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Seafood Now a Concern for Japan

TOKYO -- Fears about contaminated seafood spread Wednesday despite reassurances that radiation in the waters off Japan's troubled nuclear plant poses no health risk.

Although experts say radioactive particles are unlikely to build up significantly in fish, the seafood concerns in the country that gave the world sushi are yet another blemish for Brand Japan.

The country already has been hit by contamination of milk, vegetables and water, plus shortages of auto and tech parts since the massive quake and tsunami disabled the coastal nuclear power plant.

Setbacks at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex mounted Wednesday, as the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power, announced that its president was hospitalized.

Masataka Shimizu hadn't been seen since a news conference two days after the March 11 quake. His absence fueled speculation that he had suffered a breakdown.

Spokesman Naoki Tsunoda said Shimizu, 66, was admitted to a Tokyo hospital Tuesday after suffering dizziness and high blood pressure.

The problems at the nuclear plant took center stage, but the tsunami created another disaster: Hundreds of thousands of people were forced from their homes. The official death toll stood at 11,362 late Wednesday, and the final toll is likely to surpass 18,000.

Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited evacuees at a center in Tokyo on Wednesday.

At the Fukushima plant, the fight to cool the reactors and stem their release of radiation has become more complicated in recent days, since the discovery that radioactive water is pooling in the plant, restricting the areas in which crews can work. It puts emergency crews in the position of having to pump in more water to continue cooling the reactor while pumping out contaminated water.

That contamination started to seep into the sea, and tests Wednesday showed that waters 300 yards outside the plant contained 3,355 times the legal limit for radioactive iodine.

Officials said there is no threat to human health because the iodine rarely stays in fish.

But several countries ordered special inspections or outright bans on fish from areas near the plant -- including China, India and South Korea.

However Japan imports far more seafood than it exports.

In Tokyo, fresh fish was selling poorly. Fishermen are worried their livelihoods will be threatened just when they need to rebuild their homes.|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|s




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