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Japan Disaster Toll Passes 8,000 Dead; Food Contamination Fears Grow

An aerial view shows damage sustained to the reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power complex.
Japanese authorities say the official toll from the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck the island nation has risen to 8,133 confirmed dead, with more than 12,000 people listed as missing.

The new toll was announced as engineers continue to struggle to stabilize the nuclear power plant at Fukushima, which was severely crippled by the double disaster on March 11.

New concerns about the spread of radiation have been raised following the detection of radiation in fava beans exported to Taiwan and elevated radiation levels in Japanese food and water as an apparent result of the disaster.

Nuclear officials quoted by AP said pressure had again risen at the No. 3 reactor at the power plant, and technicians were expected to release some radioactive gas into the air to ease the pressure. Earlier in the day, officials had said fire crews were spraying tons of water on the No. 3 reactor and that it appeared to have helped stabilize it.

Japanese authorities also had earlier reported some apparent progress toward reconnecting electricity supplies to the four dangerously overheated reactors at the plant in hopes of restarting water pumps that can be used to cool the reactors.

Food Fears

Radiation traces were found in some milk and spinach from farms near the nuclear plant, while radiation traces have also been found in tap water in Tokyo.

Taiwan's cabinet-level Atomic Energy Council Radiation Monitoring Center said a small amount of iodine and cesium was found on a batch of Japanese beans sent to Taiwan on March 18. One official from the Taiwanese watchdog said the amount of radiation was well below Taiwan's legal limit and was not harmful to human health. He did not know where in Japan the beans originated.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said today that Tokyo will decide by March 21 whether to restrict consumption and shipments of food products from the vicinity of the quake- and tsunami-damaged nuclear complex.

compiled from agency reports