A 35-year-old-man lies unconscious in a University of Tokyo Hospital intensive-care unit. He has been irradiated. Losing up to 20 liters of body fluids per day, the skin on half of his body is blackened, blistered, and falling off, his internal organs have failed, he is being kept alive by machines.

A SLOW DEATH: 83 Days of Radiation Sickness, by the NHK-TV "Tokaimura Criticality Accident" Crew. Vertical, 2008, 141 pp., $19.95 (cloth)

He is one of three victims of a criticality accident at a uranium-processing plant in Tokaimura. Doctors, surgical teams, and nurses constantly monitor his condition. His family sleep in an anteroom. All wait for signs that he will pull through the massive blood transfusions, the viruses and molds that have invaded his body, the stem-cell transplants, the skin grafts, the comas, the heart attacks, and the marauding phagocytes.