Israeli Scientist Returns from USSR with Dire Prognosis for Those Who Suffered from Nuclear Plant Di
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Israeli Scientist Returns from USSR with Dire Prognosis for Those Who Suffered from Nuclear Plant Di

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Dr. Yair Reisner, the Weizmann Institute biophysicist who flew to the Soviet Union 10 days ago to help Russian doctors treat victims of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, returned from Moscow Sunday night with a grim prognosis for those who suffered radiation poisoning and a sober warning that the Western countries are no better equipped than the Soviet Union to cope with the medical casualties of nuclear accidents.

Reisner, who volunteered his expertise in bone marrow and cell-sorting techniques after the Soviets finally made known the full extent of the Chernobyl disaster last month, also reported that he entered the USSR with his Israeli passport without a Soviet visa. He said he was met at Moscow airport by Ministry of Health officials who issued him a visa on the spot, well aware that he is an Israeli.

Reisner said that of the 299 persons directly affected by the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station — technicians, fire-fighters and guards who were inside the building — 35 were severely ill with radiation poisoning.

But bone marrow transplants could be performed on only 19 and another six victims were beyond treatment, he said. Others were not believed to be in urgent need of transplants. For those who received them, it will not be known for another three weeks whether the procedure was successful, he said.

The 38-year-old Israel-born scientist said at a press conference here that the Israeli authorities knew of his trip to Moscow to take part in health rescue work together with a small team of American doctors. He had been invited by Dr. Robert Gale, an American bone marrow surgeon who plans to return to Moscow later this week to check on the results. Reisner said he had no plans to return.


He said he and the Americans worked with a Soviet woman doctor who was well acquainted with his marrow separation and tissue transplant techniques from reading about them in international medical and scientific publications. He said the team brought 16 crates of equipment to Moscow and he was able to set up his laboratory within 24 hours of his arrival. Reisner and his American colleagues had warm praise for the Soviet medical team they worked with at Moscow Hospital No. 6.

But according to Reisner, modern medical facilities have some way to go to fully meet the demands of potential nuclear accidents in the future. “No countries in the West are really prepared for such accidents. It is not only a Russian problem but one which must be considered everywhere,” Reisner said.

He suggested the establishment of bone marrow banks and facilities for tissue typing, and an emergency reserve fund to upgrade hospital and laboratory preparedness. One of the problems in Moscow was the delay in taking blood samples for tissue typing. “It is an example of poor planning, but not only on the part of the Russians but also the Americans and everyone else,” Reisner said.


After his press conference, Reisner went to Jerusalem to report to Premier Shimon Peres. He said later that Peres was intensely interested in his experiences in Moscow, what he learned of Soviet medicine and if he met any Jews there. “I met lots of people, but I don’t know if they were Jews or not. They all knew I was an Israeli, but the Jewish question didn’t crop up,” Reisner said he told Peres.

Reisner, born in 1948, obtained his Bachelor of Science degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1972 and his Masters degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1974. He received his Ph.D. at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot in 1980 and was appointed senior scientist there in 1981.

He filled a post-doctoral fellowship at the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research in New York in 1978-79 and was a visiting investigator there from 1980-81. Since 1983 he has occupied the Dr. Phil Gold Career Development Chair in Cancer Research, in perpetuity, at the Weizmann Institute. The chair was established by the Montreal chapter of the Canadian Society for the Weizmann Institute.

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