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Senior Citizens Lining Up to Tackle Fukushima 242

Some have compared them to kamikazes, but the more than 200 elderly volunteers who want clean up the Fukushima power station say they are just being practical. 72-year-old retired engineer Yasuteru Yamada says: "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 or 30 years or longer to develop. Therefore us older ones have less chance of getting cancer." So far the government is hesitant to let the volunteers into the power station but Yamada and the others have been lobbying for the right to aid in the clean up. He says: "At this moment I can say that I am talking with many key government and Tepco people. But I am sorry I can't say any more at this moment. It is on the way but it is a very, very sensitive issue politically."
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Senior Citizens Lining Up to Tackle Fukushima

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  • by asdbffg ( 1902686 ) on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @12:35PM (#36298406)
    I wonder if there is a population here in the States that would be willing to take a compelling risk like this.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @12:41PM (#36298504)

      You need look no further than 9/11 first responders. Of course, the politicians then tried to stiff them after using 9/11 imagery for commercials. []

      • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @01:01PM (#36298800) Homepage

        Tried to stiff them? the republicans blocked giving them aid at EVERY TURN! democrats asked for stupid as hell restrictions... and in the end... they flipped a giant fuck you to every 9/11 responder....

        to get your aid, you haveto have a background check to see if you are a terrorist... WTF is that?

        • by modecx ( 130548 ) on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @01:21PM (#36299118)

          It's the same thing with the soldiers they eagerly send to war, isn't it? It's standard operating procedure for disposable workers, and a recurring theme ever since the Continental Army was demobilized in 1783.

          It's all pats on the back, and out of one side of their mouths it's all "Thanks for putting your life on the line", and "you're defending freedom", etc. while simultaneously they're winding to give a giant boot up your collective asses.

          • by assertation ( 1255714 ) on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @03:01PM (#36300272)

            There is always a new generation of suckers for the Yankie Doodle talk about serving your country. If you try to tell these people that as vets the government will throw them away like an empty plastic water bottle instead of hearing your warning they will call you a "libUral".

          • by e9th ( 652576 )
            When I got out of the service in 1974, the G.I. Bill paid me almost $700/mo (about $3000/mo today), tax-free, while I was in school. It enabled me to go to a real university, not some community college or third-rate state school. I didn't consider that a boot up my ass.

            Also, thanks to the Veterans' Preference Act [], I am entitled to (but have never used) preferential hiring for federal civil-service jobs.
            • Read up on the Bonus Army riots of 1932 [] and the background/history of US compensation to armed forces members. Your experience is historically speaking an anomaly. I'm glad the government is treating veterans well these days, but it appears that such treatment is rare.

            • by Fjandr ( 66656 )

              It works out well for people who leave the service relatively sound of mind and body.

              Unfortunately, there are many who don't, and frequently they are the ones who do not have the needs incurred by their service met after they leave.

              Positive anecdotal experiences do not negate the negative ones, and vice versa. There is more than one side to military service, because there is more than one person who has served in the military.

    • by gdshaw ( 1015745 ) on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @12:47PM (#36298574) Homepage

      I wonder if there is a population here in the States that would be willing to take a compelling risk like this.

      Provided that they intend to keep exposure within reasonable limits (which appears to be the case) then smoking, working in a coal mine, or just having an unhealthy diet would all qualify.

      • I'm so going to take up asbestos siding removal when I'm 90. Hell, I'll do that and X-Ray tech. Suck on that risk management!

    • Back in the day, President Carter was part of a clean up crew for a nuclear accident. At that time it was because he had the security clearance needed because he was in the Navy, in addition to knowing about reactors.

      The point that these retired worker make about lower cancer risk is a good one. If there are Japanese speaking retired nuclear workers around the world, getting them to step in would make a lot of sense. There may even be room for non-Japanese speakers as a part of a crew with a translator
    • by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @12:50PM (#36298634) Homepage Journal

      Their strength is their weakness. The same nobility that inspired these geezers (and i use that term with respect) to volunteer will prevent anyone in government or management from allowing them to go through with it. If they do it, some of them will certainly develop cancer or other serious maladies, and Japan's black eye would only get worse if they were seen sending in their most revered citizens in to die cleaning up a mess caused by some whippersnapper 40 year olds and their slipshod safety procedures.

