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, June 3, 2010

The Trial of the Cult of Nuclearists: SCAM NUMBER TEN

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.

SCAM NUMBER TEN: Focus attention on dosage as the prime determiner of biological effect so as to divert thought from pioneering an appreciation of the biochemical chaos induced by the transmutation of atoms during radioactive decay.

Within the context of the reigning paradigm, radiation injury is proportional to the amount of energy absorbed by the body. Consequently, internal emitters that are widely dispersed throughout the body and which release small quantities of energy are deemed inconsequential to the health of the organism. The fallacy lurking in this line of thought is that certain radioisotopes can promote biological effects as a consequence of their chemistry that is independent of the amount of energy they release at the moment of radioactive decay. The Low Level Radiation Campaign highlights this phenomenon on its website in an article on tritium.

Tritium is an isotope of hydrogen; its one proton shares the nucleus with two neutrons. Its half-life is 12.3 years. At the moment of radioactive decay, each atom of tritium transforms into an atom of helium while emitting a beta particle with an average energy of 5.7 thousand electron volts (keV.) Tritium is ubiquitous in the environment. It occurs naturally in very low concentrations, produced in the upper atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic rays with either nitrogen or deuterium in the air. It then falls to the ground as rain. Tritium is also produced in the fireball of nuclear weapons, and the earth’s burden of tritium was substantially increased as a result of nuclear weapon testing. Commercial nuclear power plants produce tritium within their reactors, and this is routinely vented into the ecosphere. Tritium is found in nature as a gas and can gain entrance to the human body through the air we breathe. It can also be readily absorbed through the skin. More commonly, a tritium atom will replace a stable hydrogen atom in a molecule of water, and this tritiated water will then gain entrance into the interior of the body. Once internalized, tritium disperses quickly and is uniformly distributed throughout the body. The biological half-life of tritium is 9.4 days. However, residency time can be greatly extended to a number of years if, chemically bound into the structure of organic compounds, tritium enters the body via ingested foodstuffs.

Due to its uniform distribution throughout the body, the weakness of its emitted beta particle, its relatively long half-life and short biological half-life, tritium is considered, under normal levels of intake, to pose an insignificant health risk. The “dose” of radiation it transfers to any organ or to the body as a whole is too minute to be of much concern. This conclusion is hazardously deceptive. It would be true if the total energy absorbed by the body was the sole determiner of biological effect, but for at least some biologically significant isotopes, this notion woefully misrepresents what actually is transpiring on the molecular level.

Having gained entrance into the body, tritium, chemically identical to hydrogen, can become incorporated into the structure of essential biochemicals such as enzymes, proteins, RNA and DNA. Tritium can also participate in forming hydrogen bonds between molecules. Once incorporated into molecular structure, tritium behaves no differently from stable hydrogen until the instant of radioactive decay. At that moment, all bonds between the tritium atom and the atoms that bond to it are broken. Inert helium replaces the hydrogen atom and dissociates from all adjacent atoms. The result of this transmutation is chemical chaos. Those atoms that were previously bonded to tritium become highly reactive and randomly reattach to available atoms in their vicinity. What started out as an ordered biological macromolecule is transformed into molecular garbage that may be useless, perhaps even toxic, to normal cellular physiology. In the case of enzymes and proteins, their spatial configuration can become so distorted that they stop functioning altogether or, perhaps worse, malfunction. In the case of DNA, an intricate series of events may be initiated with ramifications all out of proportion to the amount of radiation involved. At the moment of disintegration, the loss of the hydrogen atom may be responsible for significant damage to DNA structure. Simultaneously, the ejection of the low-energy beta particle may compound the damage with further ionizing events in the immediate vicinity. What is important to recognize is that the transmutation of a single tritium atom within a molecule consisting of thousands of other atoms represents a tremendous amplification of effect. A single radioactive disintegration can render an entire macromolecule useless. Occurring in DNA, it may contribute to genetic damage. Occurring within the embryo, developmental abnormalities may be induced. All of a sudden, innocent tritium doesn’t look so innocent.

Transmutation is not confined to radioactive hydrogen. It can result from the disintegration of any radioisotope bound within organic molecules. It enhances the damage to an organism’s biochemical structure and function produced by radiation. Those who chime in with the observation that this is a commonplace phenomenon occurring from naturally present radioisotopes in the environment and that cells are forced to manage molecular rubbish all the time fail to give transmutation the importance it deserves. The biochemical dance of life is not understood with sufficient precision. Perhaps transmutation that occurs at precise moments during common physiological processes, such as during DNA replication, will have amplified effect than when occurring at other moments. Perhaps increasing the body burden of radioisotopes throughout the world’s population increases the frequency of certain genetically based diseases. Once again, we are at a loss to fully understand what we are doing to ourselves and all life forms by dumping radioisotopes into the biosphere and into ourselves in unnatural quantities.