Top Expert Debunks Radiation Myths

George Washington's picture

Many have claimed that wildlife is thriving in the highly-radioactive Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Some claim that a little radiation is harmless … or even good for you.

One of the main advisors to the Japanese government on Fukushima announced:

If you smile, the radiation will not affect you.   If you do not smile, the radiation will affect you.


This theory has been proven by  experiments on animals.

Are these claims true?

We Ask an Expert

To find out, Washington's Blog spoke with one of the world’s leading experts on the effects of radiation on living organisms: Dr. Timothy Mousseau.

Dr. Mousseau is former Program Director at the National Science Foundation (in Population Biology), Panelist for the National Academy of Sciences’ panels on Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations Near Nuclear Facilities and GAO Panel on Health and Environmental Effects from Tritium Leaks at Nuclear Power Plants, and a biology professor – and former Dean of the Graduate School, and Chair of the Graduate Program in Ecology – at the University of South Carolina.

For the past 15 years, Mousseau and  another leading biologist – Anders Pape Møller – have studied the effects of radiation on birds and other organisms.

Mousseau has made numerous trips to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and Fukushima – making 896 inventories at Chernobyl and 1,100 biotic inventories in Fukushima as of July 2013 – to test the effect of radiation on plants and animals.

On the third anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, we spoke with Dr. Mousseau about what he discovered regarding the effects of radiation on plants, animals … and people.

[Question] How did you get into this field? Is it because you are an anti-nuclear activist?

[Mousseau]  No.

I’m an activist, but not an anti-nuclear scientist. I’m an activist for evidence-based science policy.

I got into this out of an interest in discovery of new forms of adaption to changing environments. I’m an evolutionary biologist by training. And – about a decade and a half ago – I met up with Anders Pape Møller, one of the world’s leading ornithologists.

We decided to go to Chernobyl and see if the females, the mothers, are doing anything to enhance their offspring’s fitness in response to this novel stressor of radioactive contaminants.

And then in 2005, when the international Atomic Energy Agency commissioned this report by a panel – the Chernobyl Forum – and the Chernobyl Forum put out their first release in 2005, followed by their main publication in 2006, we realized they didn’t cite anybody’s work that went against their dogma that contamination levels at Chernobyl were just too low to be of any profound significance for biological communities.

In fact, they have a statement in the Chernobyl Forum report where they suggest that the plants and animals are thriving because there are no people there.  And – by implication – the suggestion is that the radiation isn’t a problem.

[Q] What did you actually find in the field?

[Mousseau] What we observed was that in the more contaminated parts of the Chernobyl zone, there were many fewer critters, fewer birds singing, and we noticed there were no spider webs getting in our face.

We set up a quantitative design to measure the critters not only in the most contaminated areas, but also in the clean areas.  In the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone,  you have everything from pristine, completely uncontaminated areas to really highly-contaminated areas.  It’s kind of a quiltwork … a mosaic.

So this provides the ability to do rigorous comparative analyses of critters that are in the same environment, except for the radiation.

[Q] So you utilized good controls in terms of ruling out other health-damaging and mortality factors, because in this “quiltwork” ecology you had higher or lower levels of radiation … but otherwise the conditions were similar?

[Mousseau] Exactly, combined with the fact that – everywhere we went – we also measured all of the other environmental factors that would likely play some role in the abundance and distribution of organisms … such as the type of soil, whether it was forest or grass, the water, as well as the ambient conditions at the time we collected the data.

And we did a control for human habitation sites as well, in Belarus.

[Q] What kinds of effects did you test for?

[Mousseau] We’ve tested for mutation rates, estimates of genetic damage, estimates of sperm damage, sperm swimming [i.e. how mobile the sperm are], fertility rates in both females and males, longevity, age distribution of the birds in these different areas, species diversity, etc.

[Q] And what did you find?

