The Japanese government has set its first radiation safety standards for fish after a tsunami-ravaged nuclear plant reported radioactive contamination in nearby sea water measuring several million times the legal limit.
The Fukushima plant operator insisted that the radiation would rapidly disperse and that it poses no immediate danger, but an expert said exposure to the highly concentrated levels near the facility could cause immediate injury and that the leaks could result in residual contamination of the sea in the area.
The new levels coupled with reports that radiation was building up in fish led the government to create an acceptable radiation standard for fish for the first time. Some fish caught on Friday off Japan's coast would have exceeded the new provisional limit.
Radiation has been leaking into the Pacific near the plant on the north-eastern coast since a 9.0-magnitude earthquake spawned a massive tsunami which inundated the complex. Over the weekend, workers there discovered a crack where highly contaminated water was spilling directly into the ocean.
The tsunami pulverised about 250 miles of the north-eastern coast, flattening whole towns and cities and killing up to 25,000 people. Tens of thousands more lost their homes in the crush of water, and several thousand were forced from the area near the plant because of radiation concerns.
Many of those "radiation refugees" have grown frustrated with the mandatory 12-mile no-go zone, and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) - whose stock value has plunged to the lowest level in its 60-year history - said today it would give affected towns 20 million yen (£146,000) each.
Tepco has announced that samples taken from sea water near one of the reactors contained 7.5 million times the legal limit for radioactive iodine on April 2. Two days later, that figure had dropped to 5 million.
The company said in a statement that even those large amounts would have "no immediate impact" on the environment but added that it was working to stop the leak as soon as possible.
The new readings were taken closer to the plant than before - apparently because new measuring points were added after the crack was discovered - and did not necessarily reflect a worsening of the contamination. Other measurements several hundred yards away from the plant have declined to levels about 1,000 times the legal limit - down from more than four times that last week.
Experts agree that radiation dissipates quickly in the vast Pacific, but direct exposure to the most contaminated water would lead to "immediate injury", said Yoichi Enokida, a professor of materials science at Nagoya University's graduate school of engineering.