Masao Yoshida, who remained at his post as director of Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant throughout the catastrophic breakdown caused by an earthquake and tsunami, died Tuesday of cancer. He was 58.

Yoshida, who stepped down just nine months after the accident to be able to receive treatment for cancer of the esophagus, passed away at a Tokyo hospital, NHK said.

He directed operations inside the nuclear center from the time that the alarm sounded to warn of the devastating tsunami - with its waves up to 15 meters (49 feet) high - that on March 11, 2011, paralyzed the nuclear reactors' cooling systems and unleashed the worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

"The exemplary courage and behavior" of Yoshida and other Fukushima staff who did not abandon their posts at the center despite the danger and the uncertainty earned them Spain's Prince of Asturias Award for Concord in 2011.

In November 2011, during the press conference at which he announced his resignation, Yoshida confirmed to the media that he did not expect to survive the nuclear accident, particularly after making some much-questioned decisions like injecting seawater into one of the reactors or the hydrogen explosion in reactor buildings 1 and 3.

In one of his last public appearances, during a televised interview last August, the "Hero of Fukushima" was still planning to resume his work at the nuclear center once he recovered from his cancer to be able to help with the work to dismantle the plant and put an end to the crisis, NHK added.

After learning of his death, a spokesman for the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power, ruled out that the cancer that killed him had been caused by the high radiation emitted at the plant. EFE