      No, the only thing that would float is if the Tepco management team themselves "volunteered" to do the clean up, as penance for the disaster they caused.

      • by Sir_Sri ( 199544 )

        except that the reactor was built in the 1960's and 70's. The people who made the fundamental design decisions about how large and earthquake and tsunami to build for are the ones at the post retirement age that would be volunteering.

    • Since nuclear accidents are inevitable, it would be good to get a hotshot team of retired engineers prepared for any emergency at any reactor. This should be a professional requirement in the field.
      • Since nuclear accidents are inevitable, it would be good to get a hotshot team of retired engineers prepared for any emergency at any reactor.

        That's an awesome idea.

        This should be a professional requirement in the field.

        That's a terrible idea. And completely undermines the integrity of any team(s) you create.

    • by TrentTheThief ( 118302 ) on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @01:10PM (#36298926)

      Sure, I'd go. There are many who would. Probably all of them older veterans, like me. I'd rather live peacefully, but to help my country recover from something so serious as a major nuclear accident? I'm up for it. I have children and grandchildren. I'd do anything to make certain that they can live normal lives.

      • +5 Inspiring (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Good on you, mate. I'm too young yet and haven't had my kids yet either, but some day I hope to follow your example for positive attitude.

      • The vets also know NBC decon and would be less fearful due to training and discipline. They have experience including work/rest cycles in hot conditions, and internalized ability to work rapidly in teams.

        The old M17 masks and chemsuits were acceptable, though staying in MOPP 4 for 12 house sucked ass. You could hang in Tyvek with a SCBA more easily than a chem suit. []

        The military set off nukes near essentially unprotected troops to prove (it did) the practicality of nuclear w

    • by Thud457 ( 234763 ) on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @01:18PM (#36299050) Homepage Journal
      this only continues to prop up the disproven evil Capitalist "privatize the profits, socialize the risks" mindset.
      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        At the same time it is proof positive that the central theme of the modern rabid capitalist, that only profit can motivate necessary work, is bunk.

        Profit motivated leaving no corner uncut but a sense of civic duty motivates fixing the mess.

    • Show them the hideous, slow, wretched process of Very Old Age and a quicker death for a cause should be no problem.

    • by jhsiao ( 525216 )
      Would some elderly physicists and geologists and astronauts be willing to take a one-way trip to Mars if given the opportunity? Yes.
    • and you would find many of them from the very same families our soldiers, police officers, and fire fighters, come from. There still are many people who make this country great, far too many write them off because these are also people with very strong values who do not bend to others views of those values. My parent's neighbor is in late sixties and works for FEMA going to about every disaster that pops up. He doesn't stop till they make him take time off. He could live comfortably never lifting a finger b

    • I wonder if there is a population here in the States that would be willing to take a compelling risk like this.

      You have to ask whether these elderly volunteers have the necessary skills. You have to ask whether they have the strength and endurance needed for the job. You have to ask how vulnerable they are to radiation and other hazards. The rate of attrition.

      If you do not ask these questions, what you have is a feel-good PR stunt, not a plan to secure the reactors.

    • by Sir_Sri ( 199544 )

      I have no doubt that if a similar situation happened in the US or canada an adequate number of people could be found who would volunteer. Not everyone eligible would volunteer of course, but you don't need a million 70 year olds to try and fix 5 nuclear reactors at 1 facility. If you don't have enough free volunteers, offer cash, which of course increases the number of volunteers.

      In Japan they have healthcare, they have confidence that the state will take care of them if, in 10 years, they *do* get cancer

  • Kamikazes? More like heroes (but then again, that all definition depends on whether you're in the air or on the ground).
    • Sort of kamikazes, even if they're the good kind now. I'm not exactly familiar with the radiation levels inside/around the plant now, but even if cancer takes a long time to develop, if they take a large dose, walking ghost will get them in a week or two, and it won't be pretty or painless...

      Either way, they are heroes.

      • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

        Sort of kamikazes, even if they're the good kind now.

        As opposed to?

        The Kamikaze fought for their country as did every other soldier fighting for his in WW2. The fact that they were on a suicide mission, is no different than what many special forces groups did in WW2. Fighting your enemy with no hope for your own life is not anything new.

        • Yes, I got your point myself, after I posted. I spoke with a decidedly western point of view, for whom the Kamikaze were a deadly threat.

    • by Nikker ( 749551 )
      To the Japanese the kamikaze were the heroes. Reading comprehension is hard.
    • I don't know. The divine wind might blow all that fallout over Tokyo
    • I have it on good authority that the Japanese regarded the kamikazes (in WWII and elsewhere) as heroes.

    • There was NOTHING unheroic about being a Kamikaze. It's as much "sacrifice for the group" as diving on a grenade (which is Medal of Honor stuff in the US). It took a great deal of self-mastery to get that mission done.

      Do note that conventional attacks have a loss rate too. One trades lives and equipment for military result. Kamikaze attacks remove the need to recover the attacking force, remove any chance of capture and interrogation (POWs are useless to the war effort, so the Bushido code of fighting to th

  • Prime Minister re-elected in landslide victory getting all robot votes.
  • I'm impressed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sircastor ( 1051070 ) on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @12:38PM (#36298454)
    This is a tremendous show of character and pragmatism. I don't think that I'd have the courage to offer myself. I'm very impressed.
  • 72 year old? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TheCreeep ( 794716 ) on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @12:39PM (#36298470)

    "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 or 30 years or longer to develop. Therefore us older ones have less chance of getting cancer."

    Isn't the "time to cancer" a function of both exposure AND age? It would seem sensible that the senior citizens' cells are already damaged by old age, so exposure to radiation would have a head start as opposed to a 20 year old.
    IANARH (I am not anything relevant here) so I'm really curious about this question.

    • Re:72 year old? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @12:44PM (#36298536)

      I don't think we really know... But either way you look at it, cancer is going to take fewer years away from a 72yr old than a 30yr old.

      I have to say, though, that you have to have a bit of a death wish to volunteer to take that big a chance on getting cancer. Especially since I think their '20 years to develop' estimate is off by 18 or 19 years.

      • Re:72 year old? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @12:52PM (#36298652) Homepage Journal

        Detecting cancer in a year or two in a 72 year old is probably already pre-existing; it takes time to develop to detectability, much less life-threatening size.

        It also depends on how much dosage they allow these seniors to get - if they follow current guidlines, even the more expedient 'emergency' levels, it might only raise their chances 5%.

        Then again, it might kill an existing cancer(though not likely). You just don't know.

      • Why do you think the risk is so great? There are plenty of people who moved back to their homes in the zone of alienation that, contrary to popular expectations, don't seem to be dying too fast.

        • by Aladrin ( 926209 )

          Because they do. If it wasn't 'so great', this volunteering to take the chance wouldn't mean anything.

    • IANARH (I am not anything relevant here)

      Is there any use at all for using a single instance of a made-up acronym so obscure that you have to immediately spell it out afterwards?

    • I see this guy's statement about cancer and his age as a simple justification when the bigger reason is too hard for many to grasp. As in, there are just some things than cannot be explained, they are just are. Self sacrificing people are special for reasons they cannot usually communicate.

  • Go Japan! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ironhandx ( 1762146 ) on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @12:39PM (#36298476)

    Most people will probably just see a huge Corporation taking advantage if these people are allowed to do what they plan on doing, but I have to say that I'm impressed.

    Practically sacrificing for the greater good is an admirable attribute. I have to thank these Japanese Seniors for restoring my faith in humanity.

  • [citation needed][weasel words]

    If you're going to add some bullshit controversy to get your story posted on Slashdot, at least compare them to Apple zealots.

