Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Strangely Missing: Radionuclides' Effects on Climate

I've been working daily on my book manuscript, editing and formatting references, so today I need a break from the focused tedium.

One of my favorite academic pursuits is historical analysis of forgotten questions. Today I'm pursuing questions about the climate impacts of atmospheric testing, nuclear accidents (Fukushima) and nuclear reprocessing:

The CTBO reports:
"The National Resources Defense Council estimated the total yield of all nuclear tests conducted between 1945 and 1980 at 510 megatons (Mt). Atmospheric tests alone accounted for 428 mt, equivalent to over 29,000 Hiroshima size bombs. (CTBO General overview of the effects of nuclear testing
What were the effects of all that "pollution" on Earth. How much has Chernobyl added? How much have routine operations from mining and processing contributed? How much has Fukushima contributed?

Although there is a vast body of literature on dispersion, bioaccumulation and health effects of radionulcides, there is relatively little research that I can find anywhere on climate.

There are plenty of studies that look at the circulation and dispersion of radionuclides. What doesn't get studied much is the effect on weather itself (based on my review of JSTOR and Google Scholar searches).

In 2012 I also searched and summarized results on atmospheric testing and climate here):

I reported than on findings suggesting testing in Utah may have contributed to drought in the US.

Krypton levels increased substantially in the atmosphere during testing:
Anthony Turkevich, Lester Winsberg, Howard Flotow, and Richard M. Adams (1997, April 10). The radioactivity of atmospheric krypton in 1949–1950. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA Vol. 94, pp. 7807–7810, July 1997

ABSTRACT The chemical element krypton, whose principal source is the atmosphere, had a long-lived radioactive content, in the mid-1940s, of less than 5 dpm per liter of krypton.

In the late 1940s, this content had risen to values in the range of 100 dpm per liter. It is now some hundred times higher than the late 1940 values.

KRYPTON 85 appears to link nuclear with climate change.

Krypton85 issued from nuclear reprocessing and fission could have environmental effects but finding research is challenging.

Here is the EPA's 1972 review of Krypton hazards. It only addresses health implications

Here is a good recent review of the potential atmospheric effects of Krypton 85 from The Seneca Effect
Krypton-85 generates tropospheric ozone, during the day as well as during the night. Normally, Ozone concentrations in the troposphere drop to near zero during the night.3 In the presence of Krypton-85 however, ozone can be created at night as well.
What are the effect of this? Not a lot is known yet, unfortunately, despite the estimated eight orders of magnitude increase of ozone in our atmosphere. What is know about ozone however, reveals a cause of concern. Besides the fact that tropospheric ozone functions as a greenhouse gas, ozone damages plants. It is believed that ozone causes relatively more damage when trees are exposed to it at night, when concentrations are normally very low due to the absence of sunlight.4 Other worrisome effects of Krypton-85 are expected as well. In a 1994 study it was suggested that “there are unforeseeable effects for weather and climate if the krypton-85 content of the earth atmosphere continues to rise”.5 In its global atmosphere watch measurement guide, the World Meteorological Organization warned:
If 85Kr continues to increase, changes in such atmospheric processes and properties as atmospheric electric conductivity, ion current, the Earth’s magnetic field, formation of cloud condensation nuclei and aerosols, and frequency of lightning may result and thus disturb the Earth’s heat balance and precipitation patterns. These 85Kr-induced consequences call for 85Kr monitoring.6
You can also read the research cited below supporting the conclusions about climate effects:
Climate risks by radioactive krypton-85 from nuclear fission. Atmospheric-electrical and air-chemical effects of ionizing radiation in the atmosphere
Kollert, R. (Kollert und Donderer, Bremen (Germany)); Bund fuer Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland e.V., Freiburg im Breisgau (Germany). Landesverband Baden-Wuerttemberg; Gewaltfreie Aktion Kaiseraugst, Liestal (Switzerland); Bund Naturschutz in Bayern e.V., Muenchen (Germany)

The study shows that krypton-85 from nuclear fission enhances air ionization and, thus, interferes with the atmospheric-electrical system and the water balance of the earth atmosphere. This is reason for concern: There are unforeseeable effects for weather and climate if the krypton-85 content of the earth atmosphere continues to rise. There may be a krypton-specific greenhouse effect and a collapse of the natural atmospheric-electrical field. In addition, human well-being may be expected to be impaired as a result of the diminished atmospheric-electrical field.
There is also the risk of radiochemical actions and effects caused-by krypton-85-containing plumes in other air-borne pollutants like the latters' transformation to aggressive oxidants. This implies radiation smog and more acid rain in the countries exposed. This study summarizes findings gained in these issues by various sciences, analyses them and elaborates hypotheses on the actions and effects of krypton-85 on the air, the atmosphere and the climate. (orig./HP)

