Radiation is only the half of it

On the seldom discussed serious chemical effects (non-radiological effects) of radionuclides

(whole body counter available in Fukushima 
to measure internal radiation - address below)
   In a better world a scientist like Yuri Bandazhevsky would be nominated for a Nobel prize, but instead he was thrown in prison in 2001 by the Belarussian government (for dubious charges of corruption) when his research on the effects of radioactive cesium suggested that the impacts of the Chernobyl accident were much more severe than officials wanted to admit. He was released in 2005 and eventually took a teaching post in France to be free of the continuing government restrictions on his scientific work. A lengthy report about his persecution is documented by the American National Academy of Sciences report on his case.   A revised English translation of Bandazhevsky’s Radioactive Cesium and the Heart appeared recently on Fukushima Voice. It seems to be a great improvement over the previous translation published by Belrad in 2001 (Yu. I. Bandazhevsky. “Radioactive cesium and heart.” Minsk: Belrad. 2001. 59 pp. ISBN 985-434-080-5.)
   Having read the chapter, I think that many readers would not get past the long descriptions of biochemical processes and they would miss the important conclusions. I’ve written a summary of the chapter with excerpts of and comments on the most important passages.
Bandazhevsky begins by explaining three known ways by which the harmful effects of cesium have been discovered:

1. ECG examination of children of various ages

2. Studies of the organs of individuals in the areas affected by the Chernobyl accident

3. Laboratory experiments on animals
   He states that cesium has a direct impact on cell structures and indirect impacts on health through the effects of cesium on the endocrine and nervous system. Cesium behaves chemically like potassium, thus it can be absorbed and utilized by organisms for any function in which potassium normally plays a role.
   The chapter discusses primarily the effects of cesium on the heart, but the effects on the kidneys and liver are also significant. The damage to chemical processes in these three organs has an interactive and compounding effect.
Bandazhevsky covers the effects on the heart, kidneys and liver:


   “A direct effect of radioactive cesium on the heart is due to its selective accumulation in the myocardial cells compared to other organs and tissues… Perhaps it is due to the intensive functioning of the Na+/K+ pump: since Cs-137 is similar to potassium, it is absorbed by cardiomyocytes fairly easily… This is accompanied by suppression of a very essential enzyme such as creatine phosphokinase, which is involved in the cellular energetic metabolism.”

   “In reality, accumulation of Ca2+ in the cells under the influence of radioactive cesium can occur due to the energy deficit caused by damage to the energy supply system within the cell membranes, including mitochondria and structures of sarcoplasmic reticulum. That is why the cells cannot release Ca2+ in a timely manner. Calcium ions enter the cells very intensively due to the destruction of membrane phospholipids by free radical hydroxyl groups. In this situation it does not take much effort to cause significant myocardial damage. Death of cardiomyocytes can occur due to prolonged energy deficits, caused by physical exertion, acute infectious processes and alcohol intoxication.”

   This last point is quite significant because it means that cesium can be the ultimate cause of a death whose proximate cause, and only recognized cause, is heart failure. Cesium lowers the threshold for stress that a healthy cardiovascular system can normally tolerate. The effects on a child can be the most devastating. 
   The official studies of the effects of the Chernobyl disaster found that the poor health of people in the affected areas was attributable to deteriorated economic conditions, political instability, poor lifestyle and diet, depression, radiophobia, a mentality of victimization, and welfare dependency. Some of the Japanese specialists now responsible for the health of people in Fukushima visited Chernobyl many times after 1986 and had already accepted this official view of Chernobyl, well before the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns. But according to Bandazhevsky’s findings, cesium should rather be regarded as a stealthy and clever murderer that is capable of making investigators fail to recognize a crime scene. The case is closed as murders are recorded in the files as slow suicides. 


“Injuries to the cardiovascular system could not be examined separately from other organs and systems, particularly the kidneys. As the main organ of excretion of radioactive cesium from the body, kidneys are significantly affected even at a small Cs-137 concentration. Kidneys also undergo similar damaging effects as the cardiovascular system...”

“Development of renal insufficiency is the reason for accumulation of metabolic waste products in the body. They have toxic effects, along with the toxic effects of radioactive cesium itself, on the vital organs and systems.” 

“Injuries to the vascular system of kidneys may be one of the main reasons for the increase in blood pressure, especially diastolic pressure, in children.”


“Impairment to the synthetic function of hepatocytes is manifested as a progressive decrease in the synthesis of L1-globulin and L2-globulin with an increasing concentration of radioactive cesium in the body. This will undoubtedly affect the state of metabolism in other organs, including the heart.”

