Image: South Korean students holding umbrellas go home amid fears that the rain may contain radioactive materials from the crippled nuclear reactors in Japan at Midong elementary school in Seoul
Ahn Young-joon  /  AP
South Korean students holding umbrellas go home amid fears that the rain may contain radioactive materials from the crippled nuclear reactors in Japan at Midong elementary school in Seoul, South Korea, on Thursday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 4/7/2011 8:05:55 AM ET 2011-04-07T12:05:55

Dozens of schools in South Korea closed Thursday amid concerns about radioactive fallout from Japan's nuclear disaster.

Classes were canceled or shortened at more than 150 schools as rain fell across the country.

Authorities said radiation levels in the rain posed no health threat.

However, school boards across the country — Japan's closest neighbor — advised principals to use their discretion in scrapping outdoor activities to address concerns among parents, an education official said.

"We've sent out an official communication today that schools should try to refrain from outdoor activities," the official added.

Many Koreans donned face masks and streets near schools in Seoul were more congested than usual as parents drove children to work rather than let them walk.  

"We are geographically closer to Japan than others like the United States or Europe," South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said. "People are bound to be more worried."

China's health ministry also said traces of radioactivity in spinach had been found in three provinces. Earlier this week, India banned Japanese food imports for three months.

Recent progress at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant — which was damaged by a March 11 tsunami — appears to have slowed the release of radiation into the ocean. This week, technicians there plugged a crack that had been gushing contaminated water into the Pacific. Radiation levels in waters off the coast have fallen dramatically since then.

Operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said the chances of a repeat of the gas explosions that ripped through two reactors in the first days of the disaster were "extremely small."

'Not out of the woods yet'
But as engineers battle multiple crises — some the result of efforts to try to cool reactors — officials admit it could take months to bring the reactors under control and years to clear up the toxic mess left behind at the plant 150 miles north of Tokyo.

"Data shows the reactors are in a stable condition, but we are not out of the woods yet," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters.

The government has already set up a 12-mile exclusion zone around the plant, banned fishing along much of the northeast coast and set up evacuation centers for the tens of thousands forced to leave their homes following the crisis.

Interactive: Crisis in Japan (on this page)

Nuclear safety experts have said that radiation leaking into the air and water from the crippled site do not pose a health threat outside the evacuation zone.

An estimated 28,000 people were killed or are missing following the disaster.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Geiger counters commonplace in Japan's new normal

  1. Closed captioning of: Geiger counters commonplace in Japan's new normal

    >>> turning now to japan, there was some good news for a change today. workers at that crippled nuclear power plant have managed to stop tons of highly radioactive water from seeping into the ocean, but now the workers have had any number of other problems on their hands, not the least of which preventing another hydrogen explosion. nbc's lee cowan remains in tokyo for us tonight and has our report.

    >> reporter: any euphoria over stopping the flood of radioactive water that had been gushing into the ocean was pretty short lived. workers now have a more pressing problem, preventing another explosion at the still steaming plant. engineers began injecting nitrogen into the containment building around reactor one. the nitrogen could prevent explosive hydrogen from building. youp the culprit that caused the blasts that ripped through the plant almost four weeks ago. today pregnant women and young children were urged to leave this village even though it's outside the government evacuation zone after radiation levels there spiked. school children are now routinely screened for exposure. geiger counters almost as common as lunch boxes now. it was an odd backdrop for the first day of the new school year. and anxious parents who had been holding their children close had to let go. there was plenty of pageantry to help dilute the news. but it was still tough. having been evacuated from near the plant she's one of six refugees who is now a new student, too. "she was crying when she first came," her mother said. but at least there's six of them. so that's the only hope. it's all very orderly and pretty remarkable given how many schools along the coast were destroyed. in the tokyo area alone, they've seen an influx of more than 2500 students who now have to find a new home. "i will miss my friends" she says. but we will see each other again, i hope. but as long as the situation remains unresolved, going home may be a long way off. lee cowan, nbc news,

Photos: After Japan's earthquake and tsunami - week 8

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  1. A radiation measuring instrument is seen next to some residents in Kawauchimura, a village within the 12- to 18-mile zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, on April 28. Most residents of Kawauchimura have evacuated in order to avoid the radiation, but some remain in the area of their own accord. (Koichi Kamoshida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A brazier heats the house of Masahiro Kazami, located within a 12-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, April 28. (Koichi Kamoshida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Volunteers help clean a cemetery at Jionin temple in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture, northeastern Japan, on April 29. Many volunteers poured into the disaster-hit region at the beginning of the annual Golden Week holiday. (Hiro Komae / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Japanese government adviser Toshiso Kosako is overcome with emotion during a news conference on April 29 in Tokyo announcing his resignation. The expert on radiation exposure said he could not stay on the job and allow the government to set what he called improper radiation limits for elementary schools in areas near the tsunami-damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Fuel rods are seen inside the spent fuel pool of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant reactor 4 on April 30. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A volunteer girl from Tokyo works to clean the debris of a house in Higashimatsushima, northern Japan, on April 30. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Farmer Tsugio Sato tends to his Japanese pear trees in Fukushima city, May 1. He said he expects to harvest the pears in October. Farmers and businesses face so-called "fuhyo higai," or damages stemming from the battered reputation of the Fukushima brand. (Hiro Komae / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Members of Japan Ground Self-Defense Force in protective gear receive radiation screening in Minamisoma in Fukushima prefecture, after searching for bodies at an area devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Ruriko Sakuma, daughter of dairy farmer Shinji Sakuma, rubs a cow at their farm in the village of Katsurao in Fukushima prefecture on May 3. Thousands of farm animals died of hunger in the weeks following the quake. (Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Timeline: Crisis in Japan

How events have unfolded since a 9.0 earthquake struck northeast Japan, triggering a deadly tsunami and nuclear power disaster.

  1. Image: The wave from a tsunami crashes over a street in Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture in northeastern Japan
    Ho / Reuters
    Above: Timeline Crisis in Japan
  2. Interactive Japan before and after the disaster

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