reprinted with permission from
No Immediate Danger, Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth, by Dr Rosalie Bertell
The Book Publishing Company -- Summertown, Tennessee 38483
ISBN 0-913990-25-2
pages 15-63.

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P A R T   O N E

The Problem:
Nuclear Radiation and its Biological Effects

The Seed

The future of humankind is present today within the bodies of living people, animals and plants -- the whole seedbearing biosphere. This living biosystem which we take so much for granted has evolved slowly into a relatively stable dynamic equilibrium, with predictable interactions between plants and animals, between microscopic and macroscopic life, between environmental pollutants and human health. Changes in the environment disturb this balance in two ways: first, by altering the carefully evolved seed by randomly damaging it, and second, by altering the habitat, i.e. food, climate or environment, to which the seed and/or organism has been adapted, making life for future generations more difficult or even impossible.
        Although examples of maladaptation in nature and resulting species extinction abound, our focus here is on human seed, the sperm and ovum, and the effect on it and on the human habitat resulting from increasing ionising radiation in the environment.
        The increased use of radioactive materials, which is a direct outgrowth of the current military and energy policies of the developed world, provides an opportunity for gauging what priority these countries give to the health and well-being of individual citizens, and for gauging governments' understanding of the tension between individual and national survival. The first indicator of underlying national priorities is the precision or lack of precision with which health effects are predicted, and the thoroughness with which an audit is taken and the predictions checked against reality. The audit findings should be reported to the person or people affected, and their participation sought in formulating changes in policy to remedy any unanticipated problems. The individual's sense of self-preservation and personal benefit, in such an ideal system, would give realistic feedback to governments on the acceptability of national policy. The combined experiences of governing and governed would forge a national consensus on future directions.

  1. ABCC Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission. Now called Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF)

  2. Alpha particle an electrically charged ( + ) particle emitted from the nucleus of some radioactive chemicals, cf. plutonium. It contains 2 protons and 2 neutrons, and is the largest of the atomic particles emitted by radioactive chemicals. It can cause ionisation.

  3. Beta particle an electrically charged ( - ) particle emitted from some radioactive chemicals. It has the mass of an electron. Krypton 85, emitted from nuclear power plants, is a strong beta emitter. Beta particles can cause ionisation.

  4. Curie a measure of radioactivity. One curie equals 3.7 x 10^10 nuclear transformations per second. Ci is the symbol used.
    • Microcurie: one-millionth of a curie.
      (3.7 x 10^4 disintegrations per second) mCi is the symbol used.
    • Picocurie: one-millionth of a microcurie.
      (3.7 x 10^-2 disintegrations per second) pCi is the symbol used.

  5. Dose energy imparted to matter by nuclear transformations (radioactivity).
    • Rad = 100 ergs per gram.
      1 GRAY = 100 rad = 10,000 ergs per gram.
    • Rem = rads x Q
      where Q is a quality factor which attempts to convert rads from different types of radioactivity into a common scale of biological damage.
      1 SIEVERT = 100 rad.

  6. Gamma ray short wave-length electromagnetic radiation released by some nuclear transformations. It is similar to X-ray and will penetrate through the human body. Iodine 131 emits gamma rays. Both gamma and X-rays cause ionisation.

  7. Half-life, biological time required for the body to eliminate one-half of an administered quantity of a radioactive chemical.

  8. Half-life, physical time required for half of a quantity of radioactive material to undergo a nuclear transformation. The chemical resulting from the transformation may be either radioactive or non-radioactive.

  9. Ionisation sufficient energy is deposited in a neutral molecule to displace an electron, thus replacing the neutral molecule with positive and negative ions.

  10. Radiation the emission and propagation of energy through space or tissue in the form of waves. It usually refers to electromagnetic radiation, classified by its frequency: radio, infrared, visible, ultraviolet, X-ray, gamma ray and cosmic rays.
    • Natural background radiation --
      emissions from radioactive chemicals which are not man-made. These chemicals include uranium, radon, potassium and other trace elements. They are made more hazardous through human activities such as mining and milling, since this makes them more available for uptake in food, air and water.
    • Background radiation --
      includes emissions from radioactive chemicals which occur naturally and those which result from the nuclear fission process. The meaning of this term is vague. In a licensing process it includes radiation from all sources other than the particular nuclear facility being licensed, even if the source includes a second nuclear facility located on the same site (US regulations). Radioactive chemicals released from a nuclear power plant are called `background' after one year.

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