Japan's neighbours monitor shipments for radiation as nuclear crisis escalates
BEIJING, China - Japan's neighbours have ordered strengthened radiation monitoring of shipments from the earthquake-stricken country amid its frantic attempts to cool overheating reactors at a damaged nuclear power plant. The U.N. health body said there was no evidence of contamination outside Japan.
Regulators in China, which is Japan's largest trading partner, issued an order Wednesday calling for radiation monitoring to track any goods possibly contaminated by leaks from nuclear power reactors damaged by Friday's 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan. Several other Asian nations were taking similar precautions.
A statement from the World Health Organization's China representative Michael O'Leary said WHO "would like to assure governments and members of the public that there is no evidence at this time of any significant international spread from the nuclear site" in Japan's northeast.
The statement also warned against rumours falsely saying a radiation cloud was spreading across Asia.
Japan ordered emergency workers to withdraw from the damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima on Wednesday amid a surge in radiation, temporarily suspending efforts to cool the overheating reactors.
Officials in Ibaraki prefecture (state), just south of Fukushima, said radiation levels were about 300 times normal levels by late morning. While those levels are unhealthy for prolonged periods, they are far from fatal. Fukushima is about 140 miles (220 kilometres) north of Tokyo.
Besides China, far eastern Russia and the Korean peninsula are Japan's closest neighbours.
The Russian Emergencies Ministry said Tuesday it had detected no increase in radiation levels.
South Korean officials said Wednesday they had strengthened radiation monitoring. Officials began to inspect all livestock and fisheries products imported from Japan for radiation contamination on Monday, according to the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. In the past, only random samples were inspected.
About 50 tons of animal products, mostly cheese, have been tested so far but no contamination has been found, said ministry official Jang Jae-hong.
The state-run Korea Food & Drug Administration has also started radiation checks, agency official Oh Geum-sun said.
Two-way trade between South Korea and Japan reached about $92.5 billion last year, with Japan ranked as South Korea's second-largest trading partner after China. Trade between China and Japan in 2010 was about $300 billion.
The Department of Health in Taiwan, which is southwest of Japan, has begun checking food imports from the Fukushima area of Japan for radiation contamination, and airport officials are offering to scan any inbound passengers from Japan who are worried about radiation.
China's official Xinhua News Agency quoted Chinese meteorologists Wednesday as saying rain and snow forecast in northern Japan should help prevent any spread of radiation.
In Hong Kong, shoppers were buying up popular Japanese milk powder, fearing future supplies could be contaminated by radiation.
Hong Kong Secretary for Food and Health York Chow said the self-governing Chinese territory had stepped up checks of imported Japanese fresh food imported by air since Saturday, testing each shipment's radiation level, with no problems reported. Japanese imports make up a small amount of Hong Kong's total food imports.
Further away, Singapore said it has increased inspections of food imports from Japan.
An Indian government statement said customs authorities at ports and airports had been asked to test samples of food imported from Japan. India mainly imports Japanese processed foods, sea food, oil seeds and seeds of vegetables such as cauliflower and cabbage. It also gets citrus fruits, diary products, confectionery and tobacco products from Japan.
Malaysian airport authorities are screening passengers and cargo from Japan for radiation contamination, said Mohamad Yasin Sudin, an official with the Atomic Energy Licensing Board. Authorities are also checking food imports from Japan.
Associated Press writers Ashok Sharma in New Delhi, Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, Julia Zappei in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Alex Kennedy in Singapore, Debby Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, and Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong contributed.