Masao Yoshida, chief of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant, had lost hope and was exhausted on the night of March 14, 2011, three days into the nuclear meltdown crisis.

When he saw workers from companies cooperating with Tokyo Electric Power Co. at the plant's emergency headquarters, Yoshida just muttered: "Everyone, please just go home. Just go back home."

Yoshida was urging all nonessential workers to leave in case another catastrophe hit the plant, and possibly all of eastern Japan. At the time, both the pressure and temperature were surging inside of quake-hit reactor No. 2, evoking fears of the worst-case scenario.