Japan: League of elder heroes volunteer to clean up Fukushima, instead of young folks

A group of more than 200 elderly people in Japan have volunteered to help clean up the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima power station, where meltdowns and messes have caused radiation leaks. BBC News:
Yasuteru_Yamada.jpgThe Skilled Veterans Corps, as they call themselves, is made up of retired engineers and other professionals, all over the age of 60. They say they should be facing the dangers of radiation, not the young.

It was while watching the television news that Yasuteru Yamada decided it was time for his generation to stand up. No longer could he be just an observer of the struggle to stabilise the Fukushima nuclear plant. The retired engineer is reporting back for duty at the age of 72, and he is organising a team of pensioners to go with him.

For weeks now Mr Yamada has been getting back in touch with old friends, sending out e-mails and even messages on Twitter.

(photo of Mr. Yamada courtesy BBC News)


  1. They say they should be facing the dangers of radiation, not the young.

    That sentence right there, all by itself, put a lump in my throat.

  2. Now THAT’s what I call a “death panel!”
    I did notice that the government’s effort to raise the allowable radiation level for school playgrounds 20-fold didn’t go over too well with mommy and daddy.

  3. From the word go (post tsunami) I have been amazed by the resilience and fortitude of the Japanese people and now Mr Yamada is simply the absolute personification of all that is great about that country

  4. The question is whether you step forward, or you stay behind and watch.

    Honor and respect to The Skilled Veterans.

  5. “Volunteering to take the place of younger workers at the power station is not brave, Mr Yamada says, but logical.”

    That’s the way engineers think! I really have respect for the older folks doing there thing.

  6. Just a reminder that retired old Japanese Engineers are still badasses. Never Forget.

  7. Ah, this gets me on so many levels. I’m welling up over here.

    What a wonderful story. What wonderful people.

  8. No one should have to suffer horrible diseases and poisoning to have electricity.

    Atomic power is clearly immoral, if one faces the facts.

    1. Except that means that every other electricity generation method, including solar and wind, is even more immoral.

      Which means that electricity itself is immoral… unless it saves more lives than it ends, of course. ;)

      1. You beat me to it, bhtooefr.

        Mail4joeg, go look at mountaintop removal. Climate change from coal and oil ower. Tar sands. Then tell me all about how nuclear power is immoral.

        1. We need a name for this ridiculous, stupid meme. We can make pictures of cats on colorful backgrounds talking about how fossil fuels and nuclear are the only things on earth that make electricity.

          Then you guys can just post the pictures, when the subject comes up.

          1. A name. . . for the idea that the costs (not just financial) and benefits of different power generation schemes can be realistically and rationally compared?

            I have some ideas. We could start with
            “A realistic long term cost-benefit analysis with realistic risk assessment” but that’s a bit clunky.

            maybe “Nuclear Non-Exceptionalism” to cover the idea that we can think about nuclear power as something other than a malevolent devil’s bargain.

            Except you seem interested in non-nuke and non-fossil fuels. So I guess the meme you’re protesting is the notion that alternative energy still has production costs that need to be factored into any comparison of energy sources. Maybe we could call that meme “Solar power doesn’t grow on trees. . . unless you burn down the trees”

          2. Actually, none of us were aware that alternative energy costs money. All my tedious calculations had been based around finding it buried slightly underground. Decades of work down the drain.

            But hey, let’s continue this insane discussion of how cool nuclear is on an article about people offering to possibly die cleaning up after it. That would be in really good taste.

          3. Yeah, you seem to start from the assumption that nuclear is _way_ worse than the alternatives, and that the contrary opinion is ridiculous / stupid.

            Maybe you have a whole pile of awesome research, but you haven’t exactly shown your work – you just called names.

            Yes, nuclear power definitely has problems. Large, very mediagenic problems. But you haven’t exactly laid out what you consider the viable alternatives to be.

          4. You have access to the same resources that I do. Please use them.

            I have to reiterate, this is probably not the best place for this discussion, even if I felt like having it for the thousandth time in two months. This could only be in poorer taste if we could get someone to manage working in some libertarian ideology and funny youtube videos. Please just stop.

