Cancer deaths from nuclear weapons testing
  The Radiation Dangers Resulting from Solar Storms ** WORK-IN-PROGRESS **

Strong solar storms capable of overpowering Earth's magnetic shield can allow solar (radioactive) particles and/or electric currents to enter our atmosphere producing a range of effects - from creating visibly pleasant aurorae to shutting down our electricity grids to dangerously irradiating airplane passengers. Solar storms occur normally during the peak of the 11-year 'solar cycle' - and we're currently in one (in 2012 and 2013). The 2012-2013 solar 'season' might be the worst one in 400 years.


At temperatures of 15 million degrees Kelvin and pressures hundreds of billions of times the pressure at Earth's sea level, the sun is the kiln of our solar system. The core allows for the fusing of protons - or hydrogen ions - into an atom of helium-4 (two protons and two neutrons). The process gives off a number of forms of radiation including a positron, a neutrino, a gamma ray as well as two stray protons. The sun emits multiple types of electromagnetic radiation, including visible light, x-rays and UV rays. Most forms of solar radiation would be deadly to humans were it not for Earth's naturally-occurring ozone layer and magnetic field, which shields us from dangers including UV light and dangerously radioactive charged particles.

Aurorae are one of the best ways to view Earth's magnetic shield 'at work.' Aurorae occur during solar storms - when huge amounts of electrons from the Sun enter our upper atmosphere. These electrons, and some protons too, that travel from the sun via 'radiation clouds' cause electrons of atoms and molecules of oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen in Earth's atmosphere to shift into 'excited,' higher energy states. As these electrons become 'de-excited,' they glow, like a neon light.

Each variety of atomic matter in our upper atmosphere glows a different color when affected by this natural neon light effect, which we call aurorae or auroral light. Auroras generate light only in our upper atmosphere (anywhere from 50 miles to 400 miles above the Earth's surface).

Auroras are usually only visible in the far northern parts of Earth. In 1958, when the biggest number of sunspots were recorded in recent times, solar flare activity was relatively great and the so-called 'Northern Lights' were seen at much lower latitudes than normal. In that year, the 'lights' were seen in Mexico three times. (Interestingly, declining sunspot numbers following a peak in 1947 temporarily reversed in 1949. A similar 'broad peak' in 1968 through 1970 was unexpected. This may suggest - as unbelievable as it might sound - that human activities, namely nuclear testing, may have affected solar activity).

The worst kind of effects of solar storms are associated with so-called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs. There are many frightening consequences of a 'perfect solar storm' or CME on Earth in the 21st century. They include blackouts at nuclear power plants, high external radiation doses to airline pilots and passengers, and the orbital decay of nuclear satellites. Orbiting Earth are dozens of nuclear (reactor) powered satellites (if you don't know reactors are orbiting Earth, learn about it here). Although these potential 'nuclear bombs' are 'locked' in at high orbits, a solar storm can heat up the ionosphere and disturb their orbit, potentially causing them to be dragged from their safe orbit into our atmosphere. In the book 'The Sun Kings' author Stuart Clark notes that 'The heating of the Earth's atmosphere would cause it to balloon, dragging down the lower satellites from orbit.' The orbital decay of these nuclear reactor powered satellites, which one scientist says could explode on Earth like an atom bomb, may be hastened by strong CMEs.

Stages of a CME

The first warning sign of a CME is a powerful solar flare. Usually this kind of event, if 'aimed' at the Earth, will produce on Earth a magnetic 'crotchet' or disturbance, also know as a 'Solar Flare Effect.'

What happens is that solar-emitted X-rays and UV light traveling at the speed of light will energize the ionosphere in such a way that the Earth's magnetic field is boosted (in fact, the flare causes a new 'band' to appear in our ionosphere). Effects from intense solar flares, ranging from radio and telecom problems to, in extremely rare cases, x-ray overexposures on Earth's surface, are always experienced on the side of Earth facing the sun.

It is important to note that some solar flares produce solar storms and some do not. A solar flare that is accompanied by the ejection from the sun's surface of billions of tons of protons is what produces solar storms, or CMEs - hence the name 'coronal mass ejection.'

