Imagine retired professionals in America hanging up their golf clubs and getting together to focus on how they might lend their expertise and experience to situations in this country that cry out for seasoned leadership. We have been so long cut off from respecting the wisdom that naturally accrues with age, so long ignoring the values and benefits to society of those who live a long time, that even old ones forget that their traditional, time-honored function is that of the Elder.
Japanese volunteers knows as the skilled veterans corps offer to replace younger workers in operation to stabilise nuclear plant
July 13, 2011
So far, about 9,000 workers have been involved in the four-month operation to stabilise the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where three of six reactors experienced meltdown in the aftermath of the 11 March tsunami.
If Yasuteru Yamada gets his way, the Fukushima workforce of the future will include a band of fearless pensioners calling themselves the skilled veterans corps.
This month the retired engineer for Sumitomo Metal Industries, one of the world’s top steel manufacturers, is expected to visit the plant with four colleagues to carry out preliminary inspections. They propose to help design a replacement for the destroyed reactor cooling system.
The 72-year-old graduate of Tokyo University will survey the damage and, pending final approval from the government and Tepco, the plant operator, call on hundreds of registered volunteers, all over 60, with expertise in a range of disciplines.
In April, he and two former colleagues reached out to 2,500 potential volunteers by phone and email. Before long their plea had been repeated on Twitter and via blogs, and for days Yamada’s phone did not stop ringing.
As of last week, 430 people had volunteered, according to the group’s website. Their average age is in the late 60s. The oldest is 82.
The government and Tepco have welcomed the plan with caution – they have yet to approve the hiring of hundreds of eager pensioners while conditions at the plant remain hazardous.
Goshi Hosono, a special adviser to the prime minister, initially likened Yamada’s offer to a “suicide mission” and suggested his and his corps’s services would not be required.
But Hosono has since made more enthusiastic noises. “People who are willing to sacrifice their daily lives to help the nation resolve these problems are invaluable,” he told reporters. “First we will have to check on their health status, as people at an advanced age working in that kind of environment could fall ill.”
Yamada, who helped build power plants as a Sumitomo Metal employee, insists that the skilled veterans corps should be allowed to replace younger plant workers who, over time, are more susceptible to developing cancer.
Unlike the young engineers currently exposing themselves to high levels of radiation at Fukushima Daiichi, Yamada, a cancer survivor, reckons he has, at best, about 15 years left to live.
“Even if I were exposed to radiation, cancer could take 20 or 30 years or longer to develop,” he told the BBC. “That means us older ones have less chance of getting cancer.”
Having benefited from the limitless supply of power nuclear gave resource-poor Japan in the postwar years, Yamada believes his generation now has a moral duty to it help stabilise the stricken plant.
“In particular, those of us who hailed the slogan that ‘Nuclear Power is Safe’ should be the first to join,” the corps says on its website. “This is our duty to the next generation and the one thereafter.”
Yamada shuns inevitable comparisons with the kamikaze, the specialist pilots who flew suicide missions for imperial Japan during the second world war.
His team, Yamada said, would only enter the plant with guarantees of limited exposure to radiation, and with the support of the country’s nuclear authorities.
“The kamikaze were something strange, no risk management there,” he said. “They were going to die. But we are going to come back.”