The true story behind the Fukushima nuclear disaster is told on Netflix’s The Days, which is a dramatized retelling of the devastating days following the earthquake on March 11, 2011. Recently, we saw the movie Suzume, which was a fictional and fantasy version of an homage to the people affected by the catastrophe. In The Days, we see the people who worked hard day and night to make sure that a bigger disaster, the biggest of its kind, would not occur. The show is dark and empathetic towards the people on the ground during the disaster, specifically Masao Yoshida. Please do read our detailed review before diving into all that went down in The Days!
Plot Synopsis: What Happened In ‘The Days’?
On March 11, 2011, everything was normal at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Point until the strongest earthquake to be recorded in Japanese history struck the little island. The aftermath of the earthquake, which occurred in the Pacific Ocean, was a massive tsunami that washed over the nuclear power plant. Unfortunately, this caused a domino effect of terrifying events for the next few days in Japan. While everyone believed the reactors that were submerged might be in decent shape after the natural disaster, the country had lost power because of the tsunami, so before all else, that had to be worked on. The people of the private company TOEPCO and the government corresponded over the few days to figure out their plan of action with all hands on deck. Amidst the panic, the control room of Unit 1 sent a couple of young men to check the nuclear plant right after the earthquake. When the tsunami hit, they had no way of knowing and were lost in the basement of the unit. With lost power, the control room was in the dark, so the members felt helpless for the time being. With aftershocks in the way, things became really difficult to handle for the first few hours until the team noticed a hike in the pressure in the reactor. Earlier, they had turned off the cooler for unit 1, and that’s when the blackout happened. With no power, they were unable to turn the cooler back on.
Everything that took place after the earthquake was unprecedented for TOEPCO and the government of Japan. With no previous experience with such a disaster, there was no material that could help them figure out what the problem was and how to solve it. With the power off, there was no way of opening the valves in the reactors to reduce pressure. The only way to do it then was to send in men and open them manually, but that would mean being really close to radiation. Masao Yoshida, the station manager at TOEPCO on the day, was tasked with figuring out the best way to prevent a nuclear explosion. We see him go from calm and collected to complete frustration by the end of the 7-day period in the seismic evacuation building. As the leader, he had to be the one to put his men in danger and send them on missions he was unsure of. Before entering the unit to open the valves and check the pressure, he tasked Mr. Maejima, the unit head, to choose which of his members would head in and be exposed. At the same time, Yoshida was pressured by the Japanese government every second to do something and make sure the nuclear power plant remained stable. Amidst all of this, the bureaucracy wanted to make sure that Japan looked safe and fine in front of the world, so they only issued a public warning, not evacuating the people nearby the facility.
When there was a need for external help, the debris was too much to pass through. We learn quickly that nobody was well-equipped for such an event, and we see the Prime Minister’s frustration every time information needs to be shared with him. According to the Prime Minister, TOEPCO was hiding important details from him because it was a private company trying to sweep things under the rug. The government made it very clear that if disaster struck, it would be TOEPCO that would take the fall.
After the first valve was successfully opened, the pressure was still mounting. The next step would be to put water into the reactors, but pipes had to be manually inserted into the system to make sure the water reached the reactors. Unfortunately, with so much high pressure, that was impossible as well. With morale going down and more hours passing with no sleep and no solutions, things began to look a little bit frightening to Yoshida. As if to make his fears real, the top floor of one of the reactors exploded, and there was hydrogen in the air.
On top of all of this, the media began to speculate about what the big mistake of the TOEPCO was and who might’ve been at fault in the first place. Additionally, the government was getting the news of the explosions from the media, which aired it live, rather than from TOEPCO directly. This led to online harassment of the two young men, Kirihara and Takahira, who had died but were now being blamed by anonymous people on the internet. There was chaos all around. After the explosion, there had to be an evacuation. Finally, people were acting up rather than just thinking about what to do next. The distance between Yoshida, TOEPCO headquarters, and the government led to a lot of miscommunication between the three sides, which from the outside, looked really messy. With impending doom, Yoshida began figuring things out on his own and making rebellious decisions in order to save Japan.
What Is The Alleged Reason A Big Disaster Was Prevented?
Murakami one of the higher authorities at TOEPCO decided it would be best to have a planned power outage in the country district-wise so that the power could be saved and power could be brought back in slowly. The government was completely against this plan because a lot of healthcare facilities would not be able to handle a complete blackout. Now that the debris was being lifted slowly, there was a lot of contamination, and a lot of care had to be taken, all manually, so that fire trucks could be taken inside to pump in water. Without water, an explosion was a definite result. Fortunately, the pipes began to work, but soon after, there was no more fresh water. Yoshida had to be quick on his feet and made the decision to use seawater, which was collected in one of the pools near the units. The government believed this could cause bigger damage, but Yoshida lied to them and proceeded with inserting sea water, which really calmed the situation. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it all; another explosion occurred, rocking everyone. At this point, Yoshida could only think about evacuating all the young people at the plant who were not directly working on the reactor. He immediately decided to evacuate most of the people in the building and keep only skeleton teams for each important task at hand. On the other side, the Prime Minister made the decision to have a consolidation headquarters to decide what the next steps at Fukushima would be. Without knowing the utter chaos in the field, the people of the government were getting really impatient and causing more damage than good for a long time. Apart from having to come up with ideas, make sure his people are taken care of, and thank everyone for their hard work, Yoshida had to directly answer the Prime Minister every few hours now. This is when we see him do the unthinkable and showcase his irritation with the government on video calls.
Yoshida is a perfect leader otherwise and shows his support and care for all the members at the site. He even cries when he finds out about the two young boys who died in Unit 4. With the fire crew leaving, the TOEPCO members now had no way of understanding how to pump the water in. At this point, it was clear something terrible was going to happen, so they all wrote to their families to take care of themselves and send their wishes. We really feel like this could’ve been the end of it all. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and Murakami gives them a call about the big companies using the TOEPCO facilities. Yoshida is confused at first, but when Murakami talks about tall cranes that can pour water from a height into the reactors, he is on board with the idea immediately. At the same time, the Prime Minister requests the military to risk their lives and pour water from above the radiators on helicopters, which they are obliged to do. Although this is his way of showing the world that the government is working on the disaster too, it’s a smart move for Yoshida too. Simultaneously, President Obama decided to evacuate all Americans from Japan immediately. This would create a huge hole in the image of the Japan-America friendship. The Prime Minister made attempts to make the President reconsider, but it didn’t work.
At the last minute, subcontractors who knew how to handle the fire trucks came back after being evacuated because Yoshida had called them for instructions on how to pump the water. They did an admirable thing, and Yoshida was extremely grateful. With the cranes, the truck, and the helicopters, the team effort finally paid off, cooling down the reactors to safety. Just when things were looking up, there was another earthquake, but fortunately, everything was unaffected.
The media can be blamed for a lot of misinformation spread regarding the events of those few days and the relationship between Japan and America. Unlike the incompetence that was reported, the Japanese government did, in fact, put in an effort to save the lives of thousands in the country. America showcased its allyship and sent aid, resources, and help to make sure recovery was quick. What appeared to have been a blessing for the Japanese people ended up causing a lot of harm. The hope that came with the nuclear power plant was destroyed in those few days after the earthquake. The effects of the contamination within the debris are 70 times greater than those of the Hiroshima bombing, which says a lot on its own. In many ways, The Days conveys that advancement is not necessarily good and that we must take it slow. The Fukushima district is now completely desolate, with thousands of empty homes. Farm animals were left behind, and even cherry blossom trees had to be cut down because of contamination. Alternatively, wildlife has returned to Fukushima to reclaim their spots, which is one positive thing that has come from all of this. Much has to be taken care of even now because of the decision made a long time ago. According to the show makers, it was the “arrogance” of people that caused the big disaster, which has consequences even today and in the future.
As for Yoshida, he passed away two years later, in 2013, from cancer, which many believed was a result of his proximity to radiation, but The Days implies it could’ve been his smoking from stress. His testimony regarding the happenings of those seven days was released to the public as “The Yoshida Testimony.” Later, a book was written by a journalist, “On the Brink: The Inside Story of Fukushima Daiichi.” The show used both of these resources to create a comprehensible idea of what might’ve gone on with the people involved during the calamity. Even to this day, nobody has been able to piece together the true cause of the disaster. Many allege that the sole reason the reactors didn’t explode, was because of Yoshida’s proactive thinking in pumping seawater into the reactors. Japan will never forget the heroes of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster. What was supposed to be a beacon of hope ended up being a source of disaster, which taught the valuable lesson of living in harmony with what is around rather than chasing after the future too quickly.