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Has M. Yoshida left a record of the disaster?

July 10, 2013


Mixed reviews over deceased ex-Fukushima plant chief's handling of nuclear crisis




Masao Yoshida, who had spearheaded the daunting on-site task of handling the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, died of esophageal cancer at the age of 58 on July 9.

While receiving high marks for such actions as continuing to inject seawater into one of the troubled reactors at his own discretion in defiance of instructions from his bosses at the headquarters of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), Yoshida is also known to have failed to implement measures against tsunami ahead of the March 2011 disaster. His 58 years of life reflect the light and dark sides of Japan with heavy dependence on nuclear power.

Yoshida told his friend, a medical doctor, last year, "I am thinking of writing a record of the accident, but I can't make much progress in my writing." He was considering publishing a memoir and contributing the royalties to disaster victims. But his health condition failed to stabilize because of treatment for esophagus cancer, and therefore he apparently tended to stop writing.

Yoshida emerged from Tokyo Institute of Technology's graduate school in 1979. He joined TEPCO after turning down a job offer from the then Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), which is currently the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). He had consistently served in technology-related positions in the company. He won the confidence of workers at the nuclear station for being a "big-brother type" and "service-minded." Apparently he was also respected by workers from other companies who had little connection to TEPCO headquarters. He became the head of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in June 2010, his fourth assignment to the nuclear station.

According to the government's accident analysis (interim) report released in December 2011, when Yoshida was the head of TEPCO's nuclear facility department in 2008, he compiled results of his own preliminary calculation which said tsunami of up to 15.7 meters -- far greater than what had previously been assumed -- could hit the nuclear plant. But it has emerged that he actually postponed the implementation of anti-tsunami measures such as the construction of levees, saying, "It is nothing but a preliminary calculation based on the severest hypothesis."

In November 2011, eight months after the outbreak of the nuclear crisis, Yoshida apologized for the accident and told the media at the nuclear power station, "Some of the assumptions were too optimistic. It is necessary for other nuclear power plants to make improvements in light of that."

Yoshida also said, "The hydrogen explosion at the No. 3 reactor (on March 14, 2011) had the biggest impact. We were in a situation where we wouldn't have been surprised if we died. I thought about 10 people could have died." Yoshida had seldom talked about the accident in public. But in August 2012, he sent a message to a public symposium in which he looked back on the disaster.

"It is our most important duty to stabilize the nuclear reactors. I want to do my best to help workers at the site when I get my strength back," he said in the video message. While showing fatigue from his battle against cancer, he expressed his willingness to make a comeback to the task of bringing the crippled nuclear power station under control.

However, in late July 2012 after recording his video massage, he suffered bleeding to the brain. A source close to the government's accident investigation panel described Yoshida as "the person who knows the most about the process of the accident." But Yoshida's life ended without fully revealing the truth behind the nuclear disaster. An official of TEPCO's public relations department said, "We have not confirmed whether he left a note or he wrote private papers on the accident."

Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) lawmaker Naoto Kan, who was the prime minister when the crisis broke out, said on June 9, "We are largely indebted to Mr. Yoshida for preventing the accident from further expanding. I was thinking of talking to him when he recovered. I really regret that I couldn't do that."

DPJ Secretary General Goshi Hosono, who had served as the state minister in charge of the nuclear accident, posted a video message on Facebook, saying, "Without Mr. Yoshida's leadership and fighting spirit, we would not have been able to overcome that situation."



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