http://www.mindfully.org/Nucs/Fallout-­‐Fish-­‐Sternglass8oct71.

htm  

Fallout and Reproduction of Ocean Fish Populations
E.J. Sternglass,
Department of Radiology, School of Medicine,
University of Pittsburgh,
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213.
8oct71
We examined possible effects on the reproduction of fish populations in the ocean exposed to
nuclear fission products from past atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in connection with the
possible environmental hazard from the escape of large amounts of radioactive debris as a result
of unanticipated releases from underground nuclear detonations such as occurred recently in the
"Baneberry" test (l,2).
The purpose of the study was to determine whether continued atmospheric testing by France and
China or potential releases from underground detonations that might unexpectedly escape into
the nearby fishing grounds could have detectable effects on the reproduction of fish populations
similar to the unanticipatedly severe effects of low level radiation on the human embryo and
fetus (2, 3, 4) recently confirmed by independent studies by other investigators (5, 6).
Nuclear Fallout causes Fish Population Decline
As will be shown below, very large declines of fish-populations after low-altitude nuclear tests
followed by a gradual recovery to pretesting levels have been observed both in the Atlantic and
Pacific, strongly suggesting that the eggs of fish and the developing young are far more sensitive
to internal radiation from low-level fallout than had been anticipated, very much as in the case of
the human-embryo and fetus. The method utilized involves an examination of existing statistical
data on annual fish catches in various geographical areas, and correlating them with the known
quantities of radioactive debris produced by nuclear detonations. This can be measured by the
reported weapon yields, and by the measured concentrations of various fission products in the air
and the ocean waters, as well as in fish, milk and human bone wherever such detailed data were
available.
Since under conditions of constant or slowly changing sizes of fishing fleets and number of
fishermen employed, the annual catches may be assumed to provide a reasonably accurate
statistical sample of the total fish population similar to the reporting of fetal or infant births and
deaths in large human populations, the official fishery statistics (7) may be readily used for such
a study.

For the information on radioactivity released as well as for concentrations in the environment
and diet, official publications of the U.S. Government (8, 9) and of the United Nations (10) are
available.

TABLE I
(a) Norwegian Fishery Industry - 1960-66+
1960
1966
% Change
Fishermen
60,800 52,300 -14%
(b) U.S. Fishery Industry - 1950*
1950
1960
1964
Fishermen
161,463 130,000 127,875
Craft
94,450
77,057
76,412
+ "Norway-Land, People, Industries", M. Helvig and V. Johannsen (Tanum Publ.
Co., Oslo).
* Statistical Abstracts of the U.S., Dept, of Commerce.

As shown in Table I, there have been no sudden and drastic changes either in the total number of
fishing boats or the number of men employed as fishermen in ocean-going vessels since World
War II, either in the U.S. or the Norwegian fishing fleets. Gradual changes of the order of 2-4 %
over a period of 1 to 2 years have, of course, occurred, but these would not influence sharp and
sudden changes within the rather short reproductive cycles of the dominant volume of ocean fish.
The initial investigation involved the catch of fish in the North Atlantic by the Norwegian fishing
fleet, which catches the largest tonnage of herring and other fish in the northern European waters
between Norway, England and Iceland, a region for which accurate measurements of radioactive
fallout have been available since the mid- 1950's.(10) This is also the area for which detailed
studies on infant and fetal mortality in relation to fallout have already been carried out (2), thus
permitting a direct comparison of the effects in man with those in the fish population in the same
area.

TABLE II
Year
137

Total*
Loss of
Peak Sr-90
Norwegian
Norwegian
Surface
in Surface
Catch
Catch
Norway Air
Year
Mill.Ton
D.P.M./100
Mill.Tons
s+

Average, Sr-

Average Sr-

Peak Cs-

90 in

90 in

in

N.Y.C.Milly

Norwegian

Air

(4yr.av)

Milk

pC/1000m3

pCi/1

pCi/gmCa

m3

3
7
1
0.8
7

Nevada Atmos Tests
1955 1.6
1956 2.0
1957 1.6
1958 1.2
1959 1.4
1960 1.4
1961 1.3
1962 1.1

0
0.4
0.9
0.8
0.9
1.0
1.3

4
6
6
7
10
6
6
12

3.8
6.4
11.0
15.0
15.0
12.0
18.5

Partial
1963
1964
1965
1966
1967
1968

1.4
1.3
0.7
0.2
0
0.5

26
28
19
12
9

38.0
50.0
40.0
28.0
16.0
11.0

Test Ban
1.2
1.4
2.1
2.7
3.0
2.6

32
92
58
25
6

* "Norway: Land, People, Industries", M. Helvig and V. Johannessen Tanum
Publ. Co. Oslo, Norway, 1970.
(Fig. 11, p. 71)
+ Using 1956 and 1967 catches as reference pts. connected by straight line,
Milk and air-concentrations from
U.N. Reports.

