CHAPTER THREE: THE PETKAU EFFECT
THIS CHAPTER DISCUSSES THE FACT THAT
SMALL AMOUNTS OF RADIATION DO HARM.
A number of independent researchers have demonstrated
that long-term, relatively low levels of radiation may wreak up to 1000
times more biological havoc than the currently accepted "risk levels" that
are being used as reference points for decisions about licensing and operating
In 1972, a researcher in Canada, Dr. Abram Petkau, found
that when cells were irradiated slowly, a smaller total dose was needed
to cause damage. Since this critical discovery it has been verified that
a small dose of radiation over a long time is more damaging than one larger
dose. Imagine the ramifications! This means that the small amounts of radiation
that are released from the everyday operation of the world's 400 nuclear
plants are doing much more damage than calculated.
This discovery, known as the "Petkau Effect," showed that
the amounts of radiation that are legally released from nuclear power plants,
combined with the leaks, spills, and accidents, are a cause of extreme
damage to our health because continuous low-level exposures produce hundreds
to thousands of times more free radicals than the same dose delivered at
one time, as in an X ray, for example.
Dr. Ernest Sternglass, retired Emeritus Professor of
Radiological Physics at the University of Pittsburgh and a pioneering researcher
in the field of radiation health, explains in his 1978 book Secret Fallout
the implications of this new understanding: "Doses of radiation delivered
slowly and continuously over extended periods of time are hundreds of times
as damaging biologically as short, high intensity exposures of the same
total dose. This was made clear in 1972 by Dr. Abram Petkau who discovered
that at low doses of radiation absorbed at low rates, the dominant biological
damage is produced by highly toxic molecules called free radicals.”
The everyday releases of radioactivity by nuclear power
plants has been found to cause several kinds of health damage, including
premature births, congenital defects, infant mortality, mental retardation,
heart ailments, arthritis, diabetes, allergies, asthma, cancer, genetic
damage and chronic fatigue syndrome. It has been linked to previously unknown
infectious diseases and generally weakens the immune system. Radiation
shortens the life span of most organisms, according to Denham Harman in
Free Radical Theory of Aging. Even at low levels, radiation may increase
mutations of bacteria and viruses, as Andrei Sakharov described in his
A 1966 report by the Atomic Energy Commission, The Genetic
Effects of Radiation, concluded “there is no threshold on the genetic
effect of radiation. There is no safe level of radiation insofar
as genetic effects are concerned.”
But humans evolved in an environment that contained naturally
occurring radiation. So why is radiation so hazardous to us? The answer
to this has to do with the type of radiation. Radon, which was always around
(see below), is known as alpha radiation. The particles cannot travel very
far. Strontium 90, which is a man-made radiation, is a beta particle. It
can travel far. So how does this affect us? Our bones are hollow inside,
they have a space for the bone marrow. This is the place where the white
blood cells, which are key operatives in the immune system, are made. Nature
did a brilliant design here because the bone protected the delicate bone
marrow from the then-prevalent type of alpha-radiation. Nature did not
foresee that humans would come up with a type of radiation that did not
suit its original design. Because beta particles can travel through bone,
they are able to zap the white blood cells. What happens? We gradually
have a more and more weakened Immune system. What is the answer to this
dilemma? This seems to be the question confronting humanity.
In his ground-breaking book The Petkau Effect (Four Walls
Eight Windows, NYC 1992) Ralph Graeub describes the mechanism whereby small
doses of low level radiation are far more damaging in their cumulative
effect than previously thought. He says in the forward:
"The present book provides additional reasons
why nuclear energy is not 'environmentally benign' so that the public that
continues to be deceived by nuclear propaganda can make a more informed
judgement as to whether it really wants a 'new generation' of nuclear plants
for both bomb-making and civilian power generation. Among the most
important of the recent scientific discoveries that have been successfully
kept from the public is the Petkau Effect, the discovery that showed low-dose
protracted radiation exposures such as those produced by radioactive fission
products to be hundreds to thousands of times as damaging as the same dose
received in a short medical X-ray...The biological damage is not confined
to humans, but applies to other forms of life, from fish to birds and mammals,
and even to our trees. Only an immediate shutdown of all reactors
can end the threat to our health and that of future generations."
