Workers continued to need flashlights to read gauges in the control room for Units 1 and 2 reactors at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, 23 March 2011. Photograph from Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency via AP

By David McNeill in Tokyo
30 March 2011

Workers at Japan's stricken nuclear plant are reportedly being offered huge sums to brave high radiation and bring its overheated reactors under control, as plant operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, battles to stop a spreading contamination crisis which could see another 130,000 people forced to leave their homes. …

"There is a high possibility that there has been at least some melting of the fuel rods," said Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

The admission added to pressure on Mr Kan to widen an exclusion zone around the plant, possibly forcing another 130,000 people to evacuate. Yesterday a tired-looking Mr Kan faced withering criticism from opposition MPs, who called him "irresponsible" and "incompetent". …

Subcontractors to several companies connected to the plant have reportedly been offered 80,000 to 100,000 yen a day (£608 to £760) to join the operation, according to one former plant worker. "They know it's dangerous so they have to pay up to 20 times what they usually do," said Shingo Kanno, a seasonal farmer and construction worker who was offered work at the complex by a subcontractor but refused. "My wife and family are against it because it's so dangerous," he said.

The team of men inside the complex have been dubbed "samurai" and "suicide squads" in the popular press. They have been joined by Self-Defence Force troops and an elite team of fire and emergency service workers, who have used hoses, water canon and helicopters in a bid to cool the reactors since the crisis was triggered by the 11 March earthquake and tsunami. ...

It has been a bad fortnight for Masataka Shimizu. Tepco's beleaguered president has watched the value of the utility giant plummet by $29 billion since 11 March after investors wiped over 70 per cent off its stock.

Its share price of 696 yen is the lowest it has been since 1977 as it battles to stop nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima. The company's problems have just turned existential now that the government has begun openly discussing nationalisation.

Mr Shimizu, 67, has been largely absent from public view since the crisis detonated, appearing briefly on 13 March to issue a boilerplate apology for "causing trouble", then disappearing totally on 16 March, reportedly suffering from overwork. …

'Suicide squads' paid huge sums to stabilise nuclear reactor

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