Smoke Rises From Nuclear Reactors; Concerns Over Radiation in Food

BY Tom LeGro  March 21, 2011 at 8:35 AM EDT

Smoke rose from two reactor units at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant Monday, stopping work to reconnect power lines and fix cooling systems to Japan’s nuclear complex damaged by the March 11 earthquake.

What caused the smoke from Unit 3 and later from Unit 2 is under investigation, Japanese officials said, adding that workers were evacuated from the area to buildings nearby, though radiation levels remained steady.

However, nuclear safety agency authorities and Tokyo Electric officials reported significant progress over the weekend and Monday. Electrical teams finished connecting three of the plant’s six units and were working to connect the rest by Tuesday.

Over the weekend, Japanese government officials said traces of radiation were found in vegetables and some water supplies. Government and health experts said the amounts do not pose a risk to human health in the short-term.

Foods like spinach and milk were under close scrutiny. China ordered testing of Japanese food imports for radiation contamination.

The World Bank said in a report Monday that Japan may need five years to rebuild from the earthquake and tsunami, which caused up to $235 billion in damage.

Public broadcaster NHK said Monday that the official death toll had been raised to more than 8,600. But the final toll is expected to reach at least 20,000.

There was at least one bit of good news Sunday as Japan turns to the massive task of recovery from the crises. An 80-year-old woman and her grandson were rescued in northeastern Japan, nine days after the disaster, after the teenage youth was able to pull himself out of the rubble of their home.

Find all of the NewsHour’s coverage of the Japan disaster.