Majia here: Oxidation leads to Acidification

I don't have a figure on how much Krypton-85 was released by Fukushima. I know that Stohl et al found a complete release of  all xenon-133, another noble gas:

Stohl A1, Seibert P, Wotawa G  The total release of xenon-133 from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant accident. J Environ Radioact. 2012 Oct;112:155-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvrad.2012.06.001. Epub 2012 Jul 7.
The accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant (FD-NPP) on 11 March 2011 released large amounts of radioactivity into the atmosphere. We determine the total emission of the noble gas xenon-133 ((133)Xe) using global atmospheric concentration measurements. For estimating the emissions, we used three different methods: (i) using a purely observation-based multi-box model, (ii) comparisons of dispersion model results driven with GFS meteorological data with the observation data, and (iii) such comparisons with the dispersion model driven by ECMWF data. From these three methods, we have obtained total (133)Xe releases from FD-NPP of (i) 16.7 ± 1.9 EBq, (ii) 14.2 ± 0.8 EBq, and (iii) 19.0 ± 3.4 EBq, respectively. 
These values are substantially larger than the entire (133)Xe inventory of FD-NPP of about 12.2 EBq derived from calculations of nuclear fuel burn-up. Complete release of the entire (133)Xe inventory of FD-NPP and additional release of (133)Xe due to the decay of iodine-133 ((133)I), which can add another 2 EBq to the (133)Xe FD-NPP inventory, is required to explain the atmospheric observations. Two of our three methods indicate even higher emissions, but this may not be a robust finding given the differences between our estimates.
I wonder what impact all that Krypton-85 that must have been released is having on tropospheric ozone?

I wonder whether the initial and ongoing noble gas emissions, among other radionuclides being released (e.g., tritium, iodine-131), are killing the ocean through oxidizing precipitation in addition to the plume of contaminated water?

Red tide algae has been proven to adapt to greater ocean acidification in at least one study I could find

Drought conditions in North America could also be exacerbated by Fukushima's noble gas releases.


  1. so glad you've gone down that path, Thank You.

  2. I find myself so preoccupied with nuclear power plants and nuclear waste that it takes watching something like: Nuclear Watch: Helen Caldicott Symposium The Dynamics of Possible Nuclear Extinction 3/1/ 2015
    to remind me that these problems have a mighty competitor even with a small nuclear war such as between Pakistan and India! In fact statements coming out of Washington in the past year are truly shocking as regards nuclear weapons. Fortunately I find that the Russians generally have cooler heads. America still prides itself on being rather anti-intellectual and the results are obvious. And they manifest in Senators like John McCain. Nuclear winter is not just a theory. One of the speakers said that even the smallest nuclear war could result in 20 million deaths immediately followed by a billion due to starvation, etc. As a species we have to give up nuclear weapons entirely. This is a real possibility but Washington will have to give up its arrogance. The day of ignorance and money will have to come to an end; or else we can say good-bye to life on earth before the 22nd century. Of that I am certain.

  3. "The atmospheric nuclear testing of hydrogen bombs made visible, as nothing had before, the interconnected nature of the ecosystem of the Earth. Like radiation medicine administered to a patient to make the internal system visible to doctors, the movement of radionuclides through the ecosystem revealed a systemic interconnectedness that had been previously invisible."


  5. I notice at ENENews that St. Louis has a little problem with a fire. Considering all the little happenings over the years and the "need" to play down what happened the total release of radiation around the world must be far greater than we can guess. I still wonder when war torn and Nazi dominated Western Ukraine will have a big big problem with one of their 15 plants. It is just going to happen at some point now since the nation is out of control. The whole thing is like a serial killer on the loose and who knows where he will strike next.

    1. yes only a matter of time before all those aging nuclear reactors break down. Let us hope they are shut down before they have meltdowns during their operations.

      A serial killer has to kill serially. Nuclear is much more efficient.

  6. I find the usual dipping of ozone, at night, except for in the presence of krypton, to be interesting.
    The human body (and mind, most doctors will say) replenishes itself, at night, and if ozone is up due to krypton, this will not happen. Or, if it happens, it will not be happening as efficiently. Is that why you brought this up in your blog?
    Did I understand this correctly?
    Thanks for posting and linking in ENEnews. Good info.

    1. I was really just focusing on the link to atmospheric heating and the warm water blob. Your comment raises other possible risks.

  7. The total radioactivity from krypton doesn't ionize as much O2 in a year as lightning strikes do in a second. That's why no one's talking about it; there's nothing to talk about.

    1. yes there is because Krypton is believed to increase the likelihood of lightning.

      Hence, more krypton begets more lightning begets more ionization.