Japan Damage at $300 Billion; Concern on Radiation in Food

Three-pronged natural disaster makes it costliest in history; U.S. bans food imports

Japan on Wednesday released the first official estimate of the cost of damages from its triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, and the figure tops $300 billion. The catastrophe is the costliest in the world, far surpassing the Kobe earthquake in 1995 and even Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.

Reuters reported that the U.S. became the first country to block imports of some foods from Japan over concerns that they might be contaminated by radiation released in the air by the damaged nuclear plant. Other nations may follow, however, as authorities disclosed that radiation levels above what was considered safe had been found in milk, water, and 11 types of vegetables from the region around Fukushima, where the plant resides.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration halted imports of milk, vegetables, and fruit from four of the prefectures near the disaster site. It was thought that South Korea might become the next nation to keep out Japanese food imports. Taiwan has already told fishermen to avoid Japanese waters as other Asian countries are inspecting food products for radiation contamination.

Japan’s food exports made up only 0.6% of its total exports in 2010. It has already stopped the shipment of some food items from the Fukushima region and told its own citizens in that area to avoid eating leafy vegetables.

People in Tokyo have also been told not to dilute baby formula with water from the purification plan there, since it contains, at 210 becquerels, more than twice the level considered safe for infants. The governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, said that it posed no immediate risk to adults, but added in the report, "[b]ut, for infants under age one, I would like them to refrain from using tap water to dilute baby formula."

The continuing effects of the disaster have taken their toll on global markets as disruptions in the supply chain cause problems in the automotive and tech sectors. In addition, the nuclear industry has suffered; Italy has become the latest nation to react, putting in place a one-year moratorium on the selection of sites and plans to build additional power plants.

The Nikkei average closed at 9,449.47 on Wednesday, down 1.7%. TOPIX was down 0.8% at 861.10.

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