In Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Thursday that Japanese scientists have found “measurable concentrations” of radioactive iodine-131 and cesium-137 in samples of seawater collected off the Fukushima prefecture coast.
“The iodine concentrations were at or above Japanese regulatory limits, and the cesium levels were well below those limits,” the IAEA said on its Web site. The samples were gathered Tuesday and Wednesday at several points 18.6 miles from shore, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said.
A day after Tokyo officials warned of elevated iodine levels in the city’s tap water and the national government restricted shipment of 11 leafy vegetables in several prefectures, residents scrambled to stock up on the essentials, which are now in short supply.
Tokyo officials distributed 240,000 bottles of water to households with infants, who are more vulnerable to radioactive iodine-131. The U.S. Embassy handed out to American citizens potassium iodide pills, which can block radioactive iodine from building up in the thyroid gland.
“If the situation isn’t better in one week, I actually might have to move in with my parents,” said Yuki Ochiai, 32, mother of an 8-month-old girl who was among two dozen customers in line at the Tokyu grocery store 20 minutes before it opened. “My husband is already encouraging me to leave.”
As residents fretted, the number of deaths from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami officially topped 10,000, the National Police Agency said Friday. More than 17,000 people remain missing.
Two weeks after the quake, Japan Prime Minister Naoto Kan is scheduled to address the nation at 7:30 p.m. Friday, his spokesman said.
Meanwhile, the struggle to prevent more radiation from escaping the nuclear plant continued. Engineers hooked up lighting to a control room at the unit 1 reactor Thursday — an incremental, but hopeful, step toward cooling overheated spent fuel rods. At the unit 3 reactor, workers prepared to test a cooling pump that would allow them to pour in fresh rainwater instead of less effective seawater.
But there were setbacks. Three workers suffered radiation burns after stepping in contaminated water while attempting to lay electrical wiring at one of the buildings. Two of the workers, exposed to 170 to 180 millisieverts of radiation, were hospitalized, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, who did not disclose the status of the third employee. The Associated Press quoted Fumio Matsuda, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, as saying that radiation levels of 170 to 180 millisieverts were well below the maximum 250 millisieverts allowed for workers.