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Water Worries In Tokyo; Smoke Rising At Reactor

Japan's ongoing nuclear crisis deepened in Tokyo on Wednesday, as health authorities warned that radiation in some tap water there exceeds safe levels for infants. Parents are being warned not to use tap water to prepare baby formula.

Evacuees queue for meals at Saitama Super Arena on March 20, 2011 in Saitama, Japan. Saitama Prefecture intends to accommodate those earthquake victims and nuclear plant evacuees temporarily at the indoor arena until March 31.
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Above: Evacuees queue for meals at Saitama Super Arena on March 20, 2011 in Saitama, Japan. Saitama Prefecture intends to accommodate those earthquake victims and nuclear plant evacuees temporarily at the indoor arena until March 31.

Authorities said the warning was prompted by readings of radioactive iodine in the city's drinking water. At 190 to 210 becquerels per liter, the water exceeded the 100-becquerel limit for infants. But water officials said readings were still below the 300-becquerel limit for adults.

Nevertheless, the news raised health concerns among the millions who live in Japan's largest city, which is about 120 miles south of the damaged nuclear plant. NPR's Richard Harris reports from Tokyo that the health warning prompted runs on bottled water.

Much higher levels of radioactive iodine have been recently reported in the Fukushima prefecture surrounding the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, which was damaged in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Health authorities have also limited the sale of milk and leafy vegetables from certain regions, due to higher-than-normal readings of radiation. At the same time, they said those readings should cause no immediate impact on human health.

Meanwhile, workers at the nuclear plant are still struggling to bring all of the reactors under control. Black smoke rose briefly from the No. 3 reactor Wednesday afternoon. That interrupted recovery efforts as some workers had to be evacuated from around the unit. Despite regular progress over the past few days, officials are still puzzled by the regular appearance of smoke plumes that rise from the facilities, then disappear. Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the plants and the recovery efforts, has offered no explanation for the smoke.

On Tuesday, workers made a big step forward when they reconnected the lights in one reactor's control room, and said they had succeeded in bringing external power to all six reactors. But they still have a lot of work to do before they can bring cooling equipment back online.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said technicians continue to conduct diagnostic tests to determine whether the plant's electrical systems need to be rebuilt before they can be energized. The IAEA also says the source of the radiation leaks remains unclear, because workers are unable to inspect the reactors up close. The current leaks could be coming from the reactors themselves, or from the pools of used fuel.

Workers continue to inject water into some of the reactor's core units, to keep the temperature down. They have also been spraying water onto pools that hold used fuel rods. Those pools are believed to have been damaged in the quake and tsunami, and by the hydrogen explosions that have rocked the complex. Spent nuclear fuel remains dangerously radioactive, and workers have been struggling to keep the pools filled with water.

Aside from work at the nuclear reactor, relief work continues to help the hundreds of thousands of people left homeless by the earthquake and tsunami. National Police figures indicate more than 24,000 people have been confirmed dead or missing, with nearly 9,500 confirmed dead.

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