WASHINGTON, March 29 (UPI) -- A U.S. agency began checking milk supplies as radiation from Japan's crippled nuclear power plant was detected in the air and water in more than a dozen states.
The Environmental Protection Agency said it typically monitored milk for radiation every three months but would now begin the testing "immediately."
The statement, which said it was unlikely radiation levels would contaminate milk to any degree that would harm health, came a day ahead of a Senate hearing on how the Japanese nuclear crisis might affect the United States.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is scheduled to hear Tuesday from U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Executive Director of Operations Bill Borchardt on the crisis.
Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said two weeks ago he wanted the NRC to act quickly on assessments of whether safety standards for U.S. reactors were adequate in light of the unfolding crisis in Japan. He said he would discuss this during the hearing.
"I hope that the commission will quickly reach some conclusions about whether the safety precautions and provisions that it has insisted on are adequate for the future," he said in a March 15 statement.
The Japanese crisis may spur regulatory changes in the governance of U.S. commercial reactors, he added.
"I think nuclear power can be provided in a safe, reliable way, and it is possible that we will learn some things from what's happened in Japan that will persuade us to put in place additional precautions," he said.
NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko -- who will testify about the crisis before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee Wednesday and before the House Appropriations subcommittee Thursday -- called the Japanese calamity an "unprecedented challenge" while in Tokyo Monday to meet with Japanese officials.
"Our best experts remain fully engaged to help Japan," a U.S. Embassy statement quoted Jaczko as saying.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano called the situation at the plant, 140 miles northeast of Tokyo, "very grave" after troubled operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Tuesday highly toxic plutonium was found seeping from the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan told a Parliament committee the government was in a "state of maximum alert." He said the nuclear crisis was "unpredictable," Japan's Jiji Press wire service reported.
Japan is considering temporarily nationalizing Tokyo Electric Power to facilitate its reconstruction, the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun said Tuesday, citing unnamed government sources.