Biological effects of uranium in our bodies

Uranium – the ‘demon metal’ that threatens us all, Ecologist,  Chris Busby, 1st January 2014  Fatally flawed – the concept of ‘dose’ “………..We can go back now and ask about the health effects following the Hiroshima bombs. The increase in cancer in the group of Japanese survivors has been and still is the foundation of the current radiation risk model. Of course, the cancers have been correlated with the radiation dose, a huge acute sudden gamma ray dose from the A-bomb.

But what if ‘dose’ is not the correct quantity to predict or explain the cancers? What if the internal exposures to the fallout caused much bigger effects?

Then the ‘control group’, those who were not there at the time of the detonation would also be affected, and the differential cancer yield based on ‘dose’ would be meaningless. There is recent interest in this and in the link between the ‘black rain’ and the cancers.

I jump now to France in 2010 where I am at a big meeting on radiation and health at the University of Paris Sud. I talk with Dr Irina Guseva Canu who has spent several years studying the French Uranium workers. She can’t get her results published, could she cite me as a referee to the journals?

When her findings finally appear in the literature in a rather diluted form they show that the Uranium workers suffer excess risk of leukemia and lymphomas, and also heart disease.

The ‘doses’ are very low, but are not given, though by a forensic analysis of her three papers, they can be deduced. On the basis of the current risk model they are 2,500 times too small to account for the cancers.

There is plenty of other published work that points to the dangers of Uranium exposures, mainly from inhalation of dust particles. There is chromosome analysis of Gulf War Veterans, of New Zealand Test veterans, and of Uranium workers in Namibia. There are laboratory studies of genetic and genomic effects in cell cultures, and there are the cancer rates in North Carolina by Uranium content in soils.

How did the experts get it so wrong?

Apart from the ‘skullduggery argument’, here is a possible answer. There are two things about Uranium which were known since the 1960s but not assembled into a health hazard argument.

Perhaps because of the agreement signed between the WHO and the IAEA in 1959. Perhaps because the scientists in the area were mainly physicists and not interested in the biology of internal exposures. Who knows? Maybe no-one thought of it.

First, Uranium has enormous chemical affinity for DNA and binds to chromosomes. This was discovered in 1961 and ever since then Uranyl salts have been the electron-microscope stain of choice for imaging.

The reason they create such clear, sharp images is that Uranium has the highest atomic number (92) of any natural element. Its 92 electrons block the passage of the electron microscope beam.

But that’s not all they do. They also block gamma rays. The absorption of gamma radiation (natural background radiation) by any element is proportional to roughly the fifth power of the atomic number Z .

So clearly Uranium (like lead (Z = 82), but considerably more so) blocks the passage through the body (the oxygen in water has Z=8) of background gamma radiation.

Uranium in tissues acts as a gamma ray damage multiplier

The energy from the gamma rays, absorbed by the Uranium, is therefore converted into fast photoelectrons – and these smash through the nearest tissue. And of course, the nearest tissue is the DNA in the chromosomes and in mitochondria or any other tissue that the Uranium is bound to.

This idea, as an explanation for all the anomalous biological effects of Uranium was advanced by me first in the CERRIE conference in 2004 and next in a series of papers and reports from various conferences, and an outline can be found on the web. The theory was also reported in New Scientist in 2008 in How war debris could cause cancer.

So if you have Uranium inside you, a lot of it is on the DNA (nuclear scientists say its on the phosphate in the bones, but DNA is phosphate also). And it then acts as an antenna sitting on the DNA – converting background radiation into photoelectrons which smash up the chromosomes like an egg whisk.

Note that to do this the Uranium does not need to be radioactive – just to have a very heavy nucleus with a high atomic number. Of course all isotopes of Uranium are radioactive as well, but the main natural isotopes, U-238 and U-235, are only mildly so. Their health impacts are far, far greater than can be accounted for by its own emissions of radiation.

Hence the chromosome damage found in the miners, the test veterans and the Gulf veterans and the Chernobyl liquidators, all disproportionate by large multiples to their radiation doses…….


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