Radiation-Tainted Food Detected Leaving Japan

A shipment of fava beans had been contaminated, officials report, as smoke drove workers from the country's overheating nuclear plant.

THE GIST

- Engineers at Japan's stricken Fukushima facility are racing to fix disabled cooling systems and restore power.

- The government is halting shipments of milk and certain vegetables after abnormal radiation levels were found in products.

A new column of smoke rising from an overheating nuclear plant in Japan drove workers out of the smoldering site on Monday, denting hopes for a breakthrough in the post-quake atomic crisis.

Meanwhile, authorities in Taiwan checking food for radiation on Sunday found a shipment of fava beans from southern Japan had been contaminated, an official said.

The radiation was found on 30.8 pounds of fava beans from Kagoshima, said Tsai Shu-chen, an official with the Food and Drug Administration.

It is the first report of contaminated food being found outside Japan since the crisis at a nuclear power plant triggered by a devastating earthquake and tsunami nine days ago.

"The beans may have been contaminated when they were airlifted to Tokyo's Narita Airport for a transit shipment to Taiwan," said Tsai Shu-chen, an official with the Food and Drug Administration.

Chief government spokesman Yukio Edano said the government was halting shipments of milk and certain vegetables including spinach from regions around the plant after abnormal radiation levels were found in the products.

But "even if you eat and drink them several times it will not be a health hazard. So I would like you to act calmly without reacting," Edano said at a televised news conference.

The workers were temporarily evacuated from part of the quake- and tsunami-hit Fukushima plant in northeast Japan after the "light grey plume of smoke" rose from reactor number three, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.

"Due to this problem, the operator temporarily pulled out the workers, while checking on the condition of the site," a TEPCO spokesman told reporters, without specifying the cause.

The smoke at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, 155 miles northeast of Tokyo, was not believed to have been caused by all-important efforts to restore power to the reactor, officials said.

"Currently we are not in a bad situation with respect to the nuclear reactor and radiation levels... we are closely monitoring the situation," Edano said.

Engineers at the stricken Fukushima facility are racing to fix disabled cooling systems and restore power, as fire trucks spray water to help cool reactor fuel-rod pools.

The cooling systems -- designed to protect the plant's six reactors from a potentially disastrous meltdown -- were knocked out by the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan's northeast Pacific coast on March 11.

Minutes before the crews' evacuation, Prime Minister Naoto Kan acclaimed "slow but steady progress" in dealing with the atomic crisis.

"Workers' efforts at the risk of their lives have made the situation progress little by little," Kan said, according to a government spokesman.

Asked on CNN earlier if the worst was over at the aging facility, US Energy Secretary Steven Chu said: "We believe so, but I don't want to make a blanket statement."

The natural disaster -- Japan's deadliest since 1923 -- has left 8,649 people dead and 13,262 missing, after entire communities were swept away by the horrific tsunami or levelled by the record 9.0-magnitude quake.