Masao Yoshida, the manager of the Fukushima Daiichi power in Japan during its meltdown in 2011, has died of cancer, the New York Times reports. He was 58 years old.
The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power, said that Yoshida died of esophageal cancer. Experts have denied a link to the nuclear meltdown due to the speed of his illness.
Yoshida is best known for a series of key decisions made after the plant began melting down after a powerful earthquake and tsunami crippled the plant’s cooling systems, including using seawater to cool overheating fuel rods.
Importantly, the first day after the earthquake, Yoshida ignored a requests from both Prime Minister Naoto Kan and senior Tepco officials to stop injecting seawater into the reactors. While there were fears that the seawater might cause fission chain reaction, Yoshida’s plan proved successful and he was never reprimanded for his disobedience.
In a video released last year, Yoshida is shown disagreeing with an unnamed company official at Tepco headquarters two days after the quake. The official wants to use fresh water to cool the remaining fuel rods, hoping that they might be reused. Yoshida responded, “We don’t have the option to use fresh water. That will cause further delays.”
While Yoshida has faced some criticism for failing to prepare the plant for the risk of tsunami, his solemn response to handling the disaster led to a reputation as a hero. He reportedly asked staff left at the plant to write their names on a blackboard to keep a record of who was there, and had to be dissuaded from leading a “suicide mission” to try and pump more water in to one of reactors himself.
“If Yoshida wasn’t there, the disaster could have been much worse,” Reiko Hachisuka, the head of a business group in Okuma town and one of panel that investigated the accident, told Bloomberg today. Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan also tweeted a tribute, saying, “I bow in respect for his leadership and decision-making.”
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