The total tonnage of fish caught annually by Norwegian fishing vessels from 1955 to 1968 is
tabulated in Table II, together with the measured concentrations of Strontium-90 in milk on both
sides of the Atlantic for this time period. Also listed are the measured amounts of Strontium-90
in the bone of young children 0-4 years old (ll), which reflect the gradual build-up and decline of
Strontium-90 in the food chain due to the relatively rapid turnover of calcium and Strontium in
the bone of growing children.
Since the waters near the continental shelves in which herring and related fish such as the
sardine, the salmon and the trout deposit their eggs reflect closely the radioactivity in the surface
air (l2) , the measured concentrations of Sr-90 and Cs-137 in the northern hemisphere have also
been listed in Table II. These data are more reliable than the relatively difficult measurements of
radioactivity in sea-water, which is much lower than either in the rain, the milk or the bone of
children, where biological concentration processes greatly increase the activity per unit mass.

15
10
4

Figure 1 North Atlantic Fishing Catch

Strontium-90 and Cesium-137 are unfortunately the only isotopes out of many dozens for which
detailed and extensive data are available. Thus, the very important contributions from the more
biologically hazardous short-lived isotopes that dominate the radiation dose to the embryo over a
period of weeks or months after the detonation of low-altitude, low yield weapons can only be
estimated. However, at times of new releases, while activities in general are rising rapidly, the
values of Strontium-90 are closely proportional to the total amount of fresh fission products such
as Strontium-89, barium-140 and cerium-141.
Examination of Table II and the plot of total Norwegian fish catches in Figure 1 shows that a
very large decline and recovery occurred between 1956 and 1966 , the period of heaviest
atmospheric testing in Nevada, when the radioactive debris drifted north-east across the United
States and the North Atlantic, giving the highest concentrations of Strontium-90 in the milk for
Iceland and Norway among a11 European Countries(13).

TABLE III
Results of Statistical Tests
Norwegian Milk Sr-90 Conc. vs.
Loss of Norwegian Catch (1956-62)
U.S.(N.Y.C.) Milk Sr-90 Conc. (4 yr.
av.) vs. Loss of Norwegian Catch
(1956-62)

Corr.
Coef

0.919

t
0.908

n
4.84

p
5

5.24

5

<.005

Figures 2 and 3 Norwegian North Atlantic Catch losses

Figure 2

Figure 3

<.005

The t-test of statistical significance gives the correlation coefficients and t-values shown in Table
III indicating a high probability that the association is not likely to be accidental.
It should be emphasized that although the correlations are carried out for Strontium-90, this
particular isotope only serves as an indicator and is not necessarily the isotope that has the
greatest effect on the reproduction process. Thus, early studies by German investigators (2 ) have
shown that the rare-earth elements, one of which (Yttrium-90) is the daughter product of
Strontium-90, tend to concentrate in the critical, growth controlling glandular organs such as the
pituitary, adrenal and thyroid glands rather than in the bone.
As a result, the many short-lived rare-earth elements dominating tropospheric debris from small
kiloton weapons such as cerium, lanthanum and yttrium are probably far more serious for the
developing embryo of all species than Strontium-90 by itself. In fact, it is only as a result of such
unanticipatedly efficient indirect affects on growth and resistance to disease that the very small
amounts of radio-isotopes from fission releases could conceivably have such severe effects on
infant mortality as have been observed for instance near the Dresden Nuclear Reactor and other
nuclear facilities emitting activities well below those permitted by present AEC regulations. (14)
The nature of this mechanism on the developing young is illustrated by the fact that in the county
containing the Dresden Reactor, the measured rises and declines of gaseous and liquid effluent
were accompanied by matching rises and declines not only in infant mortality from respiratory
and infectious diseases, but also by closely corresponding rises and declines in the number of
babies born immature or underweight (2).
Similar effects on the developing fish-embryo and young fish would thus be expected to lead to a
reduced ability to fight off diseases and natural enemies, leading to a decline in the total fish
population within a year or two of the deposition of intensely active fresh fallout debris,
generally within a few weeks after the detonation of weapons in the so-called "tactical" or
kiloton range similar to the early atomic bombs used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
It is clear that these sudden effects highly associated with the rising and declining concentrations
of radioactivity in the environment could not be explained solely on the basis of other pollutants.
Thus, pesticides such as DDT have been showing a gradual, one way rise in concentration in the
sea during the period in question, not the sudden rise and sharp decline observed in the effect on
fish reproduction, which in the case of the North Atlantic actually permitted a greater embryo of
all species than Strontium-90 by itself. In fact, it is only as a result of such unanticipatedly
efficient indirect affects on growth and resistance to disease that the very small amounts of radioisotopes from fission releases could conceivably have such severe effects on infant mortality as
have been observed for instance near the Dresden Nuclear Reactor and other nuclear facilities
emitting activities well below those permitted by present AEC regulations. (14)
The nature of this mechanism on the developing young is illustrated by the fact that in the county
containing the Dresden Reactor, the measured rises and declines of gaseous and liquid effluent
were accompanied by matching rises and declines not only in infant mortality from respiratory

