and there is little to suggest at the moment that she will emerge as the winner. Her change has been too abrupt, too poorly prepared,” Spiegel magazine said this week.

Polls suggest the Greens are also set to double their vote in Baden-Wuerttemberg, raising the possibility that one of Germany’s 16 states might have something no other state has ever had: a Green premier.

Guido Westwelle, FDP leader, deputy chancellor and foreign minister, called on middle class voters to turn out and vote in Baden-Wuerttemberg and SPD-controlled Rhineland-Palatinate, which also has an election next Sunday.

“As we can see, if you don’t vote there is a big danger of a left-wing majority,” he said.

Last May an election defeat in North Rhine-Westphalia lost Merkel’s national coalition with the FDP its majority in the federal upper house, making passing legislation more difficult.

And this year’s first state election, in Hamburg last month, saw the CDU replaced by the SPD in city hall after a decade in power.

NEWS UPDATE:

By KELLY OLSEN and JOE McDONALD, Associated Press Kelly Olsen And Joe Mcdonald, Associated Press :

TOKYO – At a bustling Tokyo supermarket Sunday, wary shoppers avoided one particular bin of spinach.

The produce came from Ibaraki prefecture in the northeast, where radiation was found in spinach grown up to 75 miles (120 kilometers) from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. Another bin of spinach — labeled as being from Chiba prefecture, west of Tokyo — was sold out.

“It’s a little hard to say this, but I won’t buy vegetables from Fukushima and that area,” said shopper Yukihiro Sato, 75.

From corner stores to Tokyo’s vast Tsukiji fish market, Japanese shoppers picked groceries with care Sunday after the discovery of contamination in spinach and milk fanned fears about the safety of this crowded country’s food supply. Trace amounts of radioactive iodine also were found in tap water in Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan.

The anxiety added to the spreading impact of the unfolding nuclear crisis triggered when the March 11 tsunami battered the Fukushima complex, wrecking its cooling system and leading to the release of radioactive material.

On Sunday, the government banned shipments of milk from one area and spinach from another and said it found contamination on two more vegetables — canola and chrysanthemum greens — and in three more prefectures. The Health Ministry also advised a village in Fukushima prefecture not to drink tap water because of radioactive iodine in its supply. It stressed, however, that the amounts remained minuscule and posed no health threat.

There were no signs Sunday of the panic buying that stripped Tokyo supermarkets of food last week. Instead, shoppers scrutinized the source of items and tried to avoid what they worried might be tainted.

Mayumi Mizutani was shopping for bottled water, saying she was worried about the health of her visiting 2-year-old grandchild after a tiny amount of radioactive iodine was found in Tokyo’s tap water. She expressed fears that the toddler could possibly get cancer.

“That’s why I’m going to use this water as much as possible,” she said.

The government said the level of radiation detected on spinach and milk was minuscule and should be no threat to health. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said he had received no reports that would require special measures to be taken regarding tap water.

Tainted milk was found 20 miles (30 kilometers) from the plant on Saturday, a local official said. Spinach was collected from six farms between 60 miles (100 kilometers) and 75 miles (120 kilometers) to the south of the reactors.

On Sunday, authorities found contamination at additional farms in Fukushima and on vegetables in Chiba, Gunma and Tochigi prefectures, said Yoshifumi Kaji, director of the health ministry’s inspection and safety division. He said it was possible some tainted foods already have been sold.

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed radiation in some Japanese milk and vegetables was “significantly higher” than levels Japan allows for consumption.

Authorities expect to decide by Tuesday on a comprehensive plan to limit food shipments from affected areas, Kaji said at a news conference.

Farmers and merchants expressed fears of their own that public anxiety might hurt even producers of goods that were free of contamination.

“There will probably be damaging rumors,” said farmer Shizuko Kohata, 60, who was evacuated from the town of Futaba, near the Fukushima complex, to a sports arena in Saitama, north of Tokyo.

“I grow things and I’m worried about whether I can make it in the future,” Kohata said Saturday.

Chiyoko Kaizuka, who with family members farms spinach, broccoli, onions, rice and other crops on 20 hectares (49 acres) in Ibaraki prefecture northeast of Tokyo, said the combination of earthquakes and fears of radiation have her on edge.

“I don’t know what effect the radiation will have, but it’s impossible to farm,” the 83-year-old Kaizuka said Sunday as she stood along a row of fresh, unpicked spinach that was ready to go but now can’t be shipped.

On Sunday, an official of Taiwan’s Atomic Energy Council said radiation was detected on fava beans imported from Japan, although in an amount that was too low to harm human health. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to deal with the press.

Japan’s food exports are worth about $3.3 billion a year — less than 0.5 percent of its total exports — and seafood makes up 45 percent of that, according to government data.

Experts at the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization were working Sunday to gather more facts to assess the situation, but an FAO spokesman in Rome said that the picture was not yet clear enough for them to release any specific recommendations.

However, the agencies praised the Japanese government for taking steps to test foods and monitor exports for radiation contamination.

In Tokyo, others said they weren’t concerned and put the crisis in perspective with other calamities.

“I experienced the war, so if there is enough food for a day or two, I feel we can get by,” said Nagako Mizuno, 73, originally from Iwaki, a city in the quake zone, but has lived in Tokyo for 40 years.

“You can’t go on living if you worry about it,” she said. “It’s all the same if everybody ends up dying. I’m not concerned.”

Fears of radioactive contamination hurt sales at the Tsukiji market, a vast maze of aisles where merchants at hundreds of stalls sell tuna, octopus and other fish fresh off the boat. The market was unusually quiet over the weekend, a time when it is normally packed with shoppers and tourists.

