Thursday, May 17, 2012

Radiation Fallout from Fukushima and the US Fire Season

On May 14th the Arizona Republic reported that Arizona had five simultaneous forest fires as of Sunday, two of which were in the Tonto National Forest very close to Phoenix. These fires had started May 13 and May 14.

On May 15 there appeared to be a massive new fire to the north east of Phoenix. The fire plume looked exactly like an atomic-bomb shaped cloud of smoke. Alarmed, I took a picture with my phone.

On May 16 another massive smoke bank was evident to the north of Phoenix. This cloud looked more typical of forest fires.

The sheer number and scale of the fires made me start thinking about the relationship between nuclear fallout and forest fires.

I recall that incineration of fallout was a huge concern with Russia’s fires a couple of years ago, because the fires were near areas heavily contaminated by Chernobyl.

So, I googled the subject and found this right away

Robin Des Bois August 34d, 2010 “Forest Fires: Beware the Radioactive Fallout” warning of re-moblization of Chernobyl radiation by Russia’s fires in 2010:

[excerpt] "Air born radioactive pollution is remobilised by the fires.
In 2003, radioactive emissions from a fire in a non-deciduous forest in East Kazakhstan close to the nuclear tests centre in Semipalatinsk, were detected in Canada. Fires around American nuclear sites in Hanford and Los Alamos caused localized “hot spots”.
In consequence, Robin des Bois is asking The Nuclear Security Agency and equivalent European authorities to communicate on the likelihood of transboundary radioactive pollution subsequent to the fires in Russia…"
Robin des Bois
Association de protection de l'Homme et de l'environnement
Depuis 1985 / Since 1985

MAJIA HERE: Next I found confirmation of the detection of radiation from Chernobyl fires:

S. Perkins. “Radioactive cesium being distributed”. Science News, 2006, July 15): Available:

[excerpt] “A sensitive instrument installed in the Canadian Arctic to monitor fallout from modern nuclear tests has detected small amounts of radioactive cesium produced by bomb tests decades ago. The material, which during the Cold War was spread across northern latitudes by high-altitude winds, is still being redistributed far and wide by forest fires, researchers say.
…Using computer models and weather reports, Wotawa and his colleagues pinned down the source of the cesium: the fires that typically rage unchecked through the boreal forests of Siberia, Alaska, and northern Canada. The concentrations of cesium measured by the Yellowknife sensor during a given month strongly correlate with the sizes of boreal forest fires then burning upwind, the team reports in the June 28…” [end excerpt]

MAJIA HERE: Wikipedia’s entry on Russian forest fires and Chernobyl offers several sources for confirmation on the re-moblization of radiation:

•   ^ a b Dusha-Gudym, Sergei I. (August 1992). "Forest Fires on the Areas Contaminated by Radionuclides from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Accident". IFFN. Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC). pp. No. 7, p. 4–6. Retrieved 2008-06-18.

•  ^ (5.07 KB)

•  ^ Davidenko, Eduard P.; Johann Georg Goldammer (January 1994). "News from the Forest Fire Situation in the Radioactively Contaminated Regions".

•  ^ Antonov, Mikhail; Maria Gousseva (2002-09-18). "Radioactive fires threaten Russia and Europe".

MAJIA HERE: Wonderful. Any Fukushima fallout is going to be re-mobilized with all our forest fires.

Now what the heck is going on in AZ given the sudden and significant “burst” of fires? Could the fallout-contaminated areas burn hotter and/or faster?

The plume of smoke that I saw on 5/15 that looked like a nuclear bomb explosion is probably a crowning fire.

I read about how dangerous they are when fallout is at issue, but unfortunately the discussion did not indicate whether or not they fallout made a fire more likely to be a crowning fire:

Another great danger is posed by high-intensity (crowning) fires which develop convective activity and lifting of radionuclides into the atmosphere. To obtain correct quantitative characteristics of the redistribution of radionuclides during forest fires, it is necessary to conduct laboratory and field experiments. These experiments are needed to develop fire behaviour models, especially for heat and mass transfer in the near-ground layer." Dusha-Gudym, Sergei I. (August 1992). "Forest Fires on the Areas Contaminated by Radionuclides from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Accident". IFFN. Global Fire

Majia: I'm interested in any informed opinions about whether fallout effects the likelihood and/or characteristic burning of forest fires.

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