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Japan radiation alert over contaminated food

Radiation levels in spinach and milk exceed safety limits following nuclear accidents at a tsunami-stricken nuclear plant, Japan's top government spokesman said today.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said checks of milk from Fukushima prefecture, where the plant is located, and of spinach grown in Ibaraki, a neighbouring prefecture, surpassed limits set by the government.

It was the government's first report of food being contaminated by radiation since the March 11 quake and tsunami unleashed the nuclear crisis.

The tainted milk was found 20 miles from the plant while the spinach came from a neighbouring prefecture, Mr Edano told reporters.

While the radiation levels exceeded the limits allowed by the government, Edano said that the products "pose no immediate health risk" and that further monitoring was being conducted on other foods.

If tests show further contamination, Edano said food shipments would be halted from the area.

"It's not like if you ate it right away you would be harmed," Edano said. "It would not be good to continue to eat it for some time."

The spinach radiation level is about one-fifth of one CT scan, he said.

"We are doing our utmost efforts to ensure the health of our people," Edano said.

Nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant began overheating and leaking radiation into the atmosphere in the days after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami overwhelmed its cooling systems.

The government admitted it was slow to respond to the nuclear troubles, which added another crisis on top of natural disasters which left an estimated more than 10,000 dead and displaced more than 400,000 others.

Emergency crews were working today to cool the reactors and fuel storage pools by spraying water and to restore electricity. Edano said the situation while bad was not growing worse.

"The situation at the nuclear complex still remains unpredictable. But at least we are preventing things from deteriorating," Edano said.

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