Ian Fairlie Spouts Tritium FUD

April 23, 2016

Ian Fairlie Spouts Tritium FUD

Dr. Ian Fairlie is long on scientific credentials, but short on unscientific speculation. He is well-known for cherry-picking evidence, completely ignoring any facts that are inconvenient to his personal agenda, and being a vocal proponent of a world-wide scientific/industrial conspiracy to use the human race as guinea pigs for a grand experiment in nuclear energy. He sometimes fabricates to support his biases, such as saying Fukushima is more serious accident than Chernobyl, the spent fuel pools at Fukushima caught fire, and WHO & IAEA practicing denialism because their scientific findings completely contradict Fairlie. He’s infamous for embedding nuggets of truth in a flurry of fabrications. The nuclear-naïve have no idea where fact ends and fiction begins.

Fairlie was recently interviewed on a podcast recorded by the nuclear-bigoted Fairewinds Energy Education group (1), headed by Arnie Gundersen and his wife Maggie. The topic was their collective notions of the biological risks of tritium, spurred by recent Press bombast concerning 800,000 tons of purified waste water at Fukushima Daiichi, and elevated levels of the radioactive hydrogen isotope at Indian Point (N.Y.) and Turkey Point (FL.) nuclear stations. Fairlie is touted as a “renowned British scientist” and expert on radioactivity, but the statements he makes belie these lofty entitlements.

We cannot even get through the first screen of the podcast transcript before finding our first Fairlie nugget. Fairlie describes where tritium is made… “It’s created, for example, during nuclear fusion, during nuclear fission; not only is it an activation product, but it’s a fission product as well.” To put it bluntly… tritium is a very uncommon by-product of fission. He’s referring to the comparatively rare phenomena called “ternary fission”. It occurs with about 0.3% of all fissions. (2) Ternary fission produces two typical fission products encompassing isotopes of some 36 elements on the periodic chart, plus a third isotope. The most common of the ternary fragments is Helium-4, occurring about 90% of the time. The second-most probable is tritium, with about a 7% rate of occurrence. This means that the probability of tritium being a fission by-product is only 0.021%!! This is our first example of Fairlie’s penchant for trying to make the exception be the rule.

I must admit that I was quite unfamiliar of the facts with ternary fission before reading the Fairewinds transcript. I knew about Helium as a rarely-produced third fission fragment, but not tritium. A valued colleague, Dr. Jerry Cuttler of Toronto, mentioned it to me, stating that Fairlie’s use of the rare phenomenon is “very misleading”. Upon researching the unlikely phenomenon, I came to realize that Dr. Cuttler was perhaps being kind. I would dub Fairlie’s use of ternary-fission-based tritium “grossly misleading”.

Next, Fairlie says that 65% of our bodies are water (correct), and then asserts that if we are exposed to tritiated water it is a danger to us (opinion presented as fact). He then asserts, “Health authorities throughout the world should recognize that radioactive water is more hazardous than we think,” which implies that health authorities are not doing their job. Next, it is posed (by Arnie Gundersen) that tritium from nukes is in the air that we breathe, and “This is one of the big cover-ups in the nuclear industry.” Of course, Fairlie totally agrees with this conspiratorial fabrication, and adds that none of the health–monitoring groups in the USA or Europe have a scintillation detector to monitor airborne tritium, so they don’t know the magnitude of the problem. This is a complete fabrication! I don’t know of any health-monitoring group that doesn’t either own one or have access to a unit.

At this point, Fairlie waxes completely fear-mongering. He proclaims, “…when tritium is emitted or discharged from the nuclear power, it’s rapidly transported through the environment to us, people. And people can either breathe it in or they can eat food which is contaminated with it, or drink contaminated water. Or if the tritium lands on your skin, it’s absorbed through the skin quite easily. So that means that we as human beings readily are exposed to tritium and we can quickly get large concentrations inside of us.” Needless to say, he makes no attempt to support this wild claim with evidence. And, for good reason; Fairlie is once again trying to make the unlikely and/or improbable appear commonplace! For example, if water hits your skin, very little of it actually gets absorbed or ever makes its way through the several layers of dead skin covering our living tissue. But, Fairlie says “it’s absorbed through the skin quite easily”! This is a monumental exaggeration, and another example of the hidden nugget of truth embedded in a mass of misinformation.

Further, the “high concentrations” of tritium Fairlie alleges are an open appeal to the evidence-devoid Linear/No Threshold assumption concerning the biological impacts of radiation exposure. LNT is used by antinuclear con artists to try and make the world believe that any level of exposure – no matter how trivial – is dangerous…toxic…virtually guaranteeing agonizing death by cancer. In actuality, the only negative impacts of tritium that have ever been actually observed were non-lethal tumors in lab animals that ingested 37 million Becquerels per liter of tritium. Fairlie and Gundersen try to make concentrations many orders of magnitude smaller seem “high”. To add insult to this informational injury, there is no human data - none whatsoever - showing carcinogenic effects due to massive tritium intake…and there have been instances of accidental ingestion of water containing millions of Becquerels per liter. (4) In this case, Fairlie completely ignores conclusive evidence contrary to his agenda.