  • Lower chance too (Score:5, Informative)

    by marcovje ( 205102 ) on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @12:40PM (#36298496)

    Older people have lower rates of celldivision, and thus probably have a lower chance on cancer (for the same dose).

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by rritterson ( 588983 )

      One of the hallmarks of cancer cells are mutations that make them divide like crazy and never stop. The baseline division rate before they became cancerous doesn't really matter much by that point.

      • Re:Lower chance too (Score:4, Informative)

        by marcovje ( 205102 ) on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @12:55PM (#36298684)

        That is true, but has nothing to do with my remark.

        The genome is simply more vulnerable while copying.

      • by Mprx ( 82435 )
        It does matter, because cells are most vulnerable to radiation while in the process of dividing.
      • To a degree, it does, as transcription errors occur during mitosis, and that's when things go wrong. Lower division rates mean less opportunities for an irrecoverable error to occur, because if the DNA is damaged during normal life, it's either repaired, or the cell simply triggers apoptosis and self-destructs.

        It doesn't eliminate the chance, but it might lower it.

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        We don't know as much as we should about the effects of radiation exposure in older adults. There are believable mechanisms that could make them more vulnerable and equally believable mechanisms that would make them less vulnerable.

    • So according to Robert Weinberg via the MIT 7.012 class from 2004 available via OpenCourseWare (and iTunes etc.), which is completely and utterly fascinating and I recommend it to any computer geek interested in Biology now that it has become an information science, the average number of cell divisions in a human being over the course of their lifetime is on the order of 10^11 divisions PER DAY. Most of this will be in your gut and bone marrow, etc. The human genome is about 750MB in size, so if you multipl

  • Given the death of one worker at the planet, it suggests that working in restrictive radiation suits in stressful conditions all day it probably more dangerous then the radiation, especially for people who are older and no longer in ideal health.

  • by pepax ( 748182 ) on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @12:50PM (#36298636)
    How many ways are there for people in their 70's to make a such large and meaningful contribution to their society? It would really be a great legacy to leave behind.
  • by notnAP ( 846325 ) on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @03:00PM (#36300270)

    Stories of the "heroism" of the workers at the plant have confounded Americans, it seems.
    While I am sure there is plenty of actual heroism going on, I start to think part of it is just a matter of being level-headed about it.

    It reminds me of the idea that to the uneducated, science seems like magic. Similarly, it seems that belief in science to the uneducated seems heroic.
    These citizens should be applauded, not for their heroism - for in reality they are risking nothing - but for their willingness to conclude that they are risking nothing, and therefore can save others and improve their world with knowledge and intelligence instead of give in to fear and commercially driven FUD at the detriment of society.

    News Flash from Japan: Brave, Brave souls make smart decisions based on facts instead of media FUD! Pictures (You Gotta see these pictures!) at 11!

    • My apologies if you are not ;-) The only thing more insufferable than a born again Christian is a dyed in the wool atheist. Yes, these older Japanese citizens know the facts and have weighed the positives and negatives of their offer. Yes their decision is aided by scientific and medical facts. But, that does not diminish any of the heroism. Rather, it actually adds to it. What do you mean that they are risking nothing? They are offering the ultimate sacrifice any human being can make, i.e. to lose their li

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      I suppose the bravery is in willingly betting your life that you are right and the gibbering morons in the media are all wrong.

  • "Nuke Cowboys"

    with Clint Eastwood in the role of Yasuteru Yamada and Tommy Lee Jones as Michio Ito.

    Seriously though - if these lads are on the level I am highly impressed by their sense of honour to the younger engineers.

  • that an aging population brings. Two birds, one stone.

  • They may have seemingly have less to lose than a younger person but hang on! Seemingly touching let's think about this. What have we got?

    1) One human life considered less important than another
    2) Does this raise stereotypes from the 2nd World war? Or would the response be similar in other countries? Back then we thought the Kamikazee did it for the emperor. What does this mean in context? What do gen Y Japanese think of the old folk?
    3) Actually an older person has been exposed to more radiation already...


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