Under the dome: Fears Pacific nuclear 'coffin' is leaking

The huge dome built over top of a crater left by one of the nuclear nuclear tests over Runit Island in Enewetak in the Marshall
The huge dome built over top of a crater left by one of the nuclear nuclear tests over Runit Island in Enewetak in the Marshall Islands

As nuclear explosions go, the US "Cactus" bomb test in May 1958 was relatively small—but it has left a lasting legacy for the Marshall Islands in a dome-shaped radioactive dump.

The —described by a UN chief Antonio Guterres as "a kind of coffin"—was built two decades after the blast in the Pacific ocean region.

The US military filled the bomb crater on Runit island with , capped it with concrete, and told displaced residents of the Pacific's remote Enewetak atoll they could safely return home.

But Runit's 45-centimetre (18-inch) thick concrete dome has now developed cracks.

And because the 115-metre wide crater was never lined, there are fears radioactive contaminants are leaching through the island's porous coral rock into the ocean.

The concerns have intensified amid climate change. Rising seas, encroaching on the low-lying nation, are threatening to undermine the dome's structural integrity.

Jack Ading, who represents the area in the Marshalls' parliament, calls the dome a "monstrosity".

"It is stuffed with radioactive contaminants that include plutonium-239, one of the most toxic substances known to man," he told AFP.

"The coffin is leaking its poison into the surrounding environment. And to make matters even worse, we're told not to worry about this leakage because the radioactivity outside of the dome is at least as bad as the radioactivity inside of it."

Cold War-era nuclear dome in the Pacific
Graphic showing the "Cactus dome" US nuclear waste dump in the Pacific.

'Staggering' challenges

The dome has become a symbol of the mess left by the US nuclear test programme in the Marshall when 67 bombs were detonated between 1947-58 at Enewetak and Bikini atolls.

Numerous islanders were forcibly evacuated from ancestral lands and resettled, including Enewetak's residents. Thousands more islanders were exposed to and suffered .

The people of Enewetak were allowed home in 1980, and about 800 islanders now live in the southern part of the atoll, 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Runit.

After the US military withdrew, the Marshall Islands government officially accepted a "full and final" settlement to cover the impact of the nuclear tests.

But there have long been complaints that the compensation paid by Washington was inadequate, and the United Nations has described "a legacy of distrust" towards the United States.

UN Secretary General Guterres raised the issue earlier this month after meeting Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine in Fiji, when they discussed the nuclear legacy and the prospect of radioactive leakage from Runit dome.

Thousands of Marshall Islanders, amid continued nuclear tests in the region the 1950s, fled or were forcibly evacuated
Thousands of Marshall Islanders, amid continued nuclear tests in the region the 1950s, fled or were forcibly evacuated

"The Pacific was victimised in the past as we all know... the consequences of these have been quite dramatic, in relation to health, in relation to the poisoning of waters in some areas," he said.

Marshalls Foreign Minister John Silk said he appreciated Guterres bringing the Runit dome to world attention with this comments.

"We are pleased that the Secretary General made these statements, since so often it seems that these ongoing legacy issues that continue to impact our people are forgotten by the international community," he said.

Uncertain future

Rhea Moss-Christian, who chairs the Marshall Islands National Nuclear Commission, said the country "needs the support of the international community to address the staggering health and environmental challenges across the Pacific."

The consequences of the dome failing are unclear.

A 2013 inspection commissioned by the US government suggested radioactive fallout in the Enewetak lagoon sediment was already so high a catastrophic failure would not necessarily result in locals receiving increased dosages of radiation.

Marshall Islands' President Hilda Heine has discussed the legacy left from the nuclear detonations, and the prospect of radioact
Marshall Islands' President Hilda Heine has discussed the legacy left from the nuclear detonations, and the prospect of radioactive leakage

Silk, noting that the US government had committed to ongoing monitoring of the dome, said an independent assessment of the structure's status "would be helpful".

But Ading said the situation was "a constant source of anxiety for the people of Enewetak".

"We pray that the Runit dome does not eventually become our coffin," he said.


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UN chief concerned nuclear 'coffin' leaking in Pacific

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Citation: Under the dome: Fears Pacific nuclear 'coffin' is leaking (2019, May 26) retrieved 21 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-05-dome-pacific-nuclear-coffin-leaking.html
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May 26, 2019
#FakeNews click-bait

May 26, 2019
"It is stuffed with radioactive contaminants that include plutonium-239, one of the most toxic substances known to man," he told AFP."

-This is a lie.