Fairlie then alleges, “Not many nuclear regulators have actually got the equipment to measure tritium.” Fairlie says this is because the beta radiation emitted by tritium is extremely low; which is true. But, he soon leaves the world of the real, and transforms the fact into a mutation of reality. He first alleges that because tritium is an isotope of hydrogen found in water molecules, it is “organically bound” to the cells in our bodies and stays with us a long, long time. Actually, organically bound tritium (OBT) available for ingestion is not common. It can be consumed by eating animal flesh that has fed on tritiated plants, because the process of photosynthesis can create OBT. We might also consume OBT by eating photosynthetic plants, but most people don’t eat that sort of thing. In either case, the probability of consuming OBT is unlikely. But, Fairlie makes it sound commonplace and significant. Fairlie further stretches the truth when he says, “…the dose that you get from organically bound tritium is about five times greater than the dose you get from the tritiated water. I’ll repeat that – five times more hazardous.” Actually, ingestion of OBT only doubles what is otherwise a trivial, biologically-innocuous level of exposure. (4) In this case, Fairlie, transmutes a fact into a diatribe of deceit.

Fairlie next constructs a specious scenario to “prove” that once in the body, tritium irradiates and damages our DNA. He correctly admits that tritium is a very low energy Beta emitter at 5.7 KEV. However, he waxes into the realm of science fiction to make it DNA-damaging. He states, “We do have to worry about tritium because although it has low energy, it’s right next to DNA– when it is mixed to DNA, it certainly can irradiate DNA. In other words, it’s spot specific. And if you’ve got high concentrations of tritium near DNA, you’re in trouble…inside the cell, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to travel very far. It’s right there. A good comparison is that the average diameter of a DNA molecule is about half a micron. And that happens to coincide with the range of a beta particle from tritium, which is about 0.6 microns.” In the first place, Fairlie makes an indiscriminant connection. He never explains how this close proximity might happen, which for all intents and purposes would be unlikely.

And, what in the world is “spot specific”?? Headaches are sometimes said to be spot specific, but there is nothing to be found relating to the biological effects of radiation. It should be mentioned that the term is most-often used in sports, and is also the name of a web-based service for creating advanced mobile apps in minutes. What we have here is another Fairlie fabrication. In addition, he fails to mention that the emitted Beta is so weak that even if his “spot specific” speculation were real, it would not do anything more than cause a minor ionization. High LET gamma can cause the kind of DNA damage he is referring to, but not exceedingly-low LET beta particles.

Next, Fairlie fabricates a fictional situation for rhetorical effect. He says, “It’s true that somebody said that the biological half-life of tritium – tritiated water in humans – is about 10 days. But the biological half-life of organically bound tritium, that is when the tritium is bound to carbon – is more like a couple of years. In other words, parts of it are emitted fairly quickly, within say 40, 50, 60 days. But part of it stays around for a long time. For humans, we think it’s about roughly between 2-1/2 to 3 years.” I’ve looked high and low for a reputable reference to support, or perhaps imply support for this statement. I have found nothing. In fact, I found a number of references that entirely contradict Fairlie. For example, Idaho State University’s page on tritium states, “The biological half-life of tritium varies significantly because of variations in bodily excretion rates, temperature dependence and fluid intake. Biological half-life of tritium is about 9.4 days, often rounded to 10 days. This can be shortened to 2-3 days (Fig 1) with ten-fold increase of liquid intake (2 liters to 20 liters), or in severe cases to 4-8 hours by using dialysis machines.” (6) Here, we have another Fairlie fabrication!  

At this point, Arnie Gundersen adds a hyperbolic allusion designed to engender fear in his followers, “The fact that it hangs around is like having a landmine in your cells.” To which, Fairlie responds, “Yeah. You got it,” and follows with one of his all-too-typical verbal broadsides at UNSCEAR, ICRP, IAEA, and WHO, which he claims downplay the dangers of tritium. He tries to support this unabashed claim by saying there are a number of reports which state that the hazards of tritium are greater than currently acknowledged. But, he only actually refers to one… sort of… “…there’s a very famous one in 2006, maybe 2007, by the British government. They published a report called The Hazards of Tritium, and it was the report of a group called the Advisory Group on Ionizing Radiation.” To the contrary, the executive summary of the AGIR report says, “Workers at nuclear sites and at facilities that manufacture tritium-labelled compounds for use in medicine can be exposed to tritium. Members of the public can be exposed following ingestion of contaminated foodstuffs. However, radiation doses to both groups are relatively low.” (5) (Emphasis added) In addition, the report shows the Fairlie’s earlier scare-mongering allegation about OBT and spot-specific proximity to DNA (above) is essentially groundless, “A probability of one in a million is indicated for severe hereditary effects. Tritium doses to oocytes from current exposures, and from reasonably foreseeable exposure, pose a very small risk of severe hereditary effects when compared to natural rates.” In conclusion, the report recommends, “…that default ICRP models continue to be used in general radiation protection applications.” Thus, the report Fairlie alludes to exists, but in no way supports Fairlie’s allegations of impropriety with respect to the august bodies that he cavalierly contradicts. Yet another of Fairlie’s transmuted “nuggets”.

The rest of the podcast concerns discussion of an international cover-up of tritium dangers, with Arnie Gundersen and Fairlie taking turns at the mic spouting vacuous conspiracy theory. Regardless, it is clear that Ian Fairlie is a habitual exaggerator and fabricator. Plus, he can’t even bring himself to make correct use of the references he purports as supporting his welter of fictions. He makes a mockery of his scientific credentials. Scientist? Hardly! He has turned himself into a common snake-oil salesman; proffering propaganda instead of snake oil. 



1. http://www.fairewinds.org/podcast//tritium-expos

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ternary_fission

3. http://oehha.ca.gov/water/phg/pdf/phgtritium030306.pdf

4. http://www.osti.gov/scitech/biblio/5545686  

5. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/335151/RCE-4_Advice_on_tritium.pdf

6. http://www.physics.isu.edu/radinf/tritium.htm