On the Brink: The Inside Story of Fukushima Daiichi
by Ryusho Kadota
translated by Simon Varnam
Kurodahan Press

"My staff were like blindfolded pilots... of a plane with its hydraulics and everything else shot to pieces. How were they supposed to get down safely?"

What brought Japan to the brink was a natural disaster: 9.0 earthquake followed by a major tsunami. This double-whammy 2011 event crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant resulting in meltdowns of multiple reactors. It forced the evacuation of surrounding towns already devastated by the earthquake.

On the Brink is a record of what human strength when applied to Herculean tasks can overcome. The main characters are Masao Yoshida, site superintendent, and his crew chief, Ikuo Izawa. There were ordinary men who performed their jobs under extraordinary demands while the world watched anxiously. Problems needed immediate answers. Could standard procedures be applied? Where could they find resources? How much worse could it get?

While radiation levels rise, the reader's heart melts as the Daiichi staff choose teams to open valves, vent, and cool reactors with water. Senior men volunteer for the most dangerous tasks to protect junior staff more susceptible to radiation poisoning. After units 1, 3, and 4 explode, fire department members wearing radiation counters volunteer to shoot 300 gallons of water at a time from outside to cool the reactors. Ryusho Kadota, a former Japanese reporter turned writer, tells their stories which read like a novel.

This book is also about human error. The nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl resulted from poor design and an experiment that went awry. At Fukushima Daiichi, it was an unheeded 2001 warning to safeguard against complete power loss due to terrorist attacks or other disasters. While consequences from such nuclear events have been mitigated, it will take years of continued management to prevent further contamination. On the Brink includes maps, diagrams, and timeline which are useful in understanding the situation faced by Fukushima Daiichi workers.

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