FUKUSHIMA, Japan - Japan said radiation levels in spinach and milk from farms near its tsunami-crippled nuclear complex exceeded government safety limits, as emergency teams scrambled Saturday to restore power to the plant so it could cool dangerously overheated fuel.
The food was taken from farms as far as 65 miles (100 kilometers) from the stricken plants, suggesting a wide area of nuclear contamination.
While the radiation levels exceeded the limits allowed by the government, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano insisted the products "pose no immediate health risk."
Firefighters also pumped tons of water directly from the ocean into one of the most troubled areas of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex - the cooling pool for used fuel rods at the plant's Unit 3. The rods are at risk of burning up and sending radioactive material into the environment.
The news of contaminated food came as Japan continued to grapple with the overwhelming consequences of the cascade of disasters unleashed by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11. The quake spawned a tsunami that ravaged Japan's northeastern coast, killing more than 7,300 people and knocking out backup cooling systems at the nuclear plant, which has been leaking radiation.
Nearly 11,000 people are still missing.
The tainted milk was found 20 miles (30 kilometers) from the plant, a local official said. The spinach was collected from six farms between 60 miles (100 kilometers) and 75 miles (120 kilometers) to the south of the reactors.
Those areas are rich farm country known for melons, rice and peaches, so the contamination could affect food supplies for large parts of Japan.
More testing was being done on other foods, Edano said in Tokyo, and if tests show further contamination then food shipments from the area would be halted.
Officials said it was too early to know if the nuclear crisis caused the contamination, but Edano said air sampling done near the dairy showed higher radiation levels.
Iodine levels in the spinach exceeded safety limits by three to seven times, a food safety official said. Tests on the milk done Wednesday detected small amounts of iodine 131 and cesium 137, the latter being a longer lasting element and can cause more types of cancer. But only iodine was detected Thursday and Friday, a Health Ministry official said.
Officials from Edano on down tried to calm public jitters, saying the amounts detected were so small that people would have to consume unimaginable amounts to endanger their health.
Edano said someone drinking the tainted milk for one year would consume as much radiation as in a CT scan; for the spinach, it would be one-fifth of a CT scan. A CT scan is a compressed series of X-rays used for medical tests.
"Can you imagine eating one kilogram of spinach every day for one year?" State Secretary of Health Minister Yoko Komiyama said. One kilogram is a little over two pounds.
Meanwhile, just outside the bustling disaster response center in the city of Fukushima, 40 miles (60 kilometers) northwest of the plant, government nuclear specialist Kazuya Konno was able to take only a three-minute break for his first meeting since the quake with his wife, Junko, and their children.
"It's very nerve-racking. We really don't know what is going to become of our city," said Junko Konno, 35. "Like most other people, we have been staying indoors unless we have to go out."
She brought her husband a small backpack with a change of clothes and snacks. The girls - aged 4 and 6 and wearing pink surgical masks decorated with Mickey Mouse - gave their father hugs.
Low levels of radiation have been detected well beyond Tokyo, which is 140 miles (220 kilometers) south of the plant, but hazardous levels have been limited to the plant itself.
Nuclear reactors at the Fukushima plant began overheating and leaking radiation into the atmosphere in the days after the March 11 quake and the subsequent tsunami overwhelmed its cooling systems. The government admitted it was slow to respond to the nuclear troubles, which added another crisis on top of natural disasters, which officials believe killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than 400,000 others.
There were signs of progress in bringing the overheating reactors and fuel storage pools under control.
A fire truck with a high-pressure cannon was parked outside the plant's Unit 3, about 300 meters (yards) from the Pacific coast, and began shooting a stream of water nonstop into the pool for seven straight hours, said Kenji Kawasaki, a spokesman for the nuclear safety agency.
A separate pumping vehicle will keep the fire truck's water tank refilled. Because of high radiation levels, firefighters will only go to the truck every three hours when it needs to be refueled. They expect to pump about 1,400 tons of water, nearly the capacity of the pool.
Edano said conditions at the reactors in units 1, 2 and 3 - all of which have been rocked by explosions in the past eight days - had "stabilized."