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Smoke billowing from nuclear plant

Smoke is billowing from two of the damaged Japanese reactors, temporarily halting vital work to reconnect power lines and restore cooling systems to the complex.

Workers are racing to bring the nuclear plant under control, but the process is proceeding in fits and starts, hindered by incidents like the smoke and by the need to work methodically to make sure wiring, pumps and other machinery can be safely switched on.

What caused the smoke to billow first from Unit 3 at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant and later from Unit 2 is under investigation. Workers were evacuated from the area to buildings nearby, though radiation levels remained steady, the officials said.

Traces of radiation are contaminating vegetables and some water supplies, although in amounts the government and health experts say do not pose a risk to human health in the short-term.

"Please do not overreact, and act calmly," said Chief Cabinet spokesman Yukio Edano. "Even if you eat contaminated vegetables several times, it will not harm your health at all."

He said Fukushima's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, would compensate farmers affected by bans on the sale of raw milk, spinach and canola cooking oil.

The Health Ministry advised people in Iitate, a village of 6,000 people about 19 miles from the plant, not to drink tap water due to raised levels of iodine.

The nuclear safety agency and Tokyo Electric have reported significant progress over the past few days, with electrical teams, having finished connecting three of the plant's six units, now working to connect the rest .

Once done, however, pumps and other equipment have to be checked - and the reactors cleared of dangerous gas - before the power can be restored.

Growing concerns about radiation add to the chain of disasters Japan has struggled with since the massive earthquake and resulting tsunami.

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