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Tap water warning in Tokyo, workers evacuated from plant again

A man carries bottles of water near Tokyo, March 23, 2011. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/ Lee Jin-man.

A one-step forward, two steps back scenario is playing out as Japanese authorities try and fix the multitude of problems at a damaged nuclear power plant and the issues surrounding radiation leaks.

Officials are advising people in Tokyo to avoid giving tap water to infants after levels of radioactive iodine surged. Tests on tap water showed 210 becquerels of iodine-131 per litre of water, which is more than twice the recommended limit of 100 becquerels per liter for infants.

Meanwhile, workers were once again evacuated from the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant Wednesday after black smoke rose over a damaged reactor.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano urged calm and said parents and caregivers shouldn’t worry if babies have consumed a small amount of tap water because the limits refer to sustained consumption rates.

Convenience stores in Tokyo were sold out of bottled water shortly after the advisory was issued.

The tap water warning came after radiation was detected in vegetables, raw milk and seawater around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, about 220 kilometres northwest of the capital, which was heavily damaged by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan’s northeast coast March 11.

There have been explosions and fires at four of the plant’s six reactors since the twin disasters struck.

On Tuesday crews rushed to cool a storage pool for spent fuel rods because it was at risk of boiling. In a major step forward, the plant owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), said power lines had been reconnected at all six reactors Tuesday — a key step in restarting the facility’s cooling systems. Lights were switched on at Unit 3.

But in another setback, smoke rose from Unit 3 Wednesday prompting the worker evacuation. The crew is expected to start work again Thursday morning. TEPCO officials say no radiation surge was reported and they don’t yet know what’s causing the smoke.

Residents within 20 kilometres of the plant have been evacuated and those up to 30km away are being advised to remain indoors. Edano has also suggested residents downwind of the plant and just outside the zone should also seal themselves indoors as a precaution.