CHRIS BUSBY: low‑level radiation


Notes from a talk to Kingston Peace Council on 21 November 2005

By Noel Hamel, Secretary KPC, and Fred Ashmore


Introducing Chris Busby, Noel Hamel explained that his interest in low‑level radiation poisoning began with the mountain of evidence of illnesses and foetal deformities after the 1991 Gulf War. Official denials of a connection to DU weapons' use was suspect. The MOD advises soldiers that it can damage their health and in 1943 the Manhattan Project had experimented with DU as a "terrain contaminant". Pentagon response to the evidence was the creation of a PR unit headed by a five‑star general to rubbish it.


Chris served on the committee considering the effects of the fall‑out from the Chernobyl accident. Because the official Report disregarded the dissenting views of the 'non­establishment' scientists, Chris and others wrote the CERRIE Minority Report in which they assessed the hazards, of microscopic airborne breathable particles to be many times greater than the 'establishment' norm. 'Establishment Science’, the internationally accepted approach to control of radiation exposure  considers exposure to radiation as though it was radiated heat warming the body from the outside.  This is because the science started in the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, horrific incidents in which the victims received huge single doses from the outside.  They were closely tracked, and the team found that their medical history could be correlated with the dose of external radiation. 


But this is by no means the whole story.  Internal exposure from ingested radioactive particles is very different being a drip feed rather than an abrupt flood of radiation. Chris explained that different types of radiation penetrate different distances through materials and some of these distances are rather short.  Ingesting uranium particles means that the source of radiation is right next to the cells that it can damage.   A dose of radiation that is microscopic according to official norms can inflict severe damage on nearby cells, and in particular it can inflict genetic damage.  Clearly the two are not comparable. A different approach to radiation exposure  measurement is needed.


One of the more worrying aspects to be considered is the steady increase in all types of cancer with low level radiation exposure.  We are all aware of the publicity about increasing frequency of many types of cancer; the hard medical statistics cannot be explained on the basis of conventional radiation damage models.  Cancer used to be a rare condition.  Now ….?  The increases coincide with our ever increasing application of nuclear materials of all types, from the old fashioned Radium watches that give you a nasty skin burn to the bunker busting bombs that distribute one or two tons of uranium into the atmosphere as fine particles.


The types of effect came into focus after the first atmospheric tests on fission bombs and fusion bombs.  A little while afterwards, a (non establishment) scientist observed that foetal deaths had showed a mysterious increase which could be linked directly to levels of Strontium 90 in the atmosphere.  He published his story in a newspaper (the conventional journals wouldn’t touch it) where it caught the eye of politicians – who checked up and found that his assessment was reasonable.  Hence, the treaty banning atmospheric testing – even though the doses of radiation from these tests were miles below anything that the official model would predict to be dangerous.


Experiment has shown that Uranium particles have an affinity with DNA and minute particles can generate damage at the cellular level.  This can cause lethal or non lethal foetal deformities. The non lethal ones are possibly the most worrying. Damage caused by radiation poisoning can be passed down several generations removed from the original contamination.


There is difficulty establishing precise causal relationships between low doses of radiation in the environment and illnesses; yet in areas around nuclear generation plants, where plutonium and other man‑made isotopes are detectable in estuary silts and grassland, there is commonly a marked increased incidence of child leukaemia and other illnesses. Cancers may only appear years after exposure to radiation. Scientific investigation of complaints of illnesses following 1991Uranium weapons' use was so badly delayed and hindered that conclusive evidence of a causal relationship is almost impossible to find; yet the illnesses presented are entirely consistent with Uranium poisoning ‑ and little else. Therefore it was particularly tragic that the US and UK so casually used Uranium weapons in considerably increased quantity in urban areas in 2003, leaving dust and bullets around where children sometimes play and collect souvenirs.  These children will inhale, ingest, absorb uranium particles, and their medical history will show its effects.,


One of the most disturbing pieces of information that Chris put in front of us concerned factual evidence about the presence of fine uranium particles in the atmosphere world wide..  Air monitoring filters within a 20 mile radius of Aldermaston are intended to detect possible Plutonium air contamination from the plant. They sample huge volumes of air and the filter media are removed and analysed regularly.  Thus, they give a long series of measurements of all sorts of atmospheric particles. 

Chris obtained copies of this data using the Freedom of Information Act and analysed it to determine the history of uranium particle filtered from the atmosphere..  He identified very marked peaks of airborne contamination coinciding with the 2003 Iraq war ‑ without other obvious explanation – as well as with other major events such as the attempts to winkle Osama Bin Laden out of the mountains of Afghanistan using “bunker buster” bombs which deploy and disperse huge amounts of uranium   Be clear, the dispersed uranium particles from these bombs are not localised to the point of use; they are showing up half a world away from Iraq or Afghanistan.   Their effects are equivalent to a daily inhalation by an adult of hundred of thousands of uranium particles.


Chris was very careful to back up assertions with science.  There are anomalies in some of the research results. Often governments aren't forthcoming with complete information and detective work is needed to piece the story together from clues. For example, some urine samples from Iraq showed little evidence of DU but some contamination with Natural Uranium (NU), yet there isn't any NU in Iraq! Maybe NU is being used in some weapons instead of DU.   After all, it costs money to take out the U235 from natural uranium and uranium is pretty cheap stuff in its “natural” state before depletion.  But uranium does not occur naturally in the atmosphere nor should NU be appearing in urine samples unless someone has put it into the environment.


At the end of this talk, Chris offered us a first flavour of a possible explanation for some of the anomalies.  Because of their high atomic mass, uranium atoms are remarkably good absorbers of very high energy cosmic rays.  It seems very likely that if such an interaction occurs, there will be a shower of secondary particles (photoelectrons) as the cosmic ray wallops the uranium atom and passes on.   Remember that point earlier about the affinity of uranium atoms for DNA?   Now add the fact that every cell in the human body receives about one high energy cosmic ray per year, and consider what all these submicroscopic uranium particles are doing to our genetic future and our medical present..


Finally Chris focused on the level of use of uranium based weapons in Iraq and elsewhere.  He explained the reasons why these weapons are so liked by the military.   Basically, DU weapons are Best Technology for ripping apart hostile armoured vehicles, even if their use entails a vile death for the occupants in a shower of blazing uranium particles (the stuff burns intensely after it hits the target) and leads to widespread dispersion of DU particles.   


The first Iraq war used about 350 tonnes of depleted uranium weapons.  The second one used about 1700 tonnes by Chris’s estimates. Of course, these weapons are not restricted under international law.  But consider how it would look if one adds up the total radiation dose delivered to Iraq through these /weapons and compared it to alternative materials.  These sums aren’t hard.  The radiation dose on Iraq in 2002 can be equated to spraying about 2 kg of plutonium over the country in sub micron particles.  Now, would we call that a war crime – or not?   


NTH November 22, 2005.