The first good news out of this in a while:
Working overnight into Sunday, engineers have successfully restored power to cooling pumps in two reactors at the disabled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the first genuinely hopeful sign in the week-long battle to prevent a full-scale meltdown at any of the six reactors at the site.
Although power has so far been restored only at reactor buildings 5 and 6, which were not considered a particular threat, that success suggests that workers are finally beginning to make some headway in their effort to prevent more radiation from escaping the plant.
The two reactors had been shut down at the time the magnitude 9 earthquake struck a week ago, but spent fuel rods in an upper level of the reactor buildings were still generating heat and required cooling. When electricity at the site was lost and the tsunami damaged backup generators, the pools holding the fuel rods began to grow warmer.
Officials of the Tokyo Electric Power Co., which owns the plant, said water in the no. 5 pool had already cooled by about 10 degrees Fahrenheit since the cooling pumps had started working.
Engineers said they hoped to have the power connected to the remaining reactor buildings sometime Sunday or early Monday.
But now there's radiation in the food and water supply:
Although Japan's Health Ministry said the levels were not immediately harmful to humans, the discovery of higher than normal radioactivity in batches of milk and spinach near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was almost certain to stir new angst among a Japanese public already weary from earthquake aftershocks, blackouts and fears of a complete nuclear meltdown.
That announcement was followed by reports late Saturday that traces of radioactive iodine were found in tap water in Tokyo and other parts of the country.
"This is the expected next development," said Dr. Glenn D. Braunstein, chairman of the department of medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, referring to the tainted foods. After the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in the Soviet Union in 1986, he said, a major cause of the thyroid disease suffered by children came from consumption of contaminated food.
"There are two routes to radiation exposure: One is breathing it in, and the other is swallowing it through foodstuffs," he said. Other experts warned that contamination may also turn up in fish, a staple of the Japanese diet.