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, June 7, 2010

The Trial of the Cult of Nuclearists: SCAM NUMBER ELEVEN

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 ELEVEN: Rely on the concept of “dose” to mislead the layman about the biological impact of low levels of radiation.

In Exhibit A, a pivotal issue was raised that requires reiteration. In Radiation Protection Dosimetry, Simmons and Watt make the following point: “The amount of kinetic energy transferred in each collision plays no role in the production of radiation effects in mammalian cells.” To clarify this point by way of example, to irreparably disrupt the structural integrity of a DNA molecule in the nucleus of a cell nothing more is required than the addition of sufficient energy to produce simultaneous, or near-simultaneous, ionizing events on each strand of the double helix, i.e., a double-strand break. The amount of energy needed to accomplish this may amount to no more than a few tens of electron-volts. Any additional energy to that required to break the two chemical bonds is irrelevant to the lesions produced. This simple idealization pinpoints the deceptiveness of the concept of dosage. The amount of energy absorbed by a mass of cells, the dose, is not what determines biological effect. Rather, biological effect is determined by the spatial concentration of ionizing events in relation to critical molecular components within each cell that is hit. From this point of view, the essential characteristic is “passage of particles per unit volume” or “hits per unit mass.”

It is not difficult to see the importance of this shift in perspective when addressing the hazard posed by radiation exposure to the developing fetus. While in the womb, a catastrophic effect on the future health of the human being can potentially be induced by a single alteration to a DNA molecule. This modification is independent of the dose. Thus, extremely minute quantities of radiocontaminants in the vicinity of germ cells prior to conception or in the womb after conception can devastate a human life. (Thus, the discovery of depleted uranium in the semen of Gulf War Veterans is an alarming discovery!) The genetic mutation induced by radiation need not manifest itself after birth as a visibly deformed child or a child plagued by debilitating illness. (This is the criteria for genetic defects produced by radiation used by the Hiroshima Life Span Study.) The altered cell, and all of its descendants, may be transformed into precursor cells of cancer, more vulnerable than unaffected cells to being tripped into uncontrolled cell replication by other random events at some future time in the person’s life. As observed by the ECRR:

In the event that an irradiated cell is altered rather than killed, the outcome is very different. Despite the existence of cell repair mechanisms and, in the whole organism, further surveillance systems for the elimination of such cells, the clone of cells which carry the modification induced by the radiation will have a higher probability than the original cell of acquiring the set of genetic changes necessary to cause uncontrolled replication. This may result in the manifestation of a malignant condition, a cancer. It may also result in a detrimental effect on the efficiency of the organ or system which the cell is a part of, with resultant ill health in the individual” [1].

[Thus, cancer need not be the only health detriment produced by radiation!]

If “dose” is to have any meaning at low levels of exposure, the inaccurate concept of a quantity of energy averaged over a large volume of cells must be discarded. In its place, the concept of dose must come to be seen as representing a probability of the number of particle tracks passing through cells within a specified volume and the likelihood that these will produce significant, irreparable lesions such as double-strand breaks. This shift in perspective, of conceptualizing dosage as discrete events rather than energy averaged over a mass, will be vehemently resisted by the regulatory bodies fronting for the Cult of Nuclearists. To acknowledge that the fluence of charged particles through a cell is the critical phenomenon for determining biological effect would necessitate admitting that internal emitters represent an enhanced hazard over external radiation and that the chemical form of the internal emitter must be taken into account when evaluating risk. The European Committee on Radiation Risk acknowledges the importance of these variables for biological effect and has added weighting factors to traditional dose calculations to take them into account. Why is this important? Take depleted uranium as an example. As we have seen, when the energy emitted by uranium is averaged over a large volume of tissue, the dose of energy it delivers appears insignificant, and DU weapons are made to appear harmless. However, when account is taken of the fact that uranium is an internal emitter of alpha particles, that each alpha emission violently disturbs only a small volume of cells in its immediate vicinity (increasing the probability of genetic damage to those cells actually hit or to bystander cells) and that certain compounds of uranium have an affinity for binding to DNA, the purported harmlessness of DU is unmasked as barefaced treachery.

Recent research confirms the enhanced hazard posed by the alpha emissions of depleted uranium. Scientists at the Radiation and Genome Stability Unit at Harwell in Oxfordshire, UK, working in conjunction with Mount Vernon Hospital in London, produced direct evidence that a single alpha particle emitted from DU can produce unrepaired genetic alterations in cells that are passed on to daughter cells during cell division. Groups of human blood cells were exposed to a single alpha particle and left to divide a dozen times or more. Study of this cell population revealed that 25% of the daughter cells had distinctive patterns of bent and broken chromosomes. Such damage can be a precursor to cancer expression. According to Professor Dudley Goodhead, the Harwell unit’s director: “This work shows for the first time that even a single alpha particle can induce genomic instability in a cell” [2].


[1] European Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR). Recommendations of the European Committee on Radiation Risk: the Health Effects of Ionising Radiation Exposure at Low Doses for Radiation Protection Purposes. Regulators' Edition. Brussels; 2003.

Edwards R. How Just One Single Atom of DU Can Cause Cancer. Sunday Herald (Scotland), Jan 21., 2001.