Elderly Fukushima plant volunteer appeals for U.S. help


A cofounder of a group of retirees who have volunteered to help contain the Fukushima nuclear crisis is seeking U.S. pressure to get the central government to act more swiftly in addressing the dangerous situation.

“The Japanese government is very sensitive to American voices,” Yasuteru Yamada, 73, of the Skilled Veterans Corps for Fukushima said Tuesday in a speech in Manhattan, while stressing the need to urge Tokyo Electric Power Co. to accept the group’s help in order to spare younger people from exposure to radiation.

“Radiation exposure is unavoidable. But even with (radiation) damage . . . the rest of my life is no more than 15 years,” said the former technician with Sumitomo Metal Industries Ltd.

“A private company can’t handle such a long-term project,” and Tepco’s cleanup plans have not adequately addressed such issues as building a permanent seawall or replacing plastic hoses with something stronger, he said.

Formed in April 2011, the group has grown to almost 700 members, mostly elderly skilled engineers and technicians.

They have pitched their plan to both Tepco and the government, and were allowed to go inside the plant in July 2011 for a group inspection. However, they have been told there is “no room” for them to work there.

“Why can’t we join them or replace them? That is the question,” the Tokyo native said. “I believe that one day Tepco will face a (worker) shortage.”

Despite the uncertainties facing the group, Yamada is determined to use the group’s skills to help clean up the reactors.

“Fukushima No. 1 is not just an accident for Japanese people, but for you people (around the world) as well,” he said.