On the Brink: The Inside Story of Fukushima Daiichi


On the Brink: The Inside Story of Fukushima Daiichi


Translated by

with technical supervision by

Professor and Director, Nuclear Engineering, University of Idaho

March 11, 2011.
The Tōhoku earthquake struck just before three on a Friday afternoon. Massive earthquake damage was followed by tsunami rising to heights of 40 meters that swept 10km inland, scouring the land of homes, schools, communities, and people.
The earthquake and tsunami alone were disasters of incredible proportion, resulting in over 15,000 deaths, over 100,000 buildings destroyed, and economic losses estimated as high as $235 billion by the World Bank.

And that was only the natural disaster.

The manmade disaster began the same day, as the tsunami swept over the seawall of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, flooding the facility and destroying much of its equipment, including its onsite emergency power generators. Cut off from all external power sources, the reactors and spent fuel-rod assemblies began to overheat.
Three reactors suffered meltdowns. Hydrogen gas explosions blew apart the outer containment buildings on three reactors. And the world watched as Japan struggled to bring the situation under control before the worst scenario came to pass.

Despite further natural and manmade obstacles, the men and women at the plant succeeded in their efforts, gradually bringing the reactors under control, restoring power, and edging back, one inch at a time, from the very brink of disaster.
This is their story, based on extensive interviews with the people who fought and won that battle, and especially with Masao Yoshida, the man who drove them all to get the job done.

Here at last is the inside story of what they faced, what resources and information they had to work with, and why they made the decisions they did.

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Ken Watanabe and directed by Setsuro Wakamatsu!
Here's the first trailer.

The cover of the original Japanese edition, entitled "死の淵を見た男 吉田昌郎と福島第一原発の五〇〇日." That could be translated as something like "The Man Who Looked into the Abyss of Death: Masao Yoshida and 500 Days at Fukushima Daiichi."
English-language newspaper The Japan Times reviewed the Japanese-language book <here>, in English—one of the few non-English books they have covered.

Additional information and downloadable material is available here:


  • ...riveting and heartbreaking. [...] The interviews ... show another side to the earthquake and the political and environmental clean up...
    —Catherina Depaz, The Japan Times
  • "What this book does so well is expressing the great but quiet heroism of all those who kept going in spite of personal danger and immense difficulties to minimize the danger to others."
    "Although the book is nonfiction, it could as well have been a thriller."
    "The book covers the first week of the disaster from the perspectives of a handful of employees. The author does a good job of describing the tension and confusion at the site, as radiation levels rise and supplies dwindle. It didn't come off as overly melodramatic. This book doesn't tell the whole story of Fukushima. That isn't its intent. This adds dimension and background to a complex story.
    "Thankfully, there was no need to worry. While the technical aspects are an important part of both the story and the book, they are explained thoroughly and used to enhance understanding of the human drama, not detract from it."
    —Various reviews, LibraryThing Early Reviewers
  • The original best-seller was in Japanese and as the English readership is global, this is certainly the second, big 'release' of this work. In English, and with technical 'care', this is a hopefully insightful accounting of the events - the history and the devastating 'end' of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station (NPS).
    —Dan Yurman, Neutron Bytes
  • On the Brink is a record of what human strength when applied to Herculean tasks can overcome. The main characters [...] 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? ... This book is also about human error.
    —Donna Ford, US Review of Books


  • Pages: xviii + 287
  • Trade paperback 5" x 8" (127mm x 203mm)
  • ISBN:
    Softcover 978-4-902075-54-0
    Ebook 978-4-902075-71-7

Available from

About the author

Ryūshō Kadota (門田 隆将)

was born in Aki, Kochi Prefecture in 1958. After graduating Faculty of Law at Chūō University, entered Shinchōsha as a reporter at the Shūkan Shinchō weekly magazine, rising to assistant editor. After 7 years as a roving reporter, he wrote almost 800 articles during the 18 years he spent in the magazine's offices. He went independent in April 2008.
As a non-fiction author he is active in a wide range of genres including politics, law, crime, history, and sports, and has penned numerous books. The Man Who Saved Taiwan: The Miracle of Lieutenant General Hiroshi Nemoto of the Imperial Japanese Army (Kadokawa) was awarded the 19th Yamamoto Shichihei Prize. Other major books include Kōshien Legacy: the Life of Legendary Batting Coach Michihiro Takabatake (Kōdansha), Battle Against Despair: The 3300 Days of Hiroshi Motomura (Shinchōsha), Last Testament of the Pacific War (3 vols., Shōgakukan), and Defanging the Wolf: The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Public Security Bureau and the Most Dangerous Bomber in Japan (Shōgakukan).
Kōshien Legacy was dramatized by NHK as "Full Swing," starring Katsumi Takahashi, and Battle Against Despair was dramatized by WOWOW, starring Yōsuke Eguchi, winning the Grand Prize in the drama category at the National Arts Festival hosted by the Agency for Cultural Affairs.
His most recent work is The Reporters Headed toward the Sea: The Tsunami, Radiation, and the Fukushima Minyū Shimbun (Kadokawa). Kadota is continuing his dynamic writing in a wide range of fields.

About the translator

Simon Varnam was raised in a large family in the south of England on a diet of music, science fiction and walks in the country. He moved to Japan shortly after he finished college at Bangor, North Wales, where besides reading Physical Oceanography and Math he spent much effort on mountaineering and horn-playing. Having failed to become competent in French despite five years of study at secondary school, he was surprised to find that, thanks to complete immersion in the far north of the Tōhoku region, he picked up Japanese with relatively little effort. Twenty years later, he passed JLPT level 1 at first try and discovered the internet which led him to Japanese conservation organizations who needed English versions of their documents.
Since then he has translated (presentations, documents, articles, video subtitles and website pages) in a variety of fields; biodiversity and conservation, nuclear engineering, Japanese culture and an old love, science fiction. Simon now lives in the countryside at the foot of Mt Fuji with a Japanese wife, daughter and cat, and a garden full of wildlife.

About the technical supervisor

Akira Tokuhiro is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the Nuclear Engineering Program at the University of Idaho. He joined UI in 2007. He was previously on the faculties of the Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering at Kansas State University and the University of Missouri-Rolla (UMR). He was also Director and licensed Senior Reactor Operator of the UMR Reactor. He has diverse research interests centered around reactor engineering, design and safety, thermal hydraulics, experiments and measurement, modeling and simulation of complex systems. He served on the American Nuclear Society's President's Committee on the Fukushima Accident from 2011-2013. Dr. Tokuhiro has 10 years of international nuclear energy R&D experience in Switzerland and Japan. To date he has published 50+ papers, 80+ conference papers and produced nearly 40 MS and PhD students. Although born in Tokyo, he was educated in the U.S.. He holds a BSE, 1981, Engineering Physics, Purdue University; MS, 1984, Mechanical Engineering, University of Rochester; PhD, 1991, Nuclear Engineering, Purdue University. He can be reached via LinkedIn.