   Perhaps the most important fact mentioned in the chapter is the remark that it is the chemical properties of cesium that are as damaging or more damaging than its radiological properties:

“It should be noted that the effect of incorporated radioactive cesium on humans and animals suggests its involvement in energetic and metabolic processes, primarily as a chemical element rather than a source of radiation. Nevertheless, the latter involvement, as a source of radiation, cannot be excluded completely. This is especially pronounced with prolonged exposure to small amounts of this radionuclide.”

   The nuclear industry, and related regulatory agencies, are content not to tell the public much about the chemical properties of radionuclides. After the Fukushima accident, the public was eventually given figures estimating the radiological dose to the thyroid or the whole body dose of radiation, and of course they were assured that levels were nothing to worry about. But the chemical effects of iodine, strontium and cesium were never discussed. For the nuclear industry, it is fortunate that most people have no idea what it means to discuss the chemical vs. the radiological properties of radionuclides. The same applies for discussions of uranium, plutonium and other toxins associated with nuclear fuel facilities and defunct weapons factories. If you are a resident of the West End of Toronto and you are concerned about the nuclear fuel factory in your neighborhood, you can’t be satisfied by just being told that radiation levels in the neighborhood are at normal background levels. You have to wonder about the presence of uranium as a heavy metal poison inside and outside the plant, or the chance that there could be dangerous releases in the case of a fire.
   In the conclusion of his chapter, Bandazhevsky comments on the widespread lack of official interest in his field of research: 

“Unfortunately, the attitude of the present society to this issue is, at best, indifference. We pay a very high price for this in the form of human lives. Intelligent ignorance leads to a tragedy. To a great extent the blame rests on medical scientists. Not only did they not try to inform the population using previously obtained data, but they did not study adverse changes in the body due to incorporation of radionuclides.”

   The phrase “intelligent ignorance” might strike English speaking readers as odd, perhaps a translation of an unfamiliar concept. What he means here is deliberate neglect by experts and leaders who know that these dangers are real but also that they have embarrassing and costly implications for governments that are responsible for the health of their citizens.
   Finally, Bandazhevsky makes some statements about the precise amounts of contamination that should be of concern. Long-term incorporation of levels higher than 30 Bq/kg should not be tolerated, while he stresses once again that lower levels are also dangerous, but the harm they cause can remain invisible. Levels of 10~20 Bq/kg lower the threshold for stress that the cardiovascular system can normally withstand: “It might become impossible to function in a variety of stressful and ordinary situations, such as physical and mental stress, hypoxia, extreme temperature fluctuations, drinking alcohol, infections, and allergic diseases.”
   The majority of the Japanese population now appears to have a safe food supply, in terms of radionuclide contamination from the 2011 nuclear accident. This is not because the authorities stepped in immediately to do the right thing. They were slow, complacent and reactive every step of the way. To the extent that we have a safe food supply now, it is thanks to citizens who did their own monitoring and forced private companies to realize that they would be badly penalized by consumers if they were found to be selling contaminated food. Government just followed their lead. But this is not to say that contaminated food is not being sold off to companies willing dilute it into processed foods. The one saving grace of the situation is that Japan imports much of its food and, unlike the people in the Chernobyl area, the people of Fukushima are not poor peasants who will have to spend years eating contaminated food grown on their own farms and gardens. All in all, however, Bandazhevsky’s research shows there is no reason for Japanese people to become complacent about the health effects of the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe.


Yury Bandazhevsky. Radioactive Cesium and Heart Chapter 4: Pathophysiological Characteristics of Effects of Radioactive Cesium on HeartRevised English translation by Yuri Hiranuma

Earlier translation:

Yu. I. Bandazhevsky. Radioactive cesium and heart (pathophysiologic aspects). Minsk: Belrad. 2001. 59 pp. ISBN 985-434-080-5

Little, Mark P., Anna Gola, and Ioanna Tzoulaki. “A Model of Cardiovascular Disease Giving a Plausible Mechanism for the Effect of Fractionated Low-Dose Ionizing Radiation Exposure.” PLoS Computational Biology 5, no. 10 (October 23, 2009): e1000539.

Saul Chernos. “GE’s West End Secret: 50 Years Later, Uranium Pellet Factory Still a Mystery to Locals.” Now Toronto. October 18-25, 2012 Vol. 32 No. 7.

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(whole body counter available to measure internal radiation)

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