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Japanese Nuclear Workers’ Blood Should Be Saved, Doctors Say

Japanese Nuclear Workers’ Blood Should Be Saved, Doctors Say
Tokyo Electric Power Co. employees record data in the central control room at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station on March 23, 2011. Source: Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency via Bloomberg

Stem cells should be collected from the blood of workers at the damaged Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant in case of accidental exposure to radiation, five Japanese scientists wrote in the medical journal The Lancet.

Rapidly dividing cells such as intestinal tract and those essential for fertility are the most vulnerable to radiation, said the researchers, including Tetsuya Tanimoto of the Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research and Shuichi Taniguchi of Tokyo’s Toranomon Hospital, in a letter published today by the journal. Damage to bone marrow can be remedied with cell transplants, they said.

Storing the workers’ blood would make transplants easier because the body will recognize and accept its own cells. That eliminates the needs for drugs that suppress the immune system, which might make a patient vulnerable to infections, the scientists said.

“Such an approach would be the industry’s best defense” in the event of a major accident, Tanimoto and colleagues said. “The most important mission is to save the nuclear workers’ lives and to protect local communities.”

About 107 transplant teams are standing by to handle the cells, the scientists wrote, citing a March 29 statement from the Japanese Society for Haematopoietic Cell Transplantation. More than 50 hospitals in Europe have agreed to assist if needed, Tanimoto and colleagues wrote.

The approach can only help those with damaged bone marrow, and wouldn’t help radiation victims with injured gastrointestinal tracts or lungs, the scientists said.

Crippled Reactors

Tokyo Electric Power Co. estimates the fight to stabilize its crippled Fukushima reactors will last through June, leaving them vulnerable to more aftershocks and radiation leaks, a person briefed on the utility’s plan said. The person asked not to be identified because he isn’t authorized to speak to the media.

Workers can’t start the process of decommissioning the plant’s four crippled reactors until temperatures and pressure have been brought down. Cleaning up the disaster, which has forced the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people living within 20 kilometers (12 miles) of the plant, could take decades and cost more than 1 trillion yen ($12 billion).

“The danger of a future accidental radiation exposure is not passed,” the Japanese researchers wrote in The Lancet.

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