TOKYO (Reuters) - News that radioactive dust had reached Tokyo and low-level radiation had been found in the tap water barely caused a ripple in the capital on Sunday.
Most people in the city of 13 million stayed indoors on a sunny, if slightly hazy, spring day and the middle of a three-day weekend. But shoppers queued as usual for food and vegetables, despite the radiation scare from a nuclear plant in the northeast crippled by a massive earthquake and tsunami nine days ago.
“There’s no way I can check if those radioactive particles are in my tap water or the food I eat, so there isn’t much I can really do about it,” said Setsuko Kuroi, an 87-year-old woman shopping in a downtown Tokyo supermarket with a white gauze mask over her face.
“I don’t plan big changes to my diet. And I only drink bottled water.”
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology said traces of radioactive iodine were found in dust in Tokyo and the surrounding Kanto area in a 24-hour period starting Friday morning. It added there was no risk to human health.
Officials in Ibaraki and Fukushima prefectures, the areas closest to the nuclear plant, said some samples of spinach and milk had been found to have higher than usual levels of iodine. They were analyzing samples and asking for a voluntary suspension of shipments.
Government officials said the levels were not immediately harmful to human health.
“I‘m worried I won’t be able to sell this spinach,” said farmer Teruko Saka, 80, in Moriya in Ibaraki. “Then I’ll have to throw it away like garbage. That will be very sad.” More than a week after the earthquake and tsunami triggered the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, many foreigners and tourists have fled the country and rolling blackouts and radiation fears have gripped the capital.
Japan is the only country in the world to have been attacked with nuclear weapons, in 1945 before most of its 127 million were born.
There has been no panic, and no signs of any exodus from the affected areas.
“They say it’s safe to eat the vegetables as long as we wash them,” said a customer at another Tokyo grocery. “So I am not really worried.”
There was no suggestion that any vegetables from the nuclear plant zone had reached Tokyo. In the upscale Ginza district, many shops were open, but there were few customers.
“We get a lot of visitors from China, Russia, and other places during the cherry blossom season, but after the tragic destruction it’s hard to see many tourists coming this year,” said Shigeyuki Ando, the manager of a shop selling ceramics and picture frames.
“If it was just me I would stay, but my wife is worried and the (Spanish) government called and told us to go, so we are leaving,” said Daniel Martinez, a 34-year-old Spanish school teacher who was in Japan with his wife on their honeymoon.
The couple, both carrying large backpacks on the subway, said they were on the way to the airport.
“We would love to come back, but it will be hard to get (an extended) time off like this again sometime soon.”
Additional reporting by James Topham and Hyun Oh; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Jonathan Thatcher