Tokyo on Wednesday warned that radioactive iodine over twice the safe level for infants had been detected in tap water due to the disaster at a quake-hit nuclear plant northeast of Japan’s capital.
The news compounded fears over the impact of the crippled Fukushima power station that also led the government to ban farm produce from areas near the charred complex.
The United States blocked imports of dairy and other produce from areas near the plant, while France urged the European Union to also control Japanese food imports.
In one Tokyo ward, a water sample contained 210 becquerels of iodine per kilogramme, more than double the legal limit, a city official said at a press conference – news that triggered a 1.6 per cent dive on the Tokyo stock market.
“Under government guidelines, water containing a radioactive substance of more than 100 becquerels per kilogramme should not be used for milk for babies,” the city official said.
Farm produce shipments were halted from Fukushima and three nearby prefectures – Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma – while radiation monitoring of farm and seafood products was stepped up in six others, officials said.
The new inspection zone extends to Saitama and Chiba, part of the greater Tokyo urban sprawl that is home to more than 30 million people.
The health ministry said radioactivity drastically exceeding legal limits had been found in 11 kinds of vegetable grown in Fukushima.
Even if the short-term risk is limited for now, scientists pointing to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster warn that some radioactive particles concentrate as they travel up the food chain and stay in the environment for decades.
France urged the European Commission to impose “systematic controls for all fresh produce reaching Europe’s borders” from Japan, while stressing that it was not calling for a total embargo on Japanese food products “at this stage”.
The confirmed death toll rose Wednesday to 9,408, and Japan holds out little hope for 14,716 officially listed as missing.
Japan estimated the economic cost at up to 25 trillion yen ($309 billion).