"Plutonium decays mainly by emitting alpha radiation... Many alpha emitters occur naturally in the environment. For example, alpha particles are given off by radionuclides such as uranium-238, radium-226, and other members of the naturally occurring uranium, thorium and actinium decay series which are present in varying amounts in nearly all rocks, soils, and water."

The ocean is full of them.

"The partial inventory of natural radionuclides in sea water amounts to 1–2 × 10 22 Bq, without including the uranium daughters or the 232 Th series nuclides. Human-made nuclides in the ocean have been estimated to be 85 × 10 15 Bq directly dumped, 1.5 × 10 18 Bq from fallout, and 1 × 10 17 Bq from reprocessing plant effluent. The natural radionuclides are greater in abundance."

May 26, 2019
""The coffin is leaking its poison into the surrounding environment."

-It was probably designed to do just that, safely, over time.

"And to make matters even worse, we're told not to worry about this leakage because the radioactivity outside of the dome is at least as bad as the radioactivity inside of it."

-Which is absolutely and undeniably TRUE. The type of radiation emitted by the materials inside the dome is no different from that found in the waters outside the dome. Per the article.

"But Ading said the situation was "a constant source of anxiety for the people of Enewetak""

-They should be no more or less concerned than the people in Appalachia are about radon, or the people in centralia PA were about carbon monoxide. People emigrate all the time, no?

May 26, 2019
...include plutonium-239, one of the most toxic substances known to man," he told AFP."

-This is a lie.
TheGhostofOtto1923

Grant you Plutonium's toxicity is often WILDLY exaggerated and without evidence and I would guess the claims that it is the most toxic substance is probably false, none of the points you made after that above assertion of yours shows that is a lie.
This is because natural radionuclides being greater in abundance doesn't logically imply Plutonium is less toxic. It only shows that radionuclides have low toxicity at arbitrarily extremely 'low' concentrations (because else we would all already be severely poisoned and thus we would know it) and not even Plutonium is an exception to that rule of thumb. That doesn't mean your claim it is a lie that its the most toxic substance is false; it just means regardless of whether its a lie your argument doesn't SHOW its a lie but rather at best you have a false inference for the truth.

JRi
May 26, 2019
Some numbers about radioactivity at the site would have been interesting to see. How much do they differ from the natural background in the area.

May 26, 2019
Wiki:
In 2013, a report by the US Department of Energy[6] found that the concrete dome had weathered with minor cracking of the structure.[7] However, the soil around the dome was found to be more contaminated than its contents, so a breach could not increase the radiation levels by any means.

Because the cleaning operation in the 1970s only removed an estimated 0.8 percent of the total transuranic waste in the Enewetak atoll, the soil and the lagoon water surrounding the structure now contains a higher level of radioactivity than the debris of the dome itself, so even in the event of a total collapse, the radiation dose delivered to the local resident population or marine environment should not change significantly. Concern primarily lies in the rapid tidal response to the height of the water beneath the debris pile, with the potential for contamination of the ground-water supply

May 26, 2019
-This is a lie.


Not really. Plutonium is problematic because it's a heavy metal that accumulates in bone marrow and in the liver - so relatively small exposure over a long time leads to toxic effects. It is not readily eliminated from the body - it has a biological half-life estimate of 200 years, so once you got it in it's there for life. Fortunately, and for the same reasons, is not readily absorbed by ingestion (only 0.04% absorbs) so you really have to hang around for a long time for it to matter.

The accumulation of plutonium dust in the lungs is a bigger problem and is known to cause lung cancer.
A commonly cited quote by Ralph Nader states that a pound of plutonium dust spread into the atmosphere would be enough to kill 8 billion people.[133] However, calculations show that one pound of plutonium could kill no more than 2 million people by inhalation. This makes the toxicity of plutonium roughly equivalent with that of nerve gas.

May 26, 2019
gosh, the death cult of the atomic priesthood is full of good?? news?
full of {__fill_in_here__}

it'd be an amazing change if those afflicted by the poisons of the military-industrial compactor, actually were allowed a choice as too how they would prefer to die.

but then all that chatter of human rights, free will, self-control. empowerment,
freedom of choice?

All that stuff & nonsense our plutocratic-dominated society displays open contempt & hostility for.
with America's repugnant worship of profits.
Above honor, law, ethics, humanity.


May 26, 2019
A notable illustration demonstration of CASUISTRY above.

May 26, 2019
The amount of plutonium in that warhead is a tiny, tiny fraction of the Fukushima cores that melted-down, nevermind the tons and tons of spent Uranium fuel in storage pools that is still leaking into the Pacific, in some cases deliberately to get rid of all the wastewater.

From the phenomena we've seen in the Pacific since Fukushima, it's likely causing things like diseases to mutate more quickly, and thus affecting the bottom of the Pacific food chain in a very big way, trickling up the food chain with die-offs from disease and starvation.

