Science in Society Archive

The Pectin Controversy

How the government orchestrated attack on science and scientists to protect the nuclear industry Susie Greaves

Chronic low level internal radiation from contaminated food

The major health impacts in the last 26 years in areas contaminated by Chernobyl are due to chronic internal radiation from eating contaminated food. The rural areas are worst affected because the local population live off the land, eat fish from the rivers, hunt game and gather berries and mushrooms in the forest, all of which are contaminated with radionuclides.

The people in these areas of Europe were abandoned to their fate, first by the Soviet government but soon after, by the West, as the nuclear lobby took over and persuaded governments that chronic low level radiation has no health effects. The nuclear lobby has only recently accepted that a distinction must be made between the effects of acute short lived external exposure to high levels of radiation as currently at Hiroshima and chronic low level internal radiation as in the case of Chernobyl victims [1].

Scientists from the three countries most affected - Belarus, Ukraine and Russia - battled from the start against this disinformation. Spurred on by the desperate plight of their people, they made unique discoveries about the effects of internally incorporated radionuclides, in particular caesium 137. Using this information, they developed a series of radioprotection measures, and one of these was the use of pectin as an adsorbent to aid the clearing of radionuclides from the body. The following account is based on an excellent book, Le crime de Tchernobyl: le goulag nucleaire, by journalist Wladimir Tchertkoff [2].

Vassili Nesterenko

Professor Vassili Nesterenko was the director of the Institute for Atomic Energy at the Academy of Sciences in Belarus from 1977 to 1987. When the accident occurred in 1986, he was called in by the Soviet government to assess the situation. He flew over the stricken reactor in a helicopter, receiving high levels of radiation that affected his health for the rest of his life. Nesterenko was a thorn in the flesh of the Soviet authorities from the start, insisting on iodine distribution, a wider evacuation, (neither of which were done soon enough) and producing his own reports of the contamination that challenged the official data. He received continual harassment and two attempts on his life. In 1989, unable to continue with his radioprotection work at the state institute, he set up the independent Belarussian Institute of Radiation Safety (BELRAD), with the support of Andrei Sakharov, another nuclear physicist, Ales Adamovitch, a writer, and Anatoli Karpov, the chess champion.

BELRAD measured the internal radiation in each individual child with a Human Radiation Spectrometer (HRS), and used this information to advise parents and teachers in the villages on how best to reduce the burden. It was vital to use HRS measurements rather than rely on abstract mathematical calculations, bordering on the absurd, of the total assumed radiation dose in one area. This method ignores the real situation in which there can be widely differing levels of radioactive contamination metres apart, and in any case, each child has a particular diet that is more or less contaminated.

By 1990, BELRAD had set up 370 local radioprotection centres for HRS measurements, and where samples of food can be monitored for radioactivity, and techniques introduced for reducing the level of caesium 137 in food. With help from charities abroad, some children went away on holiday for three weeks to reduce the radioactive burden in their bodies. BELRAD also introduced apple pectin cures.

Correlation between internal radioactivity and pathology established

In 1994, Nesterenko met Dr Yuri Bandajevsky, a pathologist and Rector of the Gomel Institute of Medicine. Yuri and his wife Galina Bandajevskaya, a paediatric cardiologist, had made two important discoveries. First that caesium 137, ingested through food, concentrates unevenly in the organs of the body. Thus, for an average of 50 Bq/kg in a child’s body, there could be 1000 Bq/kg in the kidneys and over 2500 Bq/kg in the heart. Their second discovery was that irreversible lesions would occur in all vital organs of the body at levels above 50 Bq/kg. (This level was subsequently reduced to 20 Bq/kg, see [3] Apple Pectin for Radioprotection, SiS 55).

The importance of the discoveries cannot be overstated. The keystone of the nuclear lobby’s insistence that Chernobyl cannot explain the increase in illness and death in the contaminated territories rests on the inability to correctly assess radiation dose and therefore correlate it with individual pathologies. This is precisely what Bandajevsky had done and it was extremely threatening to the nuclear lobby and to the Ministry of Health in Belarus.

Nesterenko and Bandajevsky, among others, had also severely criticised the 17 billion roubles spent in 1998 by the Belarus government supposedly on mitigating the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. Instead, the money had been wasted on producing a faulty register of radiation doses that was abandoned a year later. The Ministry of Health in Belarus began to put obstacles in BELRAD’s way. Throughout 1999, the Ministry of Health harassed the institute as to whether HRS (Human Radiation Spectrometer) measurements constituted a medical or a scientific procedure, and whether BELRAD needed a licence from the Ministry of Health. When the government lost this battle, they turned to the argument about the efficacy of pectin as an adsorbent.

