Tainted seafood fears spread as Japan plant leaks

TOKYO - (AP) - Fears about contaminated seafood spread Wednesdaydespite reassurances that radiation in the waters off Japan'stroubled atomic plant pose no health risk, as the country'srespected emperor consoled evacuees from the tsunami and nuclearemergency zone. While experts say radioactive particles are unlikely to build upsignificantly in fish, the seafood concerns in the country thatgave the world sushi are yet another blemish for Brand Japan. Ithas already been hit by contamination of milk, vegetables andwater, plus shortages of auto and tech parts after a massive quakeand tsunami disabled a coastal nuclear power plant. Setbacks at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex mountedWednesday, as the plant's operator, Tokyo Power Electric Co.,announced that its president was hospitalized. Masataka Shimizu hasnot been seen since a news conference two days after the March 11quake that spawned the destructive wave. His absence fueledspeculation that he had suffered a breakdown. Spokesman Naoki Tsunoda said Shimizu, 66, was admitted to aTokyo hospital Tuesday after suffering dizziness and high bloodpressure. The problems at the nuclear plant have taken center stage, butthe tsunami also created another disaster: Hundreds of thousands ofpeople were forced from their homes after the wave drove miles inland, decimating whole towns. The official deathtoll stood at 11,362 late Wednesday, with the final toll likelysurpassing 18,000. Japan's respected Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visiteddisaster evacuees at a center in Tokyo on Wednesday. The visit wasmarked by a formality that is typical of interactions with theroyal couple, but survivors said they were encouraged. "I couldn't talk with them very well because I was nervous, butI felt that they were really concerned about us," said KenjiUkito, an evacuee from a region near the plant who has alreadymoved four times since the quake. "I was very grateful." The emperor and his wife make fairly frequent publicappearances, visiting nursing homes and the disabled and attendingceremonies throughout the year. In particular, they are expected tomourn with those affected by natural disasters. Akihito made asimilar visit to evacuees after the Kobe earthquake in 1995. At the Fukushima plant, the fight to cool the reactors and stemtheir release of radiation has become more complicated in recentdays since the discovery that radioactive water is pooling in theplant, restricting the areas in which crews can work. It also putsemergency crews in the uncomfortable position of having to pump inmore water to continue cooling the reactor while simultaneouslypumping out contaminated water. That contamination has also begun to seep into the sea, andtests Wednesday showed that waters 300 yards (meters) outside theplant contained 3,355 times the legal limit for the amount ofradioactive iodine. It's the highest rate yet, but Nuclear and Industrial SafetyAgency official Hidehiko Nishiyama said it did not pose any threatto human health because the iodine rarely stays in fish. There isno fishing in the area because it is within the evacuation zonearound the plant. Radioactive iodine is short-lived, with a half-life of justeight days, and in any case was expected to dissipate quickly inthe vast Pacific Ocean. It does not tend to accumulate inshellfish.

Links and information for relief efforts

Japan: Not enough safeguards to protect nuke plantLI Continuing Coverage: Japan quake and aftereffectsOfficials: Plutonium found at Japan's nuclear complex

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