We all face some amount of exposure to radioactive particles, if only from the so called “background radiation” from above ground nuclear testing years ago. Ionizing radiation is the radioactive isotopes that we inhale or ingest.These particles lodge in different parts of the body where they remain as tiny emitters damaging cells and causing  disruption. 

Bo Jacobs – ionizing radiation – com[lete presentation, 1 hour 30 minutes

Bo Jacobs – ionizing radiation, highlights, 22 minutes

This is undoubtedly the clearest and best illustrated explanation of ionizing radiation and how it affects the human body that I have ever seen. 

It is not a subject that is talked about a lot in nuclear circles.  There are reasons for this and Jacobs lays out why this is.  The silence on this topic is astonishing when you consider that millions have been contaminated with radioactive fallout.  

The graphics in the video are excellent because they are easy to follow and irrefutable. This program takes its place with others in the highly recommended Night with the Experts series produced by Nuclear Energy and Information Service the last Thursday of the month.  Previous talks are available on the NIRS YouTube channel.  
If you would like to read more about the contents of this video see the notes posted below.  Reading about it is no substitute for watching the complete presentation.  This is something well worth making time for.

Robert “Bo” Jacobs is an American historian of nuclear technologies and radiation technopolitics. He moved to Japan in 2006 to work at the  Hiroshima Peace Institute.

Jacobs is currently a professor at the Hiroshima Peace Institute and the Graduate School of Peace Studies of Hiroshima City University. His work is devoted to preserving memories of people affected by radiation and studying the colonialism of Cold War nuclear testing.  

Cognizant of perpetuating cycles of colonialist exploitation, Jacobs has sought to find ways to build networks within indigenous communities affected by radiation. Jacobs has organized training sessions to teach young adults from Japan, the Marshall Islands, and other radiation-affected places how to collect oral histories and preserve community memories.

You can listen to an interview with Jacobs here

A Night with the Experts , February 25, 2021, NEIS Series

Bo Jacobs on Ionizing Radiation, Fukushima and more

Bo Jacobs – ionizing radiation – com[lete presentation, 1 hour 30 minutes


Bo Jacobs – ionizing radiation, highlights, 22 minutes


Some Brief Notes

After World War 11 the United States established what came to be known as the ABCC study.  It was a life span study designed to document the effects of radiation on the human body. Many of today’s standards of what constitutes safe doses of radiation come from this study.

The graphics in this video do an excellent job of illustrating the different types of radiation and clarifying the differences between alpha, beta particles and gamma rays. Jacobs lays the foundation for the  implications for human health. The questions he raises for those living in contaminated areas like Fukushima belie the official version of what constitutes “safe” radiological exposure.

Of the three, gamma rays are the most powerful and can penetrate almost  anything.  They are released in a perimeter around the mushroom cloud of an atom bomb and are deadly.  Exposure to gamma rays from a radioactive release are easy to measure.

Comparatively few people have been exposed to gamma rays while millions have been exposed to the alpha and beta particles which are part of the fallout of a nuclear explosion as they are disbursed into the atmosphere.  Alpha and beta particles are much harder to measure in their effects on the human body. Damage from these particles stems from ingestion by air, water or food or a cut in the skin. Since it is so hard to measure the effect of these internalized emitters it is easy to dismiss the very real health concerns of those who live with fallout.

The United States military has been aware of this since the 1940’s when fallout from nuclear explosions was considered an important military weapon.  Radiation was invisible but deadly which made the “taxological considerations most attractive.”  The military became aware of the dangers of exposure to fallout and evacuated thousands of troops from the Bikini atoll in 1946 after nuclear testing.  Residents of neighboring islands were exposed to the fallout and have lived with the effects ever since. 

From 1962 to 1969 there were thousands of above ground nuclear tests done by the United States, Soviet Union, France, China and Great Britain. Fallout from these tests has become embedded in the ecosystem.  However, since there was no way to measure the amount of exposure, the effects on human health have not been adequately considered.  Instead, acceptable doses of radiation derived from the ABCC study are used to determine what is dangerous.  Thus, damage from internal radioactive particles has been rendered invisible. 

Radioactive isotopes which have become ubiquitous in the environment and distributed globally by weather patterns are now called background radiation. This is one of the identifying markers of our human timeline; it can easily be detected as it has settled into soil, sediments, tree rings and ice. It is not necessarily stationary. Melting glaciers are now redistributing radioactive particles from old Soviet atmospheric tests into the Arctic Ocean. 

The collective global history of nuclear testing begs the question of what constitutes local.  Radioactive isotopes cannot be destroyed.  They can only be moved around.  That means “decontamination” actually means redistribution. 

The construction of nuclear power plants followed a familiar paradigm of the 1950’s which called for centralization to achieve “economies of scale.”   The phone system is an example of this way of thinking. Early phone calls had to be routed through an operator and switchboards.  Now with cell phones the system is completely distributed.  It could be said that the power and economy of distributed generation is doing the same to the nuclear industry. 

When it comes to measuring the effects of radiation on living things it is important to look at the small creatures that reproduce rapidly.  That can foretell what may happen with larger mammals which reproduce more slowly and take longer to show the effects of radiation in future generations. 

Marilyn Elie

Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition