Long-range tropospheric transport of uranium and plutonium weapons fallout from Semipalatinsk nuclear test site to Norway

Author
Wendel, Cato
Fifield, L. Keith
Oughton, Deborah Helen
Lind, Ole Christian
Skipperud, Lindis
Bartnicki, Jerzy
Tims, S.
Høibråten, Steinar
Salbu, Brit
Date Issued
2013
Permalink
http://publications.ffi.no/handle/123456789/464
DOI
10.1016/j.envint.2013.05.017
Collection
Articles
Description
Wendel, Cato; Fifield, L. Keith; Oughton, Deborah Helen; Lind, Ole Christian; Skipperud, Lindis; Bartnicki, Jerzy; Tims, S.; Høibråten, Steinar; Salbu, Brit. Long-range tropospheric transport of uranium and plutonium weapons fallout from Semipalatinsk nuclear test site to Norway. Environment International 2013 ;Volum 59. s. 92-102
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Abstract
A combination of state-of-the-art isotopic fingerprinting techniques and atmospheric transport modelling using real-time historical meteorological data has been used to demonstrate direct tropospheric transport of radioactive debris from specific nuclear detonations at the Semipalatinsk test site in Kazakhstan to Norway via large areas of Europe. A selection of archived air filters collected at ground level at 9 stations in Norway during the most intensive atmospheric nuclear weapon testing periods (1957–1958 and 1961–1962) has been screened for radioactive particles and analysed with respect to the concentrations and atom ratios of plutonium (Pu) and uranium (U) using accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS). Digital autoradiography screening demonstrated the presence of radioactive particles in the filters. Concentrations of 236U (0.17–23 nBq m− 3) and 239 + 240Pu (1.3–782 μBq m− 3) as well as the atom ratios 240Pu/239Pu (0.0517–0.237) and 236U/239Pu (0.0188–0.7) varied widely indicating several different sources. Filter samples from autumn and winter tended to have lower atom ratios than those sampled in spring and summer, and this likely reflects a tropospheric influence in months with little stratospheric fallout. Very high 236U, 239 + 240Pu and gross beta activity concentrations as well as low 240Pu/239Pu (0.0517–0.077), 241Pu/239Pu (0.00025–0.00062) and 236U/239Pu (0.0188–0.046) atom ratios, characteristic of close-in and tropospheric fallout, were observed in filters collected at all stations in Nov 1962, 7–12 days after three low-yield detonations at Semipalatinsk (Kazakhstan). Atmospheric transport modelling (NOAA HYSPLIT_4) using real-time meteorological data confirmed that long range transport of radionuclides, and possibly radioactive particles, from Semipalatinsk to Norway during this period was plausible. The present work shows that direct tropospheric transport of fallout from atmospheric nuclear detonations periodically may have had much larger influence on radionuclide air concentrations and deposition than previously anticipated.
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