Both the great Truths and the great Falsehoods of the twentieth century lie hidden in the arcane, widely inaccessible, and seemingly mundane domain of the radiation sciences

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Trial of the Cult of Nuclearists

This posting is the true beginning of this blog. What follows is the reproduction, in serial form, of a central chapter from my book A Primer in the Art of Deception: The Cult of Nuclearists, Uranium Weapons and Fraudulent Science.

Chapter 6

The Most Heinous Crime in History:

The Betrayal of Mankind by the Radiation Protection Agencies

"You can’t underestimate the importance of public relations when you are trying to dump radioactive material on people [the transcript noted laughter at this point], and we worked at it strenuously."

Oliver R. Placak

(Footnote: This quote appears in Fallout: An American Nuclear Tragedy by P.L. Fradkin. Oliver R. Placak was a radiation monitor for the Public Health Service who worked offsite of the Nevada Test Site during the period of atmospheric nuclear weapon testing. He made this statement in 1980 during a meeting convened by the Department of Energy to gain information to refute allegations in the lawsuit Irene Allen v. The United States of America (filed August 30, 1979) that fallout was responsible for producing cancer in people living downwind of the tests.)

Science is a dynamic human enterprise. Achievements in understanding are frequently tentative advances which require reformulation as further knowledge is acquired. In fact, this is one of the distinguishing characteristics of science that separate it from all forms of dogmatism. The scientific method, when applied with integrity, invites evolution in understanding as new discoveries are made. This should have been the case with the computational model based on a transfer of energy from internalized radionuclides to whole organ masses. But the process was subverted. Like physics during the early part of the twentieth century, biology underwent a dramatic revolution beginning in the 1950s. The new realities which emerged underscored fundamental errors in some of the basic assumptions underlying the computational approach. Nevertheless, regulatory agencies have made no effort to correct the inherent flaws in their system which they continue to rely upon in gauging the biological impact of internal emitters and which remains the basis of internationally accepted standards of what constitutes permissible radiation exposure.

In most other scientific matters, a debate over safety would be entrusted to specialists in the field. Experimentation and the scientific method would be the final arbitrator between any rivalry of opinions. But this was not the case with the study of internal contamination. The field of radiation protection has been heavily infiltrated and compromised by those with a vested interest in ensuring the proliferation of nuclear and radiological weapons and commercial nuclear reactors. A politically motivated international system of standard setting agencies, upholding antiquated models of the biological effects of ionizing radiation, has asserted itself as the voice of authority in the field of radiation protection. Governments, in turn, depend on the flaws within these models to legitimize the safety of their nuclear programs and conceal the detrimental biological effects these programs impart to unsuspecting populations. Under these circumstances, it would be foolish to believe that objective, disinterested science is representing the best interest of humanity. As long as the trained professionals remain remiss in their duty to counter the misdeeds of regulatory agencies and government, no alternative remains but to open to the public forum the ever so important issue of radiation safety.

The Trial of the Cult of Nuclearists

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! At long last, the time has come to convene the court of public opinion to try the Cult of Nuclearists for their crimes against humanity. They are charged with the crime of fraud, momentous fraud, which has been a shield for an unprecedented degradation of the earth and a creeping debilitation in the health of all people and all living things. What follows is the case for the prosecution. Let the people judge.

Exhibit A

The entire system that has evolved to safeguard the welfare of humanity is ultimately grounded on one fundamental idea: The essential feature of the interaction of radiation with biological systems is the transfer of energy from its source to the medium in which it is absorbed, and the degree of injury is proportional to the amount of energy transferred. This idea was advanced by physicists attempting to conceptualize biological realities, realities of which they had very little knowledge. Biology, however, is governed by its own laws, laws different from those falling within the province of physics. When now queried by current understanding, biology responds that this central idea is erroneous. The neat concept of energy transfer is largely irrelevant to the biological response to ionizing radiation.

Before proceeding, be forewarned. What follows is heresy. It is an unwelcome intrusion on the tyrannical paradigm that dictates how human beings are supposed to understand the interaction of radiation with living systems. Within the modern knowledge base, this paradigm is not only archaic but false, artificially propped up and perpetuated by the nuclear establishment. Although what follows defies orthodoxy, this does not equate with an absence of scientific merit. It is soundly grounded in modern research. It is gaining popularity as courageous and outspoken scientists step out of the shadows and forthrightly question why rates of cancer and mortality associated with internal exposure to radioisotopes are so much greater than that predicted by the currently accepted models of risk upheld by the ICRP models.

To fire a shot across the bow of the Cult of Nuclearists, let the discussion begin with a quotation from Radiation Protection Dosimetry: A Radical Reappraisal: “the amount of kinetic energy transferred in each collision [between a charged particle and the molecular components of a cell] plays no role in the production of radiation effects in mammalian cells [1].

