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Fukushima's nuclear cauldron: Retirees who want to go in

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Seven members of the veterans group worked at Fukushima during their active careers, he adds. "They feel like mothers who have lost their children."

With their backgrounds as nuclear plant designers, electrical engineers, radiation regulators, and physicists, the retirees "could if they wish get a decent job at Fukushima, but they have chosen us," says Shiotani. "They want to work not for money, but for something fundamental and essential for society."

Called to action

Shiotani himself, a materials engineer, says he feels motivated to volunteer at Fukushima by a personal sense of responsibility.

The plant, he says, "is a grandchild of science. The crisis was caused by human error, and the mess created by scientists and engineers should be cleared up by scientists and engineers themselves. As a physicist I feel it is indirectly partly my fault."

So far the Japanese government and the plant's operator, Tepco, have responded hesitantly to the SVC's proposal.

"The government has said it will welcome our help, but that could be just lip service," says Shiotani. "But they have not rejected us flatly."

Tepco "is quite reluctant to accept us because they are quite proud," he adds. "They want to be able to say they can contain the accident themselves."

But the group's organizers say they detect some movement in official attitudes. The first time he met Tepco executives, "they just pretended to be surprised by our proposal," Shiotani recalls. "Probably to them we are crazy guys."

At a second meeting with officials from both Tepco and the government, however, "my impression was that they were softening," says Shiotani. "Reluctantly they started to consider us."

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