Masao Yoshida, the plant manager at Fukushima, looking alarmed

How a Plant Manager Saved a Nation from Nuclear Meltdown: The Days on Netflix Review

by James Walton

2011’s Fukushima natural-cum-nuclear disaster was devastating–so devastating, in fact, that the earth was shifted off its axis by its 9.0 magnitude earthquake. In the years of chaos that followed, however, this monster of an earthquake soon became a distant memory. The Days on Netflix, however, is hoping to change that.

The Days begins with a melancholic sequence, reminiscent of a video game opening. In these artfully filmed scenes, the camera cuts from crumbled sections of the power plant to a fallen sign to a ravaged pickup truck. Moments later, we travel back in time to the Great East Japanese earthquake, which occurred east of Sendai, on March 11th, 2011.

From first to last, this Japanese drama series was absolutely gripping. Amid the relentless, suspenseful unfolding of events, we watch the protagonist–a plant manager–and his team of nuclear engineers evolve from working class men to national heroes.

And along the way, we learn some timely lessons about disaster prevention–or lack thereof.

Let’s review.

Table of Contents

  • 01

    Brief Overview of the Events Leading to the Fukushima Meltdown

  • 02

    Mother Nature: The Monster

  • 03

    Declaring Japan’s First Nuclear State of Emergency

  • 04

    The Bravery of Men

  • 05

    Could it All Have Been Avoided?

  • 06

    Final Thoughts

  • 07

    Frequently Asked Questions

Brief Overview of the Events Leading to the Fukushima Meltdown

a bird's eye view in The Days on Netflix

This real-life catastrophe was sparked by a compounding chain of events, culminating in the nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

While there are many terrifying things about this scenario, topping the list is that the nuclear plant was completely without power. That’s because the massive, earth-shaking quake triggered a tsunami that crashed into the plant and short circuited the backup power.

This, of course, meant that there could be no readings on the condition of the reactors, pressure, the extent of the damage or any kind of SITREP. As such, Fukushima’s nuclear engineers were not only in the dark about any containment breach, but also in the literal dark as they tried to navigate the emergency.

Following the meltdown, there was an overwhelming fear growing amongst the experts and Japanese leadership that the radiation and contamination could reach Tokyo and make large portions of the city uninhabitable. The capital city of Japan, after all, was just 150 miles away from the disaster.

Notably, 38 million people reside in Tokyo’s larger metropolitan area. This figure gave rise to a great deal of apprehension at the time, as we have never witnessed an evacuation anywhere close to that size.

In fact, this author wonders if something like that is even possible, as there are serious limits to what roads, tunnels, and bridges can do in a massive evacuation.

Remember, too, that Japan is a relatively geographically small–though densely populated–nation. In Fukushima’s worst-case scenario, one-third of the island nation would have been rendered uninhabitable.

Mother Nature: The Monster

The Days begins like a Japanese horror film–except no kaiju is running amuck scorching Tokyo with its atomic heat beam. Instead, the monster is Mother Nature. 

It’s rare to see a movie where the natural world–rather than the supernatural one–elicits such suspense and fear. The F5 tornado in the ‘96 hit Twister conjured a similar feeling, in which the violence of mother nature felt more like the approach of the Crystal Lake slasher than a dangerous weather pattern. 

Though capturing an earthquake and its effects can be tough, The Days did a creditable job. In particular, the series features stunning tsunami visuals. During a pivotal scene, a nuclear engineer peers out the window to see the water of the Pacific beginning to recede and run backwards. 

It is in that moment they realize the tsunami is coming. 

The return of the ocean comes in the form of a fifty-foot bowel-emptying tidal wave. Though the operating budget has, to date, proved impossible to track down, the visual effects of the Japanese series certainly look expensive. In fact, this author was blown away by the quality of the VFX of the tsunami and the water damage that followed. 

But though the disaster scenes are jaw-dropping, it is not the high point of the series.

Indeed, as the lights go dark and the readings and meter all begin to fail, The Days truly begins. In that moment, you realize that these men in the control room become the most important people in Sendai–or perhaps even all of Japan. 

