By Alastair Himmer
(Reuters) - Japan's nuclear reactor crisis has forced the postponement of a world championship triathlon race in Yokohama next month because of radiation fears, the International Triathlon Union (ITU) said on Tuesday.
The race, originally scheduled for May 14, would require athletes to swim 1.5 km in Yokohama harbor, some 300 km south of the Fukushima nuclear plant crippled by last month's 9.0 magnitude earthquake and massive tsunami wave.
"Once the Japanese government raised the severity (of the nuclear accident) to 7, other countries advised against coming to Japan," the Japan Triathlon Union's Shinichiro Otsuka told Reuters.
"We reported to the ITU board meeting on March 31 that Yokohama suffered very little damage from the earthquake and have continued monitoring the sea water.
"The latest tests last week showed no radiation levels."
The ITU said, however, they could not take the risk, opting to postpone the event while looking for an alternative date, likely to be in September.
"The safety and health of our athletes, coaches, officials and staff should not be compromised," ITU president Marisol Casado said in a statement.
"We have been following the situation in Japan very closely and felt that once the Japanese government raised the alert on the nuclear situation to the highest level of 7, it was too risky to stage an event there in May.
"We are in discussions to re-schedule it later in the season. Our thoughts and concerns are with the Japanese people as they recover from the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant situation."
Japan put its nuclear calamity on par with the world's worst such crisis, at Chernobyl in 1986, a week ago.
Workers battling to avoid a catastrophic meltdown at the nuclear plant have been forced to pump large amounts of radioactive water into the sea.
The ITU had said the race, which offers Olympic qualification points, would go ahead as scheduled unless data showed contamination or a potential risk to athletes.
Olympic champion Jan Frodeno had been among the first to criticize the ITU's decision not to immediately pull the plug on the race following the disaster in Japan.
The March 11 quake and tsunami left 28,000 people dead or missing and destroyed vast areas of northeastern Japan.
"I spoke to athletes in Sydney last week and athletes from many countries were ready to compete but since it became a level 7 even if they want to come they can't," said Otsuka.
"The ITU wants to show solidarity with Japan so we are looking at September, maybe after the grand final in Beijing (September 10-11), as a special race with Olympic points."
The ITU world championship series, which began in Sydney, next moves to Madrid on June 4-5.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford/Patrick Johnston; to query or comment on this story email email@example.com)