Friday, May 27, 2011

Nuclear veterans offer help to plant

A group of retired Japanese nuclear and civil engineers are hoping to report back for duty for one last mission - to stabilise the radiation-leaking Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

More than 160 engineers, including many former atomic plant workers, aged 60 or older, said they wanted to set up a ''Skilled Veterans Corps'' to help restore the cooling systems crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

''We shouldn't leave the work only to young engineers,'' said Yasuteru Yamada, who made the proposal after hearing that young subcontractors, some of them unskilled workers, were engaged in the high-risk salvage effort.

''Young people, especially those who will have children in future, should not be exposed to radiation,'' said Mr Yamada, 72, a retired engineer who used to work on plant construction.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has not publicly commented on the proposal, but some lawmakers have voiced their support.

Under the group's proposal, the government would authorise an independent body of skilled engineers aged over 60 to take over ground work on restoring cooling systems from TEPCO.

Mr Yamada said his proposed team was not comparable to the ''kamikaze'' suicide squads of military pilots who crashed their fighter planes into US battleships just before Japan surrendered in World War II.

''Everybody is afraid of death. So am I,'' Mr Yamada said, explaining that the team would work on condition their exposure to radiation was strictly controlled and the operation had the full backing of authorities.

But some would-be volunteers said they were ready to face the possible consequences of a return to work.

Masahiro Ueda, 69, a former nuclear power plant worker with more than four decades of expertise on water pumps of cooling systems, said he had applied to take part and would be willing to give his life.

''I'm old. I don't care when I die,'' he said.

''I want to devote the rest of my career to the restoration [of the Fukushima Daiichi plant]. Someone should take action. You can't work properly at nuclear plants without specialist knowledge.''


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