Fukushima nuclear power plant chief steps down suddenly due to 'illness'
THE director of Japan's damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant is stepping down due to illness – but officials have refused to confirm whether his condition is radiation related.
Masao Yoshida, 56, has been hospitalised for "treatment of illness" and will step down from his position at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in northeast Japan.
Speculation surrounding the possible connection between his medical condition and exposure to high radiation levels at the plant, is growing.
Officials at Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), operators of the plant, declined to comment on whether Mr Yoshida's illness was connected to radiation exposure.
"We cannot give you details of his illness because they are private matters," said Chie Hosoda, a spokeswoman for TEPCO. "He is hospitalised where he is able to take time in his convalescence."
Mr Yoshida has been on site at Fukushima Daiichi plant for more than eight months, ever since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out crucial cooling systems and sparked the ongoing crisis.
The power plant is continuing to leak radiation although officials are optimistic that it will be possible to achieve cold shutdown in the reactors on schedule by the end of the year.
Mr Yoshida's sudden illness has come to light only weeks after he addressed journalists allowed into the plant for the first time since the disaster on Nov 12 and revealed his fears in the aftermath of the disaster.
"In my first week immediately after the incident, I thought a few times 'I'm going to die,'" he said at the time.
Referring to the hydrogen explosion hitting buildings around reactors 1 and 3, he added: "I thought it was all over."
Following the recent discovery of his medical condition, Mr Yoshida reportedly sent a message to workers and officials at the plant to explain why he was leaving, according to the Sankei Shimbun paper.
"A condition was discovered during a regular medical check the other day," he said, according to an online Sankei Shimbun report. "I had no choice but to be hospitalised at very short notice for treatment under doctors' advice." His replacement as director is Takeshi Takahashi, who has been in charge of nuclear power plant operations at TEPCO's Tokyo office, located around 140 miles southwest of Fukushima.