Hero Fukushima Boss Dies of Cancer

Masao Yoshida defied orders in effort to prevent nuclear disaster

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 10, 2013 12:30 AM CDT

(Newser) – The Fukushima nuclear plant manager hailed as a hero for defying orders and putting public safety ahead of the company's bottom line has died of cancer at the age of 58. Masao Yoshida stayed at the plant to try to stabilize it after the March 2011 quake and tsunami and prevented Japan's worst nuclear disaster from getting even worse by ignoring orders to cease pumping seawater into a damaged reactor at the plant he managed, the Guardian reports. Company officials didn't want to render the reactor unusable, but if Yoshida had obeyed orders, it could have resulted in a chain reaction causing a radiation leak big enough to force the evacuation of Tokyo.

In video footage of the plant's command room after the tsunami struck, Yoshida is seen offering to lead a "suicide mission" to cool another reactor, reports the New York Times, which notes that Yoshida apologized after the disaster for failing to invest in adequate tsunami walls. He retired in 2011 after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer, which was not believed to be the result of radiation exposure: He was a heavy smoker and the disease would normally take between five and 10 years to develop if it was the result of radiation.

Masao Yoshida speaks at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in November 2011.
Masao Yoshida speaks at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in November 2011.   (AP Photo/Kyodo News)
In this November 2011 photo, then Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant chief Masao Yoshida speaks at the plant .
In this November 2011 photo, then Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant chief Masao Yoshida speaks at the plant .   (AP Photo/Kyodo News)
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