How F’d is Our Food System – Epi-3232 — 16 Comments

  1. The uranium thing is interesting. I couldn’t find the Mollison videos but apparently the first paper on this was in 1979:

    I have to say I’m a little skeptical that it is a significant concern for human health, since a long half-life is inversely related to radioactive hazard. To the extent that it is taken up by the plants, the chemical toxicity may be a greater hazard than the radioactivity.

    I’d think it would be a pretty straightforward investigation to test the radioactivity of plants grown in these soils to determine if they are significant risk.

  2. Canadian Permaculture Legacy here, I am a nuclear engineer with 18 years experience and degree in nuclear engineering and nuclear physics.

    Jack you should do an episode on the misinformation you presented in this article. It wasn’t on purpose, but there is a BIG difference between the existence of uranium and fields being radioactive. They aren’t putting spent fuel on the fields, there is trace amounts of uranium oxide. This is important for 2 reasons, firstly that it’s U-238 which is natural uranium and is only a very mild alpha emitter (you can even hold it innyour hand safely).. Second that it’s bound to an oxide group which make it even more stable.

    The concern would be if an enrichment plant was putting out U-235, which IS radioactive and has the half life you mentioned. But to make this, the uranium must be processed to make it.

    This episode is dangerous because all it is going to do is stirring up hysteria, and we need MORE support for nuclear power, because it is the clsafest, cleanest form of baseboard power we have. It emits less radiation than coal (c-14). Speaking of which…

    If someone is concerned about eating uranium, they should be more concerned with breathing. You breathe in more C14 and get more dose from that than you will by eating Pico levels of Uranium. Also, definitely NEVER fly again or get ANY x-ray, or sleep in anybodys basement (radon gas). And definitely never go outside under the dangerous sun.

    Anyways, love the show. This uranium episode was full of misinformation, and as a professional, I think you should both do a followup on it, and also be really careful talking about things you don’t know about, such as nuclear physics. Or at least consult someone knowledgeable on the topic first. I’d love to be your nuclear physics source on that, and will help you out if anything like this pops up again. Just send a comment on one of my youtube videos and I will answer.

    All the best man,

  3. Hey, Canadian Permaculture Legacy here again. One more thing I’d like to mention, and that is that what really matters isn’t the existence of the “toxin” in the soil, it matters that there is a pathway of bioaccumulation from soil to plant to human.

    I recently did a video on this, and actually just released it this weekend, and it was about the concern with soil toxins, growing in contaminated soils, etc. I referenced a bunch of research on this topic in that video, and of interest is a 6 year study by University of Kansas (with many others).

    While some plants may bioaccumulate heavy metals, no plant has any reason to bioaccumulate uranium. You know soil microbiology pretty well, so I can go into more detail with you on this. The plant has no reason to create a plant root exudate to target the uranium. Also, because uranium oxide is very stable (it’s half life is 4.5 billion years), that’s a GOOD thing in this case, because it means that if ingested it will last in its stable non radioactive form for much longer than the lifetime of a plant or person. If there is no further production effect happening, then it won’t build up, it will just sit there doing nothing… in a concentration in the nano or Pico levels.

    But what’s most important is that the plant doesn’t even want it, so it won’t release exudates to pick it up, and because UO2 is so stable, it won’t be carried in with something else, because it won’t form covalent bonds with stuff like humic or fulvic acid chain bonding sites. For the same reason, biochar is unlikely to do anything for it, because it won’t bond to anything… it’s happy just sitting there in the soil, not bothering anyone, and will slowly sink back into the center of the earth.

    The news media isn’t talking about it for a reason. Just because it’s not on the news doesn’t mean it’s a conspiracy cover-up. It’s usually because it’s not a story.

    Hope this all helps. Our credibility is all we have, and I know you are a good honest man, and would like to know when you got something wrong. You got this one wrong.

