Led by the 72-year-old Yasuteru Yamada, the Skilled Veterans Corps, a group of some 250 able-bodied seniors, are offering to go in and clean up the radiation-contaminated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan. Among the 250 seniors are retired engineers and nuclear technicians, but also two chefs – and a singer. “It’s for the sake of entertainment”, says Yamada.
Yamada is claiming that “Elders have less sensitivity to radiation” since the cells of an older person’s body divide more slowly than a younger individual. In a pragmatic concern Yamada also says that “I am 72 and on average I probably have 13 to 15 years left to live, … Even if I were exposed to radiation, cancer could take 20 to 30 years or longer to develop. Therefore us older ones have less chance of getting cancer.”
The question of their participation in the clean up is however of a politically sensitive one. Yamada is talking to several key people within the government and with Tepco, the owners of the Fukushima plant.
He laughs off any suggestions claiming that he and his team are comparable to the kamikaze pilots who flew suicide missions in World War II. He says, “We’re not kamikaze. They knew that they were going to die. We’re coming back”. Co-founder of the group Kazuko Sasaki, 69, feels it her obligation to act in the crisis, “My generation, the old generation, promoted the nuclear plants. If we don’t take responsibility, who will?”.