17/03/2011 - Work at nuke power plant -

JAPAN ordered emergency workers to withdraw from its stricken nuclear complex yesterday amid a surge in radiation, temporarily suspending efforts to cool the overheating reactors. Hours later, officials said they were preparing to send the team back in.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the workers, who had been dousing the reactors with seawater in a frantic effort to stabilize their temperatures, had no choice but to pull back from the most dangerous areas.

“The workers cannot carry out even minimal work at the plant now,” he said yesterday morning, as smoke billowed above the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex. “Because of the radiation risk we are on standby.”

Meanwhile, officials in Ibaraki prefecture, just south of Fukushima, said radiation levels were about 300 times normal levels by late morning. While those levels are unhealthy for prolonged periods, they are far from fatal.

More than 12,000 people are officially listed as dead or missing after Friday’s quake and tsunami. Up to 450,000 people are staying in temporary shelters, often sleeping on the floor of school gymnasiums.

In an extremely rare address to the nation, Emperor Akihito expressed his condolences and urged Japan not to give up.

He also voiced his worries over the nuclear crisis, saying: “With the help of those involved I hope things will not get worse.”

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