After Fukushima Disaster 200 Aging Workers Volunteered To Clean Up So Young People Would Not Have To
After watching the news where younger workers labored to clean up the Fukushima mess, Yasuteru Yamada decided he wanted to do something. It had been three months, but contaminate still poured from the site.
That’s when Yamada hatched a plan to keep young people away from the danger. He would assemble a team of aging adults to clear the radioactive contaminate, stop the bleeding, so younger adults with their whole lives ahead of them wouldn’t have to expose themselves.
The skilled veteran corps, Yamada’s rag tag army of heroes, gives new purposed to aging adults, serving many masters with one idea, but don’t call Yamada suicidal. He won’t accept the title of hero either.
The Skilled Veterans Corps
In a world where aging adults often live longer than they anticipated, many search to find meaning in a road that meanders too far.
One of the enlistees for the Corps was Yamada’s childhood friend, Nobuhiro Shiotani.
“We should save our younger generation,” Shiotani said. “I just want to extinguish the fire.”
Yamada is himself a 72-year-old former engineer from the metal industry. The team he assembled were also engineers, but also cooks, doctors, and entertainers. They are all over 60 years old.
The way he saw things, he and his peers lived off the spoils of the nuclear reactors that were now killing Japanese youth. It was only fitting that they tackle the problem.
The group may have moved slower than their younger counterparts, but they get the job done. They prefer to communicate via fax or phone instead of texting or email.
When they talk on the phone, “Some of these talks go on for an hour or more,” Yamada says, laughing.
Some have compared Yamada’s actions to that of Kamikaze pilots from WWII. He cringes at the comparison. We should too. Yamada is not suicidal.
“We are not kamikaze,” he says. “The kamikaze were something strange, no risk management there. They were going to die. But we are going to come back. We have to work but never die.”
It’s an insulting comparison, no doubt, racially insensitive if not downright racist. The only connection between kamikaze pilots and the Skilled Veteran Corps is that both hail from Japan. Besides, Yamada’s isn’t on a death mission.
“We don’t want to die,” he says. “We just want to stabilize the nuclear plant…”
By his estimates, the 72-year-old man has about 15 years left in him, too few for cancer to show up. It would take 30 years or more to kill him, so even if his estimates are short, he’ll still pass from other causes before Fukushima has its way with him.
“Volunteering to take the place of younger workers at the power station is not brave,” Mr. Yamada said, “but logical.”
At one point Yamada enlisted the U.S. government to put pressure on the Japanese to stop the bleeding.
“The Japanese government is very sensitive to American voices,” Yamada said to the Japan Times.
The Skilled Veterans Corps, which first formed in 2011 with 200 volunteers, grew to over 700 by 2015, but they’ve been quiet the past two years.
Even the Twitter feed for @svcfJP ends October 2016.
This is likely due to stabilization of Fukushima. Just this year, evacuated residents started returning to their homes.
The levels at the plant, where three reactors once spewed radioactive material, are now so low that crews can work without wearing the radioactive suits.
TEPCO, the company who owns the plant and the residents of Fukushima can tip their collective hats to the efforts of the Skilled Veteran Corps.
History will record the disaster of the tsunami and meltdown, but what time may forget is how one man rallied hundreds of retired adults to save the lives of their younger counterparts.
Pragmatic or not, that makes Yamada a hero in my book.