Japanese Officials: Tap Water Is Safe To Drink

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Officials in Japan have been fielding a lot of questions about radiation in drinking water. Tokyo's local government discovered slightly elevated levels of radioactive iodine in the city's water. Parents were advised not to give tap water to babies, who are especially vulnerable to this form of radiation. The advisory created a run on bottled water.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

In Japan, there are signs of progress at the damaged nuclear power plant. The plant's nuclear fuel is cooling off, radiation levels are falling, but radioactive material released a week ago is still finding its way into the environment. It's been detected in seawater, in vegetables grown near the plant, and most recently in Tokyo's water supply. NPR's Jon Hamilton reports from Tokyo.

JON HAMILTON: At a press conference today, Japanese officials fielded a lot of questions about radiation in drinking water. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano spent much of his time trying to reassure the public that tap water is still safe. He spoke through a translator.

Mr. YUKIO EDANO (Chief Cabinet Secretary, Japan): (Through Translator) Just because such readings were high, there's no immediate health hazard.

HAMILTON: Earlier this week, Tokyo's local government discovered slightly elevated levels of radioactive iodine in the city's water. City officials responded by advising parents not to give tap water to babies who are especially vulnerable to this form of radiation. The advisory created a run on bottled water throughout the city. And at today's press conference, Edano was asked what the government was doing about the shortage.

Mr. EDANO: (Through Translator) For the great majority of the population, other than the babies, the use of tap water would not be hazardous. Therefore, I hope that those people without the babies could act calmly.

HAMILTON: In other words, please stop the run on bottled water. Fortunately, radioactive water is likely to be only a short-term problem in most of Japan. That's because the radioactivity so far has come from mostly from a form of iodine that doesn't last long. Most of it will disappear within a few weeks, leaving water, soil and future crops much less contaminated. In fact, the most recent tests of Tokyo's water show levels back in the safe zone. A more persistent threat is radioactive cesium, which remains dangerous for decades. But the Dai-ichi plant has released far less cesium than iodine. All that means the public health risks should decrease in the coming weeks, assuming the Dai-ichi plant doesn't release any more radiation.

Jon Hamilton, NPR News Tokyo.

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