Sunderland Nissan staff will be home soon after Japan earthquake

An aerial view shows residential area affected by tsunami in Sendai, northern Japan Saturday, March 12, 2011  after Japan's biggest recorded earthquake slammed into its eastern coast Friday. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)  MANDATORY CREDIT, NO LICENSING ALLOWED IN CHINA, HONG  KONG, JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA AND FRANCE
An aerial view shows residential area affected by tsunami in Sendai, northern Japan Saturday, March 12, 2011 after Japan's biggest recorded earthquake slammed into its eastern coast Friday. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) MANDATORY CREDIT, NO LICENSING ALLOWED IN CHINA, HONG KONG, JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA AND FRANCE
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NISSAN workers from disaster-stricken Japan could be back on Wearside tomorrow.

The firm had originally planned that some of the 45 Sunderland staff out in its homeland would remain to complete their work – but with all factories closed, it has decided to start bringing them home today.

“All employees are safe in Yokohama or locations further south,” said a spokesman.

“We have arranged flights for those who expressed a desire to return home; for the other employees we assessed whether or not they would be able to meet the business objectives of their trip and, as this is not the case due to local conditions, they will all fly home in the next 24 hours.”

Millions of people in the hardest hit areas of Japan are still struggling along the coast with little food, water or heat, and already chilly temperatures dropped further as a cold front moved in.

Up to 450,000 people are staying in temporary shelters, often sleeping on the floor of school gymnasiums.

Thousands of people are officially listed as missing or dead and most officials believe the final death toll will be well over 10,000.

There were more problems yesterday at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power complex, 140 miles north of Tokyo.

Fire broke out in Unit 4’s fuel storage pond, an area where used nuclear fuel is kept cool, causing radioactivity to be released into the atmosphere.

Units 4, 5 and 6 were shut at the time of the quake, but even offline reactors have nuclear fuel – either inside the reactors or in storage ponds – which needs to be kept cool.

Japan’s national news agency, Kyodo, said 33 per cent of the fuel rods at the No 2 reactor were damaged and that the cores of both reactors were believed to have partially melted.