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This past weekend I had the opportunity to meet two very kind gentlemen from the Skilled Veterans Corps for Fukushima (SVCF). They had just flown into the United States from Narita, Japan. I volunteered to pick them up at San Francisco International Airport and drive them up to Sebastopol, California. It just so happened that my small town was their first stop in a brief national lecture tour.

Yastel Yamada, President of the Skilled Veterans Corps for Fukushima, and his associate “Tak” Okamoto are in the U.S. to promote a controversial, yet courageous proposal. Essentially, the SVCF is calling on the Japanese government and the Tokyo Energy Power Company (TEPCO), owners of the dangerously crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, to allow retired, senior citizens with technical experience and know-how to be allowed immediately to contribute to the clean-up efforts at the plant, effectively putting their lives on the front lines in the battle to contain this unfolding disaster.

In addition, the distinguished gentlemen from the SVCF are calling for the TEPCO to relinquish its leadership role in the crisis clean-up and turn the project over to an “International Inspection Team” with a “centralized and unified Project Management”. The members of the SVCF argue that the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant is too great for one corporation, with their fiduciary responsibilities to their shareholders, to protect the nation and the world from the real and potential dangers.

This link,  USA_Yamada_20120728.pdf  is a copy of the full speech and accompanying slides Yamada presented in Sebastopol on Sunday, July 29, 2012. To understand better the ongoing situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Lynda Williams, an instructor in physics at Santa Rosa Junior College, and I have put together a list of interview questions/FAQ for Mr. Yamada.  The following is an excerpt from list our questions:

Q: Please say your full name, your title and the organization you work with.

My name is Yastel Yamada, president of the Skilled Veterans Corps for Fukushima, a group of retired engineers and workers who are volunteering to cleanup Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Our intention is to work together with present site workers including TEPCO’s employees and not proposing technical plans. Our focus is for older workers to replace a part of the younger workers who would be exposed to the most dangerous radiation.  

Q:  Please tell us about the Skilled Veterans Corps for Fukushima (SVCF). How and when did you form this organization?

Immediately after the earthquake and tsunami happened and I learned that all of the power sources at Fukushima Daiichi had been damaged and explosions had taken place, I discussed with my engineering friend the situation and we came to the conclusion that the nuclear fuel must have molten down and serious radioactive contamination must be on site. We realized that for the containment and cleanup, there would be serious radiation exposure for the workers and great risk to their health. It is better for older people to do the cleanup because there is less risk to radiation exposure than for younger people. And then in the beginning of April I sent my message to almost 2500 persons inviting volunteers to join the SVCF. Currently there are over 600 members in the Corps including engineers, scientists, technicians, and others.

Q: Please tell us why you think seniors should do this work?

There are three reasons:

1) Radiation damages DNA when cells are split.  Cells split more often in young people who are growing. But in elder persons there is less cell division and therefore less risk to DNA damage due to radiation.

2) Even if DNA is damaged and causes cancer, elder person may have less life time left. He/she may die before the cancer appears.

3) Aged persons have almost no chance to make children and give them genetic birth defects due to the radiation.

Q: Please tell us what is the current state of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant? There are six reactors at the site, what are the current conditions of each of these reactors and what needs to be done?

Units 1, 2, and 3 are all critically damaged by nuclear fuel meltdown and highly contaminated with radioactivity so much that humans cannot enter the buildings. The Primary Containment Vessel (PCV), which contains the reactor and nuclear fuel, is damaged and leaking water. The PCV must be repaired before starting the removal of the nuclear fuel. This will take ten years. It will take will take an addition 10 years to complete the nuclear fuel debris removal. The reactors need to be continuously cooled by water for the twenty years.

Unit 4 was not operating at the time of the Tsunami and there was no nuclear fuel in the reactor vessel. Therefore the PCV is not of concern.  However, there was an explosion that severely damaged the building containing the spent fuel pool, which has 1535 nuclear fuel rods.  Only the spent fuel removal from the pool is the major task, which could be completed within 4 years.

Units 1, 2, 3, and 4 are scheduled to be cleaned up, and dismantled with no future possibility to restart.

Units 5 and 6 were stopped normally and cooled properly but there is so much contamination on the site that I believe there is no chance to restart them.

Q. Please talk about your engineering experience with nuclear power in Japan.

I am not a nuclear engineer but we have over a dozen in the SVCF.  I worked as a project management engineer and built steel plants from design to construction to commission. With that background I am able to understand what has happened at Fukushima and what will be needed in the cleanup project.

Q. Please explain your thoughts about nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster.

As president of the Skilled Veterans Corps for Fukushima, I can not comment on nuclear power in general only focusing on the Fukushima Daiichi cleanup. The reason is because there are many different opinions within the SVCF about nuclear power but we all agree on one thing, that to cleanup Fukushima has immediate importance.

Q. What is your personal opinion about nuclear power in general.

On this tour I am representing SVCF and not myself.

Q:  I understand the Japanese Government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) that owns and operates Fukushima Daiichi have refused your generous offer to voluntarily work at the crippled plant. What is the status of the situation?

The Japanese government says “Proposal of SVCF is welcome.” but TEPCO says they have no room to accept SVCF members. It is very complicated but we feel that if the government and TEPCO are pressured by the US and international community, they will have to accept us.  This is the purpose of our tour in the US, to ask the people to make your voices heard to pressure the Japanese government to let SVCF help cleanup Fukushima Daiichi and protect young workers.

Q: How many cities do you plan on visiting on this tour?

In three weeks we will be traveling to Sebastopol, Ukiah, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington DC, NY, and Los Angeles.

In his prepared speech, Mr. Yamada states, “Japan’s Government and bureaucracy are quite conservative, but, unfortunately very sensitive to pressure from the USA. Your voice may be a much stronger punch than ours”.  Yamada and his organization are calling on Americans to contract their members of congress and the White House and encourage them to put pressure on the Japanese government to force TEPCO to give up oversight and control of the Fukushima clean-up to an independent International Inspection Team.

Article originally published at Expats Post.


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