Masao Yoshida, a career nuclear engineer and the manager during the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, who bravely led the fight to bring the reactors under control, has stepped down after directing the disaster team for almost nine months from inside the plant. Yoshida, 56, has just been hospitalized but declined to reveal his illness or his radiation exposure.
Yoshida hospitalized on doctor's advice
Mr Yoshida's sudden illness comes just weeks after addressing journalists who had visited the plant earlier this month for the first time since the catastrophe. He said: 'In my first week immediately after the incident, I thought a few times 'I'm going to die."'
He also formally apologized for failing to prevent the meltdowns. He went on to say that plant conditions were improving to the point where a 'cold shutdown' would be possible by the end of the year. Here is an earlier Masao Yoshida apology video
, expressing his regret and personal sense of responsibility (with English subtitles).
After Yoshida's departure, The Guardian
also revealed a recent letter he had sent to his staff:
"On doctors' advice, I have no choice but to be hospitalised for treatment," Yoshida, 56, reportedly said in a message to staff. "It breaks my heart to have to bid farewell in this way to all of the people with whom I have worked since the disaster."
Loyally, reactor staff followed Yoshida's controversial orders
During the disaster's early days, as radiation levels dangerously spiked, Tepco
—the Tokyo Electric Power Co.—pulled most workers out of the plant, leaving Yoshida and what became known as the "Fukushima Fifty," a small beleaguered group who risked their lives to bring the reactors under control.
Yoshida then became famous after clearly and firmly telling workers to disregard Tepco's
(whose logo looks like a Japanese feudal banner) order to stop injecting seawater into reactors to bring down soaring temperatures as soon as the crisis spilled out of control. With the supply of fresh water to cool the reactor running out, workers had began injecting seawater shortly after 7 p.m. March 12, wrote the Japan Times
. Tepco's head office had told Yoshida to stop the seawater injection after a utility official dispatched to the Prime Minister's office reported to
his superiors that there was "a feeling that seawater could not be used without the prime minister's decision." Yoshida (channeling The Seven Samurai's Takashi Shimura
, one of Japan's most famous actors) stepped outside official protocol and told his workers, "I will order you to stop the water injection . . . but do not listen to it," according to sources, before instructing them to stop the seawater injection. Loyally, workers continued injecting seawater into the reactor. Most experts feel that he kept the meltdown from growing much worse—into a desolate radioactive theme park where household pets start to look and sound like Pikachu
Tepco tried to save face and salvage its authority
Based on a report from Yoshida, Tepco (to save face with the public) announced that the
seawater injection had been suspended from 7:25 p.m. to 7:55 p.m. But two months later, Yosida revealed that the injection had not been suspended and he had been reprimanded by Tepco.
His level-headed defiance elevated him from the boss of the "Fukushima Fifty" to a living cultural ideal: Director Akira Kurosawa's
quietly heroic bureaucrat in Ikiru
) or the bold leader of the Seven Samurai--
which probably makes Tepco the film's marauding, rice-pillaging, badly shaven brigands who terrify (all-in-a-day's-work) the film's rice farmers. Here is the trailer
for the 1954 samurai film.
Graphic: Tepco logo-- wikipedia
Photo: Masao Yoshida-- Tepco video, World Nuclear Assoc, courtesy Tepco