  9. “Except that means that every other electricity generation method, including solar and wind, is even more immoral.”

    Could you explain your reasoning?

  10. The spirit of the Samurai lives, not battling bandits with swords but a radiation crisis with scientific skills and wisdom. Bless you brave warriors.

    1. Samurai, nothin. These people are engineers, in the best sense of the word. Respect.

    1. That’s not a melanoma over his eye, it’s a tattoo diffused into a blur by time. Old school engineers were hard core.

  11. The down side is possible safety issues of the elderly not having the reaction times, dexterity, endurance, and sensory range of the younger in a hazardous environment.

    1. It’s been a bad year for the People Are Fundamentally Bad crowd.

      ehh. . . it’s been a pretty piss poor year for arguing that people are Fundamentally Good too.

  12. Hero was just redefined. I don’t see this happening in the US unless the offered free beer, smokes and a few comp tickets to the next nascar event.

  13. Start with a solid foundation of ‘gaman’

    Add a few cups of ‘ganbatte’

    A healthy dash of ‘banzai’

    and you get what we have here: real heroism. Three cheers for the SVC!

  14. Heroism is a term that is constantly overused and abused.

    THIS is heroism.

    There was a certain fellow in Chernobyl, a senior engineer, who volunteered to don scuba deer, dive into a pool of highly radioactive water, swim some distance through it in darkness and open a valve. If he hadn’t done so, there would have been a further huge explosion and the fallout would have been much, much worse.

    He swam. He opened the valve. He died within weeks.

    THAT’S heroism.

    1. Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov and Boris Baranov

      Their names should NEVER be forgotten. Those three men are among the ranks of the truest heroes in all of human history.

      I fear that we will add some Japanese names to the list soon :(

  15. Quick! Produce pics of these guys on Ultraman bodies and make T-shirts. Send proceeds to Japan. If you don’t like Ultraman, Kamen Rider, or whoever floats your boat! Do it, Internets, do it now!

  16. Aren’t the elderly more vulnerable to radiation damage? A dose that a younger person could take and survive long term could kill quickly in an older person. I don’t like how this brings up the idea of one group of people being more expendable than another because of age.

    1. “Aren’t the elderly more vulnerable to radiation damage?”

      Nope. More dangerous for the young. For example, in the case of iodine-131 thyroid accumulation, which disproportionally affects children. Also, many cancers take decades to develop, and kids have a lot more years ahead of them.

      1. That’s an excellent point. People tend to think of radiation damage as something that happens to you, and unintentionally gloss over what continues to happen to you.

    2. He is not making a point that elders are more expendable. he is in fact making the point that the dangers faced by anyone going into this situation are life-long. He is quite effectively saying that he feels it makes more sense for those who have already lived a good a long life, people whose children have grown up, who have had a career and learned their jobs well are a better choice to face this danger. He believes that the young should not be faced many years of suffering from the after effects of exposure, potentially cutting their lives short and even risking the health of the unborn generations. This man is making an honorable decision and offering to risk his life so that the young can remain healthy. He deserves to be respected and honored for this. Any who join him in this, do so of their own free will and will also deserve to be respected and honored. That does not mean that should young men have volunteered to do the same they would not be worthy of the same regard, they would indeed be worthy as well, but it takes a special kind of wisdom to say my life is nearing it’s end, and I will put what remains of it at risk so that the young may live a safer and healthier life.

  17. and in response to the ‘nuclear is immoral but possibly less so than oil etc’

    Guess it all depends on your version of ‘morality’.

    If denuding the planet of resources makes you sad: I’m afraid there ain’t much out there that works on a large scale to power homes and cars and planes etc without making a mess of things.

    Dams ruin rivers. Planting mono crops for biofuels either seems to ruin forests or cropland.

    Natural gas. . .fracking, anyone? And our best friend, sweet crude…nope, can’t think of any problems with that. Except that it won’t last forever.

    Wind and sun and waves: those are the nice, healthy choices THAT WILL NEVER FUFILL THE NEEDS OF 7 BILLION HUMANS!!! What are you going to make the solar panels out of. . .straw? Sea turtle shells?