Swiss Medical Weekly endorses apple pectin as effective adsorbent for caesium 137

It has been known for decades that the use of adsorbents can enhance the elimination of heavy metals and radioactive materials from the body. The US Food and Drug Administration advise industry on the use of these adsorbents. What could possibly explain the controversy surrounding the use of apple pectin, a natural product that has no side effects, is cheap to produce and according to a study published by BELRAD in a reputable scientific journal, the Swiss Medical Weekly, has proven results in reducing levels of radioactive contamination in children’s bodies? (The details are described in [3].)

A war against pectin or repression of science?

It was clear that when the Ministry of Health in Belarus opposed BELRAD in its use of pectin, it was simply the nuclear lobby’s continuing attempt to silence Bandajevsky and stop the work of BELRAD. If Bandajevsky’s findings were to be admitted, the future of nuclear power would be under threat. Health effects from such low levels of radiation, contaminating enormous areas and endangering the health of millions of people, would have such devastating financial consequences, that no government could consider nuclear power viable.

The Ministry of Health in Belarus then enlisted Belarussian scientist Dr Jacob Kenigsberg, who worked (and continues to work!) for the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Professor Lengfelder, president of Deutscher Verbande fur Tschernobyl-Hilfe (German Association for Aid to Chernobyl) to oppose Bandajevsky and the pectin therapy.  Lengfelder and his vice-president Madame Frenzel conducted a smear campaign against Nesterenko and Bandajevsky, both of whom had brilliant careers as younger men before devoting themselves entirely to helping the victims of Chernobyl. The government-sponsored campaign against the two men culminated in Bandajevsky being sacked from his post at Gomel in 1999, arrested on trumped up charges and sentenced to eight years in prison [4]. He was adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International and released in 2005.

Unfounded claims against apple pectin

Lengfelder, Frenzel and Kenigsberg claimed that pectin had no useful properties. According to them, a study had been conducted by Herbstreith and Fox in Germany had proved that pectin was ineffective in decorporation (removing from body) of radionuclides. When a representative from Herbstreith and Fox was later interviewed, he said that only the effect of apple pectin on heavy metals had been studied, not the effect on radionuclide (p.137 of [1]).

But in a letter sent from the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation in 2003 to local health authority directors, the pectin product Zosterine-Ultra was recommended as a “mass prophylactic in the atomic industry [with] the capacity to eliminate from the body the toxic components of lead, mercury, cadmium, zinc, manganese and other heavy metals as well as radionuclides including plutonium.” It was “perfectly tolerated by patients and has no contra indications.”  The letter went on to say how important this product has been in the Chernobyl area in “lowering the levels of accumulation and concentration of toxic substances in the body, and reinforcing the body’s own defence mechanisms.” And the product has been “approved as a therapeutic and prophylactic food additive by various medical research institutes, hospitals and clinics, including the State Scientific Centre, Institute of Biophysics, the Institute of Research of the Academy of Medical Science of Russia, the Kirov Academy of Military Medicine, the Institute of Toxicology at the Ministry for Public Health in Russia, the Academy of Ongoing Medical Training (Saint Petersberg).” In short, it was a ringing endorsement from the Russian Ministry of Health.

BELRAD refused European funding

But Lengfelder, Frenzel and Kenigsberg continued their campaign against the efficacy of pectin, with disastrous consequences. In spring 2005, the European Parliament refused to give financial backing to BELRAD through the programme TACIS (EU programme that aims to help Eastern European countries make the transition to a market economy).

There was disagreement about the efficacy of pectin at the meeting of the TACIS approval board, and it was proposed that a study be commissioned to answer the question once and for all. According to the German Deputy Gila Altman, Lengfelder wielded his influence here too, and prevented the study being undertaken. Since then, BELRAD has survived only on donations from charitable bodies abroad and has great difficulty even paying the meagre wages of its staff. Vassili Nesterenko died in 2008, but his son Alexei continues the work and Belrad is now offering help and advice to Japanese radioprotection organisations.

Solange Fernex (1934-2006) European Deputy, wrote, in 2000, an impassioned plea to the French ambassador in Minsk to ask why Lengfelder “…is spending so much time attacking a fellow professor (Bandajevsky), who is defenceless, imprisoned, removed from his post and relegated to the status of a criminal. What could motivate him to destroy the BELRAD Institute, to condemn the work it undertakes and in particular its pectin cures?” (See page 319 of Le crime de Tchernobyl [1].)

Nesterenko answered this question as follows: “Because if pectin is administered three or four times a year, it really can lower, by a factor of two or three, the annual concentration of radionuclides in the child, in other words they will be less ill. Our food is contaminated. I think, I hope, that if such a terrible event were to happen in France or Germany, contaminated produce would be banned and everyone would eat clean food. But here, the State cannot provide it, and the people cannot afford to buy it. They eat what they grow…I think they didn’t want to recognise that there had been mass contamination.” (my italics)

Nesterenko added. “I don’t think that pectin is a universal panacea. But it’s an effective product that works, given that the population is not being evacuated from the contaminated territories.” What would Nesterenko feel today, seeing not only the continuing plight of people in Belarus but now in Japan, and the arguments about whether or not to evacuate (see [5] Truth about Fukushima, SiS 55)?