As well as health damage, The Petkau Effect presents a direct
link between the death of the trees and plants and the effects of low level
The following excerpt from The Petkau Effect explains
why plants are so much more sensitive to air pollution than animals. Also
look at photos of deformed plants from the Pennsylvania Three Mile Island
nuclear power plant area in chapter 7. The plant deformities were observed
after the nuclear accident there in 1979.
“The decline of the forests has grown from a
disturbing trend to a catastrophe of dramatic proportions. Hardly
has one study on the subject been finished than it is surpassed by another
bearing worse tidings. Not so long ago, the march of death was confined
to certain species in certain locations - today it is a virtually global
epidemic. Fruit trees are showing the same symptoms as those of the
forest. 30 percent of the fruit trees in the Canton of Thurgovi in
Switzerland are destroyed. Now they fear the vineyards will follow.
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* * * * * *
“We now have proof of the risk of interrupting the very
basis of the life cycle of plants, animals and man - in brief, photosynthesis
on Earth is endangered!
“There is a fundamental difference between plants and
animals, and this determines why plants are so much more sensitive to air
pollution. We animals need air for its oxygen, to burn our food so as to
obtain energy. The plant, however, gets almost all of its nutrition in
the form of carbon, which is contained in the air in the form of carbonic
acid (C02) and is made available to the plant through the process of photosynthesis.
The plant must take in MUCH more air than animals to get enough carbon.
“The prodigious aeration of the plants explains their
tremendous sensitivity to air pollution. The toxic effects of airborn pollutants
show up earlier in plants than in the human.
“Carbon 14 is produced by cosmic rays, bomb tests and
nuclear power plants. By 1963, Carbon 14 in the Northern Hemisphere had
increased by 100 percent, and by 1984, about one decade later, it had increased
another 25 percent. An increase in radioactivity of only one percent eventually
translates into a decline in tree growth of about 18 percent. It is interesting
to note that a global increase of Carbon 14 - one such as has never before
been seen - parallels the slowing growth and the endemic death of trees
from Lebanon to the Himalayas.
“This is why we must give immediate priority to clarifying
the influence of radioactivity in our environment.”
Doctor Rosalie Bertell is a world renowned expert in environmental
epidemiology, working in this field since 1969. She is the author
of No Immediate Danger: Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth and Planet
Earth the Latest Weapon of War as well as hundreds of articles.
She received the Right Livelihood Award (an alternative to the Nobel Prize)
in 1986. In the following excerpts Dr. Bertell discusses the health
hazards of low level radiation, confirming the Petkau Effect.
The article is titled Gulf War Syndrome, Depleted Uranium
and the Dangers of Low-Level Radiation. It is available on the
website of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, where you
can find more studies relating to this topic. (www.ccnr.org)
“In the past few years the information available
on the health effects of exposure to low levels of radiation has increased.
We are no longer dependent on the commercial or military nuclear researchers
who since 1950 have claimed that studies of the effects of low-level radiation
are impossible to undertake. The new information is unsettling because
it proves the critics of the industry to have been correct as to its serious
potential to damage living tissue.
Dr. Bertell points us to some supporting data:
“There have also been significant new releases of findings
from the atomic bomb research in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the self-acclaimed
classical research of radiation health effects.
“Because the nuclear industry has always maintained
that the effects of low dose radiation exposure are so small that
it is impossible to study them, they proposed extrapolating the effects
from those observed at high dose, using a straight line to zero (zero
dose, zero effect), together with "correction factors" for low dose/slow-dose
“The effect of this 'correction' is to reduce the fatal
cancer estimates calculated by D.L. Preston, then Director of the Radiation
Effects Research Foundation at Hiroshima, using the new dosimetry, from
seventeen fatalities per million people to five fatalities per million
people per rad exposure. The corresponding estimates based on actually
observed rates for nuclear workers is between ten and thirty fatalities
per million per rad. Obviously, for the adult healthy male, the dose-response
estimate should be about twenty for fatal cancers per million per rad.
“However, although we can make a strong case for increasing
the 'official' estimates of harm by a factor of four, this fails to deal
with non-fatal cancers, depressed immune systems, localized tissue damage
(especially the respiratory, digestive and urinary tracts), damage to skin,
and reproductive problems. Radiation can cause brain lesions, damage to
the stem cells which produce the blood and, when the radioactive material
is carried in a heavy metal (uranium), it can be stored in bone, irradiating
body organs and nerves within its radius.”
“I would like to bring your attention to the
following significant new reports on the effects of low-level radiation:
“Also available now are the long term follow-up of workers
in the nuclear industry. This industry has now been operating for more
than fifty years in the United States and for about fifty years in
the United Kingdom. These include:
• Health Consequences of the Chernobyl Accident, Results
of the IPHECA Pilot Projects and Related National Programs, Scientific
Report, World Health Organization, Geneva 1996.
• Consequences of the Chernobyl Catastrophe: Human Health,
E.B. Burlakova, ed. Co- published by the Center for Russian Environmental
Policy and the Scientific Council on Radiobiology, Russian Academy
of Science, ISBN 5-88587-019-5, Moscow 1996.
• Radiation Research 1994, Volume 137, which published
for the first time the dose- response data on cancer incidence rate observed
in the atomic bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Prior to
this publication, only cancer death data was reported.
• Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR V), U.S.
National Academy of Sciences, Washington 1990. This provides new
radiation risk estimates based on the newly assigned doses of radiation
in this atomic bomb survivor study.
• "Inconsistencies and Open Questions Regarding
Low-Dose Health Effects of Ionizing Radiation", by R. Nussbaum and W. Kohnlein.
Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 102, NO.8, August 1994.
The above is from: Gulf War Syndrome, Depleted Uranium
and the Dangers of Low-Level Radiation, by Dr. Rosalie Bertell.
It is available on the website of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility:
• RERF Technical Report TR9-87, by D.L. Preston and D.A.
Pierce, Hiroshima 1987.
• "The Effects of Changes in Dosimetry on Cancer Mortality
Risk Estimates in Atomic Bomb Survivors" Radiation Research, Vol.
• "Mortality and Occupational Exposure to Irradiation:
First Analysis of the National Registry for Radiation Workers" by
G.M. Kendall. British Medical Journal, Vol. 304, 1992.
• "Mortality Among Workers at Oak Ridge National
Laboratory" by S. Wing. Journal of the American Medical Association,
Vol. 265, 1991.
• "Reanalysis of the Hanford Data, 1944-1986 Deaths"
by G.W. Kneale and A. Stewart. American Journal of Industrial Medicine,
Volume 23, 1993.
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Today, neither Petkau's work or a great body of research
confirming it are widely accepted; we still have 'permissible levels'
and policy is being made with these levels as a reference point.
Paradigm altering information is being ignored.
Scientific research is done and public health policy made
in the service of military and corporate interests while honest scientists
are marginalized by lack of funding and access to the media. So,
today we have regulatory policy which is based on the 'negligible effects'
of small amounts of radiation, when it is exactly these small amounts
which are so damaging!
Bertell R (1985) No Immediate Danger: Prognosis
for a Radioactive Earth Tennessee, Book Publishing Co.
Websites that have information about the health effects
of low level radiation:
Bertell R (1993) “Internal Bone Seeking Radionuclides
and Monocyte Counts”
International Perspectives in Public Health 9: 21-26
Graeub R (1994) The Petkau Effect Trans. from German
by Phil Hill,
New York, Four Walls Eight Windows ISBN:
Sternglass EJ (1974) “Environmental Radiation and Cell
Dept. of Radiology, Univ. of Pittsburgh, PA Feb. 28
Sternglass EJ (1981) Secret Fallout New York, McGraw
This book is available free on www.ratical.com
US National Academy of Sciences
BEIR VII Report 2006
This book, the 7th in a series, addresses the effects
of low dose radiation
and human health. See: www.nap.edu
Book on Radio-protective Foods:
Radiation Shield: Protect Yourself from Low-Level Radiation
by the Foods You Eat
by Sara Shannon, Author House 2011 at: www.amazon.com
“There is no safe amount of radiation. Even small
amounts do harm.”
“The scientific research base shows that there is no threshold
exposure below which radiation can be demonstrated to be harmless.”
Dr. Linus Pauling
Nobel Prize for Chemistry, 1954
Nobel Peace Prize, 1962
“There is no safe level of radiation. Period.”
Health Risks from Exposure to
Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation
BIER VII Phase 2
National Academies Press 2006
“There is no longer a cold war to justify the continued operation
of hundreds of nuclear plants daily releasing highly toxic radioactivity
into our air, our milk and our drinking water, constantly adding to the
nuclear wastes no one knows how to keep out of the environment for thousands
A geoscientist who worked at the
Lawrence Livermore Lab. CA.
The Petkau Effect, 1992