The Foreign Office is continuing to advise British travelers against all non-essential travel to Tokyo and north east Japan as it revealed that more than 500 Britons in Japan have been given iodine tablets to counteract the effects of radiation leaking from the country’s crippled nuclear facility.
The Foreign Office said the tablets, which are used to stop the body absorbing radioactive iodine, have been distributed to around 540 British nationals so far but were handed out only to those people who had requested them.
A FCO spokeswoman said: ‘The British Embassy is distributing iodine tablets in Tokyo and Niigata as a contingency measure. People should wait until advised to take the tablets’.
The UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser has said that there is currently no real human health issue for those outside the exclusion zone set up by the Japanese authorities.
Any British nationals within 80km of the Fukushima nuclear power plant have been advised to leave the area or take shelter indoors if they are unable to travel and to contact the Foreign Office’s emergency hotline on +44 20 7008 0000.
The exodus of British nationals from Japan continued today but the Foreign Office said there would be no more Government-chartered seats made available on flights out of the country.
Seven Britons left Japan on a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong yesterday. It was the fourth flight to be made available with Government-chartered seats in the last few days.
Six Government-chartered buses have also run from tsunami-levelled Sendai to Tokyo in the same period, carrying 66 British nationals.
The British Consulate in Hong Kong has set up a reception centre at the airport to greet British nationals when they arrive.
The team has been helping people with onward flights and overnight accommodation and enabling them to contact friends and family.
Meanwhile, commercial flights are continuing to operate to and from Japan.
Kylie Clark of the Japan National Tourism Organisation told TravelMail: ‘It is perfectly safe to travel to eastern Japan. Popular destinations such as Kyoto, Osaka, Sapporo and Kanazawa didn’t receive any impact from the earthquake.’
‘Other regions such as Hokkaido, Kansai, Chugoku, Shikoku and Kyushu are unharmed, and tourism facilities and transportation service are operating as usual.’
‘There is actually no health risk in Tokyo but the city is experiencing problems with its infrastructure. As soon as power is restored the situation will improve.’
James Mundy, a spokesman for UK-based specialist tour operator Inside Japan, said the company had cancelled several of its tours and put trips to Tokyo on hold.
‘Our arm is twisted by the advice given by the Foreign Office’, he told TravelMail. ‘They are still advising against travel to Tokyo and we just have to wait until that changes.
‘Several of our tour leaders are currently in Tokyo and they have reported that the situation is improving. It’s not anarchy over there – it’s actually a very calm, organised effort to restore the city’s infrastructure. The shops are being re-stocked every day.’
Mr Mundy said that customers could cancel and get a full refund or re-book for a date in the future at a discounted rate if the Foreign Office was continuing to advise against non-essential travel three days in advance of their trip.
‘We’ve had to cancel some of our tours, such as the Northern Soul tour which visited Sendai, one of the worst affected cities. But it’s only the north-east that is a problem. It’s business as usual for tour operators in the rest of the country’, he said.
James Greenfield, MD of specialist tour operator Japan Journeys, said his company was also waiting for the Foreign Office advice to change.
‘We cover the whole of Japan but most of our trips include Tokyo. We have to follow the Foreign Office’s advice which is to avoid Tokyo so we’ve had to cancel quite a few of our guided tours’, he told TravelMail.
‘We had a lot of cherry blossom tours arranged but we’ve had to cancel them for this year and most of our customers have decided to travel this time next year instead. Independent travellers can postpone their trip for a future date or get a full refund.’
Radiation from Japan’s stricken nuclear power plant has contaminated food, milk and tap water, sparking cancer fears among an already anxious people.
The government was forced yesterday to ban the sale of spinach from areas near Fukushima after tests revealed that it contained radioactive iodine from the nuclear plant 27 times above safety limits.
The contamination has also spread to tap water in Tokyo and to beans, milk and edible chrysanthemums produced near the plant.
However, there was brighter news today from the Dai-ichi plant, where engineers reported they had managed to restore power to two reactors.
That should enable the emergency staff to cool the units and prevent a potentially catastrophic meltdown.
But the breakthrough was tempered with reports that pressure had unexpectedly risen at Unit 3.
The making safe of two of the six reactors represents the first ray of hope at the plant since it was catastrophically damaged on March 11.
Tokyo Electric Power Company said Units 5 and 6 were safe after days of pumping water into the reactors’ pool brought temperatures down.
But the two units are the least problematic of the six at the site which began overheating after the earthquake-triggered tsunami disrupted the plant’s cooling systems.
Engineers reported that pressure had unexpectedly risen in a third unit at the reactor, raising the prospect that plant operators may need to deliberately release radioactive steam to relieve the problem.