Food contamination worries Japan after disasters

FUKUSHIMA, Japan - (AP) - Repercussions of Japan's triple disastercame into clearer focus Monday after the World Bank said theearthquake and tsunami caused up to $235 billion in damage andhealth officials reported more cases of radiation-taintedvegetables and tap water.

Japanese officials reported progress over the weekend in theirbattle to gain control over a nuclear complex that began leakingradiation after suffering quake and tsunami damage, though thecrisis was far from over, with a dangerous new surge in pressurereported in one of the plant's six reactors.

The announcement by Japan's Health Ministry late Sunday thattests had detected excess amounts of radioactive elements on canolaand chrysanthemum greens marked a low moment in a day that had beenpeppered with bits of positive news: First, a teenager and hisgrandmother were found alive nine days after being trapped in theirearthquake-shattered home. Then, the operator of the overheatednuclear plant said two of the six reactor units were safely cooleddown.

"We consider that now we have come to a situation where we arevery close to getting the situation under control," Deputy CabinetSecretary Tetsuro Fukuyama said.

Still, serious problems remained at the Fukushima Dai-ichinuclear complex. Pressure unexpectedly rose in a third unit'sreactor, meaning plant operators may need to deliberately releaseradioactive steam. That has only added to public anxiety overradiation that began leaking from the plant after a monstrousearthquake and tsunami devastated northeastern Japan on March 11and left the plant unstable. As day broke Monday, Japan's militaryresumed dousing of the complex's troubled Unit 4.

The World Bank said in report Monday that Japan may need fiveyears to rebuild from the catastrophic disasters, which caused upto $235 billion in damage, saying the cost to private insurers willbe up to $33 billion and that the government will spend $12 billionon reconstruction in the current national budget and much morelater.

The safety of food and water was of particular concern. Thegovernment halted shipments of spinach from one area and raw milkfrom another near the nuclear plant after tests found iodineexceeded safety limits. Tokyo's tap water, where iodine turned upFriday, now has cesium. Rain and dust are also tainted.

Early Monday , the Health Ministry advised Iitate, a village of6,000 people about 30 kilometers (19 miles) northwest of theFukushima plant, not to drink tap water due to elevated levels ofiodine. Ministry spokesman Takayuki Matsuda said iodine three timesthe normal level was detected there - about one twenty-sixth of thelevel of a chest X-ray.

In all cases, the government said the radiation levels were toosmall to pose an immediate health risk.

But Tsugumi Hasegawa was skeptical as she cared for her4-year-old daughter at a shelter in a gymnasium crammed with 1,400people about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the plant.

"I still have no idea what the numbers they are giving aboutradiation levels mean. It's all so confusing," said Hasegawa, 29,from the small town of Futuba in the shadow of the nuclear complex."And I wonder if they aren't playing down the dangers to keep usfrom panicking. I don't know who to trust."

All six of the nuclear complex's reactor units saw trouble afterthe disasters knocked out cooling systems. In a small advance, theplant's operator declared Units 5 and 6 - the least troublesome -under control after their nuclear fuel storage pools cooled to safelevels. Progress was made to reconnect two other units to theelectric grid and in pumping seawater to cool another reactor andreplenish it and a sixth reactor's storage pools.

But the buildup in pressure inside the vessel holding Unit 3'sreactor presented some danger, forcing officials to considerventing. The tactic produced explosions of radioactive gas duringthe early days of the crisis.

"Even if certain things go smoothly, there would be twists andturns," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters. "Atthe moment, we are not so optimistic that there will be abreakthrough."

Growing concerns about radiation add to the overwhelming chainof disasters Japan has struggled with since the 9.0-magnitudequake. It spawned a tsunami that ravaged the northeastern coast,killing 8,600 people, leaving more than 12,800 people missing, anddisplacing another 452,000, who are living in shelters.

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