[Mousseau] The diversity of birds is about half of what it should be in the most contaminated areas.  The total numbers of birds is only about a third of what it should be in the most contaminated areas.

In 2006, I decided to collect fruit flies across the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, and I couldn’t find very many.

And then I realized, there wasn’t any rotting fruit on the ground.  And considering that every farmer, every landowner would put up fruit trees in that part of the world, you look at the fruit trees and realize there’s hardly any fruit on them.

And of course, that’s why there weren’t many fruit flies.

And then it dawned on us, where are the pollinators? And that point, we realized there aren’t many bees and butterflies.

So we started counting the bees, the butterflies, the dragonflies, the spiders, and the grasshoppers.

And that’s when we realized that all of the groups we looked at showed significantly lower numbers in the most-contaminated areas.

It look us a little longer to figure out a way to study mammals. We decided we can count many of the mammals by looking at footprints in the snow. The ecologists in Canada and Northern Europe have been doing this for centuries. There’s even a book published [a field guide] for identifying animals by their footprints in the snow.

We found – for most of the mammals – significant declines in numbers in the most contaminated areas. The one exception were the wolves, which showed no difference, probably because they have huge ranges which span across the high and low areas of contamination.

[We'll cut away from the interview to explain what Mousseau found, using information and slides from his published studies. The copyright to all images are owned by Dr. Mousseau.]

Indeed, Mousseau found – in studies of plants, insects and mammals – that:

  • Most organisms studied show significantly increased rates of genetic damage in direct proportion to the level of exposure to radioactive contaminants
  • Many organisms show increased rates of deformities and developmental abnormalities in direct proportion to contamination levels
  • Many organisms show reduced fertility rates
  • Many organisms show reduced life spans
  • Many organisms show reduced population sizes
  • Biodiversity is significantly decreased many species locally extinct
  • Mutations are passed from one generation to the next, and show signs of accumulating over time
  • Mutations are migrating out of affected areas into populations that are not exposed (i.e. population bystander effects)

(Click any image for bigger, better version.) He found that the numbers of birds plummeted:

And biodiversity significantly declined:

The same is true for bees:


And mammals:

Examples of abnormalities Mousseau found include cataracts, albinism, and tumors:

And he found that the brains of birds in high-radiation areas are smaller.

[Back to the interview.]

[Q] Aren’t humans totally different from the plants and animals you’ve studied?

[Mousseau] Most medical research is conducted with either animal models or cell lines. What’s the reason? Because we can look at the effects very clearly in these animal populations.

And we’re just animals … so what happens to animals is likely to be of relevance to humans as well.

[However, since humans live longer than most animals - and much longer than birds or bacteria - it can take longer to see genetic mutations due to radiation.]

[Q] What about people who say that low doses of radiation are actually good for you, what’s called “radiation hormesis?”  And I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but some Department of Energy articles have tried to push that theory.

[Mousseau] Most of those reports have been generated as a result of energy-related funding.  And the data which supports the theory is really shaky … and even flaky.

We conducted meta-analysis a couple of years ago published in the Cambridge Biological Review. We analyzed all of the published we could find that was conducted with any kind of scientific rigor for naturally radioactive areas around the world.

And the idea is that there has been plenty of time in these natural hotspots for organisms to adapt and evolve and show adaptive responses and even hormetic responses.

And there was no indication in this meta-analysis that hormesis was playing any role in any of these populations, and certainly not the human populations.

[Q]  Did your meta-review include human studies?

[Mousseau] Yes, it included everything we could find.

[Q]  Did your research back up the linear no threshold model of radiation [the prevailing scientific view of radiation, which is that there is no safe dose]?

[Mousseau]. Damage increases down to very low levels of radiation.  There’s no indication that the effect disappears at low doses.

