Hisashi Ouchi: The Irradiated Man Kept Alive For 83 Days

Last updated on March 25th, 2023 at 07:28 pm

In 1999, Hisashi Ouchi worked at the Japan Nuclear Fuel Conversion Company in Tokaimura, Japan. 

Due to an unfortunate accident, a chemical reaction caused an explosion that exposed him and two other technicians to massive does of radiation. He was rushed to the hospital, but it was too late.

Despite the grim outlook of his condition, his story didn’t end there. In a bizarre turn of events, Ouchi was kept alive for 83 days despite there being no chance of survival. This is the tragic story of his experience and untimely demise.

What Happened to Hisashi Ouchi the Power Plant?

On September 30, 1999, Hisashi Ouchi and two other technicians were tasked with creating a new batch of fuel.

Unfortunately, Ouchi, Masato Shinohara, and their supervisor Yutaka Yokokawa were not adequately trained. The trio had no idea what they were doing. 

Nevertheless, they proceeded with the process. They tried to take a shortcut to speed up the job to meet the company’s deadline since they had missed one recently.

Unfortunately, they used an unsafe method to create the fuel that involved manually mixing uranium and nitric acid. Using their hands, they mixed 35 pounds of enriched uranium into the steel buckets. This caused a nuclear chain reaction and a flash of blue light.

Instead of doing what they had done, they were supposed to use a set of automatic pumps to mix 5.3 pounds of enriched uranium into the nitric acid. Unfortunately, this created a highly volatile mixture that went critical around 10:35 am that day. The chain reaction immediately emitted deadly levels of gamma radiation.

Hisashi Ouchi Is Exposed to Massive Amounts of Radiation

Each of the three technicians was exposed to different radiation levels, but Ouchi undoubtedly received the worst of it due to his proximity to the material. For context, Ouchi was exposed to 17 sieverts of radiation. Shinohara was exposed to 10 sieverts. The supervisor, Yokokawa, only received 3 sieverts.

The assumed value of fatal radiation is thought to be approximately 10 sieverts. So, naturally, both Shinohara and Ouchi would die from their exposure. However, Yokokawa survived his exposure because he was sitting at his desk, away from the main exposure event.

Japan’s nuclear workers are usually only allowed to be exposed to 50 millisieverts annually. However, despite this rating, safety procedures were sorely lacking for this fuel reprocessing facility and many others like it. Accidents like these forced power plants to change their procedures and safety regulations to prevent future disasters.

The Three Are Rushed To The Hospital

The effect of exposure on Ouchi’s body was immediate, and he was in agony when he and his colleagues arrived at the University of Tokyo Hospital

Upon his arrival, Ouchi had severe burns on most of his body, and a zero white blood cell count meaning the radiation had already destroyed his immune system and damaged his internal organs. 

Hisashi Ouchi being transferred to the hospital
Hisashi Ouchi being transferred to the hospital

The unlucky technician had also vomited and fell unconscious before arriving at the hospital. He could not breathe well as doctors rushed to figure out how to save his life.

Without their intervention, he would have passed quite soon after his exposure. Perhaps that would have been better considering what future awaited him. 

His partner, Shinohara, was exposed to a lethal radiation dose and survived about seven months until April 27, 2000. Shinohara passed away from lung and liver failure even after multiple blood transfusions, skin grafts, and cancer treatments. 

Unfortunately, the hospital’s work was unsuccessful, and Shinohara passed during his stay. Shinohara’s experience would be much less painful and unbearable.

Ouchi would go on to hold the record for the highest exposure to radiation and subsequent survival. For 83 days, Ouchi was kept alive as his body became increasingly deformed.

During his first week of treatment, Ouchi received much of the same treatments that Shinohara had received, with the same success or lack thereof. Even Ouchi’s sister donated stem cells. The hospital thought stem cell treatment would regenerate his blood cells.

Hisashi Ouchi’s Condition Continues to Deteriorate

None of these treatments worked as Ouchi’s body became more deformed with each passing day. Ouchi was bleeding through his pores and losing skin as his condition worsened. He became more disfigured as his body seemed to reject any of the treatments given to him. 

Unfortunately, the radiation coursing through his body prevented his DNA from rebuilding. Due to his injuries, it seemed that Ouchi was already dead.

Despite the realization that nothing was working, the doctors continued to try and heal Ouchi’s condition and study his condition.

Unfortunately, Ouchi’s condition only worsened with time. Before long, his skin was melting from his body. 

On the 59th day of his hospital stay, Ouchi had a heart attack, but his family asked that he be resuscitated. Eventually, the unlucky technician would suffer three heart attacks in one hour. 

With each heart attack, Ouchi suffered further brain damage. Unfortunately, the medical professionals ignored the technician’s pleas to let him die.

On the 83rd day, Ouchi passed away from multiple organ failure.

The Aftermath of The Accident

The technicians Shinohara and Ouichi suffered from radiation exposure due to their proximity to the chain reaction. However, the technician’s supervisor, Yutaka Yokokawa, also received treatment but was released after three months with minor radiation sickness. 

However, not long after his recovery, he moved on to face charges of negligence in October 2000.

The nuclear fuel company, JCO, also suffered terrible publicity and was forced to pay $121 million to settle over 6,800 compensation claims from people and businesses exposed to radiation from the accident. 

Approximately 310,000 citizens suffered from the Tokaimura accident due to the village’s proximity to the power plant. People were ordered to stay inside for 24 hours to reduce their exposure to the radiation.

After ten days of examining everyone who could have been exposed, about 600 people suffered from low radiation levels, but nothing serious compared to the poor technicians who lost their lives.

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