Cancer deaths from nuclear weapons testing

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Chapter 10 - The Real Scoop about Containment and Detection of Underground Nuclear Tests

TRAJECTORY AND FORECAST of ground-level contaminated air masses across the Pacific 

In mid-March 2011, wrote up the following as a forecast of the atmospheric dispersal of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex radioactive plumes with regards to impacts on North America.  The text equally applies to the forecast of plumes from future leaked underground nuclear tests in Asia, including North Korea:

The mountainous zones stretching from southern California through British Columbia to Alaska - and on the Hawaiian islands - will likely be severely impacted from ground-level radioactive debris and noble gases, which seems to be the primary type of contamination from the accidents in Japan.  

Terrain features along and inland from the Pacific coastline could contain radiation for days, filling up populated or agricultural basins and areas with radioactive fog or smog.  Radiation sickness won't be as pronounced as areas of Japan near the troubled reactors, but 'hotspots' in the airmasses could result in 'beta burns' from ground-level radiation and mild to severe radiation sickness.  

'Orographic' precipitation along the ascending, windward slopes of the western coastal ranges will likely result in contamination of high-elevation lakes and snowcaps that are the chief water sources for agricultural production and drinking water for millions in the valleys.  As an example of this effect, much of the mercury in Oregon's rivers is traceable to Chinese pollutants that come down via rain on the West Coast ranges.  Ski areas also could be impacted.

Forecasting the movements of radioactive debris that originated from large explosions, smoking fires or 'vaporization' at the Fukushima Daiichi plants is more complicated.   If lifted by fire or smoke, or via aerosolization, plutonium and 'fission products' from spent fuel 'vaporization' and reactor releases could conceivably reach the mid or upper layers of the troposphere where winds can quickly transport the debris across the globe.  Jet stream debris will circle the globe in a single week or two. Non-jet stream winds can whirl debris around Earth once a month. On August 11 or 12, 1945, U.S. airplanes over the U.S. West Coast equipped with radiation equipment detected the radioactive debris from the Trinity test on July 16th, 1945.  It circled the globe.  High-level atmospheric transport is very unlikely to happen.  The best predicted path of the plumes are much lower in height, and probably restricted to 50 to 100 meters of air above-ground.  Ground-level plumes would follow roundabout trajectories in an eastbound direction.  Rain will be the primary mechanism for bringing long-distant radiation down to Earth.  The winter and spring snows and rains in North America - especially in the breadbasket regions - can 'scavenge' large amounts of atomic debris - if past events are any indicator.

Mountains will stall, break up plumes - In a 2010 scientific paper ("Backtracking of Noble Gas Measurements Taken in the Aftermath of the Announced October 2006 Event in North Korea by Means of PTS Methods in Nuclear Source Estimation and Reconstruction," Pure and Applied Geophysics, 167, 2010) concerning the atmospheric transport of ground-level plumes of xenon-133 leaked from North Korea's 2006 nuclear test, the authors describe what happens when very low-level debris clouds hit Pacific Coast terrain features: [p.586] 'A quite complex structure of the surface level (0-30 m above model terrain) plume activity concentration has already evolved 8 days after the event at 17 October, when parts of it reach the North American continent (Fig. 7a). The various mountain ranges along the Pacific coastline in Canada and the USA strongly govern the further evolution of the plume that is finally calculated to reach the IMS RN station in Yellowknife, Canada (Table 2) twice (Fig. 7b,c) with concentrations still above the minimum detectable activity concentration (MDC) for 133Xe.'

What probably will happen as plumes reach North America's west coast, thus, is that very low-level plumes will get tossed and turned by the mountains. The plumes will likely be stopped at times by the mountains and this may depend on the time of day. A 1997 U.S government study on the health effects of Iodine-131 from Nevada bomb testing fallout noted that low-level plumes from 'Baneberry' - an underground nuclear test vent in Nevada in 1970 - could have been stalled by mountains at night but flowed over the peaks during the daytime. 'Higher, mountainous terrain existed in nearly all directions from NTS that could alter low-level air flow represented by a 1.5 km trajectory. During unstable daytime conditions, the low-level air might flow over the higher terrain obstacles but during nighttime stability, it probably would not.'

Plumes could act unpredictably - There are actually many other ground-level geo-physical mechanisms that will defy our expectations of the deposition pattern of these plumes. For example, our expectation that debris will be deposited in greatest amounts beneath the plume's trajectories - along the 'envelope' - might be incorrect at times. The abovementioned 1997 report discusses the trajectory of the above-ground nuclear test named 'Grable': 'In a reversal of usual fallout distributions, lower values of deposition lie within the trajectory envelope and the higher values lie outside of it. The heavier fallout in north-central and west Nevada, west of the trajectory envelope, was not deposited (according to gummed film (GF) records) until the fourth day after detonation (1200 GMT, 28 May to 1200 GMT, 29 May) allowing plenty of time for low-level wind currents to carry debris back to that area. However, the heavier depositions (again, GF records) south of the envelope fell on the first through third days, the latter long after trajectories had departed the CDB region.'

Also, although we know that increased rates of deposition of fallout debris over a region correlate with precipitation, we might want to really watch out for the mechanisms that caused significant dumping of debris from shot 'Harry' across the U.S.: 'The rapidity with which widespread fallout appeared over most of the U.S. on the third day, and continued widespread through the seventh day (1200 GMT, 25 May to 1200 GMT, 26 May), can be attributed to the mixing and transport characteristics of strong low-level weather systems migrating across the U.S. during this period.'

Then, there's the most bizarre scenario of all: ascending radioactive debris. After crossing North America's coastal mountains, radioactive plumes at ground-level level should stay at that level.  However, it is possible that an event similar to the cloud trajectory from 'Schooner' - a 'cratering' nuclear test in Nevada - might occur. The 1968 near-surface nuclear test resulted in a ground-level type of plume that actually ascended more than 2 kilometers.  The 1997 report notes "It seems remarkable that a radioactive debris cloud, generated at ground level (about 1.7 km msl) on the Nevada Test Site, would ascend rather quickly to an elevation of 4.4 km msl and remain coherent for two days at that elevation while crossing the length of the United States. Even more remarkable, was the cloud's remaining coherent while crossing the mountains of Nevada, Utah and Colorado." Scientists in 1968 found detections of "radioiodine (I-131) in air samples at ground level in locations (outside of Nevada) distant from the Schooner event. These observations ranged from 645 km to the north of NTS on 9 - 10 December, to 435 km to the north-northeast on 9 - 10 December and even 1420 km to the east-northeast of NTS on 10 - 11 December, 1968 (USEPA, 1971)."

SOURCE for above quotes = 'Underground Era Test Series -  in data section of National Cancer Institute 1997 study titled 'Estimated Exposures and Thyroid Doses Received by the American People from Iodine- 131 in Fallout Following Nevada Atmospheric Nuclear Bomb Tests'

'Where will the radiation from the Japan reactor accidents travel? - REVISED'  (sources: Public Health Service's Radiological Health Data and Reports; and "Backtracking of Noble Gas Measurements Taken in the Aftermath of the Announced October 2006 Event in North Korea by Means of PTS Methods in Nuclear Source Estimation and Reconstruction," Pure and Applied Geophysics, 167, 2010, p. 592)

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