Traders have been hit hard by power cuts and an exodus of foreigners, and they worry about long-term damage from public fears over possible contamination of fish stocks.

“The impact would last long, like a decade, because people would not eat fish,” said merchant Mamoru Saito, 72.

The market had plenty of fresh fish despite the destruction of much of Japan’s northeastern fishing fleet in the tsunami. Whole fish and shellfish were laid out on wooden tables washed by a flow of cold water. Fishmongers sawed slabs of frozen tuna into steaks.

At a restaurant adjacent to the market, sushi chef Hideo Ishigami said the nuclear scare and transportation disruptions due to power cuts have cost him business.

“I have a massive drop in the number of customers,” said Ishigami, 72.

___

Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi and Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo, Debby Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, George Jahn in Vienna, and Margie Mason in Hanoi, Vietnam contributed to this report.

NEWS UPDATE:

Workers were close to restoring power to a nuclear plant’s overheating reactors on Sunday as the toll of dead or missing from Japan’s worst natural disaster in nearly a century passed 20,000.

An official in a radiation protection suit scans a dog with a Geiger counter at a shelter …More Enlarge photo

In the sea of devastation left on the northeast coast by a March 11 quake and tsunami, police reported an astonishing tale of survival with the discovery of an 80-year-old woman and her 16-year-old grandson alive under the rubble.

“Their temperatures were quite low but they were conscious. Details of their condition are not immediately known. They have been already rescued and sent to hospital,” a spokesman for the Ishinomaki Police Department said.

But with half a million tsunami survivors huddled in threadbare and chilly shelters and the threat of disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant stretching frayed nerves, the mood in the world’s third-biggest economy remains grim.

Food contaminated with radiation has cropped up for the first time outside Japan — where milk and spinach have already been tainted by a plume from Fukushima — as Taiwan detected radioactivity in a batch of imported Japanese fava beans.

The discovery of traces of radioactive iodine in Tokyo tap water, well to the southwest of the crippled atomic power plant on the Pacific coast, compounded public anxiety but authorities said there was no danger to health.

The Fukushima plant was struck on March 11 by a massive earthquake and tsunami which, with 8,133 people confirmed killed, is Japan’s deadliest natural disaster since the Great Kanto quake levelled much of Tokyo in 1923.

Another 12,272 are missing, feared swept out to sea by the 10-metre (33-foot) tsunami or buried in the wreckage of buildings.

In Miyagi prefecture on the northeast coast, where the tsunami reduced entire towns to splintered matchwood, the official death toll stood at 4,882.

Miyagi police chief Naoto Takeuchi, however, told a task force meeting that his prefecture alone “will need to secure facilities to keep the bodies of more than 15,000 people”, Jiji Press reported.

Cooling systems that are meant to protect the Fukushima plant’s six reactors from a potentially disastrous meltdown were knocked out by the tsunami, and engineers have been battling ever since to control rising temperatures.

The radiation-suited crews were striving to partially restore electricity to the ageing facility 250 kilometres (155 miles) northeast of Tokyo, after extending a high-voltage cable into the site from the national grid.

A spokesman for Japan’s nuclear safety agency said electricity had apparently reached the power distributor at the No. 2 reactor, which in turn would feed power to the No. 1 reactor.

“Now, (plant operator) TEPCO is to check the systems one by one, including the cooling system, to see if there are any problems,” he said.

Fire engines earlier aimed their water jets at the reactors and fuel rod pools, where overheating is an equal concern, dumping in thousands of tonnes of seawater from the adjoining Pacific.

Six workers at the Fukushima plant have been exposed to high levels of radiation but are continuing to work and have suffered no health problems, TEPCO said.

According to the charity Save the Children, around 100,000 children were displaced by the quake and tsunami, and signs of trauma are evident among young survivors as the nuclear crisis and countless aftershocks fuel their terror.

“We found children in desperate conditions, huddling around kerosene lamps and wrapped in blankets,” Save the Children spokesman Ian Woolverton said after visiting a number of evacuation centres in Japan’s northeast.

“They told me about their anxieties, especially their fears about radiation,” Woolverton said, adding that several youngsters had mentioned the US atom bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which they know from school.

The government has insisted that there is no widespread threat of radiation. But the discovery of the tainted fava beans by Taiwanese customs officers will do nothing to calm public anxiety that has already spread far beyond Japan.

Several governments in Asia have begun systematic radiation checks on made-in-Japan goods, as well as of passengers arriving on flights from the country.

But Tsai Shu-chen of Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration stressed that the radioactive iodine and caesium-137 found on the fava beans were well below national safety levels.

In the disaster epicentre of northeast Japan, authorities have been battling to get more fuel and food to sick and hungry survivors enduring freezing temperatures.

At shelters, some grandparents are telling children stories of how they overcame hardships in their own childhood during and after World War II, which left Japan in ruins.

“We have to live at whatever cost,” said Shigenori Kikuta, 72.

“We have to tell our young people to remember this and pass on our story to future generations, for when they become parents themselves,” he said.

There was better news for residents in Rikuzentakata, where construction teams began erecting 36 prefabricated units, the first of many more temporary houses being built for the tsunami homeless.

“They won’t be very big, but whatever they are, it will be better than being in here,” said great-grandmother Tokiko Kanno, who has been sleeping on a school stage.

An official in a radiation protection suit scans a dog with a Geiger counter at a shelter …More Enlarge photo

An elderly woman cries in front of a destroyed building in the devastated town of …More Enlarge photo

A woman looks at the names of missing persons at the reporting centre in the city of …More Enlarge photo

Japan dead, missing tops 21,000 amid atomic crisis

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