I just saw the CNN article/video on the Japanese retirees who have volunteered to help at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant. They argue they are skilled workers who have an advantage over the approximately 1,000 younger workers currently at the crisis zone in that their cells divide less often. This means that they would sustain less damage from radiation exposure, and though they may likely develop cancer, it wouldn’t be for 15-20 years when many of the “Skilled Veterans Corps” as they call themselves, would be in their eighties. The initial official response was dismissive, but there are signs that the 250 retirees who have volunteered so far may be accepted into service. They say they have no death wish, but want to do something worthwhile with the time they have left.
I think this is an amazing story on many counts. First, whenever anyone in the human race steps up and says, “I can do this dangerous and difficult task for little compensation–let me,” I am heartened. Soldiers, firefighters, police officers and human aid workers make the kind of sacrifices that validate humanity’s claim to be a higher level of species. Laying down your life so someone else doesn’t have to, when you could instead be enjoying your days in the sun or running for the hills is a concept that much of the world (at least the population I see on reality TV,) would consider unimaginable, if not downright stupid. But it is this kind of selflessness that sets us above other forms of life. Maybe not dogs, but definitely cats, birds, fish, etc. Secondly, I am interested that Japanese officials are entertaining the idea of using the elderly. It is an unsavory idea, asking your parents or grandparents to be put in harm’s way to fix a disastrous mess. For the Japanese culture, which has always had a more developed sense of honoring one’s elders than most, this must be a particularly difficult thing to do. But no one’s asked the Skilled Veterans to step up. Instead, they have had to be persuasive to have their arguments heard, and listening to one’s elders is part of honoring them as well. Lastly, the developing story makes me consider the situation of the 1,000 or so workers who are currently fighting to control the radiation hazard at the Fukushima plant. These are men and women who are already facing life and death risk. What consequences do they face physiologically, psychologically, and socially? Even with precautions, they have at minimum a heightened risk of cancer, let alone imminent risk from the uncontrolled meltdown they are fighting to prevent. The entire world is watching to see what happens; the pressure to save themselves, their region and the global environment must be intense. Some of them have to be quite young. If there is a future for the workers at Fukushima, what will it be? Will they ever have children? Marry? I would be interested to know their reaction to the Skilled Veterans Corps. If these volunteers have the needed skills, I like to imagine that their help would be gratefully accepted.
To see the CNN story, go to http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/05/31/japan.nuclear.suicide/index.html?hpt=hp_c1