Ramifications for the nuclear industry worldwide

Here is the shameful truth. If the government in Belarus agreed that pectin was effective, they would have to agree that there was widespread radioactive contamination. Then they would have to agree that they (and the West) have allowed their people, 2 million, including 500,000 children, to eat contaminated food for 26 years, become ill, live miserable lives and die prematurely (90 % of children in Belarus were healthy in 1985. Now that figure is 20 %).The ramifications for the nuclear industry worldwide need hardly be stated. In 2000, Kofi Annan was asked to write the preface to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report [6] Chernobyl, A continuing catastrophe. These were his final words.

“The most vulnerable victims were, in fact, young children and babies, unborn at the moment when the reactor exploded. Their adulthood- now fast approaching- is likely to be blighted by that moment, as their childhood has been. Many will die prematurely. Are we to let them live and die, believing the world indifferent to their plight?”

Article first published 18/06/12

Notes & References

  1. By 2007, the ICRP was at least mentioning the words internal and external in their recommendations: “An important change is that doses from external and internal sources will be calculated using reference computational phantoms of the human body based on medical tomographic images, replacing the use of various mathematical models.” (
  2. Wladimir Tchertkoff.  “Le crime de Tchernobyl: le goulag nucleaire”, Actes Sud, 2006.
  3. Ho MW. Apple pectin for radioprotection. Science in Society 55 2012.
  4. Bertell R. Avoidable tragedy post-Chernobyl. Journal of Humanitarian Medicine 2002, Vol. II, No. 3, 21 - 28.
  5. Ho MW. Truth about Fukushima. Science in Society 55 2012
  6. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs “Chernobyl: A continuing catastrophe”, OCHA/99/20, 2000.

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There are 7 comments on this article so far. Add your comment above.

Nina Galang Comment left 18th June 2012 22:10:12
Why don't governments side with the people instead of big business? By now, it is universally agreed that nuclear power should be phased out. There is a lot of energy to be had from renewables! Thank you for this article

Ruth Rendely Comment left 18th June 2012 22:10:07
Considering that the West coast of the United States is also being bombarded with nuclear fallout, in your opinion what are good sources of apple pectin, since this is not likely sold in the supermarkets?

susie greaves Comment left 19th June 2012 12:12:49
To Ruth Rendely, To answer your question about sources of apple pectin quickly, I have to tell you that I don't know. I myself always eat the core and seeds when I am eating an apple but I have been doing that all my life!This looks like a question to investigate. As for the West coast of the United States, in a recent video posted on the Fairewinds site (Gunderson and Kaltofen), it appears that the fallout there is now too low to worry least of airborne particles. The danger for the whole planet now is from the marine contamination. (And of course, if the spent fuel in the pool at reactor 4 is exposed, in another earthquake then the whole world is at risk again, the Japanese particularly, and the danger of airborne particles would be relevant once more) The real significance of the pectin story in Belarus is political.The use of pectin by Nesterenko at Belrad was a threat to the nuclear lobby because it showed how many people had accumulated levels of radionuclides in their body from relatively "low" levels of radiation. This has of course huge implications for the so called "normal" functioning of nuclear industry.

William Nelson Comment left 19th June 2012 07:07:46
The damage to human life caused by radiation contamination on this Planet is irreversible. You can't see it,feel it, hear it,taste it,or stop the spread of it, but the affects of it are everywhere. This invisible killer at some near point in time will get us all, and that will be the end of all living life on this dying Earth.

Todd Millions Comment left 20th June 2012 05:05:58
With the recent announcement of the nipponese pm of a restart of(2?) reactors whilst fukashima is yet unstable and power reduction strategies in Japan NOT running too say cutting the power to advertizing billboard screens ect(for the lack of which human life would surely perish),and the empour NOT having a suitable dagger dropped before his oh so competent PM(I'll secound that cut if none else will)-Is it not time for us all too help the people of Japan by embargoing all goods and products from them tell this madness stops?Edicts and assurances make thin soup-and surely the bloated mafia of the japanese goverment -like all of ours could use a long prefferbly fatal fast.

George Wade Comment left 7th September 2012 07:07:59
'The damage to human life caused by radiation contamination on this Planet is irreversible.' Except that the OrthoMolecular Medicine Organisation is reported: . And simple apple pectin can eliminate radionucleides from the body. So can DMSA, I think, and colloidal zeolite, chelation agents. There is always hope somewhere.

sara wynd Comment left 4th November 2014 07:07:28
It wouldn't have mattered if the medical recommendation had been sleeping with golf balls. There is little doubt, the real war is about proof of contamination, neligence to serve the people harmed, and refusal to accept responsibility for the devastation of all these lives and those thru out the world, including all the plants and animals. Russian and Ukraine are bleeding with new nuclear reactors and suffocating from miles and miles of nuclear waste. How did humans ever become so psychotic about a substance that they cannot coexist with?

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