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No matter how many scientists were wheeled out to reassure people that radiation levels outside Japan would not pose a threat to health, widespread distrust of official advice meant thousands placed more faith in old wives' tales.
In China, the government called for calm after shoppers bought huge quantities of salt in the belief that it contains enough iodine to block radiation.
Potassium iodide tablets, which prevent the body from absorbing radiation, have been handed out in Japan to those living near the stricken Fukushima power plant, and in China iodine is added to salt to help prevent iodine deficiency.
The mere mention of the word iodine was enough to prompt panic buying of salt amid fears that a change in the wind direction could blow a radioactive cloud across China from its near neighbour.