Rain forecast unnerves some near Japan nuke plant

OSAKA, March 20, 2011 (AFP) - Light rain was forecast for Sunday near Japan's stricken nuclear plant and in the Tokyo area, leading the government to advise people to use umbrellas if they are worried about radioactive fallout.

Government agencies had received calls from "a number of people" about contamination carried in raindrops, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama said in an interview with public broadcaster NHK.

"The current levels are not indicating possible harm to health," he said. "Please do not worry. But if you are concerned, please use an umbrella so that you don't get wet. And if you do get wet, please wash yourselves."

The meteorological agency forecast three to five millimetres (0.12 to 0.2 inches) of rainfall around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, which was badly damaged by the massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Japanese Self-Defense Force personnel collect food items from a distribution centre in the city of Kamaishi in Iwate prefecture on March 20, 2011. AFP

Slight rainfalls were also predicted Sunday evening in Tokyo, located 250 kilometres (155 miles) southwest of the plant.

Japan has detected abnormal levels of radiation in milk and spinach near the plant, while traces of radioactive iodine have been found in tap water in Tokyo and several prefectures near the atomic power complex.

The government stressed there was no imminent public health threat, but the findings were nevertheless likely to fuel consumer fears.

The disaster knocked out the plant's reactor cooling systems, sparking a series of explosions and fires, and radioactive substances have been leaking into the air, detected in miniscule traces as far as California.

Workers have struggled to keep the fuel rods inside reactors and fuel storage pools under water. If the heating rods are exposed to air, they could degrade further and emit large amounts of radioactive material.

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