In China, Concern Over Radiation Spreads

 Published: 3/17/2011 12:09:05 AM GMT
Original Cached

BEIJING — China urged Japan on Thursday to report any developments in its nuclear crisis quickly and accurately as concern spread over whether officials in Tokyo had downplayed the scope of the radiation risk.

Meanwhile, Chinese across the country emptied supermarkets of iodized salt even though government health officials warned that ingesting it would not protect against radiation exposure.

At a  regular news briefing, Jiang Yu, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said, “We hope that Japan reports details to the world in a timely and accurate manner.”  Her remarks followed comments on Wednesday by a top United States nuclear official that damage to at least one reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station was far more serious than Japan had acknowledged. 

The China Meteorological Administration reported Thursday morning that the wind was sweeping radioactive pollutants from Japan’s crippled nuclear plant toward the southeast. China should not be affected for the next three days, the agency said.  China Central Television, the government’s flagship television network, reported normal radiation levels in China. 

Nonetheless,  panicked residents combed pharmacies in a mostly vain search for potassium iodine tablets. The tablets are believed to decrease the risk of developing thyroid cancer from nuclear radiation, but few Chinese pharmacies carry them, although health officials said the government had a stockpile for emergency distribution. A clerk at one downtown Beijing pharmacy said more than 20 people had asked for the tablets in the past two days.

Others residents flooded  supermarkets looking for iodized salt after numerous postings on popular Internet chat sites that it can also protect people from radiation-related diseases.

In an interview Tuesday night, Zhang Wei, quality management director at the Ministry of Health’s National Institute for Radiological Protection, said the level of iodine in salt was far too low to provide any protection.

“Eating iodized salt will do nothing to protect a person from nuclear radiation,” he said. “Even eating two kilos of salt won’t help. More likely, it could kill a person.”

Nonetheless, in downtown Beijing, Huapu Hypermarket sold out of salt Thursday morning. Clerks  stocked five shelves with bags of rice instead. In a 10-minute period during the midafternoon, seven customers arrived asking for salt, including the 45-year-old mother of a toddler who said she had learned of its health benefits against radiation from QQ, one of China’s most popular Internet chat sites. 

In Jiangsu province north of Shanghai, Zhu Bei, a 25-year-old teacher, said people had lined up outside her local supermarket and had cleared the shelves of salt by 10 a.m. — before her mother sent her there to buy some. Her mother tried several other markets but came up empty-handed. She said she tried to reassure her mother that the salt would do no good anyway. “Save the lecture,” her mother replied irritably.  “You can’t even get us some salt.”

China’s National Salt Industry Corporation, a state-owned company and China’s biggest salt producer, asked its subsidiaries to ramp up distribution of salt to places where panic buying had occurred, a spokesman said.  He said the company’s Web site had so many hits Thursday it was disabled. 

Jonathan Kaiman, Li Bibo and Shi Da contributed research.

More Stories On

TAG CLOUD Tags Cloud

Get Adobe Flash player

Dalai Lama says leadership outdated

China and old rivalries with Japan

China overtakes UK as second biggest art market

What's the China Play?

Japan nuclear crisis rattles financial markets