Flawed thinking is the foundation upon which current models of radiation protection are built. The essential problem dates back to the first attempts to come to terms with the meaning of dosage as it applies to radiation. The roentgen was adopted as the unit of measure of exposure. It represented the quantity of ionization produced in air by photons emitted by an x-ray machine. At issue was how to translate this quantity of effect in air into a meaningful concept of biological effect once that energy penetrated into the human body. The model that was eventually adopted by physicists was analogous to the model adopted to explain the radiation of heat. When ionizing radiation penetrates a mass, the incident energy is conceptualized as being uniformly distributed throughout the entire mass. The unit of absorbed dose gave expression to this view of incident energy as averaged throughout the absorbing mass. The rad is an expression of ergs per gram. This concept seems suitable for thinking about the absorption of radiation by inanimate objects. However, when applied to ionizing radiation’s interaction with living systems, the model shows its flaws:

"One need only consider the common fever in order to ponder the very high probability that the biological potency of ionizing radiation is related to its spatial concentration along tracks, rather than to its meager addition of energy to cells. A dose of 400 cGy (400 rads) is equivalent in heat to only 4.184 x 10(-3) joules per gram of tissue — enough to provoke a mini-fever of 0.001 degree Centigrade — yet 400 cGy of ionizing radiation to the whole body, acutely delivered, will kill about half the humans exposed to it" [2].

In this example, the biological effects of ionizing radiation cannot be adequately modeled by simply dividing the quantity of energy by the mass into which it is deposited. That mode of thinking blinds one to the reality of how biological damage is actually induced by radiation. A living system is made up of cells. Impact on the functioning of these cells depends on how the energy is distributed in relationship to critical cellular structures:

"Generally, ionizations are not produced singly, but as double or triple events, known as clusters. Based on the assumption that an average of three ionizations occur per cluster, the figure of 100 eV/primary ionization is often used when discussing energy transfer. Even though the amount of energy involved in ionization appears very small, it tends to be very efficient and extremely lethal. If 100 eV/cluster were deposited in a sphere 30 angstroms in diameter, it would increase the temperature (locally) from 37oC to approximately 80oC. Consequently, it is the distribution of the energy and not the total amount of deposited energy that is significant for cell inactivation [emphasis added]" [3].

In his book Wings of Death: Nuclear Pollution and Human Health, Chris Busby totally destroys the reigning paradigm of energy transfer:

"Energy, however, can be transferred in a multitude of ways, and takes many forms; on its own, energy transfer is a totally useless measure of quality of effect. For example, one cup of boiling water at 100 degrees centigrade contains the same energy, the same number of Joules, as some ten times this quantity of water at the temperature of ten degrees. An energy transfer to a person of one waterthrow unit could encompass either a cupful of boiling water in the face or a bucket of cold water: more information is needed before the health consequences can be assessed" [4].

This simple illustration highlights the shortcomings of the physics-based model of the biological effects of radiation. Energy can be transferred in many different ways. And equal quantities of energy can produce dramatically different effects depending upon how they are delivered. Acknowledgment of this simple fact necessitates a revision of the very foundation of current approaches to radiation protection:

"The last twenty years of developments in knowledge of cell biology have rendered obsolete the primitive understanding of radiation effects which is still used to underpin present laws of radiation safety. It is now apparent that we cannot continue to lump all radiation together and talk of “dose” as some physical quantity of transferred energy, as if sitting in front of a hot fire and absorbing the warmth of so many joules were equivalent to the same number of joules absorbed if we were to reach into the fire, withdraw a red-hot coal, and swallow it. The effects of radiation depend on the quality of that radiation and how it is delivered in space and time" [4].

"The energy transfer model for determining the effects of ionizing radiation starts out by postulating that so much energy transfer of ionizing radiation should produce proportional effect on living tissue. The shortcomings of such a facile hypothesis soon became apparent. The first obvious weakness was its inability to distinguish between the biological effect of different types of radiation: alpha, beta, gamma.

Experiments in cell cultures made it clear that the effects of these three types of radiation [alpha, beta, gamma] were different: it was not the quantity of the radiation that explained the results, but its quality. Although the three types of radiation had been distinguished in theoretical physics, pioneers of radiation assumed that their harmful effects would be relative to the amount of energy each carried, rather than the nature of its irradiation effect" [4]).

