Japanese officials say two emergency workers at the country’s crippled nuclear plant have been hospitalized with lesions on their legs after being exposed to excessive levels of radiation.
A spokesman for the nuclear safety agency said Thursday three workers received radiation in excess of legal limits while working to repair vital cooling pumps at the Fukushima nuclear plant’s number 3 reactor, considered the most dangerous of because its fuel rods include unstable plutonium.
NHK Television said two of the three have been taken to a hospital but that work is continuing at the plant, which has been leaking dangerous radiation since its cooling systems were damaged by a deadly earthquake and tsunami almost two weeks ago.
The radiation has reached as far as Tokyo, where officials Wednesday detected levels of radioactive iodine in the water supply that are safe for adults but twice the level allowed for infants. Authorities began distributing 240,000 bottles of water to families with children under one year old Thursday after the announcement prompted panicked water sales that cleaned out supermarket shelves.
NHK Television said the radiation levels in the water had fallen back to safe levels Thursday and that an advisory against providing the water to infants has been withdrawn. Officials urged the public not to hoard water supplies, which are needed for hundreds of thousands of people left without electricity or running water by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
National police said Thursday that 9,700 people have been confirmed dead and 16,500 are reported missing in the disaster. About 300,000 are living in temporary shelters.
At the Fukushima plant, emergency crews were permitted to resume work Thursday morning after officials reported a halt to the black smoke rising from the number 3 reactor that forced them to evacuate the plant on Wednesday.
Japanese television showed aerial shots of white smoke or steam rising from four of the six reactors, where workers are using fire trucks and seawater to try to keep the plant’s nuclear fuel rods from overheating. But officials said the steam was not sufficiently dangerous to prevent a resumption of the repair effort.
Radiation from the plant has infected milk and vegetables in wide areas surrounding the plant. Australia, Canada and Singapore all joined the United States on Thursday in imposing new restrictions on Japanese food exports.
Workers at the plant are seeking to restore outside electricity to the plant’s pumps, which drive water used to keep its fuel rods from becoming hot enough to catch fire and emit more radiation.
Power was restored to the control room at the number 3 reactor on Wednesday before workers were driven out by the black smoke. Officials said lights came on Thursday morning at the control room of the number 1 reactor, making it easier for the workers to carry out repairs.
Temperatures came down at the number 1 after rising to dangerous levels Wednesday, but higher pressure levels were recorded as water was pumped in. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters the workers need to maintain a delicate balance between the two threats.