I came across this on Facebook yesterday. It must have been written before 2009, when Michael Jackson died (at the hands of his doctor):
The overall magnitude of lung cancer risk to humans from atmospheric radioactive fallout cannot be overstated. Before Russia, Britain and America outlawed atmospheric testing on August 5, 1963, more than 4,200 kilograms of plutonium had been discharged into the atmosphere. Because we know that less than one microgram [millionth of a single gram] of inhaled plutonium causes terminal lung cancer in a human, we therefore know that your friendly government has lofted 4,200,000,000 [4.2 Billion] lethal doses into the atmosphere, with particle radioactive half-life a minimum of 50,000 years. Frightening? Unfortunately it gets worse.
The plutonium mentioned above exists in the actual nuclear weapon before detonation, but by far the greatest number of deadly radioactive particles are those derived from common dirt or sand sucked up from the ground, and irradiated while travelling vertically through the weapon’s fireball. These particles form by far the largest part of the “smoke” in any photo of an atmospheric nuclear detonation. In most cases several tons of material are sucked up and permanently irradiated in transit, but let us be incredibly conservative and claim that only 1,000 kilograms of surface material is sucked up by each individual atmospheric nuclear test.
Before being banned by Russia, Britain and America, a total of 711 atmospheric nuclear tests were conducted, thereby creating 711,000 kilograms of deadly microscopic radioactive particles, to which must be added the original 4,200 kilograms from the weapons themselves, for a gross though very conservative total of 715,200 kilograms. There are more than a million lethal doses per kilogram, meaning that your governments have contaminated your atmosphere with more than 715,000,000,000 [715 Billion] such doses, enough to cause lung or skin cancer 117 times in every man, woman and child on earth.
Before you ask, no, the radioactive particles do not just “fade away”, at least not in your lifetime or that of your children and grandchildren. With a half-life of 50,000 years or longer, these countless trillions of deadly government-manufactured radioactive particles are essentially with you forever. Circulated around the world by powerful jet streams, these particles are deposited at random, though in higher concentrations within a couple of thousand miles of the original test sites. A simple wind or other surface disturbance is all that is needed to stir them up again and create enhanced dangers for those in the vicinity.
I’m very sympathetic to the Fallout Hypothesis as an explanation for the upsurge in lung cancer over the past 70 years or so. In fact, I think it’s the best hypothesis around. I’ve explored it several times. Much better than smoking, which people have been doing for hundreds of years, if not thousands of years.
But I wondered about that last paragraph in the passage above. It suggested that those 715 billion lethal doses were still floating around in the atmosphere, and would continue to do so for 50,000 years. I can think of a number of good reasons for thinking that this might not be true.
The first of these is that radioactive fallout does, as its name suggests. fall out of the atmosphere, just like the ash and dust from volcanic eruptions eventually does. And given that after a large volcanic eruption the ash and dust seems to get washed out of the atmosphere after about 5 or 10 years, it seems plausible to suppose that the same thing happens with radioactive materials as well.
And where do they end up? 71% of the Earth’s surface is made up of oceans. So most likely 71% of all radioactive material in the atmosphere will end up in the oceans after about 10 years. And, given that atoms of uranium or plutonium are very heavy atoms, they’ll very likely end up on the bottom of the oceans pretty rapidly, and start sinking into the mud at the bottom for the exact same reason.
The remaining 29% will come down on the continental land masses somewhere or other. But since these land masses are also being regularly washed with rain, quite a lot of it will end up in rivers, and be carried out to sea, to join the 71% already in it. About the only places this won’t happen will be in places where it never rains, like deserts or polar regions. And if it is kicked up from there high into the atmosphere once again by winds, then once again the odds are 71% – 29% that it’ll end up in the oceans.
By this reasoning, about the only places where radioactive materials will remain for long periods of time will be on absorbent areas of ground like bogs or marshes or ploughed fields or gardens where it can easily be absorbed and retained. The places this is least likely to happen will be on rocky terrain, and in cities in which more or less every inch of ground has been paved over, and provided with storm drains to carry away rainwater.
So the way I see it, 99.99% of all radioactive fallout is going to end up at the bottom of the ocean after 50 or 100 years. And in the case of Fukushima, 99.99% of it is already in the ocean.
And what’s so dangerous about radioactivity anyway? I mean, is it harmful as, say, that kind of tobacco smoke that can go through walls and along telephone cables with consummate ease? I bought a geiger counter a year or so ago, purely out of curiosity. And when I got it working, it reported radioactivity in my little flat. But it was a normal background level of radioactivity, found almost everywhere.
What’s dangerous about energetic radioactive materials that are spitting out alpha and beta particles and gamma rays is that these particles and rays can do a great deal of damage to living tissues. Having a tiny fragment of uranium or plutonium embedded anywhere in your body is like having a tiny machine gun firing tiny bullets in all directions all the time. It will gradually kill the cells around it – something that I explored a few years ago using a simple computer simulation model to propose a simple non-genetic explanation for cancer. The same fragment of uranium on the floor of a room, or even in your pocket, would do you no harm at all. It’s only if it gets lodged somewhere in or on your body that it’s dangerous.
And, the way I see it, living in an environment with an unusually high level of background radiation might well be a good thing, because the effect of it will be to kill off the slowest reproducing cells in your body and replacing them with faster reproducing ones. The secret of perpetual youth may lie in keeping a lump of plutonium on your mantelpiece where it can bathe you in just enough radiation to kill off your tired old cells and replace them with young ones.
And beyond that, I’m beginning to wonder whether the modern terror of all things radioactive may be a phobia almost exactly like contemporary capnophobia: more imaginary than real.
One last thought. If someone dies of lung cancer, there should be a way of finding out quite easily whether it was a consequence of having a tiny piece of plutonium or uranium or strontium or polonium embedded in their lung: Just leave a photographic plate on their chest for a few days, and see whether anything shows up on it. If any bright areas appear, there’ll be a good chance that there’s something radioactive in there. Has this ever been done? I’ve never heard of it being done. It should be very easy to do in a mortuary where bodies usually lie undisturbed for days before burial or cremation.