‘The Moral High Ground’: Japanese Seniors Volunteer For Fukushima ‘Suicide Corps’
Some 250 elderly Japanese men and women have volunteered to help remedy one of the worst nuclear meltdowns in history. Dubbed the ‘suicide corps’ by Goshi Hosono, Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s special adviser on the Fukushima crisis, the group is made up of only retirees over the age of 60.
CNN reports that these seniors believe they are in a unique position to be able to contribute to solving the nuclear crisis at the radiation-contaminated Fukushima plant. And they have a valid point– older peoples’ cells don’t divide as rapidly as do those of younger folks, enabling them to do work that could be much more perilous to more youthful workers.
“We have to work instead of them,” 72-year-old Yasuteru Yamada told CNN. “Elders have less sensitivity to radiation. Therefore, we have to work.” Yamada, a cancer survivor, said he wanted to do something to make a difference in his remaining years of life.
Their courageous enthusiasm is remarkable. It’s not as if they are immune to the cancers that radiation can cause. But at their age, it is possible that they will die of other causes before radiation-induced cancer can affect them.
Kazuko Sasaki, a 69-year-old woman who co-founded the ‘suicide corps,’ says that death isn’t as frightening for older people as it is for the young. “When we were younger, we never thought of death,” she told CNN. “But death becomes familiar as we get older. We have a feeling that death is waiting for us. This doesn’t mean I want to die. But we become less afraid of death as we get older.”
Sasaki has a different reason for wanting to help. “My generation, the old generation, promoted the nuclear plants,” she told CNN. “If we don’t take responsibility, who will?”
Right now, it doesn’t seem as if the Japanese government is eager to accept the ‘suicide corps” help. There are currently about 1,000 workers already heroically laboring to contain the damage at the Fukushima plant. The plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), told CNN they were thankful for the seniors’ offer but that they had enough workers to manage the crisis.
But CNN reports that some younger workers at the plant will never return there. The cable news network interviewed Hikaru Tagawa, a father of two young children, who temporarily worked at the plant. He lived just a few miles away; now the area is a mandatory evacuation zone.
“Nothing can make me go back to work there,” he said, calling the radiation levels “too dangerous.”
Perhaps that is why Goshi Hosono sounded just a little more open to the idea of accepting the ‘suicide corps” help.
“I met the leader of the group and we’ve started a discussion, looking for any possible, practical next step,” he said at a news conference.
The Japanese government, which has handled the crisis less than admirably, ought to seriously consider their offer. It needs all the help it can get.
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