Masao Yoshida, a nuclear engineer who took charge of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant two years ago as multiple reactors spiraled out of control after a tsunami, but who ultimately failed to prevent the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, died on Tuesday. He was 58.
The cause was cancer, said the Fukushima plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power.
Mr. Yoshida had been chief manager at Fukushima Daiichi for just nine months when a 42-foot tsunami inundated the site on March 11, 2011, knocking out vital cooling systems to the plant's six reactors. Three reactors eventually suffered hydrogen explosions and fuel meltdowns, releasing vast amounts of radioactive matter into the environment.
Although the company was widely criticized for its handling of the disaster, which forced more than 100,000 people from their homes, Mr. Yoshida won praise for his effort to minimize the damage.
He has been faulted, however, for failing to invest in adequate tsunami walls at the company's nuclear power plants when he was head of nuclear facilities. Mr. Yoshida later apologized to reporters, saying he had been "too lax" in his assumptions of how big a tsunami might hit the coastal plant.
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Mr. Yoshida took a leave from Tokyo Electric in late 2011 after receiving a diagnosis of esophageal cancer. Experts have said his illness was not a result of radiation exposure from the accident, given how quickly it came on.
Survivors include his wife, Yoko, and three sons.
When the tsunami hit, Mr. Yoshida took command from inside a fortified bunker at the plant. In video footage of the command room released by Tokyo Electric last year, Mr. Yoshida can be seen at times pushing his workers to hook up water hoses or procure fuel, at times tearfully apologizing to teams he sent out to check on the stricken reactors.