Exclusion Zones around the world Part 2

  • 25/05/2013
  • Alex

There are almost no places on Earth that have not been explored much by people. By the early 21st century, it seems only the highest mountain peaks and the most remote corners of the ocean and deserts fall into the category of areas not frequently visited by human beings. However, there are more large human-free zones that were made so intentionally—because of serious nuclear accidents.

In the first part, we figured out what is the Nuclear Exclusion Zone, examined the most significant accident in the U.S, visited the place where the first ever nuclear bomb was detonated and explored one of the deepest geological repositories for radioactive waste in Germany. If you have not read the FIRST PART, just click on this link and become familiar with worth mentioning facts.

Nevada Proving Grounds

The Nevada Test Site (NTS), 65 miles north of Las Vegas, was one of the most significant nuclear weapons test sites in the United States. Nuclear testing, both atmospheric and underground, occurred here between 1951 and 1992.

On January 27, 1951, nuclear testing at the NTS officially began with the detonation of Shot Able, a 1-kiloton bomb, as part of Operation Ranger. Between 1951 and 1992, the U.S. government conducted a total of 1,021 nuclear tests here. Out of these tests 100 were atmospheric, and 921 were underground. Test facilities for nuclear rocket and ramjet engines were also constructed and used from the late 1950s to the early 1970s.

A November 1951 nuclear test at Nevada Test Site, Operation Buster–Jangle "Dog".

The atmospheric nuclear tests caused concern about potential health effects on the public, and environmental dangers, due to nuclear fallout. On August 5, 1963, President Kennedy, along with the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. This prohibited nuclear weapons tests and nuclear explosions underwater, in outer space, and in the atmosphere.

There have been various debates over how much radiation exposure was caused by tests. Fallout from the tests drifted across most of the U.S. One major example of this is St. George, Utah. Particles that spread, such as iodine-131, can enter the body through contaminated food, drinks, or air, and eventually lead to cancer or birth defects. 

Cancer rates in this area increased from 1950 to 1980, and many citizens of St. George now believe that the testing has caused deaths, cancer, and a variety of health issues in their families.

A study done in the 1990s determined that soldiers who witnessed testing at the NTS were more likely to either be diagnosed with cancer, or to die from cancer, later in life. In total, one hundred and nineteen atomic devices in the area North-west of Las Vegas and more than 1,000 nuclear tests were conducted underground. The area was finally decommissioned in 1992.

Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan

The Semipalatinsk Test Site, also known as "The Polygon", was the primary testing venue for the Soviet Union's nuclear weapons. It is located on the steppe in northeast Kazakhstan (then the Kazakh SSR), south of the valley of the Irtysh River.

An image from the first Soviet test of a thermonuclear device on 12 August 1953. It released about 25 times as much energy as the US bomb dropped at Hiroshima, Japan.Credit: Lebedev Physics Inst. (FIAN)/Hulton Archive/Getty

The Soviet Union conducted 456 nuclear tests at Semipalatinsk from 1949 until 1989 with little regard for their effect on the local people or environment. The full impact of radiation exposure was hidden for many years by Soviet authorities and has only come to light since the test site closed in 1991.

Source: Nature

Soil, water, and air remain highly irradiated in the fallout area, where according to scientists the level of radiation is 10 times higher than normal.

The human suffering that took place at the site was well-documented, even before testing ended in 1989 and the site officially closed on August 29, 1991. Some 200,000 villagers essentially became human guinea pigs, as scientists explored the potential and dangers of nuclear weapons. Residents were reportedly ordered to step outside their homes during test blasts so that they could later be examined as part of studies on the effects of radiation. Some locals can describe -- from first-hand experience -- what a mushroom cloud looks like.

Source: Nature

One in every 20 children in the area is born with serious deformities. Many struggle with different types of cancer and more than half of the local population has died before reaching the age of 60.

"Almost all my classmates and friends have died," says 50-year-old farmer Aiken Akimbekov, a native of the village of Sarzhal, located near the so-called "atomic lake" formed by a powerful nuclear explosion in the mid-'60s.

When the test site was closed, Kazakhstan was faced with the question of how to decontaminate the land and what to do with the military-industrial complex that remained on the territory of the test site.  

Some parts of the area are still so contaminated that they have to be covered with huge, two-meter thick steel plates to contain the radiation.

Fukushima’s Nuclear Exclusion Zone

The Fukushima nuclear accident - a disaster which rivaled the magnitude of Chernobyl, began on March 11, 2011, after a massive offshore earthquake produced a tsunami that washed ashore and damaged the backup generators of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which located on the eastern shore of Japan’s Honshu Island.

The map shows the nuclear exclusion zones around Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc./Kenny Chmielewski

Regarding to the studies release of harmful radioactive pollutants or radionuclides, such as iodine‑131 (which has a half-life of 8 days), cesium‑134, cesium‑137 (which has a 30-year half-life), strontium‑90, and plutonium‑238 and many others.

A significant problem in tracking radioactive release was that 23 out of the 24 radiation monitoring stations on the plant site were disabled by the tsunami.There is some uncertainty about the amount and exact sources of radioactive releases to air. 

Satellite image of damage at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami. 
Source: DigitalGlobe

Major releases of radionuclides, including long-lived caesium, occurred in air, mainly in mid-March. The population within a 20km radius had been evacuated three days earlier.

By the end of 2011, Tepco had checked the radiation exposure of 19,594 people who had worked on the site since 11 March. For many of these both external dose and internal doses (measured with whole-body counters) were considered. It reported that 167 workers had received doses over 100 mSv. Of these 135 had received 100 to 150 mSv, 23 workers 150-200 mSv, three more 200-250 mSv, and six had received over 250 mSv (309 to 678 mSv) apparently due to inhaling iodine-131 fume early on, but these levels are below those which would cause radiation sickness.

Japan’s regulator, the Nuclear & Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), estimated in June 2011 that 770 PBq (iodine-131 equivalent) of radioactivity had been released, but the Nuclear Safety Commission in August lowered this estimate to 570 PBq. The 770 PBq figure is about 15% of the Chernobyl release of 5200 PBq iodine-131 equivalent. Most of the release was by the end of March 2011.

Tests on radioactivity in rice have been made and caesium was found in a few of them. The highest levels were about one quarter of the allowable limit of 500 Bq/kg, so shipments to market are permitted.

According to the Stanford research, radiation from Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster may eventually cause approximately 130 deaths and 180 cases of cancer, mostly in Japan.