You remember the Sahara sand that covered Europe on February 6, 2021? It was eerie, even in Switzerland where I live.
Well it turns out it carried traces of French nuclear tests in the Sahara in the early 1960s in form of Cesium-37.
Dust sampled in Haut-Doubs was analyzed by the ACRO laboratory and scientists clearly determined the presence of Cesium-137, an artificial radioelement resulting from the nuclear fission during a nuclear explosion.
The trace amount of Cesium-137 that fell (80,000 Bq per km2) isn’t dangerous for our health. But still the dust cloud has spilled old traces of cesium-137 wherever it has passed in France and in the nearby countries.
Cesium-137 has a lifespan of 30 years. Every 30 years, it loses half of its radioactive content. So after 7 cycles of 30 years, it is considered that only 1% of radioactive substances remain.
This actually means that in the Sahara and southern Algeria, the population lives with these traces of cesium-137 on a daily basis, some sites are still heavily contaminated, this gives an idea of the contamination at the time.
Nuclear tests in the Sahara
France carried out a first nuclear test on February 13, 1960 near Reggane in southern Algeria.
The 70 kilotons atomic bomb ‘Blue Gerboise’ exploded at 7 am local time, in an explosion 3-4 times more powerful than that of Hiroshima.
17 aerial and underground nuclear tests took place in Algeria between 1960 and 1966.
France then chooses Polynesia to continue carrying out its nuclear tests, which were ended by jacques Chirac on January 29, 1996.
The story is a little less beautiful
The episode of February 6 is certainly very low pollution, but it will be added to previous deposits, nuclear tests of the 1960s and fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Now, 60 years after, these traces of nuclear tests are coming back to us like a boomerang…
A “radioactive” memory that many of us never suspected.
Now, it would be interesting to know if the Sahara dust reaching the US southwest almost every year also contains this radioactive matter.
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