Protons, which are charged particles, contained in this massive field will align in the same direction to form a 'magnetic cloud' - this mass of protons with an internal magnetic field structure will impact Earth depending, in part, on the orientation of this field to Earth's field. (Scientists actually can't determine a magnetic cloud's orientation until it is rather close to Earth, or about 1 million miles away). There are a number of conditions that make a CME ripe for a 'perfect (solar) storm' on Earth. A CME must be intense, moving fast and straight towards Earth, and its magnetic field must be in the opposite direction from Earth (for example, the CME's north magnetic pole must be oriented towards the Earth's south magnetic pole.)

Solar storms don't affect Earth physically like atmospheric storms. They don't cause wind or rain on Earth. Rather, a solar storm's effects are chemical and magnetic. The first effects of a CME will occur in our upper atmosphere within 18 to 26 hours after the solar flare (the reason is these protons are traveling a few thousand kilometers per second and take some time to travel to Earth). As protons storm our upper atmosphere, they create chemical compounds (e.g. NOx, HOx). These compounds incidentally are effective at destroying ozone. A big solar flare can temporarily destroy up to 5% of our ozone layer! Some of these compounds, mostly nitrates, will fall to the Earth's surface and become part of the 'ice record' in the polar regions.

Other atmospheric chemical effects have to do with the strength of the solar storms. These storms have a kind of 'wind' that can slow down the routine chemical reactions occurring in our upper atmosphere associated with radioactive particles streaming from deep space (a.k.a cosmic radiation). A 'solar wind' associated with a solar storm can displace the 'cosmic wind.' Energetic protons and ions ejected from a massive solar event will collide with neutrons of oxygen and nitrogen atoms in our atmosphere causing showers of neutrons to rain down on the surface of the Earth. Solar storms are thus usually correlated with increased neutron activity levels on Earth. A portion of these neutrons falling to Earth will also be from the solar ejection itself - these are high-energy neutrons from the Sun that are unaffected by Earth's magnetic field. Very high-energy protons (>500 million electron volts) from CMEs can also make their way to Earth's surface by breaking through our planet's magnetic field. Only during extreme solar events will people on Earth's surface experience harmful radiation effects. Those people in aircraft, however, could be gravely affected. According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), flying in an airplane during a solar flare/storm can dose you with cosmic radiation at the rate of up to 20 millirems/hour, OR up to 60 millirems during a 3-hour flight. That's about 50% of your annual dose from all natural radiation sources! Although commercial airlines often elect to fly at a lower cruising altitude and avoid polar regions during 'geomagnetic' storms to minimize exposures to passengers, this is NOT in the best interest of public health. The best option is to keep planes grounded during geomagnetic storms. During these storms, not only can passengers become exposed to tens of millirems per hour but the plane cabin can become contaminated with neutrons and protons! The international commerical airline industry has a history of deceiving passengers about radiation contamination. Because of greed, companies never told passengers that plane cabins regularly became contaminated during the era of nuclear testing in the 1960s and during events like Chernobyl and Fukushima.

There are magnetic effects associated with solar flares and solar storms. A rare but possible effect of a solar flare (not solar storm) is an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP. A solar flare will spew out many forms of electromagnetic radiation, including x-rays, UV light and gamma rays. Gamma rays reaching the Earth from the Sun or deep space cause 'mass stripping' of atmospheric atoms. If a solar flare is strong enough, the Earth could suffer from a plethora of stray electrons careening down to Earth forming a massive electrical current or EMP. The extreme voltage contained in the EMP, which can travel through objects, would disable or 'fry' most electronics, including even pacemakers. An EMP would be extremely damaging to Earth's technology-based cultures, potentially causing trillions of dollars of damage, yet would be a non-event in so-called primitive societies. CMEs, on the other hand, can affect Earth magnetically in an entirely different way. Earth's huge magnetic field lines in what is called the 'magnetosphere' attract energetic or charged particles from the cosmos and the sun (Earth's magnetic field forms from the rotation of the iron and nickel core). During a CME, the magnetic field in these lines change often. If you know your physics, then you know that this can also induce electricity - electricity is created by rapidly changing magnetic fields. If you spin a magnet within a coil of wire, it creates electricity. This is the basis for our power generation (e.g. turbines).