    So. . .admit that the world must make painful, dirty sacrifices so we can enjoy margarita machines and Roomba vacuums (and hospitals, and schools). . .and suck up to the (admittedly) unpleasant and yet inescapable fact that many people will have to suffer so the majority can live a more comfortable life.

    (or actually: the majority suffer so the precious, lucky few can wallow in the trappings of civilization)


      I don’t think that your unsourced Caps Lock exclamapinion is a good reason to normalize these disasters. These things don’t have to happen to people.

      1. ‘These things don’t have to happen to people.’

        Yes. They do.

        You want oil? You get oil spills. You want non-carcinogenic energy sources? You get nuclear meltdowns. You want to live in a peaceful place, with happy industrious people working for a better tomorrow. . .you need men with guns to keep it so.

        I can understand why you might not like it. It’s not very. . .nice.

        These disasters ARE normal. Because people are human. And human is ‘to err’.

        And by the very virtue of our shared humanity: we share in the mistakes and the horrors just as much as our achievements and advances.

        1. You want non-carcinogenic energy sources? You get nuclear meltdowns.

          Again, with this. Just because we can’t avoid all errors, doesn’t mean that our energy-related ones have to create toxic waste and shoot death-beams around when they fail.

          Our parents and grandparents shouldn’t have to fall on our swords to keep the light bulbs turned on. It’s insanity.

          Let’s just be serious here, for a moment. Saying we have to have these horrible events because we have to use heavily-polluting power sources, is like being in the 70s and saying that we’ll never have global internet because it’s too darn expensive.

          The relentless negativity helps nothing.

        2. “You want non-carcinogenic energy sources? You get nuclear meltdowns”

          Well that’s not very “non-carcinogenic” then is it???

          As for all the people saying Solar is too expensive. My wife and I stay up until between 2 and 4am each night with two lights and two laptops on, our internet on, etc, and we spent less than 7 grand on the system that provides 95% of our electric. We even have an electric fridge. Most Americans have cars that cost more than our cabin’s solar electric system.

          Sure seems to me that solar beats “Safe and Clean ” (cough cough bullbangers cough) Nuclear Energy, which carcinogenically contaminates thousands of square miles each time there is an “impossible” accident.

          1. Yeah, yeah, my cottage uses solar and wind too: but those won’t power the smelters and the sinterers….plus, the numbers show that nuclear power is BY FAR the safest form of power, in terms of the human deaths per terawatt of power generated:




            hmmm…thats an ‘https” link…hope that is not a problem!

      2. You might be interested to read about the zero carbon plan suggested by the University of Melbourne’s Energy Research Institute which suggests that Australia could transition to 100% renewable energy resources in ten years, with present technology and reasonable investment (“a total capital expenditure of $AU370 billion over the 2011-2020 period, in contrast to a Business-As-Usual capital expenditure of $AU135 billion.”)


        “A commonly cited reason for stalling action on climate change is the cost of mitigation, even though we are warned that the eventual cost of adaptation will be far higher. While implementation of the ZCA2020 Stationary Energy Plan will require a higher upfront investment than Business-As-Usual, it avoids future fuel costs. Moreover, when measured over the long term, the ZCA2020 Stationary Energy Plan has an approximately equal net present cost to the Business-As-Usual scenario.”

        Now, if only the opposition coalition party could stop spreading climate denialism and being sexist assholes we might be able to make some progress here.

  18. Anyone that volunteers to help contain the nuclear disaster, regardless of age, is truly a hero in a very big way. I still think it to be a tragedy that they are sacrificing their health and lives for a problem that could have been avoided (hindsight is always 20/20 unfortunately, but that’s never a good excuse).

  19. You know, saying that nuclear power may or may not be worse than other options in no way reduces, denigrates, or deprecates the sacrifices of the people in this post.

    So. . . since my participation started with me replying to you, what exactly is your problem? If you don’t want to have a conversation about comparisons of energy sources, or the morality of nuclear energy, then why exactly do you choose to have that exact conversation? Here? I am responding to your post on this exact topic.

    If you want to talk fucking tacky, how about appropriating someone else’s noble sacrifice in the name of promoting your own views?

