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Nuclear radiation residue in the sand and dust? Where does it come from?

The source of nuclear radiation

By Fei FeiPublished 2 years ago 5 min read
Sandstorm

Since March 15, strong winds have been blowing in the African Sahara Desert, and violent dust storms have not only hit Spain, Portugal, France, Switzerland, and other places but even spread to the more northerly United Kingdom. Many European cities throughout the sky turned orange or even blood, as if in the science fiction film Mars, buildings, roads, and vehicles were covered with sand and dust, and the air was seriously polluted, filled with the smell of sand and dust. At a ski resort in France, the snow-white snow field turned into "dirt slopes". The mountains near Madrid, Spain, white snow with a red tinge.

Dusty weather in Europe is not unusual, basically once or twice a year this season will visit southern and central Europe, and usually, the people of these areas are not surprised. But the dust storms of the past year or two have attracted attention because they are unusual and unusually violent, and the floating dust is not completely harmless, it also contains nuclear radiation! What is this all about?

The cause of the Sahara dust storm

The Sahara Desert in North Africa is the largest desert on earth, and the dust storms that originate there are large and occur frequently. Scientists estimate that more than 180 million tons of sand and dust blow out from here every year. In recent years, perhaps due to the impact of climate change, which has led to a certain migration of the Earth's original climate zones and wind bands, strong winds blowing from the Sahara desert to Europe are more frequent every year. In addition, in the past century, the Sahara Desert has expanded, which has also increased the chances of Europe experiencing larger dusty weather!

The cause of this severe dust storm originated from the formation of a hot air mass in the African Sahara Desert - Storm Celia (Storm Celia). Under the influence of this superstore, the Sahara Desert was a large amount of sand and dust and was wrapped northward to advance across the Mediterranean Sea to Spain, Portugal, France, and other countries and regions. Continued to bring the floating dust weather, so that the wave of the city skies are shrouded in a thick haze, and the air pollution index soared.

Dust storm hazards

Spain's National Meteorological Service said the dust storm was the largest and most severe ever recorded in Spain. They gave a "very poor" rating to the air quality index in most areas of the country. In the area affected by the sandstorm, there was an increase in irreparable fine particulate matter in the atmosphere and increased atmospheric pollution. Dust falling on glaciers accelerates their melting, and covering the foliage of plants affects photosynthesis, resulting in reduced crop yields, and is also very harmful to humans.

The terrible thing about dust storms is that the mobility of dust, the wide range of transmission of large amounts of dust particles, in the process of drifting in the air, this dust will continue to gather and transmit through the area microorganisms, heavy metals, pesticides, and other harmful chemical pollutants spreading allergens, bacteria, and viruses wherever they go, and can enter people's mouths, noses, eyes, and ears through the layers of protection. So it increases the chance of respiratory diseases, and allergies, and may spread some potential infectious diseases, and there are even medical studies that show that exposure of pregnant women to Saharan sandstorm weather can lead to a 3-fold increase in the chance of preterm birth!

Sand and dust more than 60 years ago nuclear radiation residue?

And what's even scarier is that this sandstorm from the Sahara also carries nuclear radiation!

In fact, in early February 2021, the dust from North Africa also hit all over France. At that time, the Association for the Monitoring of Radioactive Elements in Western France (Afro) reported that the radioactive element cesium-137 was detected in the dust deposited from this sandstorm in France and parts of Europe.

Cesium-137 is an isotope of cesium, which is a synthetic radioactive substance that does not exist in natural sand and soil. It mainly comes from human activities - atomic bomb and hydrogen bomb nuclear weapon tests, radioactive waste from nuclear reactors, radioactive waste liquid from nuclear fuel reprocessing plants, and so on. Once in the natural environment, it persists for a long time. The Fukuyama nuclear power plant accident in Japan also released large amounts of cesium-137.

The Association for Radiation Control in Western France believes that the cesium-137 detected in the dust is "the product of a human-caused nuclear fission explosion", the origin of which can be traced back to the nuclear tests conducted by France in North Africa more than 60 years ago.

France's own relatively small territory lacked a natural site for nuclear testing, so it chose to conduct a series of nuclear tests in the last century in the vast Sahara desert region of Algeria, then a French overseas territory.

France conducted its first nuclear test - the detonation of an atomic bomb - in the Algerian Sahara Desert on Feb. 13, 1960, followed by three aerial explosions and 13 underground explosions in the area. Between 1960 and 1996, France conducted 217 tests, with some of the nuclear explosions taking place in Algeria in North Africa (most of the tests were in French Polynesia in the South Pacific). And in addition to France, the United States and the former Soviet Union also conducted a series of nuclear tests in the Sahara Desert.

The half-life of cesium 137 particles is as long as 30 years, and the radioactive content is reduced by half each cycle, until today, there are still radioactive substances left in the Sahara Desert from the nuclear tests. Ironically, the radioactive material that was there is now back in France with the sandstorm! That's what you get for what you sow!

Global nuclear tests

On March 17 this year, Afro said that this year's dust storm came from the same place as last year's (the French nuclear test site in North Africa). So the recent dust infestation in Europe contains the same type of elements as well!

Are the radioactive residues harmful to people?

So, 62 years later, are the radioactive residues blown back to France from the Sahara nuclear test area dangerous to people?

Well, Afro detected only trace amounts of cesium-137, at about 80,000 becquerels per square kilometer. Experts say that this dose is extremely tiny, the radiation level is still very safe, not enough to trigger acute harm to the human body, and there is no need to take special protective measures for this, so people do not need to feel overly worried about this sandstorm of nuclear radiation.

Experts have warned that climate change could exacerbate desertification in North Africa and cause more frequent storms there, which could scrape up more dust to hit Europe, leading to further worsening of the European dust storm problem.

Nowadays, the Earth's environment has become more and more fragile, we human beings should be in fear of nature, to stop the wanton destruction of the environment and to protect it, so as not to push our survival of the Earth and even ourselves into a dangerous situation!

Science

About the Creator

Fei Fei

Fantasy is the poet's wings, hypothesis is the ladder of science。

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    Fei FeiWritten by Fei Fei

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