During CMEs, the spinning magnet is the flux in our magnetosphere (brought upon by the CME's 'space weather') and this induces electricity in the 'wire.' But, 'what,' you ask 'is the wire?' It's terrestrial copper, basically. Anything on Earth that conducts electricity - ranging from oil pipelines, to power transmission lines, to metal fences - will begin conducting electricity during a CME geomagnetic storm. Unfortunately, the voltage created within these Earth conductors by geomagnetic storms will often exceed the voltage capacity and fry or melt electrical components. Since Earth's magnetic field deflects charged particles to the magnetic poles, which are close to the geographical poles, usually northerly or southerly regions are worst impacted. In 1989, residents in Quebec lost power for 9 hours when the electric grid there was overwhelmed by geomagnetic disturbances during a solar storm.

Cosmogenic Radiation

Solar radiation is usually so weak relative to cosmic radiation that it has no effect on the the production of radioactive isotopes from cosmic winds. Energetic neutrons and protons in the cosmic wind become regularly absorbed by oxygen and nitrogen atoms in our upper atmosphere to produce radioactive beryllium-7 and carbon-14 (or cosmogenic radionuclides). During solar storms, cosmogenic radionuclide production in our atmosphere immediately diminishes. The cosmic wind is simply made up of the same stuff as the solar wind but is (usually) much more potent.

How the Sun Can Contaminate Us on Earth

During solar storms, protons and neutrons, which are created in the fusion (or thermonuclear) processes in the core of our sun, are erupted into space and and when they reach Earth bombard our planet's robust magnetic 'shield,' called the Van Allen Belts. The Van Allen belts, Earth's final protective boundary, are a part of our ionosphere, a layer of atmosphere above the stratosphere that extends into space, and range from 7,700 to 51,500 kilometers above the earth's surface. They capture stray protons, alpha particles and electrons from solar and cosmic winds. These belts protect Earth's 'ark' of life by keeping the bulk of the penetrating radiation from the sun and the cosmos from reaching the surface.

During strong solar storms, proton and neutron bombardment of Earth can overpower the Van Allen Belts and stream to the surface. The effects of this can be problematic. These kinds of high energy particles can cause equipment damage and result in rapid radiation increases on Earth, which can result in human radiation overexposures. In one recorded instance, cosmic radiation instrumentation on Earth's surface recorded a '7-fold increase for a few hours.' ('Radiological Quality of the Environment in the U.S.,' EPA, 1977) At higher elevations where the solar particles streaming to the surface will be even greater, background radiation could increase 10 or 20-fold for a short time. If you were on a plane trip at that same time, your exposure could jump 100 to 200-fold, or more!

Consequences of Solar-induced Ozone Disturbances

For billions of years, geo-physical systems in and around Earth have provided a perfect balance of natural, environmental radiation that has helped life evolve and survive. Too much radiation can cause rampant mutations and end all life. Too little radiation can reduce biodiversity and genetic adaptations to the environment. It is interesting to note that the largest concentration of Van Allen belt charged particles exists above Earth's equator, which is incidentally the region of the most abundant life. As we discuss below, this is partly due to fluxes in UV light associated with solar storms.

Ultraviolet light, which causes our skin to burn and age and even causes genetic mutations, is measured at wavelengths of 2,800 to 3,200 Angstroms, which is nearly fully blocked by the ozone layer (it blocks out wavelengths between 2,500 and 3,000 A). As we discussed above, solar storms can change the chemical composition of our upper atmosphere temporarily and boost the levels of ozone-depleting chemicals. When the ozone layer becomes depleted, ultraviolet light reaching Earth's surface increases, and this can have an effect on slowing plant growth and photosynthesis, damaging bacteria and fungi, harming insects and producing genetic alterations.

One easily finds in the historical record that past civilizations feared comets - they learned that outbreaks of new disease usually followed meteor showers. Why? Showers of tiny particles from the debris field of a comet can punch holes in the ozone layer, letting in immune-system weakening ultraviolet radiation. A look across ethnologies shows a few customs common to non-related tribal cultures, such as averting exposure to the sun or contact with other persons at certain times and maintaining small, remote units of tribes (to avoid mass-causalities from pandemics of infectious disease).