Science Daily summarized Mousseau’s findings in 2012:

Even the very lowest levels of radiation are harmful to life, scientists have concluded in the Cambridge Philosophical Society’s journal Biological Reviews. Reporting the results of a wide-ranging analysis of 46 peer-reviewed studies published over the past 40 years, researchers from the University of South Carolina and the University of Paris-Sud found that variation in low-level, natural background radiation was found to have small, but highly statistically significant, negative effects on DNA as well as several measures of health.


The review is a meta-analysis of studies of locations around the globe …. “Pooling across multiple studies, in multiple areas, and in a rigorous statistical manner provides a tool to really get at these questions about low-level radiation.”


Mousseau and co-author Anders Møller of the University of Paris-Sud combed the scientific literature, examining more than 5,000 papers involving natural background radiation that were narrowed to 46 for quantitative comparison. The selected studies all examined both a control group and a more highly irradiated population and quantified the size of the radiation levels for each. Each paper also reported test statistics that allowed direct comparison between the studies.


The organisms studied included plants and animals, but had a large preponderance of human subjects. Each study examined one or more possible effects of radiation, such as DNA damage measured in the lab, prevalence of a disease such as Down’s Syndrome, or the sex ratio produced in offspring. For each effect, a statistical algorithm was used to generate a single value, the effect size, which could be compared across all the studies.


The scientists reported significant negative effects in a range of categories, including immunology, physiology, mutation and disease occurrence. The frequency of negative effects was beyond that of random chance.




“When you do the meta-analysis, you do see significant negative effects.”


“It also provides evidence that there is no threshold below which there are no effects of radiation,” he added. “A theory that has been batted around a lot over the last couple of decades is the idea that is there a threshold of exposure below which there are no negative consequences. These data provide fairly strong evidence that there is no threshold — radiation effects are measurable as far down as you can go, given the statistical power you have at hand.”


Mousseau hopes their results, which are consistent with the “linear-no-threshold” model for radiation effects, will better inform the debate about exposure risks. “With the levels of contamination that we have seen as a result of nuclear power plants, especially in the past, and even as a result of Chernobyl and Fukushima and related accidents, there’s an attempt in the industry to downplay the doses that the populations are getting, because maybe it’s only one or two times beyond what is thought to be the natural background level,” he said. “But they’re assuming the natural background levels are fine.”


“And the truth is, if we see effects at these low levels, then we have to be thinking differently about how we develop regulations for exposures, and especially intentional exposures to populations, like the emissions from nuclear power plants, medical procedures, and even some x-ray machines at airports.”

Postscript: To support Dr. Mousseau’s important research, please consider making a donation to the University of South Carolina’s Chernobyl and Fukushima Research Initiative (specify that the donation is to support Mousseau’s research.)

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dhoe6lo's picture


The real facts on radiation risks and toxicity have been carefully obfuscated for many decades by all nations committed to nuclear energy, medical radiation, and nuclear weaponry, such as the US, France, Russia, India, or Japan.
The conventional medical-dental industries, along with the nuclear-military industry cartels, have been perpetually lying about the true toxicity of ionizing radiation, having caused the needless death of millions of people (discussed in The Mammogram Myth by Rolf Hefti).
The distortions and disinformation about the alleged safety of (low dose) radiation or the purported lack of much harm to people, whether from medical x-rays or fallout from a disaster site such as Fukushima, continues to this day.
Walt D.'s picture


Harlem 3 Fukishima 0

Ar-Pharazôn's picture

so radiation is bad?




is really a study needed?

4 Freedoms's picture

"When you look deeply into the abyss, the abyss looks deeply into you."  Nietzsche

snr-moment's picture

Man those things are popping up everywhere.  Wanna know what the half value layer of water is for nuke fallout?  7 inches.  Something tells me the fish will be fine.  The coral, however, may rise up and pulverize the continents!!!!!!!!!  Run for you lives!!!!!!

Bearwagon's picture

Wanna know how long it takes gravity to pull radioactive fallout through a layer of seven inches of water?! Something tells me it won't take long. Go home, boy! Distribution not only happens at the stock-market ....

snr-moment's picture

In an explosion the fallout will settle to the bottom  because it comes down as an alost graupple like material, not so much a fine dust.  middle of a lake, safest place to be.  go home youself.

