Biological Consequences of Exposure to Radioactive Hydrogen (Tritium): A Comprehensive Survey of the Literature

100 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2023

See all articles by Timothy Mousseau

Timothy Mousseau

University of South CArolina

Sarah A. Todd

University of South Carolina

Date Written: April 11, 2023


Nuclear energy and its derivatives have long been the subject of considerable debate. Tritium, or H3, the lightest of all radionuclides, is usually the single largest radioactive substance emitted as a part of normal nuclear power plant operations. Because H3 is a low energy beta emitter it is often discounted as a threat to biological systems. Given the planned release of 1.3M tons of tritiated water to the Pacific Ocean at the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant, there is great interest concerning what is known concerning its effects on biological systems, including humans.

As a first step towards addressing these concerns, we have generated a database of the scientific and grey literatures based on studies that might have some bearing on this issue. Using ISI’s Web of Science, Google Scholar, and EBSCO Academic Search Complete, we scanned over 700,000 references to tritium to arrive at about 250 studies that addressed some aspect of its biological consequences. The first conclusion from this review is that there is surprisingly sparce coverage of a topic of such great concern to so many. There are no published studies of tritium effects on human cancers, and very few of tritium effects in natural systems. The vast majority of studies of tritium effects have been conducted using laboratory organisms, making extrapolation to natural conditions tenuous. Our second conclusion is that contrary to some popular notions that tritium is a relatively benign radiation source, the vast majority of published studies indicate that exposures, especially those related to internal exposures, can have significant biological consequences including damage to DNA, impaired physiology and development, reduced fertility and longevity, and can lead to elevated risks of diseases including cancer. Our principal message is that tritium is a highly underrated environmental toxin that deserves much greater scrutiny.

Keywords: Tritium, HTO, H3, radiation, nuclear accidents, Fukushima

Suggested Citation

Mousseau, Timothy and Todd, Sarah A., Biological Consequences of Exposure to Radioactive Hydrogen (Tritium): A Comprehensive Survey of the Literature (April 11, 2023). Available at SSRN: or

Timothy Mousseau (Contact Author)

University of South CArolina ( email )

701 Main Street
Columbia, SC 29208
United States

Sarah A. Todd

University of South Carolina

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