Praise For 'Heroes' Working To Avert Japan's Nuclear Catastrophe

As the rest of the world waits to see if Japan can avert a nuclear catastrophe, a small band of experts is putting their lives at risk to prevent the disaster.

Thousands of people living near the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have been evacuated from their homes because of the risk of radiation leaks from reactors damaged by last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami.

But while most hurry in the opposite direction, about 180 plant workers are staying put -- despite the fact that doing so could result in serious illness or even death -- to battle the meltdown threat.

""The workers at this site are involved in a heroic endeavor,"" former U.S. Department of Energy Official Robert Alvarez told CNN. ""There is at least fragmentary evidence that in some places on this site there are life-threatening doses of radiation. I think they are doing enormously heroic work.""

The workers left at the site are said to be highly trained and experienced nuclear operators, engineers and safety staff with highly specialized knowledge. Richard Wakeford, of the Dalton Nuclear Institute at the University of Manchester, said for many of them -- despite the highly unusual and potentially dangerous circumstances -- it will be just another day at the office.

""They see it as doing their job,"" he said. ""The Japanese in particular are dedicated to duty, and they will see it as their duty to do what they are doing.""

According to the World Health Organisation, the average person is exposed to about 3.0 millisieverts (mSv) a year of radiation, from naturally-occurring, medical and other sources.

But monitoring at the Fukushima Daiichi site has recorded radiation as high as 400 millisieverts an hour -- a level known to be a risk to human health. Exposure to 1,000 millisieverts (1 Sievert) of radiation can cause radiation sickness.