Deadly "Criticality" Ignites Critics in Japan

TOKAIMURA, Japan - Since the Sept. 30 radiation disaster at a reactor fuel facility north of Tokyo, the death of fuel fabricator Hisashi Ouchi, 35 (after months of gruesome suffering), and news of criminal malfeasance, Japan's nuclear industry has been rocked. Although Mr. Ouchi never regained consciousness, doctors were ordered to try unprecedented means to keep him alive. And though Ouchi's heart failed and his bleeding radiation burns never healed, doctors transfused 10 liters of blood into his body every day for weeks. While still comatose, and despite huge doses of painkillers, Mr. Ouchi winced in agony during this treatment. Another uranium worker, Masato Shinohara, 39, remains in critical condition. "We learned a lot," the lead doctor said.

One day after the uranium fire and Tokaimura's evacuation, the nuclear fuel company JCO and the government declared the "nuclear danger had passed," - ignoring the radioactive longevity of the isotopes that spewed from the plant. Later, JCO admitted the exhaust system in the building where the fire occurred was left on for more than two weeks, spreading radioactive iodine-133 and -131 across the area. Critics in Japan say that the government's Science and Technology and JCO may have deliberately vented the poisons to facilitate decontamination of the building. In January, British Nuclear Fuels, Inc. added gas to the anti-nuclear fire when first it denied then admitted falsifying inspection data on two batches of plutonium fuel sold to a Japanese utility. Hundreds of civic groups and local politicians have begun to fight industry expansion, especially into breeder reactors.

- Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Mar./Apr., 2000; New York Times, Dec. 23, 1999; WISE News Communique, Oct. 29, 1999.