Wednesday, June 01, 2011

"Japanese seniors volunteer for Fukushima 'suicide corps'"

From CNN:

Tokyo (CNN) -- Up a narrow flight of stairs in a modest, non-descript office building, three retirees sit in a cramped room, hunched over their computers and mobile phones. They look like the planning committee for a neighborhood senior breakfast, not the leaders of a 250-member team attempting to defuse one of the worst nuclear meltdowns in history.

But that's exactly what 72-year-old Yasuteru Yamada hopes his seniors group, the Skilled Veterans Corps, will do: help end the crisis at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The group, consisting only of retirees age 60 and up, says it is uniquely poised to work at the radiation-contaminated plant, as the cells of an older person's body divide more slowly than a younger individual. "We have to work instead of them," says Yamada, referring to the estimated 1,000 workers currently at the nuclear plant. "Elders have less sensitivity to radiation. Therefore, we have to work."

Yamada is a former engineer for Sumitomo Metal Industries Ltd. and offers decades of experience, he says. A cancer survivor, Yamada says he values his life but wants to make a difference in the years he has left.

Yamada pauses as his mobile phone rings. He pops out his hearing aids to answer. Another call from the news media, he says, as he excuses himself briefly. Reporters from around the globe have called daily since Yamada announced the existence of his group. They, including this reporter, are calling because of what the prime minister's special adviser to the nuclear crisis publicly dubbed them, the "suicide corps." Goshi Hosono, at a news conference last week, told reporters that while the government was grateful for the offer, there is no immediate need for the elderly volunteers.

Masaaki Takahashi, 65, bristles at the name Hosono gave his team. "I want them to stop calling us the 'suicide corps' or kamikazes," he says. "We're doing nothing special. I simply think I have to do something and I can't allow just young people to do this."

Takahashi is currently tasked with logging the names of donors and volunteers. He says there are more than 900 donors and 250 able-bodied seniors who want to don the white radiation suits and enter the grounds of the plant...

The owner of the nuclear plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), tells CNN it is thankful for the offer from the seniors group. But it says they currently have enough workers to control the crisis.

But if Hikaru Tagawa is any indication, the plant is having trouble luring employees to the facility. Tagawa is a former temporary worker at Fukushima who lived just a few miles away, an area that is now a mandatory evacuation zone. When CNN met Tagawa, he was living at an evacuation center near Tokyo. "Nothing can make me go back to work there," he says, as his young daughter played nearby. He points out he has two young children and calls the levels of radiation "too dangerous."

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