Entries in Volunteers (3)


Japanese Retirees Volunteer for Fukushima Duty

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Yasuteru Yamada cringes at any comparison to the kamikaze pilots who flew suicide missions during World War II.

The retired engineer has rallied more than 200 aging workers who have volunteered to tackle the nuclear crises at Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant.  But he says, this is no suicide mission.

"We don't want to die," says the 72-year old, a former engineer for Sumitomo Metal Industries Ltd.  "We just want to stabilize the nuclear plant, nothing more."

The team of volunteers call themselves the Skilled Veteran Corps.  The group is made up of former engineers, doctors, cooks and even singers.  The common thread is that they are all over the age of 60.

Yamada says he decided to establish the group shortly after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami shut down cooling systems at Fukushima's reactors in March, triggering the world's worst nuclear crises since Chernobyl.  Yamada watched on television, as younger workers dressed in hazmat suits, braved radiation fears to bring the damaged reactors under control.

Nearly three months after the accident, the reactors continue to spew radiation into the air, while contaminated water leaks into the ocean.

Yamada worries about the health of current Fukushima workers, and says the nuclear burden should be tasked to an older generation that has "consciously or unconsciously" supported the plant, and reaped the benefits of the electricity it's generated.  He often jokes that he has just 15 years to live, not long enough for cancer -- a common side-effect of radiation exposure -- to develop.

The Skilled Veteran Corps's cause, has piqued the interest of plant operator Tokyo Electric, commonly known as TEPCO, and Japanese politicians.  In talks with TEPCO, Yamada says the utility has expressed enthusiasm in teaming up, though neither has a "concrete idea on how we can work together."

The need for workers is expected to increase.  TEPCO has already said the company is unlikely to meet its self-imposed deadline of bringing the reactors to a cold-shutdown by the end of the year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japan Disasters Spark Volunteer Boom, But System Overwhelmed

MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- So many Japanese have traded in their vacations for grueling volunteer work in tsunami-ravaged communities that they're being turned away in droves, as the country marks a week-long holiday known as "Golden Week."

"We started getting calls to volunteer from large groups in early April," said Hideo Otsuki, who directs volunteer operations in Ishinomaki city.  "We had to set our limit at 1,000 volunteers a day."

Administrators have been so overwhelmed by requests to help, they've had to reject applicants, and ask them to postpone their trips until after the holiday week.

The extended spring break during the first week of May is traditionally a time when Japanese families travel out of town to relax, but with the holiday coming less than two months after the March 11 disasters this year, many Japanese have opted to travel northeast to coastal towns hit hardest by the earthquake and tsunami.

The death toll from the devastating earthquake and tsunami has climbed to 14,755, while 10,706 are still considered missing, according to Japan's National Police Agency.

At the Iwate Disaster Volunteer Center in Morioka, more than 10,000 people have signed up to work in the past five days, in a country where organized volunteer groups are relatively new.  Volunteers have been tasked with shoveling mud, clearing debris and cleaning homes flooded by tsunami waves.

The center is offering bus services to the disaster areas daily, to avoid additional traffic congestion, although some organized tours are offering their own transportation.

In Ishinomaki, much of the debris has been cleared from major roads but piles of trash and rubble still fill residential streets.

Otsuki is pairing volunteers with individual families, so their needs are met directly.  Some are helping strip out floors to clear the mud underneath while others are helping to haul damaged furniture.

With limited lodging available, volunteers have pitched tents, filling parking lots already flooded with out of town cars.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japan's Fukushima 50: Volunteers Who Stay Behind at Crippled Plants

ABC News(TOKYO) -- They are the nameless brave men who are working as the last line of defense at Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plants.  They stayed behind while everyone else was sent nearly 15 miles away and radiation soars to menacing levels.

There are 200 of them and they work in shifts of 50, earning the nickname the Fukushima 50.

At one point, even these men were pulled back 500 yards from the deteriorating nuke plants, but by Wednesday it appeared the crisis team was heading back in.

Japanese Prime Minister Naota Kan told the volunteers, "You are the only ones who can resolve a crisis.  Retreat is unthinkable," according to the Financial Times.

They are working as temperatures at the plants soar to nerve-wracking levels, radiation is leaking, rain may be carrying it down upon them, and a toxic fire burns, likely spewing more radiation into the atmosphere.

There is little information about who actually stayed behind, but nuclear experts say the skeleton crew is likely made up not of managers, but of technicians, men who have the schematics of the plant in their head and can fix pipes and unclog vents.

They've gone into battle, crawling at times through dark mazes, armed with flashlights and radiation detectors, wearing full body hazmat suits and breathing through cumbersome oxygen tanks.

Potentially deadly doses of radiation surround them as they work, and their suits do little to prevent radiation from seeping into their bodies.

Radiation sickness sets in after exposure to 1,000 milliseiverts (mSv) of radiation at once.

It's not clear what doses of radiation these men are absorbing, but American and Japanese regulations on radiation exposure are similar: both countries have a total dose of 50 mSv that workers are allowed to be exposed to in one year.  But in an emergency situation, workers are allowed to exceed that value.

According to the NHK, the Japanese raised the maximum dose allowed to 100 mSv for the Fukushima 50, and on Tuesday raised the number to 500 mSv -- the international value for the maximum allowed dose in a state of emergency.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio