The nuclear power plant chief who led the life-risking battle to stabilize the cripple Fukushima reactors when they were spiraling into meltdowns two years ago has died of esophageal cancer. He was 58.
Masao Yoshida died Tuesday in a Tokyo hospital, Tokyo Electric Power Co. spokesman Yoshimi Hitosugi said. TEPCO officials said his illness was not related to radiation exposure.
Yoshida was in charge of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant when the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami knocked out its power and cooling systems, causing reactor meltdowns and massive radiation leaks.
Recalling the first few days when three reactors suffered meltdowns in succession, Yoshida later said: “There were several instances when I thought we were all going to die here. I feared the plant was getting out of control and we would be finished.”
Yoshida was a tall man with a loud voice who wasn’t afraid of talking back to higher-ups and was known to his workers as a caring figure. Even then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who was extremely frustrated by TEPCO’s initial lack of information and slow handling, said after meeting him that Yoshida could be trusted.
On March 12, after the Unit 1 reactor building had an explosion, Yoshida kept pumping sea water into the reactor to cool it, ignoring an order to stop from TEPCO headquarters as Kan feared sea water risked triggering a fission chain reaction. Yoshida was reprimanded for disobeying but later praised for his judgment that eventually helped keep the reactor from turning worse.