May 26, 2019
JRI you can find real soil numbers on the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory website in the archives and the DTRA 2018 just went back out to assess the impact on the Clean Up Veterans ,who are still 40 yrs later trying to get medical coverage for radiation exposure. The Dome itself ,oddly enough was made from contaminated rock and coral used for the concrete mixture. The plan was do it as quickly and as cheaply as possible. As documented in the Hamilton Reports specifically TR-648. Listing specific concerns for the indigenous people and the need to remove the threat of 'ingestion,inhalation through resuspention' At the time of completion the Army Chief of Engineers notes many deficiencies in the plan and noted deviations from the original plan. But he concluded it sufficient.

May 26, 2019
That doesn't mean your claim it is a lie that its the most toxic substance is false; it just means regardless of whether its a lie your argument doesn't SHOW its a lie but rather at best you have a false inference for the truth
Sure it does.
Plutonium is problematic because it's a heavy metal that accumulates in bone marrow and in the liver - so relatively small exposure over a long time leads to toxic effects. It is not readily eliminated from the body
-You mean like any other heavy metal alpha emitter already present in the human body?

"There are many other radionuclides in the human body, but these either are present at lower levels than 40K (for example, 238U, 232Th, and their decay products) or they do not emit gamma rays that can escape the body (for example, 14C and 87Rb). Radon (and its decay products) is not a significant source of radiation from humans because it is present at very low levels in the body."

-You will NEVER have comparable Pu in your body.

May 26, 2019
The accumulation of plutonium dust in the lungs is a bigger problem and is known to cause lung cancer
Dust from this dome? What about dust from granite cutting and construction?

"Granite, like any other stone, may contain veins of naturally occurring radioactive elements like uranium, thorium, and their radioactive decay products... respirable dust permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 5 mg m(-3) over a full year had an estimated radiation dose of 0.062 mSv yr(-1). Workers exposed to respirable granite dust concentrations at the OSHA silica PEL and at the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists Threshold Limit Value for a full year had expected radiation doses of 0.007 mSv yr(-1) and 0.002 mSv yr(-1), respectively."

-You really think theres more Pu dust floating around in our atmosphere?

May 27, 2019
"...plutonium-239, one of the most toxic substances known to man,"
"plutonium is less toxic than caffeine, so it is documented."
https://pbs.twimg...8CFS.jpg
"Best comparisons indicate that, gram for gram, toxins such as ... caffeine are significantly more toxic than plutonium."
http://www.world-...ies.aspx

"...radioactive fallout..."
Volcanoes, in a single eruption, can release as much radioactive material as all nuclear weapons, as well polonium-210 worse than cesium-137 and protactinium-231 equivalent to plutonium-239 in terms of toxicity. With no concern about "clean-up"/decontamination.
https://pbs.twimg...gopu.jpg

Bikini Island was nuked thousands times and is still there.
Where is the "radiation"?
Unlike fearmongers, Nature doesn't care about radiation, because Earth is naturally-radioactive since its formation.

JRi
May 27, 2019
"...plutonium-239, one of the most toxic substances known to man,"
"plutonium is less toxic than caffeine, so it is documented."
https://pbs.twimg...8CFS.jpg


I see recommended upper limit of caffeine is 0.4 grams per day for a healthy adult, so I strongly doubt your statement. One .jpg file at Twing.com (what is that site anyways?) does not make the claim valid.

May 27, 2019
deadotto

Pu isn't toxic because of its radioactivity.

May 27, 2019
What about the messes left by the British, French, Chinese and Russians? If you're going to point your shaming fingers at somebody, make sure you point them at all the others, which probably left far worse messes and won't spend a penny to clean them up.

May 29, 2019
-You will NEVER have comparable Pu in your body.


I won't, but if I lived my entire life in the atolls, I would.

"plutonium is less toxic than caffeine, so it is documented."


Caffeine doesn't bioaccumulate. On those terms, lead is less toxic than caffeine as well, but you wouldn't want to eat 0.4 grams of lead every day because it will result in lead poisoning.
-You really think theres more Pu dust floating around in our atmosphere?


If you kick the sands around the atolls, you'll find plutonium dust at higher concentrations than elsewhere.

May 29, 2019
In any case, this whole thing is crying over spilled milk.

People who oppose nuclear power because people in the past were irresponsible are essentially making the claim that nobody learned anything of the mistakes that were made - well, if that's so then why are you complaining?

Then on the other hand, other people who try to minimize the issue are just reacting to propaganda with counterpropaganda, rather than admitting facts.

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