Sunday 26 June 2011

Golden Oldies

Over 2,000 people are at Fukushima Daiichi working around the clock in reportedly bad conditions. Several a day are carried off in ambulances suffering from dehydration and heatstroke. Radiation levels are so high that people can only work for short periods, and then have to be replaced by new workers after a few weeks. The fact is that there is a chronic shortage of workers.

'Sunday Frontline' (always an interesting programme to watch, TV Asahi) had an interesting feature last Sunday morning . Apparently Yamada Yasuteru (72), a retired engineer, has got over 300 people, all over 60 years of age, to volunteer to work at Fukushima Daiichi! At first no one took him seriously but he's now met with Kaieda, METI Minister, who has given conditional support to the idea. 

It turns out Yamada was one of the Tokyo University student leaders in the 60's riots and he's obviously not lost his taste for action. He argues that human cells no longer divide in people over 60, so the risks of radiation, compared to say a 30 year old, are minimal. He says this a national catastrophe, a war situation, and the oldies who're just drawing their pensions should pull their weight. He sent out 2,500 letters and e-mails and had over 300 responses. Half the volunteers are experienced engineers like himself - there was an interview with a 68 year old guy who'd spent his working life in nuclear power plants, including Fukushima. Even his family backed his decision to put something back. The other half have no experience, like the 68 year old Nagasaki victim (she was two at the time) who reckons she has resistance to radiation.

The story was taken up by the foreign press with CNN calling them kamikazes and the Suicide Corps. You must admit it's a good story. What I found quite shocking was that Professor Koide Hiroaki (小出裕章), an expert in radiation and long time opponent of nuclear power has signed up as one of the volunteers. Surely since he's opposed it so long he should let Tokyo Electric clean up the mess? He says he feels responsible as he is part of the nuclear industry. If you can understand Japanese his lecture on YouTube is wonderfully clear and very interesting. (It's in 6 parts, about an hour in total).

So we'll see what happens. However skilled they are as engineers, they're not as young as they once were and won't find working in the heat and adverse conditions easy. And then jobs have to be found for the non-skilled amongst them. Still, full marks for initiative - and bravery.

Another irony in all this is that the workers are living at J Village, about 20 kms from the plant. J Village was built in 1997 and is the national soccer training centre. It's funded by the Japan Football Association, J League, Fukushima prefecture and - Tokyo Electric. Sato Eisaku, former governor of Fukushima, says that the original offer was for the soccer centre in the coastal area (Hama-dori), a football stadium in Koriyama and a museum in Aizu but strangely only the facility in the coastal area materialised. Not a sop to the locals for having the nuclear power plant on their doostep?!! Anyway, it's now closed and hundreds of workers are sleeping on the floor.

We're now in the rainy season, hot and sticky, but nothing like as hot as the 35 degrees they've been having in Tokyo and Osaka. More about the weather tomorrow.
Bye for now

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