Japan’s nuclear safety agency says pressure is again rising in one of reactors at the country’s tsunami-damaged nuclear complex – a setback that means operators will have to vent more radioactive gas into the environment.

Safety agency official Hidehiko Nishiyama said that efforts to put water in the Unit 3 reactor at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex might not have been working.

He says the plant operator will release some radioactive gas from the reactor into the environment and that this may slow work on restoring power and cooling systems to the unit.

Nishiyama says that means radiation levels around the plant will rise again.

Today the number of people confirmed dead or listed as missing in Japan surpassed 20,000, nine days after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck.

There were fears of a far higher death toll from the disaster that wiped out vast areas along the Pacific coast of northern Honshu island.

The national police agency said 8,133 people had been confirmed dead and 12,272 officially listed as missing – a total of 20,405 – as of noon (4pm NZT) as a result of the March 11 catastrophe.

Miyagi prefecture was worst hit, with a confirmed death toll of 4,882.

But the Miyagi police chief Naoto Takeuchi told a Sunday task force meeting that the prefecture alone “will need to secure facilities to keep the bodies of more than 15,000 people,” Jiji Press reported.

The second-worst hit prefectures were Iwate with 2,525 confirmed deaths, then Fukushima with 670 lives lost.

The death toll has now well surpassed that of the 7.2-magnitude quake that struck the western Japanese port city of Kobe in 1995, killing 6,434 people.

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