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Nuclear Rays: Radioactive beer and killer flies

"Little Boy" and "Fat Man" – that's how the Americans with their inappropriate sarcasm called the two atomic bombs that hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. 200.000 people were killed. "Three Mile Island 1979", "Sellafield 1983", "Chernobyl 1986": even the utilization of nuclear fission to win energy didn't work without costing thousands of lives. However, sometimes nuclear radiation can be a blessing.



Medical charges in a laboratory
T. Micke

Dr. Horst-Friedrich Meyer of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA): "Radioactivity is an important part of modern medicine. Every fourth patient in the US is exposed to nuclear radiation at some point during his hospital treatment."

On top of the well tried X-Ray examination it is possible to make organs like the heart, lungs, kidneys and the thyroid gland visible for an examination with a special camera if the patient swallows mildly radioactive substances first.

Radioactivity is a very effective remedy against cancer. By aimed irradiation of certain parts of the tumor cells with unregulated growth can be destroyed.

Another case: radioactivity in agricultural research: nature "programs" the DNA of plants from time to time to make them more resistant to pathogens, drought or hungry animals. They are adapted to the changing environment. Naturally this process takes thousands of years. It is way too slow to keep up with the destructive speed of mankind. That's why modern science copied this method from nature.

Prof. Alexander Micke, former associate of the IAEA: "The Czech scientist Dr. Bouma made an important intervention in an experiment a few years ago. He managed to create a species of barley called "diamond" that yielded 15% better without losing quality in any way by making a small change in the barley's DNA.

So one could say that the beer coming from the area around Budweis and Pilsen consumed in Czechoslovakia is actually the product of nuclear radiation. All kinds of barley used for brewing descend from the one the Czech scientist grew.

Another application area is "radio spectroscopy". No matter which substance like e.g. iodine, led, chlorine – they all have their own spectrum. It is like a special signature that is typical for that element. With this technique it is possible to detect poisonous substances in water, soil or the air. In research laboratories samples can also be analysed with this method.

Dr. Meyer: "Another method is used for quality inspection in the industry. Damages and impurities in pipes and weld seams can be detected with gamma rays" In aircraft construction this technology has been applied to test the safety of jets. Dissembling the machines would be expensive. If a crack is found after stressing of the jet, the technology is applied.


Radiation is also used to combat plagues of insects. In some regions of Africa where hunger rules, the meat production could be tripled if it weren't for the blood-sucking tsetse fly. The tsetse fly transmits the human sleeping sickness. Humans can be vaccinated but pigs and cows die after one or two painful months. Due to this disease big numbers of production animals die in the hot and humid regions south of the Sahara desert every year.

Until now the plagues were battled with insecticides. A high amount of substances that is questionable for man and beast had to be sprayed. The search for a better and cheaper method to fight the insects took a long time. The research laboratory Seibersdorf in Lower Austria came up with a technology to sterilize the male tsetse fly with radiation. Several million treated flies were set free in the contaminated areas.

This method of birth control is also used to reduce other vermin e.g. the "screw-worm fly" that inflicts deadly wounds on cattle which is the reason farmers call it the "killer fly". This insect was introduced to Africa two years ago and has become a threatening plague.

Dr Meyer: "We will probably never be able to wipe vermin out completely. Probably these insects are also an important part the eco system in some regions. But a controlled reduction could be a an important contribution to the reduction of hunger in the Third World."


< Read part 9 of the series: The atomic pressure cookers of Bohunice

© A report by Tobias Micke (28-04-91) – Contact