Understanding radiation effects entails understanding a bit of science. Consequently, many people don’t see the whole picture. The first major point is that there is a big difference between internal and external exposure.
Radiation Effects: External Exposure
External exposure to ionizing radiation in significant quantities is a fairly rare occurrence. It most often occurs when people are working directly with radioactive materials, such as in the case of a nuclear war, at a nuclear power plant or in an experimental setting. Fortunately, few people will ever encounter this situation.
Radiation Effects: Internal Exposure & The Petkau Effect
For the average person, a much less dramatic set of effects comes into play. Radionuclides can find their way into air, water and food and be subsequently ingested, leading to internal exposure. Contrary to nuclear industry assertions about “effective dose,” even extraordinarily low levels of internal exposure can result in adverse effects. This is because of the fact that the atomic decay of ingested radionuclides creates destructive molecules known as “free radicals.” Even if the radionuclides pass out of the body, the free radicals are left behind and can do continuing damage. In addition, Abraham Petkau discovered that contrary to common sense, minuscule levels of internal radionuclides can be more harmful than moderate levels since free radicals can recombine at higher levels but not lower ones. Thus there is no “safe dosage” when it comes to internal exposure.
Radiation Effects: Seeing The Big Picture
Contrary to the impressions held by the general public, radiation effects are not limited to cancer. According to groundbreaking Chernobyl follow-up study: Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, a host of health consequences ensues from exposure and is not limited to cancer.
Using the Chernobyl follow-up study as a guide, we can begin to understand broader radiation effects. The study begins by assessing the quantities of radionuclides released, noting that contaminants spread worldwide far in excess of initial estimates. Sound familiar?
They point out that “hot spots” can occur within 10 miles of relatively radiation free zones and that “hot particles” lodging in people’s upper respiratory tracts resulted in continuous internal exposure even in areas where general readings seemed to indicate negligible levels of contamination.
The study also revealed that initially Iodine-131 and Caesium-137 had an impact in the months immediately following the accident and that Strontium-90 levels found in tooth enamel multiplied by a factor of 10 compared to beforehand. “During the first days after the explosion the share of total external radiation due to Cs-137 did not exceed 4%, but the level of radiation from 1-131, 1-133, Te-129, Te-132, and several other radionuclides was hundreds of times higher.”
The study points out many reasons for discrepancies in official estimates ranging from “a need for secrecy” to flawed assessment methodologies, to focusing on specific contaminants (such as Caesium-137) measured at moderate levels and ignoring other contaminant levels hundreds or even thousands of times greater.
After indicating quantity and distribution, the study examines health impacts, pointing out that official estimates of negative health impacts are kept artificially low by categorically excluding data on the basis of the notion that health impacts must be tied to specific doses to be valid.
“It is methodologically incorrect to combine imprecisely defined ionizing radiation exposure levels for individuals or groups with the much more accurately determined impacts on health (increases in morbidity and mortality) and to demand a “statistically significant correlation” as conclusive evidence of the deleterious effects from Chernobyl. More and more cases are coming to light in which the calculated radiation dose does not correlate with observable impacts on health that are obviously due to radiation (IFECA, 1995; Vorob’iev and Shklovsky-Kodry, 1996; Adamovich et al., 1998; Drozd, 2002; Lyubchenko, 2001; Kornev etal., 2004; Igumnov et al., 2004; and others). All of these factors do not prove the absence of radiation effects but do demonstrate the inaccurate methodology of the official IAEA, WHO, and UNSCEAR approach.”
In Chapter 3, the study shows a steady increase in general morbidity, impairment, and disability after the Chernobyl Catastrophe over time among the exposed populations from radiation effects.
In Chapter 4, radiation effects of accelerated aging are shown.
In Chapter 5, radiation effects in terms of nonmalignant diseases are examined. “Premature cataracts; tooth and mouth abnormalities; and blood, lymphatic, heart, lung, gastrointestinal, urologic, bone, and skin diseases afflict and impair people, young and old alike. Endocrine dysfunction, particularly thyroid disease, is far more common than might be expected, with some 1,000 cases of thyroid dysfunction for every case of thyroid cancer, a marked increase after the catastrophe.” Most people have no idea that these consequences even exist.
Chapter 6 examines radiation effects in terms of oncological diseases (cancers). “The most recent forecast by international agencies predicted there would be between 9,000 and 281,000 fatal cancers between 1986 and 2056, obviously underestimating the risk factors and the collective doses. On the basis of I-131 and Cs-137 radioisotope doses to which populations were exposed and a comparison of cancer mortality in the heavily and the less contaminated territories and pre- and post-Chernobyl cancer levels, a more realistic figure is 212,000 to 245,000 deaths in Europe and 191,000 in the rest of the world. High levels of Te-132, Ru-103, Ru-106, and Cs-134 persisted months after the Chernobyl catastrophe and the continuing radiation from Cs-137, Sr-90, Pu and Am will generate new neoplasms for hundreds of years.”
In Chapter 7 the study examines radiation effects of mortality resulting from a variety of causes. Of particular interest are the statistical increases in miscarriages, stillbirths, infant mortality and child mortality (which peak approximately 7 months after Caesium-137 exposure) and total mortality worldwide. Original estimates of worldwide mortality amounted to 4,000 deaths overall, yet more recent figures suggest ranges of 899,310-1,786,657 eventual deaths; multiples of two hundred to four hundred times original estimates.
Hopefully the results of this study will demonstrate to people that they need to take precautions against radiation effects: to minimize internal exposure, to remove ingested radionuclides, to eliminate free radicals and to repair any damage done by them.