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Asia

Japan's neighbors alarmed by radioactive rain

As countries ban Japanese imports for fear of traces of radiation, there is one thing that they cannot stop - rain carrying radioactive materials will go wherever the wind blows.

A girl covered in face mask and rain coat carrying umbrella

Across the region people have been urged to protect themselves from the rain

In Japan's neighboring countries, fear of rain carrying radioactive material from Fukushima is growing by the day.

This week, over 130 kindergartens and elementary schools in or near the South Korean capital Seoul cancelled or cut short classes because of rain. Schools in remote areas where children have a long walk to class were encouraged to cancel activities. Outdoor activities were put on hold.

According to South Korea's nuclear safety agency, a low level of radioactive iodine and cesium particles has been detected in rainwater this week. Although the amount is thought to be too small to cause any health threat, some parents posted complaints on Seoul's education office's official website.

"Please order classes to be cancelled," one worried parent said. "I am worried to death about my child and can’t sleep."

Many Koreans are now wearing face masks and the streets are reported to be more jam-packed than usual, as more people choose to drive rather than walk. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has set up a ministerial group to protect public health and food safety.

People urged to avoid rain

In North Korea, meanwhile, people have been urged to stay indoors to avoid the rain. A series of programs on radiation hazards aired on state television has been telling people how to protect themselves from radioactive materials.

They tell people to wear raincoats and boots on rainy days and to always use umbrellas and also say that vegetables should be covered with plastic wrap and that livestock should not be allowed out in the rain. Football, baseball and other sporting events have been postponed.

A stack of spinach in a Japanese shop

Radioactivity has been found in spinach - some countries have banned Japanese imports

Across the border in China, traces of radioactivity have been found in spinach in three provinces.

India has banned food imports from all Japanese regions for the next three months. After radioactive water was reported to have leaked into the sea near Fukushima, Russia also banned fish imports from Japan.

The world's worst nuclear disaster in 25 years has also raised concern in the United States. With more atomic reactors than any other country, Democrat lawmakers are now asking whether they could be at risk of meltdown in case of a severe emergency. Their worries are especially focused on a nuclear plant in Pennsylvania that has a similar design to that of the Fukushima Daichi power plant.

TEPCO launches more emergency measures

In Japan meanwhile, TEPCO, the operator of the Fukushima plant, has begun injecting nitrogen into reactor number one to prevent a possible hydrogen explosion. The process will take about six days and will also be carried out on the other reactors.

Hydrogen, which accumulates through overheating, reacts explosively with oxygen, which could enter the reactor because of the leak. By injecting a large amount of nitrogen, TEPCO hopes to thin the oxygen and hydrogen and keep them below critical levels, as well as to prevent more oxygen from being drawn into the casing.

The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant

Nitrogen is now being injected into Fukushima's reactors to prevent further explosions

Large explosions were caused by hydrogen after the tsunami, damaging the buildings that housed the reactors.

A government spokesman said the injection was a "preventive measure," and denied that there was any "immediate danger" of an explosion occurring. Local media said, however, that there was a possibility radioactive air in the container could be forced out through cracks in the casing as nitrogen was injected.

Japan has been repeatedly criticized for not providing more information on the crisis. Russia has demanded that the government improve the country’s emergency reaction measures.

Author: Anggatira Gollmer (Reuters, dpa, AFP)
Editor: Anne Thomas

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