Our own civilization is still reluctant to become frightened of solar maximum activity despite it being the greatest cause of UV-related increases in disease outbreaks in our history. U.K. scientists wrote in letters published by the journal Nature in 1978 and 1990 (Nature 275:86) about the correlation between solar activity maximum - at sunspot cycle peaks - and the outbreak of type A influenza pandemics. The peak of the solar sunspot cycle, every 11 years or so, is linked to radiation-induced 'antigenic' shifts in type A influenza (i.e. H1N1, H2N2, etc..). Antigene shifts during sunspot peaks invariably result in new subtypes of type A influenza to emerge. As these HxNx strains challenge biological organisms who have no prior antibody resistance, former subtypes disappear. Usually. The only major re-occurrence of a non-disappearing subtype was H1N1, which caused a secondary pandemic in 1977 and a third in 2009. (These re-occurrences may be the result of a deliberate or accidental military lab release of the strain.)

It is apparent when viewing the correlation of sunspot cycle peaks with timeframes of global flu pandemics that one precedes the other by about 12 months, which is the time it takes for a new flu strain to reach pandemic levels. Notable pandemic outbreaks, each correlating with high sunspot activity, occurred in 1917-1918, 1957-58 (Asian flu pandemic) and 1978-79 ('Red Flu').

Resources for solar storm enthusiasts

Neutron monitoring worldwide:

Real-time spectrum global Realtime station data is ordered according to cutoff rigidity, from top (Doi Inthanon, 17 GV) to bottom (polar stations, 0 GV).
Greenland (Thule)

Van Allen Belts and Nuclear Tests

As a 'magnet' for these charged particles, the Van Allen belts can - depending on the intensities of collected radiation - disturb the natural ability of the ionosphere to 'propagate' or reflect radio waves from Earth. The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (predecessor to the Department of Energy) conducted several atomic and thermonuclear explosions in space and high-altitudes to test the effects of various forms of radiation bursts on Earth's upper atmosphere.  The greatest frequency of such tests occurred during 1958, when U.S. agencies conducted nuclear explosions at various high altitudes in April, July and the first-half of August; one test detonated at 252,000 feet (Shot Teak).  During the late summer of 1958, the A.E.C and Department of Defense coordinated the first nuclear tests to take place in Earth orbit.  It was part of 'Operation Argus,' a bold military-communications experiment that involved detonating atom bombs in space at a distance of over one hundred miles from Earth.

Like all atom bomb 'experiments' in non-laboratory controlled conditions - like the A-bomb explosions on the Japanese people - a lot remains unanswered about what happened in the experiment and if the experiment materially added to understanding of a theory or hypothesis.  Although the U.S. military has long patted itself on the back for its success at executing both 'operations' so quickly - just four months from conception to completion for Argus, and about three years for the atom bomb - the 'field tests' suffered from data 'emaciation.'  In the Japanese bomb attacks, as in the Argus operation, the U.S. military was not able to install instrumentation in the 'field' beforehand to determine the yield or the height/altitude, or collect sufficient photographic evidence of the blasts.  The scientific need for usable data was satisfied via later efforts - in late September 1945 U.S. military inspectors started showing up on the ground at the Japanese bombed cities to take radiation measurements (it would take years, even decades, to try to reconstruct the 'dose' received by the Japanese people).  Likewise, although the U.S. military launched into orbit the 'Explorer IV' satellite that 'intersected' with and measured the aftereffects of the Argus atom blasts, scientists to this day are confused about the altitudes of the Argus explosions and what effect they had on the 'Van Allen belts.'