and infectious diseases, but also by closely corresponding rises and declines in the number of
babies born immature or underweight (2 ).
Similar effects on the developing fish-embryo and young fish would thus be expected to lead to a
reduced ability to fight off diseases and natural enemies, leading to a decline in the total fish
population within a year or two of the deposition of intensely active fresh fallout debris,
generally within a few weeks after the detonation of weapons in the so-called "tactical" or
kiloton range similar to the early atomic bombs used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
It is clear that these sudden effects highly associated with the rising and declining concentrations
of radioactivity in the environment could not be explained solely on the basis of other pollutants.
Thus, pesticides such as DDT have been showing a gradual, one way rise in concentration
in the sea during the period in question, not the sudden rise and sharp decline observed in
the effect on fish reproduction, which in the case of the North Atlantic actually permitted a
greater fish population in 1967 than in 1955, despite the rise in pesticide concentration as
well as ordinary oil and chemical pollutants.
A similar conclusion, namely that ordinary air pollution appears to have a smaller effect on
mortality at all than Strontium-90 and Cesium-137 in the diet for human populations has recently
been reached by large-scale statistical studies involving some 61 standard metropolitan areas of
the United States (15).
This does not mean that there may not exist serious effects of various chemical pollutants on
deep ocean fish the same way that they have been amply demonstrated for the fish in our freshwater lakes and streams. In there may well be serious synergistic effects involving the combined
action of radiation and chemical pollutants far more serious than either acting alone. But the
results of the analysis of the Atlantic fish catch strongly suggest that short-lived radioactive
debris appears at this time to be the single most important contributor failure of fish reproduction
under actual conditions existing in the Atlantic Ocean food chain.
Inasmuch as herring and related fish such as salmon and trout depend heavily for their diet
during part of life-cycle on crustaceans known to concentrate such isotopes as Strontium,
Yttrium and Iodine by factors many thousands (l6), the unexpectedly severe impact on
reproduction, amounting to almost a 50% loss in total fish population of the North Atlantic by
1964 , appears to be connected with extremely effective biological concentration mechanisms
not only in the organs of the fish but also in their food chain.
As a further check on the present hypothesis, the changes in the fishing catches by United States
vessels in various parts of the Pacific Ocean were examined before and after the onset of nuclear
tests in that area.
Figures 4 & 5 give the total catches for the two most important fishing areas, the Central and
South Pacific as reflected in the California fish catch, and the Northern Pacific area at latitudes
greater than 50°N represented by the Alaskan fishing catch.

Figure 4 Alaska North Pacific Catch

Examination of figures 4 and 5 both show the similar sudden drops in the fishing catches for
these areas following known low-altitude nuclear detonations in their respective zones of latitude
to which the fresh bomb debris is largely confined.
For the case of the Northern Pacific catch represented by Alaska, the pattern of decline and
subsequent recovery is strikingly similar to that for the Norwegian catch at similar high latitudes.
However, whereas the Norwegian catch declined most severely only after the onset of heavy
Nevada testing in the early 1950's, the Alaskan catch shows evidence of declines beginning with
the first Russian tests in nearby Siberia in 1949, directly upwind from Alaska.
By contrast, although recovery took place briefly in the California catch following the first series
of small surface and underwater tests in Bikini and Eniwetok in 1946 and 1948, the massive
continued testing of very large fission-fusion-fission weapons which took place in the Marshall
Islands in 1954 followed by long series of massive tests by Russia, England, France and China
appears to have prevented recovery of the Central and South Pacific fish catches which are now
at levels only some 30% of what they were before massive nuclear tests began in the Pacific.

