Ex-Fukushima Chief, Disaster 'Hero,' Dead at 58

Tuesday, 09 Jul 2013 02:10 PM

By Joel Himelfarb

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Masao Yoshida, the plant manager who remained at his post at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant that was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, died of esophogeal cancer Tuesday in Tokyo. He was 58.

Many believe his decision to defy company management orders to stop injecting seawater into the damaged reactor prevented a far more catastrophic accident.

Yoshida was at Fukushima on March 11, 2011 when towering waves of water swamped cooling systems and triggered meltdowns that released plumes of radiation into the air. He led the fight to bring the reactors under control after the accident.

The following evening, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan was trying to decide whether to inject seawater into the plant’s oldest reactor to cool it down. The nuclear plant’s owner’s ordered Yoshida to begin such an operation, only to reverse themselves 21 minutes later.

But Yoshida, believing injections to be the only way to cool the reactor and that halting them would result in a more severe meltdown, disobeyed the order. It was "a decision that experts say almost certainly prevented a more serious meltdown" and made Yoshida "an unlikely hero," the New York Times reported.

In November 2011, Yoshida told reporters that he believed several times that he would die during the first week of the Fukushima crisis. The following month, he left his post as manager after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

In a video shown last year, Yoshida said he planned to work at the plant again when he recovered.

Tokyo Electric Power Company, operator of the plant, denies that Yoshida’s cancer was caused by radiation exposure resulting from the accident. The firm claims it would have taken at least five years for esophageal cancer to develop as a result of Yoshida’s added radiation exposure.



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