Japan’s struggles increase

Japan estimated the cost of the damage from its
devastating earthquake and tsunami could top $300 billion as authorities in
Tokyo warned that babies should not be given tap water because of radiation
from a crippled nuclear plant.

The first official estimate since
the 11 March disaster covers damage to roads, homes, factories and
infrastructure, and dwarfs losses from both the 1995 Kobe quake and Hurricane
Katrina that swept through New Orleans in 2005, making it the world’s costliest
natural disaster.

As concern grew over the risk to
food safety of radiation from the damaged Fukushima power plant, 150 miles
north of the Japanese capital, the United States became the first nation to
block some food imports from the disaster zone.

The plant, battered by a 9.0 magnitude
earthquake and tsunami that has left 23,000 people dead or missing, has still
not been brought under control, and workers were forced away from the complex
when black smoke began rising from one of its six reactors.

Tokyo authorities said water at a purification
plant for the capital of 13 million people had 210 Becquerel’s of radioactive
iodine — more than twice the safety level for infants.

The U.S. Food and Drug
Administration said it was stopping imports of milk, vegetable and fruit from
four prefectures in the vicinity of the stricken nuclear plant.

Hong Kong, a major importer of
Japanese food, also banned produce and milk imports from the disaster zone.

Japan’s Jiji news agency said Hong
Kong authorities had found radioactivity levels in spinach and turnip samples
up to 10 times over the safety limit.

South Korea may be next to ban
Japanese food after the world’s worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

France this week asked the European
Commission to look into harmonizing controls on radioactivity in imports from

The damage estimate of $300 billion
could go higher as it does not include losses in economic activity from planned
power outages or the broader impact of the nuclear crisis.

The 1995 Kobe quake
cost $100 billion while Hurricane Katrina caused $81 billion in damage.


Tayo Kitamura, 40, kneels in the street to caress and talk to the wrapped body of her mother Kuniko Kitamura, 69, after Japanese firemen discovered the dead woman inside the ruins of her home in Onagawa, Japan.
Photo: msnbc.com