Bear in mind: the plant was prepared for an earthquake. It was even equipped to lose power, as it had backup power systems tied into the entire process. 

However, the plant manager was never prepared to operate a nuclear power plant completely in the dark.

Declaring Japan’s First Nuclear State of Emergency

panic reigns in The Days on Netflix

When a roundtable of engineers and scientists come to realize that the unthinkable is unfolding, they begin the process of emergency management, and this goes all the way up to the prime minister. 

This results in the strangest decision of the series: the declaration of a state of nuclear emergency without a large-scale evacuation.

An Emergency Management Epic

The thing about emergency management is it never gets its due. 

As such, the multi-level, multi-agency movies built around disaster rarely show the many layers of emergency management, from the nation’s leadership to the people on the ground. 

To be fair, it’s hard to imagine that watching the various tiers of emergency management do their thing would ever be excitingor even remotely interesting. The Days, however, proves those assumptions wrong.

This means that, in the national crisis that the show depicts, all of these tiers of emergency management get a chance to shine. Consequently, you see the great integrity of some of those involved as well as the desire for power and acclaim in the worst-case scenario with the highest stakes. 

Ultimately, the underlying narrative of The Days is a study of what humans can become under the most extreme pressure and how emergency management is handled at various levels, both private and governmental. Though this aspect of The Days was unexpected, it also proved to be incredibly gratifying.

The Bravery of Men

Thanks to the advent of social media and dating apps, the working-class man has never held less esteem in our society. Here, we refer to the average Joes who populate the trades where equality is almost never bandied about. 

In this regard, however, The Days once again breaks from tradition, centering everyday working stiffs as the series’ consummate heroes.

We first see this when, following the massive earthquake, several waves of men don nuclear hazmat suits–like our very own HAZ-SUIT, designed to protect against a variety of CBRN agents. In this moment, the workers head deep into the dark facility with little more than a gas mask and a dosimeter, knowing there will be aftershocks–but driven by a duty to minimize the effects of this disaster. 

What makes The Days such an insightful and entertaining series is the balance of two worlds. The first is the slick and slimy PR world of TEPCO that is tied to the prime minister, and the second is the literal dark underworld. 

Here we find the Fukashima power plant workers–with an increasing sweat upon their brow and darkening five o’clock shadow–deciding which men will take on the various suicide missions needed to keep the Japanese people safe from the containment breach and subsequent radiation. 

“Right now, if you are willing to go inside, please raise your hand,” the plant manager asks in one scene, as he surveys a dark room full of men.

a haunting scene in The Days on Netflix

A particularly difficult-to-watch (but impossible-to-look-away-from) plotline occurs in episode three, when the nuclear engineers muster a group to vent reactor two. Remember: they have no idea how much radiation they will encounter down there, nor whether they will even be able to return to the surface.

They have to relieve the pressure, however–even if it costs them their life. 

It’s rare that a line of work asks you to sacrifice your life for others. Indeed, one can be sure that on the morning of March 11th, 2011, there was not a nuclear engineer or plant manager on site that thought they would be asked to make such a sacrifice in a matter of hours. 

Nevertheless, as the series progresses, we watch a legion of brave nuclear engineers and workers battle through what effectively becomes a nuclear wasteland. This remains true even after reactor three explodes, when it becomes apparent that there is no way these workers are going to get out of this without serious contamination. 

After all, the fallout is everywhere, and the water they are pumping is now the only thing cooling the reactors that are presently experiencing a serious containment breach on multiple reactors.

Through the Mask

While many jobs feature PPE, the majority do not. Consequently, the average viewer may be interested to discover what it’s like to work behind a gas mask, as The Days so poignantly shows us.

One important lesson of the show, for example, is the necessity of a full face panoramic design, as featured in our CM-6M Tactical Gas Mask. After all, you have to be able to see, even in low light, under serious pressure, and in the worst-case scenarios. (Remember: the best-case scenario doesn’t involve gas masks.)