Figure 5 California Catch from the Central & South Pacific

Nuclear Fallout is the dominant Ocean Pollutant
Two other considerations point towards nuclear fallout as the most serious of all present ocean
pollutants as already suggested by Polykarpof (16).
1) Although ordinary industrial and chemical pollutants are far greater in the North Atlantic than
in the South Pacific, the North Atlantic fish catch recovered and exceeded its pre-testing
quantities following the cessation of atmospheric tests in Nevada, while the California catch in
the latitudes receiving the heaviest Bikini and Eniwetok debris failed to recover with the
continued testing by France and China.
2) Measurements of the concentration of radioactivity in surface waters have shown that the
Pacific surface waters in the latitudes of the Bikini tests (0°-25°N) contain much higher
concentrations of radioactivity than either the North Atlantic or the North Pacific, where most of
the Norwegian and Alaskan catches originate. (12) Humans and Fish early show similar
developmental mortality
Finally, it is important to note that the percent changes in fetal and infant mortality in man for the
period of heavy Nevada testing (1951-1962) show closely the same effect per unit Strontium-90
in the milk of the Northern Hemisphere as the percent changes in fish populations as measured
by the Norwegian catch. It appears that a change by 1 picocurie per liter out of typical average

values of 10 pCi/1 during this period, or a mere 10% increase, led to a 4 +l% effect on, both
infant mortality and fish populations within one to two years.
Based on the above data, it is possible to estimate that the deposition of only some 250 curies of
Strontium-90 and its associated fresh fission products from a nuclear test appear to have led to a
l% reduction in the California fish catch.
Using the figure of 1 kiloton of fission energy leading to the production of 0.1 kilo curies of Sr90, this translates into a l% reduction in fish population for every 2.5 kilotons equivalent of fresh
fission products released into the ocean. This amount is 2000 times less than the total yield of the
"Canikin" warhead typical of the type now being tested for future use in anti-ballistic missile
systems, designed to protect the United States from a massive first-strike by an enemy nation.
Thus, although a leak into the fishing grounds of the North Pacific is regarded as unlikely, the
consequences of even a small escape of radioactivity localized as it would necessarily be, unlike
in the case of an upper stratospheric detonation of such a warhead, could be of disastrous
consequences both for the fishing industry and the fish and wildlife of the entire Northern
Pacific.
References
1. An underground test code-named "Baneberry" in the 0-20 kt range was detonated on Dec. 18 1970
and discharged a radioactive cloud 8,000 feet into the air (N.Y. Times, Dec. 19, 1970). An
examination of the resulting radioactive contamination and subsequent rises in infant mortality is
given in Ref. (2), Sect. 15.
2. E.J. Sternglass "Environmental Radiation and Human Health", Proceedings of the 6th Berkeley
Symposium on Mathematical Statistics and Probability, Berkeley, Cal, July 19-22, 1971 (J.
Neyman, Editor) (Univ. of Calif. Press, 1971).
3. Sternglass, E.J., "Infant Mortality and Nuclear Tests", Bull. of the Atomic Scientists, April 1969, Vol.
25, pp. 18-20.
4. Sternglass, E.J., "Evidence for Low-Level Radiation Effects on the Human Embryo and Fetus",
Radiation Biology of the Fetal and Juvenile Mammal, AEC Symposium Series Vol. 17, (Dec.
1969, p 693-717, Proceedings of the 9th Hanford Biology Symposium).
5. DeGroot M.H., Statistical Studies of the Effect of Low-Level Radiation from Nuclear Reactors on
Human Health, Proceedings of the 6th Berkeley Symposium on Mathematical Statistics and
Probability, Berkeley, Calif. July 19-22, 1971, (J. Neyman, editor) (Univ. of Calif. Press), 1971.
6. Lave, Lester B., Leinhardt, Samuel and Kaye, Martin B., "Low-Level Radiation and U.S. Mortality",
working paper number 19-70-1, Grad. School of Industrial Administration, Carnegie-Mellon
University, Pittsburgh, Pa. (July 1971).
7. Statistical Abstracts of the United States, U.S. Dept. of Commerce.

8. "The Effects of Nuclear Weapons", U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Atomic Energy
Commission, April 1962, Samuel Glasstone, Editor.
9. Radiological Health Data and Reports" published monthly by the Environmental Protection Agency.
10. "Reports of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Radiation", United Nations,
N.Y. (1958,1962,1964,1966,1969).
11. Ref. 10, 1969 Volume, p. 34 gives data for Northern Europe, U.S.S.R. and America.
12. Ref. 10, 1966, Volume, Appendix B, Figures 19-23, Maximum concentrations of Sr-90 for 1961 in
the Pacific were 0.59 pC/1, compared with 0.18 pC/1 for the Atlantic.
13. Ref. 10, 1966 Volume, Table VIII, p. 72. 9
14. New regulations have just been proposed by the AEC which will lower most gaseous release
concentrations by 100,000 times.
15. Ref. 6 also examines the milk sampling areas of the Public Health Service.
16. Polykarpof, Reinholt Publishing Company, N.Y., N.Y.