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Sahara dust in Europe has traces of 1960s-era nuclear radiation

Sunday, March 7th 2021, 12:08 pm - ACRO acknowledged that the Feb. 6 event had very low radioactive pollution levels, but will still add to the previous deposits seen from the nuclear tests in the 1960s and the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Dust from the Sahara Desert that recently pushed into Europe brought an unexpected surprise with it -- residues of radioactive pollution that is linked to the atomic bomb tests carried out by France in the 1960s.

Analyzations carried out by the French non-governmental association ACRO (Association for Control of Radioactivity in the West) shows that the dust contains traces of the radiation and is still observable at long distances 60 years later.

At the start of the '60s, France conducted atmospheric nuclear tests in the Algerian Sahara (Reggane), resulting in its own soldiers being exposed to radiation, as well as the general public. From the first test in the Sahara in 1960 until the last experiment in 1996 in French Polynesia, France carried out more than 200 nuclear tests.

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On Feb. 6, a swath of France encountered a meteorological phenomenon that saw winds laden with sand and fine particles sweep through from the Sahara. According to reports and visuals that surfaced, the sky remained orange all day and the atmospheric particles were deposited on the ground. Even the snow had turned orange.

Lyon, France Sahara dust On Feb. 6, Sahara dust infiltrated France and was confirmed to contain traces of radioactive pollution. Photo: Twitter user @prefetrhone.

By the evening, all the surfaces were covered with a thin layer of the particles. The ACRO took a sample from the surface of a car using multiple smears.

An ACRO laboratory analyzed the sample and confirmed it to be an "artificial radioelement," which isn't naturally present in the sand and is a result of the nuclear fission brought into play during a nuclear explosion.

"Considering homogeneous deposits over a large area, on the basis of this analysis result, ACRO estimates that 80,000 Bq per km2 of cesium-137 fell," the organization said in a press release.

It acknowledged that the Feb. 6 event had very low pollution levels, but will still add to the previous deposits from the nuclear tests of the 1960s and the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

At a lab at the University of Laguna, professor Salazar Carballo told Euronews that the Sahara Desert dust, or calima as it is called in the Canary Islands, sometimes contains potassium 40, which is naturally present in minerals, as well as caesium-137 from the decades-earlier nuclear tests.

Carballo's lab recently published a study about the levels of radiation that are within the dust as seen with the potent storms in 2020, which closed airports and stranded hundreds of tourists. During that time, there were high levels of potassium 40 and caesium-137.

“What actually exposes us the most to radioactivity is the natural radon that emanates naturally from the soil itself,” Carballo said. “It is estimated that between 5 per cent and 14 per cent of lung cancers are due to the radon gas that we breathe, especially in underground and closed spaces.”

However, Carballo stated these levels are safe and the facility regularly monitors quantities that are submitted to the Nuclear Safety Council. There has never been any instances of shockingly high levels brought in by the dust storms, even after the Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disasters.

Thumbnail courtesy of Twitter user @prefetrhone, taken in Lyon, France.

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