In episode three, we get a taste of this high-pressure gas mask claustrophobia–looking on as several teams of men don gas masks and hazmat suits, braving unknown levels of radioactive contamination. Under the guidance of the plant manager, these brave men volunteer to open important vents throughout the facility, relieving the massive pressure building up in reactors one, two, and three.

With dosimeters (like our Geiger-2) singing like morning birds, the workers responsible for injecting the reactors and spent fuel pools with water to cool them–preventing an even greater catastrophe–carry on. Despite being given evacuation orders, the weary yet worthy men of Fukushima Daiichi valiantly refuse, working through the evacuation for the safety of the people of Japan. 

Notably, we never see them change their gas mask filters; we never see them take breaks; we know the radiation level is too high for them to be there all night into the morning. Nevertheless, they remain undaunted, carrying on the work necessary to keep this catastrophe from affecting their countrymen.

“I am not afraid to die or anything... twenty-five years. For twenty-five years I have lived at this plant, and I am struggling with such a simple task. I must get back to work.”

-- The Days on Netflix

a Japanese memorial

While watching the series and writing this article, it became apparent to this author that the men’s sacrifice was war-like. From this perspective, they were cut from the same cloth as the three-hundred soldiers at Thermopylae, or Lyle Bouck and his eighteen men against the 550 German Panzer division. 

This means that when the odds seemed insurmountable, the workers were prepared to die to save others, and despite it all, these men carried out their duties with unrelenting focus.

Could it All Have Been Avoided?

Imagine a world where executives of powerful, seemingly untouchable corporations are brought to justice when things go wrong. 

Sounds like fantasy, right? 

Well, in 2012, the shareholders of TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) sued the company executives for the meltdowns at the Fukushima power plant. 

Now, you might be thinking, “Even powerful energy execs cannot prevent mother nature’s wrath,” and you would be right–sort of. 

Here, it’s important to stress that in 2008, just three years before the accident, a government report predicted that an offshore earthquake could create tsunami waves nearly fifty feet tall–and hit the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. In a move that would haunt them, however, TEPCO took no precautions following the report. 

All in all, it’s clear that while the earthquake and tsunami were unavoidable, the damage at Fukushima and subsequent nuclear disaster very much could have been prevented. And for this negligence, innocent people paid with their lives.

Final Thoughts

a tense scene in The Days on Netflix

“We are the makers of this machine, yet we could do nothing when it turned against us.”

-- The Days' Masao Yoshida, plant manager and nuclear engineer at Fukushima Daiichi

The Days affords us a look into one of our planet’s greatest nuclear disasters, brought on by a staggering 9.0 earthquake. 

It also features the incredible–yet often forgotten–US response, including the full services of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, as well as the delivery of 200 nuclear experts, 10,000 hazmat suits, 30,000 dosimeters, and other forms of aid. 

Another aspect of the Fukushima disaster worth remembering is its scope. Though the catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear powerplant began in March 2011, it lasted well beyond that. In fact, it wasn’t until May of the same year that a robot sent into reactor one received the highest readings of radiation to date. 

Its aftershocks continue to this day, too.

In this very month (August 2023), for example, Japan is set to start releasing the 1.3 tons of water used to cool the reactor all those years ago into the Pacific Ocean. The Japanese government, for its part, deems this water “treated,” since it has gone through a filtration process to remove many radioactive materials. 

The truth is, however, that this water is at least slightly contaminated with tritium, which cannot be filtered out. 

Before watching a series like The Days, it is impossible to comprehend the struggle, the odds, and the glory of living through a catastrophe like that of Fukushima Daiichi. For these realities to truly set in, one must experience them–if only vicariously.

It’s a rewarding, if terrifying, experience. 

To watch Mother Nature lay bare all that it is to be human–the highs and the lows, the good and evil amongst us–was, in the end, entertainment at its finest.

Frequently Asked Questions

Was there an earthquake in Japan in 2023?
What is the definition of fallout?
What does a nuclear engineer do?