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Embassies close, radiation fears hit Tokyo

Embassies close, radiation fears hit Tokyo
Chargers of Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron (HS) 14 from Naval Air Facility Atsugi flies over the city of Sendai, Japan to deliver more than 1,500 pounds of food to survivors of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that devastated the area, March 12, 2011. The citizens of Ebina City, Japan, donated the food, and HS-14 is supporting earthquake and tsunami relief operations in Japan as directed. UPI/U.S. Navy Photo | License Photo

TOKYO, March 23 (UPI) -- Embassies for 25 countries have closed or relocated south of Tokyo following the epic earthquake and nuclear crisis, Japan's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.

News about the temporary closures and moves came as Tokyo officials urged residents not to hoard bottled water after learning radioactive material in tap water exceeded the limit considered safe for infants, CNN reported.

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"We have to consider Miyagi and Iwate and other disaster-hit areas," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. "I'd like to again urge consumers not to purchase more bottled water than they need."

Tokyo government officials Wednesday had advised residents not to give tap water to infants or use tap water in formula after tests at a purification plant detected higher levels of radioactive iodine.

Japan's National Police Agency said as of 6 p.m. Tuesday the death toll from the March 11 quake and tsunami reached 9,080 in 12 prefectures with 13,561 missing, Kyodo News reported.

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The city's water agency said the spike likely was caused by problems at the earthquake-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant about 150 miles away.

Despite misgivings in some quarters, Japan's 83rd National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament opened as scheduled Wednesday near Osaka, the Mainichi Daily reported. The tournament includes teams from the disaster area, and organizers said they want the event to lift the nation's spirits.

"What we can do at (Hanshin Koshien Stadium) is to run and play with all our might. We want to cheer up as many people as possible," a player with Tohoku High School in quake-stricken Miyagi Prefecture told the Mainichi Daily.

Smoke and earlier quake jolts disrupted recovery work at Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant Wednesday.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the Fukushima facility, was forced to evacuate its engineers working to restore power and critical cooling functions in some of the disabled reactors after smoke was seen coming out around 4:20 p.m. from the building housing the problematical No. 3 reactor.

The Fukushima plant in northeast Japan is about 150 miles away from Tokyo and is at the center of the country's worst atomic crisis since World War II, set off March 11 by an unprecedented 9-magnitude earthquake and a 30-foot tsunami the quake unleashed, which killed and left tens of thousands missiles.

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The cause of Wednesday's black smoke at the nuclear plant was not immediately clear but Tokyo Electric said it began to recede about an hour later, Kyodo reported. The government nuclear safety agency said it noticed no elevation of radiation levels as a result of the smoke.

Earlier Wednesday, earthquakes, likely aftershocks from the March 11 9-magnitude earthquake, tormented northeastern Japan, including a magnitude-6 temblor shortly after 7 a.m. that threatened the Fukushima nuclear plant.

No tsunami warnings were issued after Wednesday's shocks, while the government Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said the Fukushima plant suffered no additional damage, Kyodo News reported.

The Japanese health ministry reported radioactive materials well over the legal limits were found in 11 different vegetables including broccoli, cabbage, spinach and komatsuna, another leafy green, grown in Fukushima Prefecture, Kyodo reported. The ministry asked residents not to consume the vegetables for the time being.

The discovery extended earlier government orders barring shipments of raw milk and spinach.

The work at the plant currently involves cooling down the disabled reactors' spent fuel rod pools to prevent catastrophic radiation leakages. Also, engineers need to restore pressure gauge instruments at No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 reactors.

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More critically, engineers needed to bring back the cooling functions at No. 1, 2 and 3 reactors and in the pools storing spent fuel rods at No. 2, 3 and 4 units.

The utility Tuesday reported successfully reconnecting all the six reactors to external electric power, raising hopes that the cooling functions would be restored.

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