Not Kamikazes at Fukushima

The Fukushima nuclear plant is still unstable, with the deadline for resolution of the crisis being pushed forward, and this is not a surprise…

Yasuteru Yamada cringes at any comparison to the kamikaze, pilots who flew suicide missions during World War II.

The retired engineer has rallied more than 200 aging workers who have volunteered to tackle the nuclear crises at the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant. But he says, this is no suicide mission.

“We don’t want to die,” says the 72-year old, a former engineer for Sumitomo Metal Industries Ltd. “We just want to stabilize the nuclear plant, nothing more.”

The team of volunteers call themselves the Skilled Veteran Corps. The group is made up of former engineers, doctors, cooks, even singers. The common thread is that they are all over the age of 60.

Several workers at Fukushima have been exposed to high levels of radiation, the ‘acceptable’ levels are a response to a dire emergency, and the future health of the workers who toil in the radioactive dark is in question. A group of older and retired Japanese citizens step forward and offer to take the risk, saying they supported the nuclear plant, enjoyed the benefits, and should take the responsibility. A kind of triage of the old vs the young– but this time it is the old who are offering to face the danger.

The need for workers is expected to increase. TEPCO has already said the company is unlikely to meet its self-imposed deadline of bringing the reactors to a cold-shutdown by the end of the year.

Nearly three months after the nuclear crises began, there is increasing concern the company has not done enough to protect workers from radiation risks. On Monday, TEPCO announced two Fukushima employees had been exposed to more than 250 millisieverts of radiation, the legal limit set by the government. That prompted the health ministry to call on TEPCO to step up safety efforts at the plant.

I am awed at the courage and sense of social responsibility shown by ordinary people in Japan. This is a high standard. The politicians and corporate players who so badly failed Japan will be called to account by their own, and will have to answer for all their false assurances.

I hope the old men, and old women too, will be able to go to the front lines and shut down this crisis. They’re right to volunteer. It makes no sense to bribe young people with money to sell their future health when old people will do the job for love of country.

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