Poignant messages sent home by the workers trying to prevent full-scale nuclear catastrophe at Japan's stricken nuclear plant reveal that they know they are on a suicide mission.
One of the 'Fukushima Fifty' said they were stoically accepting their fate 'like a death sentence'.
Another, having absorbed a near-lethal dose of radiation, told his wife: 'Please continue to live well, I cannot be home for a while.'
The radiation levels at the plant entrance are at a level which will either kill the workers soon or cause them appalling illnesses in the years to come.
|Dangerous work: officials wearing protective clothing and respirators head towards the Fukushima nuclear plant
Experts have said that the airtight suits they are wearing would do little to stop the contamination.
The group remained behind after 700 of their colleagues fled when radiation levels became too dangerous.
Their identities have not been revealed, but experts said they are likely to be working class front-line technicians and firemen who know the plant the best.
It is thought that mostly older men have volunteered because they have already had children - younger workers might be rendered infertile by the high radiation doses.
Whilst the men are called the Fukushima Fifty, the group is thought to actually be 200-strong. They are doing four shifts in rotation, working on restarting the cooling systems.
Their heart-rending messages home were made public by Japanese national television, which has interviewed their relatives.
One relative said: 'My father is still working at the plant. He says he's accepted his fate, much like a death sentence.'
A woman said her husband who was at the plant had continued to work while fully aware he was being bombarded with radiation.
Another said that her 59-year-old father had volunteered for Fukushima duty, adding: 'I heard that he volunteered even though he will be retiring in just half a year and my eyes are filling up with tears.
'At home, he doesn't seem like someone who could handle big jobs. But today, I was really proud of him. I pray for his safe return.'
|Heartbreaking message: This woman told interviewers her husband was working at the plant in the full knowledge he was being radiated. Her husband sent her an email that said: 'Continue to live well. I cannot be home for some time.'
Another girl whose father worked at the Fukushima reactor said: 'I have never seen my mother cry so hard'.
She wrote on Twitter: 'People at the plant are struggling, sacrificing themselves to protect you.
'Please, Dad, come back alive.'
Of those who have stayed behind, five are known to have died already and two are missing. At least 21 others have been injured. A female worker who claimed to have been on duty in the Fukushima No 2 reactor when the tsunami struck posted her account of what happened on the internet.
Michiko Otsuki, who has since sought safety, wrote on a Japanese social networking website translated by The Straits Times: 'In the midst of the tsunami alarm at 3am in the night when we couldn't even see where we were going, we carried on working to restore the reactors from where we were, right by the sea, with the realisation that this could be certain death.
'The machine that cools the reactor is just by the ocean, and it was wrecked by the tsunami. Everyone worked desperately to try to restore it.
'Fighting fatigue and empty stomachs, we dragged ourselves back to work.
'There are many who haven't got in touch with their family members, but are facing the present situation and working hard.'
Dr Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist, told the U.S. TV network ABC that the situation had worsened in the last day.
'We're talking about workers coming into the reactor perhaps as a suicide mission and we may have to abandon ship,' he said.
Michael Friedlander, who has worked in crisis management at similar American nuclear plants, added the workers were probably eating military-style rations and drinking cold water to survive.
'It's cold, it's dark, and you're doing that while trying to make sure you're not contaminating yourself while you're eating,' he said.
'I can tell you with 100 per cent certainty they are absolutely committed to doing whatever is humanly necessary to make these plants in safe condition, even at the risk of their own lives.'
© Daily Mail, London