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

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Trial of the Cult of Nuclearists: Exhibit E continued

What follows is the continuation, 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.

Exhibit E continued

Despite every effort by the AEC to downplay the danger of the inhalation, ingestion, and absorption of radionuclides liberated into the environment, evidence began accumulating throughout the 1950s that ignited widespread concern. Reports from downwinders began to appear in the press documenting hair loss and skin burns, poisoned wells and dead livestock. Fission products, particularly strontium-90 and cesium-137, began to be detected in the nation’s food supply. High concentrations of iodine-131 were discovered in dairy products of communities downwind of the Nevada Test Site and in the thyroid glands of the children consuming these dairy-based foodstuffs. The Baby Tooth Survey provided unmistakable evidence that strontium-90 was accumulating in the teeth of children in all areas of the country. Suspicion and fear began to surge about the possibility that radionuclides released from weapon tests were causing increased incidences of infant mortality, leukemia, thyroid disorders, and cancers. These combined revelations erupted in a crescendo of vocal protest, both in this country and abroad, that was a key factor in bringing the United States and the Soviet Union together for the signing of the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963. But the end of atmospheric testing did not put an end to the public’s distrust of the Government. In the decades that followed, waves of protest rolled across the country over such issues as the siting and safety of commercial nuclear power plants; the siting of nuclear waste repositories; proposed production of the neutron bomb; government refusal to provide financial and medical compensation to atomic veterans, nuclear workers, and downwinders; the health hazards of living in proximity to weapon production facilities and nuclear reactors; Three Mile Island; and today, depleted uranium.

Against this backdrop of ongoing civil unrest, guardians of the government’s nuclear agenda were threatened by an even more formidable onslaught. Scientists not under the thumb of the nuclear establishment began publishing research that cast serious doubts on the adequacy of the government’s safety guidelines. One tactic the AEC routinely turned to was to offer reassurance that radiation exposure received from fallout was no greater than that routinely received by a diagnostic x-ray. [Here again, attention is focused on external exposure to the exclusion of internal contamination.] This stratagem started backfiring during the second half of the 1950s. In 1955, while collecting data on the effects of x-rays on unborn children, David Hewitt of Oxford University noticed a trend toward a 50% increase in the number of British children dying of leukemia. His statistics encouraged Dr. Alice Stewart of Oxford’s Department of Preventative Medicine to search for the reason. Dr. Stewart discovered that the death rate from cancer among children under the age of ten was double among children whose mothers received x-rays while pregnant. X-ray exams conducted during the first trimester created a 10-fold increase in risk that the child would develop cancer. Further, multiple x-ray exams had a cumulative effect, with the risk of cancer increasing with each x-ray performed. These quite revolutionary findings on the effects of low doses of radiation had a profound impact on the propaganda campaign on behalf of the militarized atom. Science testified before all mankind that levels of radiation previously considered harmless were responsible for inducing cancer.

In May 1957, E.B. Lewis published an article in Science demonstrating that the incidence of leukemia was directly proportional to the dose of radiation received and that there was no safe level of exposure. The following month, Linus Pauling, who twice won the Nobel Prize, published an article in Foreign Policy Bulletin announcing his belief that 10,000 people were dead or dying from leukemia as a result of nuclear weapon testing. The following year, Pauling published estimates of the public health impact from the massive release of carbon-14. According to his calculations, the bomb tests “will ultimately produce about one million seriously defective children and about two million embryonic and neonatal deaths and will cause many millions of people to suffer from minor heredity defects” (Pauling). Also in 1958, Andrei Sakharov, the “father” of Russia’s hydrogen bomb, added credibility to Pauling’s estimates by declaring that every megaton of nuclear explosive detonated in the atmosphere would create 10,000 deaths from the uptake of carbon-14. Based on the rate of weapon testing, he estimated that half a million people had already died by the mid-1950s and each following year the number would increase by two to three hundred thousand.

In 1963, Dr. Ernest Sternglass, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School published an extremely controversial article in Science. He calculated that, as a result of fallout over the previous two years, everyone living in the northern hemisphere received a radiation dose of 200 to 400 millirads, roughly equivalent to a pelvic x-ray. Testifying before the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy that same year, Sternglass cited Stewart’s research on x-rays and the incidence of childhood cancer and estimated that the atomic tests of 1961 and 1962 would create an extra 800 childhood cancer deaths.

Sternglass profoundly rankled the nuclear establishment in 1969 with publication of the article “Infant Mortality and Nuclear Tests” in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists [1]. [The magazine’s managing editor, Richard S. Lewis, informed Sternglass that, both before and after publication of the article, he received calls from Washington informing him that publication of the article was a “grave mistake.”] According to Sternglass’s article, rates of infant mortality between 1935 and 1950 had been declining by 4% per year. With the advent of atmospheric bomb testing in 1951, the rate of decline slowed. When bomb testing came to an end in 1963, rates of infant mortality resumed their downward trend. Sternglass calculated that the interruption in decline of infant mortality during the era of atmospheric testing represented a death toll in the United States of 375,000 infants before their first birthdays.

Up to the present, Sternglass has continued publishing data on the health hazards of low doses of radiation. But his work has been marginalized by the mainstream nuclear establishment.

“BEIR V [the 1990 publication of the Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation] does not list Sternglass in its index and astonishingly has no section on the infant-mortality effects of radiation. As far as the reader of this standard work on low-level radiation is concerned, Sternglass never existed and radiation has no effects on infant mortality “ [2].


[1] Sternglass E.J. Infant Mortality and Nuclear Tests. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 1969; 25:26-28.

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