* Radiation found in sea water, as well as vegetables, milk
* Power cables hooked to all 6 reactors at crippled plant
* China, South Korea checking Japanese food imports
* Earthquake, tsunami left 21,000 dead or missing
By Shinichi Saoshiro and Kiyoshi Takenaka
TOKYO, March 22 Global anxiety rose over
radiation from Japan's crippled nuclear plant even as engineers
won ground in their battle to avert disaster from the world's
worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl.
The high-stakes drama at the battered Fukushima nuclear
power complex is playing out while the Asian nation grapples
with the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that
left at least 21,000 people dead or missing.
Technicians working inside an evacuation zone round the
stricken plant on Japan's northeast Pacific coast have managed
to attach power cables to all six reactors and started a pump at
one of them to cool overheating nuclear fuel rods.
"We see a light for getting out of the crisis," an official
quoted Prime Minister Naoto Kan as saying, allowing himself some
rare optimism in Japan's toughest moment since World War II.
Yet away from the plant, mounting evidence of radiation in
vegetables, water and milk spread jitters among Japanese and
abroad despite officials' assurances levels were not dangerous.
Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company said
radiation was found in the Pacific nearby , not
surprising given rain and the hosing of reactors with sea-water.
Radioactive iodine in the sea samples was 126.7 times the
allowed limit, while caesium was 24.8 times over, Kyodo news
agency said. That still posed no immediate danger, TEPCO said.
"It would have to be drunk for a whole year in order to
accumulate to one millisievert," a TEPCO official said,
referring to the standard radiation measurement unit. People are
generally exposed to about 1 to 10 millisieverts each year from
background radiation caused by substances in the air and soil.
Japan has urged some residents near the plant to stop
drinking tap water after high levels of radioactive iodine were
detected. It has also stopped shipments of milk, spinach and
another local vegetable called kakina from the area.
"What I want the people to understand is that their levels
are not high enough to affect humans," Chief Cabinet Secretary
Yukio Edano said.
Experts say readings are much lower than around Chernobyl
after the 1986 accident in Ukraine. Some warned against panic.
"You would have to eat or drink an awful lot to get any
level of radiation that would be harmful," said British nuclear
expert Laurence Williams.
"We live in a radioactive world: we get radiation from the
earth, from the food we eat. It's an emotive subject and the
nuclear industry and governments have got to do a lot more to
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the radiation
impact was, however, becoming more serious than first thought,
when it was expected to be limited to 20-30 km from the plant.
However, Peter Cordingley, spokesman for the WHO's regional
office, told Reuters there was no evidence of contaminated food
reaching other countries from the Fukushima complex, which lies
240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.
In the city of 13 million, many residents remain indoors or
wear masks when out in the street. Some expatriates
and locals left after the accident.
Japan is a net importer of food, but has substantial exports
-- mainly fruit, vegetables, dairy products and seafood -- with
its biggest markets in Hong Kong, China and the United States.
China said it is monitoring food imports from Japan but also
took a swipe against panic by jailing a man for 10 days for
spreading rumours about contamination of its waters.
State media said the computer company worker, who had urged
people to avoid sea products for a year, was also fined 500 yuan
($76.13) and had confessed to "deep awareness of his mistake."
South Korea is expanding inspection of Japanese food.
And in Taiwan, one Japanese restaurant is offering diners a
radiation gauge in case they are nervous about the food.
The United States said it was distributing potassium iodide
to American personnel in Japan "out of an abundance of caution"
should the radiation treatment be needed.
The prospects of a nuclear meltdown in the world's
third-biggest economy - and its key position in global supply
chains especially for the automobile and technology sectors -
rattled investors worldwide last week and prompted rare joint
currency intervention by the G7 group of rich nations.
Damage is estimated at around $250 billion, making it the
world's costliest natural disaster.
Japan's economic growth is expected to depress in the first
half before reconstruction kicks in.
Global stocks rose on Monday as risk appetite returned
following progress in the nuclear crisis. The yen slid on
speculation of more Group of Seven intervention.
In a symbolic boost for Japan, billionaire investor Warren
Buffett said the quake and tsunami were an "enormous blow" but
also presented a "buying opportunity" given recovery prospects.
The official death toll - 8,805 by Tuesday morning - is
certain to keep rising, with another 12,654 reported missing.
Police say more than 15,000 people probably died in Miyagi
prefecture, one of four that took the brunt of the tsunami.
The 9.0-magnitude quake and ensuing 10-metre (32-ft) tsunami
obliterated towns, which are now wastelands of mud and debris,
leaving more than 350,000 people homeless.
Japanese are famed for resilience though, and there was none
of the chaos or looting that major global disasters often spark.
In one devastated northern town, Rikuzentakata, rebuilding
has even begun to help families living on mats in cramped
shelters, separated from neighbours only by cardboard.
Steel structures, with walls and wood floors, have been
erected at a hilltop school, to provide temporary housing.
Nearly 9.5 million foreigners visited Japan last year.
But, like Korean housewife Jin Hye-ryun who cancelled a
planned visit in May, many tourists are re-thinking.
"Safety is not guaranteed," she said. "Besides, think about
people dying there. No one wants to go there to have fun."
There is widespread admiration for the workers facing high
radiation dosages on the front line at Fukushima. Some have wept
with tension and relief after finishing their shifts.
Other tales of heroism and horror abound, including a fire
chief traumatised after sending a team to close a faulty
sea-wall manually just as the tsunami struck, killing them all.
As well as hunting for bodies and survivors, rescuers have
been painstakingly recovering photographs and other momentoes
from the wreckage and laying them out for possible collection.
(Additional reporting by Paul Eckert and James Topham in Tokyo;
Yoko Kubota and Chang-ran Kim in Rikuzentakata; Jon Herskovitz
and Chisa Fujioka in Kamaishi; Sui-Lee Wee in Beijing; Jungyoun
Park in Seoul; Alister Doyle in Oslo; Writing by Andrew
Cawthorne and Jason Szep; Editing by Miral Fahmy)