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 amounts 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’s body was kept alive against his will. This is the tragic story of his experience and untimely demise.
Throughout history, medical professionals have always been interested in radiation’s effects on the human body. In pursuit of knowledge, doctors forcibly kept Ouchi alive for 83 agonizing days.
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 gamma radiation levels.
Hisashi Ouchi Is Exposed to Massive Amounts of Radiation
Each of the three technicians was exposed to different levels of radiation, 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 would survive 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 nuclear power plant 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 destoryed his immune system and damaged his internal organs.
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 pass 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 of 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 against his will 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. Finally, after a week of treatment, Ouchi begged them to stop. He reportedly said, “I can’t take anymore. I’m not a guinea pig.”
Nevertheless, the doctors continued working on Ouchi at his family’s insistence. 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 from 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’s family finally allowed him to die, and he passed away from multiple organ failure on December 21 that year.
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.
The story of the Tokaimura nuclear accident is a tragedy that the company could have easily prevented. The lesson here is that the morality of medical decisions should always be considered, even when it is against the wishes of the patient’s family. Sometimes, it is better to let go.
The hospital acted against the technician’s wishes and, in doing so, robbed him of his dignity in death. The Tokyo Univerisity Hospital’s staff worked against their code of ethics and prolonged the technician’s suffering. Hisashi Ouchi’s story reminds us that we must always consider the morality of our actions, even in pursuit of knowledge.