Masao Yoshida, Fukushima nuclear plant’s manager who managed to keep the situation under control when the plant’s reactors were melting down during the 2011 nuclear disaster, has died on Tuesday at 58.
The cause of death was esophageal cancer, according to a statement from Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant. The company also stated that the medical condition was not caused by the radiation exposure after the nuclear accident. His cancer was disclosed several months before the nuclear disaster.
Yoshida, who was an engineer by training and the manager of Fukushima plant since 2010, managed to stop the reactors from overheating after the plant was hit by a disastrous earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. He handled the disaster response for almost nine months.
“I can not imagine how hard it was for him,” Tatsujiro Suzuki, vice-chairman of the All Japan news Atomic Energy Commission, said.
“He had to make a decision that most of the on-site workers should leave because the situation was getting worse and he also had to have some of his staff remain to work with him. That was probably the hardest decision he ever had to make.”
“We deeply appreciate his contribution and the way he handled the accident,” TEPCO President Naomi Hirose said. “It is very sad that we cannot work together with him to rebuild the company.”
On March 12, a day after the tsunami, Yoshida ignored an order from TEPCO headquarters to stop pumping seawater into a reactor to try and cool it because of concerns that ocean water would corrode the equipment.
TEPCO initially said it would penalize Yoshida even though Sakae Muto, then a vice president at the utility, said it was a technically appropriate decision. Yoshida received no more than a verbal reprimand after then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan defended the plant chief.
“I bow in respect for his leadership and decision-making,” Kan said on his Twitter account.