Bearwagon's picture

Well, if you are talking about a regular detonation (chemical based), that could be regarded as right. In an environment with a heat source like a molten core - not so much. And definitely not the slightest bit when we talk nuclear "explosions".

Bearwagon's picture

Don't you worry about what I read. You are aware that we are not talking about a statical experiment in controlled lab conditions, are you? There is motion in the water, and there are things living in it. To frame it short: What goes around comes around - even underwater. Now put up some arguments by yourself, and we may get a discussion going. As for the explosions thing - I may got you wrong (not being a native speaker), but if you care you could look it up here:  (See, what I did? I not just propose you read something - I provide a link;-)

snr-moment's picture

sorry. busy at work now.  Learn the 7/10 rule.

Bearwagon's picture

Learn who posted exactly the rule you mention into exactly this forum a while ago.  ;-)
Good luck at work! (And just in case: I didn't mean to offend you.)

Edit: As I just see, the link I posted for you contains exactly the rule, under 5.2.1. (And just got aware that the link broke as soon as it was entered here... (try to enter manually, if it still won't work):

snr-moment's picture

Not offended in the slightest. certainly don't mean to offend you. lull at work for a second.  Are you trying to imply I should worry more about something with a half life of 2000 years as opposed to 2 days?  Given the same initial quantity of isotope? (not initial activity)  I guess I am missing your point.

Bearwagon's picture

I simply try to imply that you should worry about every radioactive substance, regardless of half-life. All of it is harmful. Avoid whatever you can - what remains is more than enough. Of course we all have to accept some radioactivity, if we want to or not. But there also is a part that can be avoided - and should be. That's my whole point.

snr-moment's picture

I agree completely.  But many forms of radiation save lives.  In my experience nuclear power is one of them.  Keep in mind that after three mile island the USA hasn't built a single plant.  Average exposure was less than a single chest xray.  How many canadians cooked from that oil train derailment. everything is a trade off.

general ambivalent's picture

The Simpsons - Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish

"Hello. Many questions have been asked about our friend the three-eyed fish. So to clarify the matter I have asked (an actor playing) Charles Darwin!"

Stuck on Zero's picture

Remember all this when your Doctor says that it's just a harmless routine xray.


Walt D.'s picture

I am old enough to remember that in the US after WWII, the accepted medical treatment for strep-throat was radiation! Needless to say, several friends developed thyroid cancer in later life.

dreadnaught's picture

and Doctors used to recommend cigarettes for  good health and relaxation.....

Canoe Driver's picture

Dentists are even worse. They all point to the fact that their marketing literature, and the manual that came with their X-ray machine, and the ADA, all indicate that X-rays are perfectly safe. Morons almost all.

And GW could have refuted this Japanese idiocy much more simply: animals, of the non-human varieties, cannnot smile.

snr-moment's picture

And don't sue him/her when your cigarette or radon (that basement dwelling alpha emitter) induced nodule spreads either!

BeetleBailey's picture

GW: Have you seen the Netflix documentary "Pandora's Promise"...and if so, your thoughts...

It "seemed" well intentioned....

caustixoid's picture

Here's another myth of the nuke industry:  low-level radiation is harmless, and there is a threshold above which it becomes harmful, which is really high and almost never occurs.

In fact LOW-DOSE RADIATION is quite harmful, and higher doses are worse but incrementally less so.  That is, doubling radiation exposure is less than double the risk.

Longitudinal studies in Belarus suggest that each generation of Chernobyl survivors get sicker -- DNA damage accumulates, is transmitted and increases with time due to ongoing exposure.   Belarus will be screwed long after Lukashenko leaves the scene.  

