This is the third in a series on the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe based on the accounts of people who struggled to contain the crisis in its early stages. Job titles and ages are as of March 2011.

Less than 12 hours after the quake-triggered tsunami hit the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex on March 11, 2011, Tokyo Electric Power Co. sought government approval for the unprecedented step of releasing radioactive steam from troubled reactors to reduce the dangerous buildup of pressure.