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Today, I came across this article, titled “When Retirees Volunteer to Clean Up the Mess” by John M Glionna – in The New Indian Express, Bhubaneswar edition dated the 5th July, 2011 – originally published in Los Angeles Times.

I was so deeply and profoundly touched by the information that it contained that I felt it should reach every person breathing on this planet! Unbelievable! There is something amazing about what a group of retired skilled volunteers are planning to do. I dare not try to describe the spirit behind it in words, as any word may fall short to correctly capture the depth of their sense of accountability, sense of responsibility and above all, their sense of service to humanity!

So, I just decided to reproduce the story verbatim as in the article – the story of Nobuhiro Shiotani and Yashuteru Yamada, both 72-year-old scientists from Japan and their “Skilled Veterans Corps”. Rest is up to you – to understand, to feel, to appreciate , to propagate and to emulate !!

Here it goes:

“  They were two old friends catching up over coffee, retirees swapping stories and gasping at the unfolding nuclear nightmare at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. But instead of throwing their hands up over the disaster that shook the plant in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Nobuhiro Shiotani and Yashuteru Yamada, both 72-year-old scientists, decided they could do something to help.

They devised a plan that some have called heroic, others misguided and suicidal.They would enlist a small army of researchers and other skilled workers to come out of retirement to venture inside the radioactive plant and use their expertise to help stabilise its stricken reactors.

In early April, Yamada got on the phone to former colleagues and long-lost contacts. He wrote letters and e mails, and joined Twitter to get the word out to 2500 people. At last count, 400 men and women have signed up for the Skilled Veterans Corps : former electrical engineers, forklift operators, high-altitude and heavy construction workers, military special forces members, two cooks and even a singer who wants to help. The youngest is 60 and the oldest 78.

Many call the volunteers crazy, dismissing them as a Suicide Corps. Others say that the effort should be left up to those who allowed the problem to occur – the plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. The group of skilled veterans insists this is no pie-in-the-sky dream, but a plan based on real science.

They ask, why risk the health of the younger generation to perfrm such work in a perilous radioactive environment ? Cells reproduce more slowly in the bodies of older people, so any cancer caused by radioactivity would take much longer to form.

Yamada says he will be dead from something else long before any radiation-caused cancer can kill him. “Young workers who may reproduce a younger generation and are themselves more susceptible to the effects of radiation should not be engaged in such work,” said the retired environmental engineer and consultant. “This job is a call for senior citizens like me.”

Yamada and Shiotani, a retired Physicist and Chemist, felt personally responsible for the catastrophe at the Fukushima plant. It was their generation that had applied its know-how to build the facility in the late 1960s and 1970s. They had also benefitted greatly from the nuclear power it generated. “This nuclear reactor was the brain-child of our generation,” Shiotani said. “And we feel it’s our job to clean up the mess.”

The pair started a website for the Skilled Veterans Corps, which lays out its reasoning. Our generation, “in particular those of us who hailed the slogan that ‘ Nuclear Power is Safe’, should be the first to join,” it says.”This is our duty to the next generation and the one thereafter.”

Yamada and Shiotani have met with Government and Tepco officials, who have given preliminary approval to enter the facility, which is off-limits to the public, to help design a replacement for the reactor cooling system that was knocked out by the tsunami.

In the coming weeks,the volunteers plan their first meeting to map out a strategy, and Yamada and Shiotani are continuing to talk with government and company officials about when they might go inside.

Despite a common goal, tensions exist among the group members. Many of the men do not want the dozen women who have signed up to take part, saying they are too weak and will only get in the way.

Confident that she will eventually get inside the plant, Sasaki says she is ready for whatever happens. “Death has become familiar,” she said. “ Not that I want to die – I am just no longer afraid of it.”

–  Article ends

What a glorious high of a sense of accountibility and responsibility, driving these people to clean up the mess that they think they are responsible for – even by sacrifice of their own lives in lieu of the younger generation – who forms the future of the humankind !!!  Hats off !  It is not important whether eventually they are able to help in any significant way or not ( I am sure, whatever way they help, that would be remarkable in such a situation). What is immensely of value is the  spirit of selfless service that is goading them to such a heroic, unheard of plan of action!

Actually, ever since I have taken voluntary retirement 3 years back, the issue of a large and growing elderly population in our country has gripped my mind. If only each of the elderly citizens wakes up to his/her own potential to give back to the society ( there are many, many ways !) and the establishments like government, NGOs, Societies, Clubs, Corporates etc. also come closer to harness their expertise in various fields – benefits of unimaginable scale can accrue to the society- especially the underprivileged. Forget about other things. If only each literate senior citizen helps out underprivileged children in the nearby areas in their studies/ primary education, a sea-change can happen to our social fabric. And no one then would dare whisper about the “burden” that the pensioners and senior citizens are !! I am trying to do my bit. I am sure, you too would, if not started yet!