Trigger warning. The following article includes images of a man who underwent heavy exposure to radioactive compounds. Some may find the images used to tell this story upsetting. Reader’s discretion is advised.
adiation has always been a subject of great interest for many scientists. Since its discovery and weaponization, many have looked into its impact on living organisms, especially humans. As a result, many living beings suffered at the hands of those who sought to find the real impact of radiation on living beings. Throughout the years, this experimentation was mainly focused on animals as it would be unethical to test such a thing on humans.
Outside of major nuclear events such as the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the meltdowns of nuclear facilities such as nuclear power plants, the effect of radiation on humans could not be tested. As such, after the 1999 Tokaimura nuclear accident, many scientists jumped at the opportunity to study the victims of such a high amount of explosion to radiation. Out of all the victims of the disaster, the case of Hisashi Ouchi stands out.
Tokaimura nuclear plant
Hisashi Ouchi was one of three employees of the Tokaimura nuclear plant to be heavily impacted by the accident on 30 September 1999. Leading up to the 30th of the month, the staff at the Tokaimura nuclear plant were in charge of looking after the process of dissolving and mixing enriched uranium oxide with nitric acid to produce uranyl nitrate, a product that the bosses of the nuclear plant wanted to have ready by the 28th.
Due to the tight time constraints, the uranyl nitrate wasn’t prepared properly by the staff, with many shortcuts being used to achieve the tight deadline. One of these shortcuts was to handle the highly radioactive produce by hand. During their handling of the radioactive produce, while trying to convert it into nuclear fuel (uranyl nitrate is used as nuclear fuel) for transportation, the inexperienced three-man crew handling the operation made a mistake.
During the mixing process, a specific compound had to be added to the mixture, the inexperienced technicians added seven times the recommended amount of the compound to the mixture leading to an uncontrollable chain reaction being started in the solution. As soon as the Gamma radiation alarms sounded, the three technicians knew they made a mistake. All three were exposed to deadly levels of radiation; more specifically, Ouchi received 17 Sv of radiation due to his proximity to the reaction, Shinohara 10 Sv, and Yokokawa 3 Sv due to his placement at a desk several meters away from the accidents. When being exposed to radiation, it is said that anything over 10 Sv is deadly; this would prove to be true in this instance.
The fallout of radiation
Shinohara, the least affected out of the two who received a deadly dose of radiation, lasted 7 months in hospital until 27 April 2000. The technician died of lung and liver failure after a long battle against the effects of the radiation he endured. During his, 7-month stay at the University of Tokyo Hospital, several skin grafts, blood transfusions, and cancer treatments were performed on him with minimal success. Shinohara’s time at the University of Tokyo Hospital would be much less painful than Ouchi’s.
On Ouchi’s arrival at the University of Tokyo Hospital, he had radiation burns across his whole body, a near-zero white blood cell count, and severe damage to his internal organs. He was all but dead without the intervention of the staff at the hospital. He was under intensive care for his first week at the hospital, receiving revolutionary cancer treatment meant to boost his white blood cell count as well as many skin grafts and blood transfusions. After a week of treatment, he told the doctors, “I can’t take it anymore[…]. I am not a guinea pig.”
Even so, his treatment went on and on. On the 59th day of his admission, the now nearly lifeless body of Ouchi suffered three heart attacks in under an hour. The doctors of the hospital resuscitated him after every heart failure, prolonging his pain. Only on the 83rd day after his admission would the technician die of multiple organ failure.
The moral implications of keeping what could best be described as a husk of a man alive for 83 days do not need to be stated. By keeping Ouchi alive for 83 days, the doctors of the University of Tokyo Hospital did the opposite of what they are trained to do, limit human suffering. As a result, Ouchi’s case goes down in the history books as a show of cruelty for the sole reason of research.