Wednesday, January 16, 2013
May Beta Radiation Be More Damaging Than Alpha - Guest Discussion
There is a book on line called Killing Our Own, whose basic theory is that beta radiation (esp in the lungs) is deadlier than the paper theory of dosage would indicate. Makes sense considering the cancer cluster in St. George Utah (the joke about one bomb test --and there is a book by this title--being "The Dragon That Killed St. George)
On the other hand we have the Taiwan and other incidents that totally seem to back radiation hormesis. I wonder if both could be true? Whole body dosage enormously more leeway than on paper, yet inhaling fine beta-emitting dust not being on the short list of health improvements? (One more argument for rainout being helpful in case of a massive release)
The other topic has to do with tritium release. I was doing projections of a hypothetical all-fusion future war (G-d protect!) but suppose it happened using devices that had zero fission content, say microdiode triggered D-T fusion triggering D-D (say deuterated plastic, the carbon being there to immobilize the deuterium) This is way beyond the state of the art today but trivial in 100 years.
Well peak tritium year was 1963 after the 629 megaton spree from 1945-63 http://nextbigfuture.com/2012/06/what-was-total-yield-of-all-known.html
read that whole thing I wrote in June, interesting statistics are that 2394 devices have been detonated so far, more than an Orion's worth etc.
In 1962, the peak year for the atmospheric testing, the Soviets lit off 201 megatons versus 24 megatons atmospheric for the USA—36 percent of all atmospheric testing---that was over 100 megatons fusion, easy to see why 1963 was the peak tritium year--
I have got to thinking, what would happen in a war with zero fisison but say 30000 megatons fusion --? If over 100 KT packages the tritium should be more isolated in the stratosphere, if small tactical devices it should hug the troposphere, (mushroom cloud height, Wiki has a nice table on this, basicallly above 50-100 KT it reaches the stratosphere)
In terms of heavy metals fallout, it should be nil (unless you count activated products from groundbursts) but in case of beta inhalation being a major issue-- could be catastrophic.
One one level not knowing introduces (theoretically) a moment of pause for any future power contemplating war-- that is good. But on the other hand, I have too much faith in human nature to believe that is a sufficient deterrent :(
As I say in the June article, the equivalent of 14976 Nagasaki sized (21 kiloton) bombs in fission and as much separate fusion happened. Theoretically if India and Pakistan or China or some combo got going and was determined to stay within past experience that is still a huge nuclear war with A-bomb sized explosions. So I don't see the deterrent effect being that formidable to future statesmen.
The sweep of future history gives us all pause. Let's hope for sweeping gains, not a brr-- clean sweep.
One thing is sure, we already live in a world where 300 megatons of fusion has been released, mostly to the atmosphere. But to what health effect?
I looked up the research on the St George cluster and they said that with "radioactive fallout (1951 through 1962) from atmospheric nuclear detonations at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) were followed by smaller exposures (1962 through 1979)" they got "There were 109 more cases of cancer than expected (288[observed]/179[expected])".
Wikipedia shows St George currently has a population of 73,000,
That is certainly a significant statistical effect, from many years of exposure to quite high bursts of radiation. On the other hand by definition this case has been self selected precisely because they have a higher cancer rate then normal. - in this case 60% above normal. I don't know enough statistics to calculate what the odds of something being 60% above average in those sort of numbers for events which take place in an entirely random manner as atomic collisions, by definition, do.
However I suspect that it is not that improbable. And am certain that if some other community were found to have a comparable lack of cancers in its community (111 observed, 179 expected) we would never have heard of it. Another effect is that part of the reason we see more tumours nowadays is that more doctors are looking for them. There have always been benign tumours which disappeared of their own accord and in the days before doctors looked for them they rarely found them. I would assume that in St George they were always on the lookout. The abstract doesn't say what the death rates were compared with expectations.
Also in terms of the effects of a major nuclear war these figures would slightly increase overall death rates but not to the civilisation ending level, Compare with the 1 year increase in life expectancy for every 4 that passes. This is 1/7,000 excess cancers - if they all resulted in death this would be shortening life expectancy by about 4 days.
On the other hand there is no implicit reason to believe that Alpha, Beta and Gamma radiation will all have the same dangers - this has simply benn the assumption, as mathematically simple as the LNT theory itself, which bureaicrats have found easy to use.
More genuine research on the subject would certainly be very desirable.