Japan urges calm over food export fears

Wed Mar 30, 2011 2:22pm EDT
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By Shinichi Saoshiro and Risa Maeda

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 on Thursday, 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 U.N. 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 on Wednesday, with authorities saying an electric distribution board powering a water pump was the problem.   Continued...

<p>Japan's nuclear safety agency official Hidehiko Nishiyama speaks during a news conference on Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, in Tokyo, March 30, 2011. REUTERS/Issei Kato</p>