    1. I responded to someone else bringing up the subject. I’ve been sincerely trying to gracefully push it out the door it in every comment since then. I really, really would not like to talk about it here.

      There are plenty of other places available, plenty of forums to debate energy sources. My position is that I don’t want people dying needlessly, regardless of the source. I’m not an alternative energy fanboy, and I’m not getting drawn into a debate. Seriously. I’m done.

  20. Sometimes, the power of pure, brave truth and strength will make the tears well up in one’s eyes. A tear just fell.

    Love and Respect. Fierce respect and love.

    And yes, action. Action so that no one will ever have to make such a decision again.

  21. nuclear is what i call an inelegant solution.

    this is an solution to a horrible, ugly problem that is as elegant as a blade’s edge.

    some things are so real as be called terrible.

    1. 10 to the 24th power of stars would tend to disagree with you. You know, if they weren’t busy making the elements you were made up of that is.

          1. I know what fusion is. We don’t have practical fusion reactors yet. They’re all fission, and it’s a completely different process.

          2. My point being semantics. Whether you’re extracting heat to run turbines over reactions, splitting atoms, mashing them together, or just rubbing them naughtily against one another it’s still Nuclear power. But you know, you apparently don’t want to have this discussion. …unless you think you’re right. I was making a joke, you were stroking your intellect. There’s the difference. I’m not sure is that fusion or fission?

  22. What this guy is proposing is sensible. I don’t think they are going on a suicide mission like some of the Chernobyl crew. What he is proposing is that the clean-up work is done by people who are not going to have children, and whose life is not likely to be significantly shortened by a dose of radiation. The people who should not be taking the risk are the young and those who want children. I hope I would do the same if this happened close to me and mine.

    By the same reasoning, we ought to send older people into space too. Okay, they have to be fit enough to take the trip, but plenty of us are.

  23. Yamada and his supporters should be held above heros even for seriously stepping up. If they succeed, they deserve no less than eternal gratitude from this entire planet. I have never in my life heard of something so noble, brave, and purposeful. Were it ever possible to knight the non-brittish, or to cannonize the non-catholics, I’d damn well say that this is that instance…….

  24. I honestly respect them and their faultless logic and acknowledge their honorable dedication.

    but on a disrespectful side note I see Hollywood or at least the Japanese equivalent now has the ability make us one of those cool seniors save the day movies like that thing with Jim Rockford and the man with no name fighting off a Russian satellite!

    senior ninjas are go!

  25. “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” -Spock, Wrath of Khan

  26. To those missing the point of this post: Take your anti-nuclear agenda elsewhere. There are plenty of outlets for that discussion but this is not one.

    I have incredible respect for these guys.

  27. Of course nuclear fission is a very fine technology to make electricity.

    Except that it also a fine technology to make weapons of mass destruction.

    This inevitably leads to a secrecy – incompetence – coverup spiral.
    Stupid military industrial complex always botching things.

    Engineering types who argue for nuclear power often forget that in the real world it is not technocrats who control these technologies but the worst of pointy haired bosses, the corrupt politicians.

    The real question is not about electricity generation but why Japan has a desire to stockpile plutonium.

    So even though the science is good and in a perfect world it would be right, in todays idiocracy I must say:

    Nuclear power – no thanks !

  28. spriggan: You can express an opinion without behaving like it’s common sense that this group of selfless individuals should be responsible for doing what you consider their duty. You haven’t adequately explained in any way why these guys are in your view more duty-bound to clean up the mess. It’s not a coalition of nuclear energy proponents, or a group of government officials who received dodgy payments for approving certain nuclear projects (Japanese politics is corrupt as hell) – it’s a group of impressively pragmatic old people who, unlike the much of society, probably understand the existential dangers they are putting their hand up to face.

    Yes this is a forum and yes you are welcome to hold whatever opinion you want, but you need to realise that if you comment in a cruel and uncaring way on an article about people who are volunteering to potentially sacrifice their lives/health for people they don’t even know then don’t be shocked if someone calls you a mean name. You’re defending your right to hold an opinion while insisting I cannot exercise the same right.