    If you ever wanted to have libertarian minded Canadian Nuclear engineer Permaculturist on the show, I’d be open to being on the show. You should also check out my pond, as a pond guy I know you’d dig it, as it’s something else!

    All the best Jack,

    • I disagree that it isn’t of concern, highly. Will the plant “take up” uranium, well not unless the ph is low enough to basically force it to drink it, same as other heavy metals like say cadmium. If ph is that low you have other problems.

      However the continued application of shit tons of uranium for decades now, (90 years and continuing) unabated has extensive serious risks to human health in my view. All the talk that this is okay reminds me of the posters in the 50s that said, DDT is Good For Meeeeeee.

      What is the effect on soil biology over decades of the application of uranium containing phosphates?

      What is the effect of considerable excess back ground radiation on our food itself?

      Just two questions that have NEVER once been seriously addressed, EVER and likely will not be any time soon. All we have is, “trust me I am a nuclear engineer and it is all okay” (not specifically speaking of you but your field) or “trust me I am an ag scientist”, etc. Every single time we accept that we get fucked in the end.

      Future generations if they are here to examine what we did will stand in total shock of many things we did to ourselves, this being only one of them. The pools this production leaves behind are far worse FWIW.

      • I definitely understand your point of view and concern, especially because we have had so many examples of man made chemicals that were “safe” until “oopsie they aren’t”: deet, teflon, asbestos, etc.

        But that’s just simply not the case here. It’s not opinion it’s just physics.

        For example, what is the effect on soil microbiology of all that radiation? zero. There’s none. It’s an alpha emitter with a 4.5B year half life. There is more radiation from the sun, by several orders of magnitude, similarly from radon.

        I hope you don’t take that as “trust me I’m a nuclear engineer”. I’m not asking for your trust because trust isn’t required. It’s not me who has an opinion on the topic. I’m just saying thats not how it works and I know the science. The science isn’t asking you to trust it, just like how gravity doesn’t ask you to believe it if you jump off a building.

        All the best. No concern here, at least with the uranium.


    • Keith and Jack, it seems like some research is being done that is looking at not only uranium but also radium from phosphate rock derived fertilisers. Here are some resources I found that might be of interest (some are paywalled):

      New Zealand 2019:

      Iceland 2020:

      China 2021, this one discusses mechanisms:

      Vietnam 2022, this one discusses contamination of groundwater:

      There are many, many more papers on this topic, most likely because it is being recognized as a potential problem (Mississippi Dead Zone et al). Something to consider with _both_ ionising and non-ionising radiation: dosage and duration matters.

      I hope Jack’s listeners and readers take the time to do their own research and apply their critical thinking to any information they consume. Ensuring what we’re putting into our minds is healthy is just as important as what we put into our bodies.

  4. I tried to fix some typos and autocorrects in my first post, but it appears you can only edit the comment for a minute. I hope the typos didn’t take away from the message. clsafest should be safest. Baseboard should be Baseload. Cheers ?

  5. If biochar is that hydrophilic, I think it wants to be used as a desiccant in the crawl spaces of these midwestern houses that are always damp. Then it can go into the compost pile!

    • If sunflower stalks lose their alleopathic quality, that means Jerusalem Artichoke, which is an edible root crop sunflower would lose it too. Awesome, I killed a garden bed by burying the stalks deep in it one year. It did get over it, but it was a nasty lesson. Also I’d love to do something with black walnut debris around here, also alleopathic.

      Jack, you are a jerk, you have enhanced my brain with biochar! 😀

  6. On the uranium question, ignoring plant uptake, is this increasing accumulation leading to increased cancer rates among farm workers?

    I realize there’s probably no data, but was curious if someone had run into some.

    Yes, I’m aware that I’m bathing in radiation (thank you sun!), but of course I’m not seeking out concentrated radiation (x-rays, excessive jetting off to Davos…).

    Mushroom remediation? [Chernobyl contaminated soil]