img border="0" src="argusmap.PNG" style="float: left">What is known is that the Argus team set sail on naval ships towards the South Atlantic Ocean with three atom bombs.  The ships traveled to a southerly - near polar - latitude, about one third of the way from the southern tip of Africa to the southern tip of South America4.  Hundreds of miles away from land and shipping lanes, in complete isolation, the team launched the nuclear devices - each about 1/10 of the yield of the Hiroshima bomb - via three-stage rockets from the decks of the ships during August and September of 1958 (August 27, 30, and September 6, 1958).  Two atom bombs detonated at a goal 'burst' altitude in space, whereas a third atom bomb only made it half way to its destination.  Radioactive particles - what we normally call 'fallout' on Earth's surface - formed a Saturn-like ring around Earth orbit, which was the goal of Operation Argus: to add nuclear radiation to the 'Van Allen belts.' The ionosphere enables a kind of 'greenhouse effect' on radio waves, and solar storms can overload the belts to disrupt Earth communications.  The theory behind the Argus experiment was if we can infuse these natural 'belts' around Earth with artificial radiation, then radio communications could be substantially hindered. More specifically, since the Van Allen Belts circulate around Earth like a conveyor belt, a huge uptick in radiation from a nuclear bomb's fission products at one point would travel along the belt to Soviet airspace, damaging their communications ability.  

The enhanced radiation belt was detected by the Explorer satellite and therefore we do know, at least, that there was a  '60 mile blanket of beta particles that completely encircled the earth for days' (Under the Cloud, Miller, 1986).  Subsequent 'high altitude' nuclear experiments further tested the theory that the U.S. military can blow up nuclear bombs in Earth orbit to silence electromagnetic (radio) communications elsewhere.  Where the Argus bombs detonated is anyone's guess - somewhere between the present-day orbits of the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station.  Had one of the other Explorer satellites not failed to launch and one atom bomb not failed to reach its orbital burst 'goal,' then more would be known about and from Operation Argus.

One thing learned from Operation Argus was how to reduce the altitude required to detonate an atom bomb and fully contaminate the Van Allen belts with nuclear radiation.  Scientists made use of a natural 'dip' in the belts in the southern Atlantic (~300 km) that allowed them to conveniently detonate nuclear bombs at significantly lower heights than otherwise.  (A 'dip' in the belts over the central Pacific was the reason why sites like Johnston Island were used for more HANE tests.)   The method is somewhat similar to the reason why nurses and doctors take blood from our arm, which is easier, as effective and less dangerous than 'tapping' the blood supply via the heart or a large artery.

While scientists were secretly having a 'blast' with Argus, no one else on Earth knew that the U.S. had begun nuking space (some people might have been confused when seeing small flashes of light from the explosions in space or witnessing a colorful 'aura' (displays of light) in the night sky.)   Argus was conducted in complete secrecy and scientists and civilians around the world would first find out the details of the operation six months later, in early 1959.  The Soviets, who were busy negotiating with the U.S. over a nuclear test ban treaty in late 1958, were in the dark until then too.  So were several hundred million people in the Southern Hemisphere who never imagined that a ballistic nuclear missile could have crashed and blown up in their cities or farms.  

The 'Argus' operation remains the only known U.S. nuclear test series that was kept secret from the public during the atmospheric test era.  The reason: the Americans were negotiating an 'understanding' with the Soviets over a nuclear test ban and didn't want them or anyone to know they were sneaking in 'a few ones.' The 'Argus' operation also remains the only known event (of numerous U.S. space follies) that created a band of plutonium-239 particles that will orbit the Earth for thousands of years.  (Plutonium also resides in the U.S.'s single (uranium-fueled) 'space reactor' that it launched into orbit in 1965 that will likely re-enter our atmosphere in the 23rd or 24th century.)

table border="6" cellspacing="0" width="30%" style="float: left; border-style: solid; border-color: #FFFFFF; padding-right: 0" bgcolor="#FFCAB0" bordercolor="#FFFFFF"> How high can you go? Altitudes:

The Moon - 235,000 miles

Communications satellites - 22,000 miles

Hubble telescope - 350 miles

International Space Station - 220 miles

Thermosphere - up to 600 km

Mesophere - up to 120 km 

Stratosphere - 15 miles (varies greatly depending on latitude and season)

Troposphere - 9 miles

Mt. Everest - 5.5 miles

Note: the above altitudes are approximations


Four years after Operation Argus, U.S. defense and space agencies created the longest-lasting radioactive 'fallout event' in human history with its 1962 high-altitude tests a href="otherpac.png"> over Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.  These nuclear explosions did even greater damage to property in space and the Van Allen belts than the Argus blasts.

