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In “Honeybees as Monitors of Low Levels of Radioactivity” Simmons et. al.(1990) state that”it is known that honeybees can be used to detect radionuclides present in the environment. Their mobility and their ability to integrate all exposure pathways (i.e., water, air, vegetation, and soil) could expand and add another level of confidence to the present monitoring program.” (This study was for the US DOE at Hanford Nuclear Site) [1]

In “Radioactive Bees–Honey Bees as Indicators of Radionuclide Contamination“, Timothy K. Haarmann of Los Alamos National Lab says that his experiments at LANL “verify that honey bees are indeed good indicators of radionuclide contamination when it is present in the environment“. [2]
Honey Bee flower public domain via wikipedia
McGee and McGarry of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland inform us that “Bees forage intensively over about 7 km2 visiting thousands of plants daily in their search for pollen (Bromenshenk et a/., 1985). By simply fitting a pollen trap to a honeybee hive, and measuring the radiocaesium content of the pollen species present, it is possible to produce models to give accurate and precise estimations of concentrations in leaves and flowers of plants within the forage area. The variability in radiocaesium concentration of pollen samples is small. In addition, pollen samples represent primary production over a single season, but if the plant itself is sampled, it is often difficult to avoid sampling vegetative parts produced over several growth seasons“.[3]
Monarch Butterflies Thistle USFWS
In “Ecosystems effects 25 years after Chernobyl: pollinators, fruit set and recruitment“, Møller (2012) et. al. used “the unprecedented scarcity of pollinating bumblebees and butterflies in the vicinity of Chernobyl, Ukraine, linked to the effects of radiation on pollinator abundance, to test for effects of pollinator abundance on the ecosystem“. They found that there “were considerably fewer pollinating insects in areas with high levels of radiation. Fruit trees and bushes (apple Malus domestica, pear Pyrus communis, rowan Sorbus aucuparia, wild rose Rosa rugosa, twistingwood Viburnum lantana, and European cranberry bush Viburnum opulus) that are all pollinated by insects produced fewer fruit in highly radioactively contaminated areas, partly linked to the local reduction in abundance of pollinators. This was the case even when controlling for the fact that fruit trees were generally smaller in more contaminated areas. Fruit-eating birds like thrushes and warblers that are known seed dispersers were less numerous in areas with lower fruit abundance, even after controlling for the effects of radiation, providing a direct link between radiation, pollinator abundance, fruit abundance and abundance of frugivores. Given that the Chernobyl disaster happened 25 years ago, one would predict reduced local recruitment of fruit trees if fruit set has been persistently depressed during that period; indeed, local recruitment was negatively related to the level of radiation and positively to the local level of fruit set. The patterns at the level of trees were replicated at the level of villages across the study site.” [4]


Hiyama et. al. (2013) concluded “that the radionuclide contamination from the Fukushima Dai-ichi NPP caused harmful effects on Z. maha [pale grass blue butterfly] at physiological and genetic levels.” [5]

According to McGee, et. al. “Studies on the use of honey bee products as a means of monitoring 137Cs concentration in the environment have shown that honey itself is not a reliable indicator of radiocaesium contamination (Bunzl and Kracke, 1981). This is because honey is comprised of varying quantities and types of pollen, nectar and honeydew (figure 3), the source of which are not all easily determined. Pollen itself, however, can be confidently identified under the microscope and has been used very effectively as a bioindicator of radiocaesium concentrations in the plant species from which it is derived (Flood, 1994).” [1]

For humans, it has been noted by Griffiths et. al. (2000) that “even though increases in mutation rates might be low, population numbers are large: every year 200 million new gametes unite to form 100 million babies in the world. In this very large annual “mutation experiment,” even low mutation frequencies are potentially translatable into large numbers of mutations…” Furthermore, “Radiation doses generally are cumulative. If a population of organisms is repeatedly exposed to radiation, the frequency of mutations induced will be in direct proportion to the total amount of radiation absorbed over time.” [6]

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the US Department of Energy helped to fund the human genome project “Completed in 2003, the Human Genome Project (HGP) was a 13-year project coordinated by the DOE and the National Institutes of Health to sequence the 3 billion basepairs that make up human DNA.” [7]

[1] “HONEYBEES AS MONITORS OF LOW LEVELS OF RADIOACTIVITY“, M. A. Simmons J. J. Bromenshenk, J. L. Gu d a t i s , J u l y 1990 , Prepared f o r the U.S. Department o f Energy under Contract DE-AC06-76RLO 1830, P a c i f i c Northwest Laboratory Rich1 and, Washington 99352 http://www.osti.gov/scitech/servlets/purl/6702610-81A77L/
[2] “Radioactive Bees–Honey Bees as Indicators of Radionuclide Contamination” by Timothy K. Haarmann, Los Alamos National Lab http://permalink.lanl.gov/object/tr?what=info:lanl-repo/lareport/LA-UR-00-4491
[3] “THE USES OF BIOINDICATORS IN RADIONUCLIDE CONTAMINATION ASSESSMENT“, by McGee, E.I. and McGarry, A. Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, p. 215) http://www.iaea. org/inis/collection/NCLCollectionStore/_Public/31/021/31021223.pdf
[4] From the Abstract of: “Ecosystems effects 25 years after Chernobyl: pollinators, fruit set and recruitment” by Anders Pape Møller, Florian Barnier, Timothy A. Mousseau in Oecologia 170(4), June 2012 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227176765_Ecosystem_effects_25_years_after_Chernobyl_Pollinators_fruit_set_and_recruitment
[5] “The Fukushima nuclear accident and the pale grass blue butterfly: evaluating biological effects of long-term low-dose exposures” Atsuki Hiyama, Chiyo Nohara, Wataru Taira, Seira Kinjo, Masaki Iwata and Joji M Otaki, BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:168 Full text found here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3751199/pdf/1471-2148-13-168.pdf
[6] “An Introduction to Genetic Analysis“. 7th edition., Griffiths AJF, Miller JH, Suzuki DT, et al., New York: W. H. Freeman; 2000, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21796/
[7] http://genomics.energy.gov

Emphasis added throughout.