Apparently some people aren't convinced there's harm from radiation unless there's a lifeless wasteland.   Or thousands of blood and thyroid cancers, 'cause they're the only two organs with DNA apparently.

SameAsItEverWas's picture

"Moller & Mousseau" need be told Sievert is only defined for humans, and certainly not birds or insects. 

Those x-axes should all be labeled Gy, not Sv. 

Judas priest!  Don't those "journals" have editors?  Those charts are fake because the first author's last name is Møller; Mousseau was second fiddle; and neither one is a physician.

OK.  BAS is no journal, but JAE sure is.  I call foul.  No way José!  On all counts.

lasvegaspersona's picture

This is what I was taught in med schools in the 70s. It seemed all of a sudden things had changed but there had been no new theory as to why. Now it seems that it really never changed. Radiation is not only harmful but cummulative. I plan to avoid it. That includes those 'completely safe' scanners in airports too.

kurt's picture

Cease and Desist all nuclear activities immediately. Bury all remaining radioactive materials. Ultimately, we don't have enough petroleum to off-world radioactive material. Therefore we MUST stop producing more.

It is and was a horrible idea. 

When science has discovered a way to neutralize radioactivity and/or a way to off-world the material we should look at it again.

For now we must reject, sequester, bury, capsulize all radioactive material.

Seriously, there is nothing to encourage us to continue playing with such an insane material. No benefit. Stop!

snr-moment's picture

OMG. Never sleep with a beautiful women, too much C14.  Never go skiing. Never fly to ANYWHERE!!!!!!!    We're all doomed.  DOOMED I say!!!!!

kurt's picture

Boy Plutonium! Is that you? I so wanted to catch up with you. Everybody is buzzing with your activity!!!!!

snr-moment's picture

I think you mean, everyone wants to be.

logicalman's picture

You are correct, we are all doomed, but there's no point rushing things.

Rockfish's picture

You won't see the Rothchilds, Koch bros or any other 0.01% crowd going anywhere near these places. Thier food won't be coming from there either.

snr-moment's picture

Right!!! Their Gulfstreams are made of lead!!!!!

Mike in GA's picture

Knukles - is that you?

logicalman's picture

There is NO SAFE DOSE OF RADIATION - period.

4 Freedoms's picture

I wish you had mentioned this before I drank all that bottled Fukushima Spring Water.......

Bearwagon's picture

If that water comes from the uphill side of Fukushima everything should be just fine ....   ;-)

4 Freedoms's picture

The bottle says, "From the deep thermal upwellings that only a melted core can provide.  Enriched with cesium, strontium, and iodine.  Perfect for those who have no use for teeth or hair.  Another quality TEPCO product." 

snr-moment's picture

But what the hell, just another bunch of "experts".  Free CT scans for everyone!!!!!!

SilverSavant's picture

There is a hole that you could drive a truck through in this article.   What kind of radiation are they talking about?   

15horses1donkey's picture

I would give you more up arrows. But I can't. 

15horses1donkey's picture

You should uparrow yourself. A single up might make people consider your comment is enlightened, and result in a change in their behaviour.

snr-moment's picture

The really funny part in all of this is that most of these commenters ore sitting next to a router or other wifi device, which uses almost the exact same frequency as a microwave oven.   Rocky mountain oysters anyone?

Bearwagon's picture

Who cares, as long as it isn't the exact frequency (which would be 2.455 GHz)?! Such routers do not contain a magnetron, and they do not assign enough torque to water molecules to heat them up notably. And as long as your router doesn't take in over 500 Watts, everything should just be fine, anyways.

snr-moment's picture

time, distance, shielding.  Put it on you lap.  the LAPTOP

Bearwagon's picture

I didn't mean to say these things are healthy. In fact, you do got a point - but in face of many other threats it is nearly negligible. (BTW: I do not use anything wireless, and still use desktops.) ;-)

logicalman's picture

Of course your government cares about you......


johnQpublic's picture

there is no safe dose of government...period.