    I lol’d at your comment re: stars, but I have no time or respect for comments like the one you wrote that Anti (thankfully) deleted.

    1. I think I have explained why I think they are a good choice. THEY VOLUNTEERED. And did it while everyone bickered about what to do and who’s at fault. I never said it was their duty. If anything I *implied* it is OUR duty to honor them.

      Read my first post. Again. I was one of the first to call them Heroes, and I didn’t turn this into and energy conference I just added my two cents AFTER it became that.

      I never said you didn’t have a right to your opinion, you’re projecting. Remind me who called who and asshole again? Yeah. Don’t act so high and mighty, your porcelain might chip.

  29. Wow! Cynical spin, do you think this cold possibly happen in America (our elders wanting to protect us)?

    1. umm. . . yes? There are roughly 20 million americans between the ages of 70 & 79, and while the majority might let you fend for yourselves, you would pretty certainly some who would opt for self sacrifice. Americans are not such a monolithic undifferentiated group that all 20 million septuagenarians would decline to take one for the team.

      American septuagenarian nuclear engineers are presumably in shorter supply, but honestly, people sometimes will surprise you, especially in a crisis. Even americans.

  30. Can we stop arguing about nuclear energy and start commenting on the report? Seriously…

  31. These are people who were young children during and after the bombing of hiroshima and nagasaki. That makes it even more heroic–they know what they’re volunteering for.

  32. As to the article itself, this is beautiful.

    And it makes very good sense, as the suspected carcinogenic effects of the doses these fine people will be exposed to are said only to manifest over considerable periods of time, it is said. Thus, oldsters are less likely anyhow to be alive so long as to show whatever effects are
    claimed to occur as a result of the exposure.

    in addition, monitoring of these heroic and slefless individuals over time will help to establish some actual rates of oncogenesis ( as opposed to semi-conjectural, laudably prudential estimates of such suspected damage) as a result of their exposure: valuable knowledge for future nuclear workers!

    Finally, we oldsters love to be useful (if we can be!), so it is nice that some of Japanese colleagues have an opportunity to demonstrate this to the younger people , although the seriousness of the circumstances renders my joy about this less than it otherwise would be.

    We older people do not cling to life as strongly as the young cling to life ( – or are the young clinging only to their hopes about life?) …because we older ones know, that life itself is very hard, and perhaps we have a more “realistic” view of our hopes for OUR futures, than the young in general have of theirs.

    Maybe this has something to do with the curious fact that I have observed of late – that older people are generally happier than younger people. I suppose that we actually have less to worry about, seeing as our time to worry about, and to suffer, any anticipated pain is likely to be much shorter.

    And I have observed that it is the prospect of pain and loss, not the actual pain and loss, which usually causes the most unhappiness.

    Worry about a problem can be THE problem, well before you even HAVE an actual factual problem, sometimes.

    Young people need to learn how to relax.

    1. Ugly Canuck – Good points.

      Not to take away from their heartbreaking gallantry, but one of the ghastly things about getting old is dealing with the expectation that you’re supposed to sit on your @ss for the last few decades of your life, while waiting to check out.

      After you’ve lived like that for a while, doing purposeful, challenging, adult work, even if it’s dangerous, is kind of a treat.

  33. This guy is a true hero. #1, he is absolutely correct. #2, he is willing to do it himself. He deserves our utmost respect and support. Pretty epic Japanese guy.

  34. Leave it to Japan to do the good of the masses not the individual. America could learn from this. I’m not saying either society is “right”, just that Japan at least acknowledges that everyone is interconnected.

  35. In Japan people respect their elders because they deserve it.

    In the US people don’t respect their elders because they don’t deserve it. The world our grandparents built took them to the moon. The world our parents built squandered 40 years on war and casinos instead of developing the solar system.

  36. Seems like the BBC reporter wanted to label Yamada as a Kamikaze, thinking he’s on a suicide mission….nice that Yamada-san was able to correct that assumption….

  37. I am an inflamatory bastard, so I can attest that deletion was always on the table. (especially when the comment was entirely non-consturctive like, say… “You’re an asshole”) :P

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