Japan urges calm over food export fears

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan called on the world not to impose “unjustifiable” import curbs on its goods as French President Nicolas Sarkozy was due to arrive today, the first leader to visit since an earthquake and tsunami damaged a nuclear plant, sparking the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

In a briefing to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Japan said it was monitoring radioactive contamination to prevent potential food safety risks and would provide the WTO with quick and precise information.

“In return, Japan asked members not to overreact,” said a WTO official.

Several countries have banned milk and produce from the areas near the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, due to contamination fears. Japan has itself stopped exports of vegetables and milk from near the plant, which is leaking radiation.

As radiation fears linger, Singapore has told the UN nuclear watchdog that some cabbages imported from Japan had radiation levels up to nine times the levels recommended for international trade.

While food makes up only 1 percent of Japan’s exports, the tsunami-crippled nuclear plant poses a serious risk to an economy burdened with huge public debt, an aging population and a big bill for rebuilding, possibly topping $300 billion.

Radioactive iodine in the sea off the damaged plant has hit record levels. The state nuclear safety agency said the amounts were 3,355 times the legal limit and highly toxic plutonium has been detected in the soil at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

As operators struggle to regain control of the damaged reactors three weeks after the quake and tsunami, smoke was reported to be coming from a second damaged nuclear plant nearby yesterday, with authorities saying an electric distribution board powering a water pump was the problem.

The Daini plant several miles from the stricken Daiichi facility has been put into cold shutdown. Nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) said the incident would not cause any radiation effect externally.

The government has set up an evacuation area around the Daiichi plant with a 20-km (12-mile) radius and most of 70,000 people who live there are believed to have left. Another 130,000 people are within a zone extending a further 10 km in which residents are recommended to stay indoors.

But the International Atomic Energy Agency said radiation measured at a village 40 km from the nuclear complex exceeded a criterion for evacuation.

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