John Libbey Eurotext

Environnement, Risques & Santé


Cesium-137: A physiological disruptor? Volume 12, issue 2, Mars-Avril 2013


See all figures

IRSN Direction de la radioprotection de l’homme Laboratoire de radiotoxicologie expérimentale BP 17 92262 Fontenay-aux-Roses cedex France
  • Key words: cesium 137, chronic contamination, metabolism
  • DOI : 10.1684/ers.2013.0604
  • Page(s) : 151-9
  • Published in: 2013

Today, radiation protection is a major issue for the nuclear industry throughout the world, particularly in France. The 2011 disaster of Fukushima Dai-ichi has brought back to public attention questions about the risks associated with nuclear power for civilian purposes. The risk of accidental release of radioactive molecules, including cesium-137 ( 137Cs), from these facilities cannot be completely eliminated. The non-cancer-related health consequences of chronic exposure to this radionuclide remain poorly understood. After absorption, cesium is distributed throughout the body. The toxicity of 137Cs is due mainly to its radiological properties. Studies in humans report that 137Cs impairs the immune system and induces neurological disorders. Children appear more susceptible than adults to its toxic effects. In animals, and most particularly in rodents, low-dose internal contamination disrupts the sleep-wake cycle, but without behavioural disorders. Impairment of the cardiovascular system has also been observed. Physiologic systems such as the metabolism of vitamin D, cholesterol and steroid hormones are altered, although without leading to the emergence of diseases with clinical symptoms. Recently, a metabolomics study based on contamination levels comparable to those around Chernobyl after the accident showed that it is possible to identify individual rats chronically exposed to low doses of 137Cs, even though the exposure was too low to affect the standard clinical markers. In conclusion, the scientific evidence currently available, particularly that from experimental animal models exposed to chronic contamination, suggests that 137Cs is likely to affect many physiologic and metabolic functions. Thus, it could contribute, with other artificial substances in the environment, to increasing the risk of developing non-cancer diseases in some regions.