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U.S. bans N-plant area produce, dairy products

The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday it will halt imports of dairy products and produce from the area of Japan where a nuclear reactor is leaking radiation.

The FDA said those foods will be detained at entry and will not be sold to the public. The agency previously said it would just step up screening of those foods.

Other foods imported from Japan, including seafood, still will be sold to the public but screened first for radiation.

Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex began leaking radiation after it was damaged March 11 in a devastating earthquake and tsunami. The sea near the nuclear plant has also shown elevated levels of radioactive iodine and cesium, prompting the government to test seafood.

Japanese foods make up less than 4 percent of all U.S. imports, and the FDA said it expects no risk to the U.S. food supply from radiation. Officials and health experts say the doses are low and not a threat to human health unless the tainted products are consumed in abnormally excessive quantities.

At the leaking nuclear complex, workers hooked up power lines to all six reactor units, but other repercussions from the massive earthquake and tsunami still rippled across Japan.

The progress on the electrical lines was a welcome and significant advance Tuesday after days of setbacks. With the power lines connected, officials hope to start up the overheated plant's crucial cooling system that was knocked out during the quake and tsunami that devastated Japan's northeast coast.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. warned that workers still need to check all equipment for damage before switching on the cooling system at each reactor unit -- a process that could take days or even weeks.

Late Tuesday night, Tokyo Electric said lights went on in the central control room of Unit 3, but that doesn't mean power had been restored to the cooling system. Officials planned to try to power up the unit's water pumps later today.

Emergency crews also dumped 18 tons of seawater into a nearly boiling storage pool holding spent nuclear fuel at Unit 2, cooling it to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, Japan's nuclear safety agency said. Steam, possibly carrying radioactive elements, had been rising for two days from the reactor building.

The Health Ministry ordered officials in the area of the stricken plant to increase monitoring of seawater and seafood after elevated levels of radioactive iodine and cesium were found in ocean water near the complex.

The crisis continued to batter Japan's once-robust economy.

Three of the country's biggest companies -- Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Sony Corp. -- put off a return to normal production because of shortages of parts and raw materials resulting from earthquake damage to several factories.

Toyota and Honda said they would extend a shutdown of auto production in Japan, already is in its second week, while Sony said it was suspending some manufacturing of such consumer electronics as digital cameras and television sets.

The National Police Agency said the overall number of bodies collected so far stood at 9,099. An additional 13,786 people have been listed as missing, though the two lists might overlap.

Freezing rain and snow was slowing Japan's relief efforts.

Tensions were running high. Officials in the town of Kawamata, about 30 miles away from the reactors, brought in a radiation specialist from Nagasaki -- site of an atomic bombing during World War II -- to calm residents' fears.

"I want to tell you that you are safe. You don't need to worry," Dr. Noboru Takamura told hundreds of residents at a community meeting. "The levels of radiation here are clearly not high enough to cause damage to your health."

But worried community members peppered him with questions: "What will happen to us if it takes three years to shut down the reactors?" "Is our milk safe to drink?"

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