Sunday, May 9

Irony, as Saharan dust returns radiation from French nuclear tests in the 1960s

Dust from the Sahara desert blown north by strong seasonal winds to France not only brought stunning light and sunsets, but also carried abnormal levels of radiation.

That is according to French NGO Acro (Association for the Control of Radioactivity in the West), which monitors radiation levels.

Radiation is not considered dangerous to human health, but it arrived in France with a great deal of irony.

Acro said it comes from nuclear tests conducted by France in the Algerian desert in the early 1960s, when the North African country was a French overseas territory.

He claims that a “boomerang” effect has brought back cesium-137, a product of nuclear fission created in nuclear explosions.

Acro said it did tests on the recent Saharan dust it collected in the Jura area, near the French border with Switzerland.

“Considering homogeneous deposits over a wide area, based on this analytical result, Acro estimates that there were 80,000 bq per km2 of cesium-137,” it said in a statement.

“This radioactive contamination, which comes from afar, 60 years after the nuclear explosions, reminds us of the perennial radioactive contamination in the Sahara, for which France is responsible,” he added.

Could radioactive dust from the desert be dangerous?

If anyone knows Saharan dust well in Europe, it is scientists from the Canary Islands.

From a laboratory in the Laguna University, in Tenerife, Professor Pedro Salazar Carballo told Euronews: “The dust of the Sahara desert, or haze as it is called in the Canary Islands, sometimes contains potassium 40, naturally present in minerals and also cesium-137 from of the nuclear tests of the French Government. “

His laboratory recently published a study on the levels of radiation present in the dust brought by the strong storms of 2020, which forced the closure of airports, keeping hundreds of tourists trapped.

At that time, he found high levels of potassium-40 and cesium-137.

Salazar Carballo insists that these levels are safe and the laboratory constantly monitors the levels that are sent to the Nuclear Safety Council. It has never encountered alarming levels triggered by storms, even after detecting the Chernobyl and Fukushima incidents.

“What actually exposes us the most to radioactivity is the natural radon that emanates naturally from the soil itself,” explains Salazar Carballo.

“It is estimated that between 5% and 14% of lung cancers are due to the radon gas that we breathe, especially in closed and underground spaces.”

Western Europe is currently in the midst of another Saharan dust episode, and there have been at least three this season.

A fairly thick cloud crosses the Mediterranean covering parts of Spain, France, the United Kingdom and Germany, among others, where the phenomenon of “mud rain” is now expected.

And as the storm hits the interior of Algeria again, the particles are likely to carry some cesium-137 from the site of the French nuclear test conducted on February 13, 1960.

Codenamed “Gerboise Bleue,” that test and its remaining remains, which are returning to France, could serve as a reminder of the lingering trace of atomic energy.

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