Feeds

Bikini atoll residents now get less radiation than Euros, Yanks

Potassium coconuts fix 'Castle Bravo' H-bomb whoopsie

Intelligent flash storage arrays

US government nuke boffins say that Bikini atoll and other Pacific islands blown up by America in 1950s atomic-bomb tests are now entirely safe to live on - in fact they are safer, from the point of view of radiation dose, than living in Europe or the continental USA.

According to Lawrence Livermore nuke lab boffins Bill Robison and Terry Hamilton, nearly all the danger posed in living on Bikini, Enjebi and Rongelap islands results from caesium-137 left behind after the atom tests. When decaying radiologically 137Cs has a half-life of 30 years, meaning that even now a quarter of the malevolent stuff remains. Other hazards such as strontium are insignificant.

However Robison and Hamilton say that the 137Cs in the soil of the islands has also been washed into groundwater by rain. The groundwater in those parts circulates with the ocean around it, meaning that Caesium is lost into the sea and remaining levels are much less than would have been expected. Actual radiation received simply by walking about is no longer a big deal.

However 137Cs is also absorbed by crops grown locally, and it is much more dangerous if ingested: so much so that ingestion of caesium in island food such as coconuts, breadfruit and Pandanus accounts for 90 per cent of the radiological hazard of living in the former fallout zone.

The Lawrence Livermore boffins, however, have found that if crops are treated with potassium fertilisers this displaces the caesium, reducing it to 5 per cent of the untreated level with no ill effects. They say that provided plants are potassium treated, and other simple measures taken, someone living on Bikini atoll would nowadays be radiologically better off than most of us. The US has a programme providing help of this sort to Marshallese already returned or those wishing to resettle the islands.

"If this approach is taken, the natural background dose plus the nuclear-test-related dose at Bikini, Enjebi and Rongelap would be less than the usual background dose in the United States and Europe," says Hamilton.

The scientists add that most of the contamination suffered by the islands was the result of a mistake by boffins conducting the "Castle Bravo" hydrogen bomb test in 1954. The designers had expected the weapon to yield around five megatons of energy: in the event it went off with 15-megaton force, vapourising much more of the surrounding island and reef than had been anticipated and throwing a much bigger fallout cloud to contaminate the area downwind.

The Rongelap islanders in particular suffered a nasty surprise as they had not been told about the test, which was supposed to be secret. The crew of a Japanese fishing boat was also contaminated in the accident.

Locals may be sceptical of the new announcement, as the US government had said it was safe to return as long ago as the 1970s. The issues with contaminated food emerged subsequently.

The new island radio-health research is the cover article in the latest issue of Health Physics. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
Human spacecraft dodge COMET CHUNKS pelting off Mars
Odyssey orbiter yet to report, though - comet's trailing trash poses new threat
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.