Progress on Japan nukes, but radiation fears real

Empty shelves in Tokyo after a run on groceries by a nervous public. CBS

Empty shelves in Tokyo after a run on groceries by a nervous public.
Empty shelves in Tokyo after a run on groceries by a nervous public.
CBS

CBS News producer Erin George reports from Tokyo

There seems to be good news coming from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant. Workers have been able to hook up external electrical power to one of the reactors, and hopefully in the next 24 hours they'll know if that electricity can power the failed water pumps. Radiation levels have stabilized to some extent, and one International Atomic Energy Official said Sunday those levels "remain below those which are dangerous for human health."

But here in Tokyo, where we're working and staying to cover this crisis, any number of things could jeopardize their progress.

Radiation in food up to 65 miles from Japan plant
Special section: Disaster in Japan

There have been hundreds of aftershocks since March 11; some of these are legitimate earthquakes in their own right. Our Tokyo bureau is equipped with a sensor that is so sensitive it detects earthquakes seconds before they happen, and a small bell starts ringing - giving us about 5 seconds to prepare. Yesterday it was a big one - a 6 on the Japanese scale - and it lasted so long I had time to run to my bag, pull out a camera, turn it on and shoot the creaking and swaying of the building. Even as nuclear plant workers make heroic strides to cool the fuel rods and stabilize the reactors, a huge aftershock - or another big earthquake - could erase all their hard work.

Meanwhile, we all watch the weather anxiously. A few days ago forecasters thought the wind would be headed toward Tokyo, but it's actually continued to blow out to sea ... and it looks like it will stay that way for a few more days. But rain is coming, and with it, more suggestions that people stay indoors to avoid any radiation in the moisture. Guess what can't avoid moisture? Farms.

Today there are reports of radioactive iodine found in spinach and milk from farms located 60 miles from Fukushima, outside of the so-called danger zone... and in fava beans exported from Japan to Taiwan. The government is also reporting that radioactive iodine is in Tokyo's water - at levels not harmful to human health.

But as Bill Whitaker reported earlier this week, people (and we here at CBS News) have every reason to be wary of information coming from the government and TEPCO, the power company that owns the nuclear reactor.

They may not be lying, but they may not have all the right information - which can be VERY worrisome as one showers and drinks tea here in Tokyo. We're trying to avoid dairy and fresh vegetables... but with all of the local markets still under-stocked (due to fuel and food shortages) and a SERIOUS run on Cups of Noodles, food options are limited.

It's driving us nuts working from a bureau in Tokyo while all of the news is happening 140 miles north of us at the reactor and 100 miles further than that, in the hardest-hit disaster areas where people are still in desperate need of attention and aid. But with radiation appearing daily in troubling places, it's better to be safe than sorry.

  • Erin George

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