HIROSHIMA – The Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Hiroshima will soon release the test results of blood samples taken from the chief firefighter in the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
The test, conducted 3 1/2 years after the accident, showed Leonid Telyatnikov was developing chromosomal abnormalities in 40 percent of his lymphocytes, a result never made public before.
Akio Awa, 72, who was then chief of the Department of Genetics at the foundation, analyzed the samples. He decided to publish the data after learning about Telyatnikov’s death in 2004.
The data will soon be published in an academic paper on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the disaster.
Telyatnikov asked for a blood test after he heard of the foundation, which conducts health studies on atomic bomb survivors, when he was visiting Hiroshima in October 1989 to give a talk.
At the talk, Telyatnikov described his ordeal in the 20 days after the accident, including losing his hair and developing red spots in his hands.
An analysis of 200 lymphocytes showed chromosome abnormalities in about 40 percent of the cells, including translocation, a condition in which a fragment of one chromosome breaks off and attaches to another.
Awa said he believes Telyatnikov had absorbed 4 grays of radiation, equivalent to the amount one would absorb at 900 meters to 1 km away from the hypocenter of the Hiroshima atomic bomb blast. This level of radiation normally kills about half of the exposed people within 60 days.
Telyatnikov died of cancer in December 2004 at age 53.
Awa wrote a letter to his widow, Larisa, 58, attached a microscopic photograph of chromosomes, and had them delivered to her through a Kyodo reporter. Larisa, who lives in Kiev, in turn wrote a thank-you note on the back of a photograph of her husband.
Awa, who is examining the data before submitting the paper to a science journal, voiced relief that he was able to contact Telyatnikov’s kin.
“I want to write this paper as the last big project in my life,” he said.
The foundation’s physician, Kazuo Neriishi, took Telyatnikov’s blood samples. He recalled Telyatnikov as well-built and very firefighterlike, and remembered seeing his thick arm as he drew blood.
Telyatnikov asked Neriishi what things he should be careful about in everyday life. Neriishi told him people exposed to radiation can develop the same diseases as those who weren’t, but noted he had a higher risk of developing cancer. Neriishi gave him green tea because it is believed to have cancer-fighting properties.
“This experience led me to realize how important it was to call on the survivors of the atomic bomb to avoid tobacco and other cancer-causing products, and to be careful about their diet,” Neriishi said.
The Chernobyl disaster began April 26, 1986, in a civilian nuclear power station in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. The plant’s No. 4 reactor exploded during a test run, releasing massive amounts of radioactive materials into the atmosphere.
The Chernobyl Forum, a group comprising the International Atomic Energy Agency and others, said about 4,000 people have died, but the number of casualties remains unknown, with some saying several hundred thousand.