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« Cameco quits Hathor bidding war | Main | German police clear huge sit-in at nuclear protest »

Fukushima Daiichi Manager Steps Down Due to Illness

TOKYO—The manager of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant will leave his post after serving as on-site crisis manager over the past eight months due to undisclosed health problems, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said. The company said there was no indication the health problems were related to exposure to radiation.

Masao Yoshida's departure comes less than a month before the plant is expected to achieve a safe shutdown, with the damaged reactors being brought under full control and kept at low temperatures.

Tepco didn't specify the manager's illness or how long he would be hospitalized, citing personal confidentiality reasons. Mr. Yoshida has been unable to report to the plant for the past two weeks and checked into a hospital Thursday, the company said.

"I was told by a doctor to stay in the hospital to receive treatment. I regret having to leave the on-site headquarters at this crucial juncture," he wrote in a letter released Monday at a news conference.

Mr. Yoshida will be succeeded by Takeshi Takahashi, director of Tepco's nuclear management division, on Dec. 1, the utility said.

Since the crisis began on March 11, six workers have been relieved of their duties as of Oct. 31 due to radiation exposure over the allowed limit of 250 millisieverts, which compares with average radiation exposure in Japan of roughly 1 millisievert per year. There are approximately 3,000 workers at the plant on a typical day, and more than 16,000 people had worked at the site as of the end of August, the latest period for which figures are available.

Mr. Yoshida assumed the manager's post in June 2010 and was considered instrumental in stopping the disaster from worsening further when the facility was hit by the magnitude-9 earthquake and a 15-meter tsunami, losing the capacity to cool its reactors and leading to severe damage to the reactor cores.

"I feared we might lose control over the reactors completely. I thought we were done," he told reporters, recalling the days after the disaster. He spent days and nights in the quake-resistant headquarters at the plant compound then, directly overseeing the several thousand workers trying to repair the crippled reactors, a company spokesman added.

Mr. Yoshida and his team risked smoke, debris and the threat of radiation to bring the cooling system back online. Amid a general mutual mistrust and a lack of cooperation between the government and Tepco in the early days of the crisis, then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan turned to Mr. Yoshida to find out the situation on the ground.

Mr. Yoshida, who has a reputation as a straight-talker unafraid of differences of opinion, once ignored an order from Tepco headquarters to stop pumping seawater into a reactor. The decision was later praised as having prevented much more serious damage.

In a message to his employees, the departing manager wrote: "It breaks my heart to leave my colleagues in such a way. I would like to apologize for trouble my departure may cause to you."

Junichi Matsumoto, a Tepco spokesman added at the news conference: "His departure will be a terrible shock to all of us, but we will continue to work together" to bring the plant under control.

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