Radiation delivered to the body externally in the form of x-rays and gamma rays and radiation delivered to the body internally by the emission of alpha and beta particles from decaying radioisotopes are fundamentally different phenomena. The attempt to liken them by focusing on the fact that they both transmit energy disguises the fact that they differ in terms of the biological effects they produce. The model of energy transfer arose to explain the effects of x-rays impinging on the body from the outside. This model was adequate for explaining relatively high doses of radiation. The large quantity of photons involved in the interaction are distributed throughout the mass that absorbs them. The primary ionizations created when the photons interact with orbital electrons throughout the target and the secondary ionizations caused when these liberated electrons go on to ionize other atoms tend to be spatially removed from each other in a sparse pattern of molecular disruption. As an abstraction, the idea of a uniform distribution of effect throughout the absorbing mass is not unreasonable. Alpha and beta particles from internal emitters, however, produce a different pattern of molecular damage within cells or within tissue. Their range of travel is minute, and they deposit all of their energy in a dense pattern of ionization in a small volume of cells. A “hot particle”, a particle composed of a huge number of radioactive atoms, acts as a point source or hotspot, perpetually emanating radiation to the same critical cellular molecular structures in their immediate vicinity throughout the time they are retained within the body. This is the rationale for the hot coal analogy mentioned above. Being warmed by a fire is different from swallowing a hot coal, though the same amount of energy might be transferred. The two phenomena create different patterns of biological effect.

The model for external radiation that came to dominate thinking does in fact approximate reality to a certain degree. This is not because the essence of the phenomenon is, as visualized in the model, a transfer of energy throughout the target mass, but because at relatively high doses individual cells begin receiving multiple hits in critical structures and become increasingly vulnerable to functional alteration. A dense pattern of ionization in proximity to critical cellular structures is created which mirrors that created by alpha particles, and to a lesser degree beta particles, released by internal emitters. The key phenomenon is the location of ionizing events within the cell, not simply the amount of energy transferred. At high doses of external radiation, the differences between irradiation from the outside and internal exposure become blurred. Dense patterns of ionization within individual cells are created by both types of exposure. Biological damage becomes proportional to the dosage and the quantity of energy is predictive of the damage. Thus, the apparent triumph of the physics-based model. The fundamental problem with the model is that it breaks down at low doses of radiation. When the dosage delivered by photons external to the body is so low than each cell fails to be hit at least once, the idea of uniform distribution of energy within the target mass falters. At these low doses, the pattern of ionization created by external radiation and the hazard this poses cannot be likened to that produced by decaying radionuclides which are creating dense patterns of ionization and extensive local chemical disruption in individual cells. At low doses, the equivalent energy delivered by x-rays or gamma rays externally and that delivered by alpha and beta particles internally produce different patterns of chemical disruption to individual cells. As a consequence, low dose effects from external irradiation cannot be used to predict effects from internal contamination. The simple conclusion that, dose for dose, internal emitters may produce more negative biological effect than external irradiation is a calamitous conclusion for the nuclear establishment and will ignite vehement rebuttal. The whole basis for discounting the hazards from radionuclides emitted from nuclear installations or the detrimental effects of depleted uranium weapons is grounded on the purported equivalency between external and internal radiation based on the amount of energy they deliver. The qualitative difference in their capacity for promoting harmful effects to individual cells is conveniently ignored.

The current model attempts to account for the differences between the various types of radiation and their biological effects. Modifying factors have been introduced to shore up the reigning paradigm that energy transfer is the central phenomenon in radiation’s interaction with living systems. For instance, the concept of linear energy transfer (LET) was formulated to account for the density of ionization produced by different types of radiation along their path of travel and the amount of electron-volts deposited per micrometer. The relative biological effectiveness (RBE) of different types of radiation, later replaced by the quality factor (QF), was a modifying factor added to calculations to account for the varying degrees of biological effect created by equal quantities of energy when delivered by different types of radiation. A distribution factor (DF) was another modifying factor introduced into calculations to account for the biological effect created by internally incorporated radioisotopes distributed nonuniformly throughout the target organ. It is essential to understand that these kinds of modifying factors were patched on to the prevailing model of energy transfer to rescue it from irrelevance by bringing it more into line with observed biological effects. These quick-fix measures, however, never addressed one central underlying flaw in the reigning paradigm. It is not grounded in biology, in the way cells actually respond to radiation!


[1] Simmons J.A., Watt D.E. Radiation Protection Dosimetry: A Radical Reappraisal. Madison, Wisconsin: Medical Physics Publishing; 1999.

[2] Gofman J.W. Radiation-Induced Cancer from Low-Dose Exposure: An Independent Analysis. San Francisco: Committee for Nuclear Responsibility; 1990.

[3] Holahan E.V. Cellular Radiation Biology. In J.J. Conklin, R.I. Walker: Military Radiobiology. San Diego: Academic Press Inc.; 1987.

[4] Busby C. Wings of Death: Nuclear Pollution and Human Health. Aberystwyth, Wales: Green Audit Books, Green Audit (Wales) Ltd; 1995.