Japanese retirees ready to risk Fukushima front line

Mon Jun 6, 2011 9:15am GMT

By Kevin Krolicki

TOKYO, June 6 (Reuters) - At age 72, Yasuteru Yamada believes he has a few more good years ahead.

But not so many that the retired engineer is worried about the consequences of working on the hazardous front line cleaning up the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.

"I will be dead before cancer gets me," said Yamada, who has organized an unlikely band of more than 270 retirees and older workers eager to work for nothing but the sense of service at the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

Yamada, who spent 28 years at Sumitomo Metal Industries, says the Fukushima clean-up job is too sprawling, too complex and too important to be left to Tokyo Electric Power , the Fukushima plant's embattled utility operator.

Instead, he wants to see the Japanese government take over at Fukushima with his group of greying volunteers with expertise in civil engineering and construction stepping in on an unpaid basis, "like the Red Cross."

Japanese government officials were initially cool to the unsolicited proposal. Goshi Hosono, an aide to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, dismissed Yamada's volunteers as a "suicide corps".

But in a late May meeting at Tokyo Electric's headquarters, Hosono seemed more receptive to the suggestion amid mounting concern about the health risks for younger workers already at Fukushima.

Three unidentified workers collapsed at Fukushima from apparent heat stroke over the weekend. Meanwhile, at least two plant workers have exceeded the government's limit for radiation exposure by a wide margin, putting them at a higher risk of cancer and other disease.   Continued...

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