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Tokyo tap water too radioactive for infants, officials say

Officials warned today that infants should not drink Tokyo tap water because radioactive iodine exceeded legal limits at one purification facility.

By Winifred BirdCorrespondent / March 23, 2011

Shelves selling bottled water are empty at a convenience store in Tokyo on Wednesday, March 23. A spike in radiation levels in Tokyo tap water spurred new fears about food safety Wednesday as rising black smoke forced another evacuation of workers trying to stabilize Japan's radiation-leaking nuclear plant.

Lee Jin-man/AP

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Shingu, Japan

Tokyo officials warned today that infants should not drink city tap water because radioactive iodine exceeded legal limits at one purification facility, even as hopes rose that the source of that contamination – the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant – may soon be under control.

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Infants are much more vulnerable than adults to iodine-131, which officials have measured at 210 becquerels per liter. The limit for infants is 100 becquerels per liter, while for adults the limit is 300 becquerels.

“Even if you drink this water for one year, it will not affect people’s health,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said.

At Fukushima, external power lines have now reached all six reactor buildings and lights went on in one central control room at the plant late Tuesday night. Tests monitoring equipment in buildings No. 1, 3, and 4 have also been completed and cooling pools in buildings No. 5 and 6 are reported to be stable.

But late Wednesday afternoon workers were once again evacuated as dark smoke rose from building No. 3. The normal cooling systems in buildings No. 1 through 4 have not yet started up because plant operator TEPCO is still inspecting and repairing machinery there.

In the meantime firemen, plant employees, and Japan's self-defense force members pumped and sprayed huge amounts of water into the volatile spent fuel pool in building No. 4 and also into the No. 1 reactor, which rose 150 degrees above its normal temperature early this morning. Normal pumps in building No. 3 – the first to regain power in its control room – could start up as early as tonight or tomorrow, a company representative says.

But even if cooling is restored and the plant stops emitting contaminated steam, low levels of radioactive substances will keep raining down on farms, cities, and oceans for years, says Ikue Kanno, who designs radiation detectors at Kyoto University

“Radioactive materials stick to dust floating in the atmosphere. When it rains, we see a rise in cesium-137 levels resulting from atomic weapons tests done by the Soviet Union and United States decades ago, although not at dangerous levels,” he says.

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