The worst was 'Starfish Prime,' conducted on July 9, 1962, at 399 kilometers (248 miles) above Earth.  The hydrogen bomb detonation at a distance slightly further out into space than the present-day International Space Station was pegged at 1.4 megatons, or about 100 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb.  Starfish Prime was one in a series of five tests of Operation Fishbowl and, similar to the Argus experiment, created an envelope of charged (beta) particles that stayed trapped in Earth's magnetic field.  The artificial radiation belt created by 'Starfish,' which took at least five years to dissipate2, inadvertently compromised the operability of numerous U.S. satellites.  One team of scientists concluded that many hundreds of years will pass before the radiation is restored to normal levels in the Van Allen belts (Nigel Harle).

* Transit 1B, launched on April 13, 1960, was 'silenced by radiation damage to its solar cells' after the July 9, 1962 test.  

* Four months after the Starfish test, Transit 4B, launched on November 15, 1961, went silent after being damaged by radiation.  (Orbital Space Flight, 1964)  

* Other satellites that sustained minor or major damages from Starfish include Ariel, Traac, Cosmos V, Injun I and Telstar.  

Starfish disabled or caused degradation to at most one-third of all low-earth orbit satellites at the time.  Starfish's resulting electromagnetic pulse (or EMP) reached the Earth's surface where it disrupted radio stations, communication circuits and caused outages or malfunctions in electrical systems in and around Hawaii.  The effects were similar in fashion to the fictional EMP employed by the characters in the movie Ocean's Eleven that disrupted electricity in Las Vegas and helped them rob a casino.  EMPs can also affect heart pacemakers.

Starfish's health impacts have been worse than imagined or estimated.  Radioactive particles from Starfish dispersed evenly around the low-earth space, in both hemispheres, initially creating a ring of debris between altitudes of about 100 to 200 kilometers (62 to 124 miles).   The 'prompt fallout,' of immediate dry-deposition of radioactive debris, from Starfish, as with other high-altitude tests, was nil (zero) -  the debris resided in space for a lengthy period, dubbed the 'residence time.'  The fission products (test debris), however, did slowly reenter Earth's lower atmosphere starting after about one year and is still raining from space onto Earth.  This fact was entirely ignored by NPR science correspondent Robert Krulwich who reported in July 4th-themed piece1 in the summer of 2010 about the colorful auras produced by 'Starfish Prime' test.  The aura was created by the artifical injection of electrons into the Earth's magnetic field which excite oxygen and nitrogen in our atmosphere to result in the lit-up colors we associate with an aura. Krulwich stated incorrectly that the radiation from the Starfish Prime test "gradually dissipated up there."  That is not true.  Debris from HANE tests, including Starfish, was detected evenly across the globe, in both hemispheres.   The nuclear devices for 'Starfish Prime' and another U.S. space test in August 1958, 'Orange,' utilized chemical tracers that would become 'activated' into radioisotopes when bombarded by neutrons in the hydrogen bomb explosions. With half-lives of a few hundred days, these tracers could be found on Earth where they would stand out because of their isotopic (chemical) rarity for several years. Thirty-three months after the Orange test, most of its tracer, Rh-102, was still in the stratosphere and ionosphere but 20,000 curies of it was determined to have been deposited on Earth's surface. A group of Russian scientists detected Starfish Prime's tracer, Cadmium-109, on the ground at four places in the Soviet Union during 1964 to 1967. (J. Geophys. Res. 75, 3569 (June 20, 1970).) This evidence would lead any scientist to conclude that long-lived fallout from high-altitude nuclear tests, including Starfish Prime, did not entirely 'dissipate up there,' contrary to the assertions of NPR. 

There were actually two U.S. hydrogen bomb tests conducted above the stratosphere for which fallout will remain for decades (and conceivably remain for over 100 years in small amounts) in the upper atmosphere.  These were the nuclear tests 'Starfish Prime' and 'Teak' (3.8 mt), conducted in July 1962 and August 1958, respectively.3 In the 1970s, the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) tested the air in airplane cabins for radioactivity and found that nuclear testing radiation was detectable in planes that soared into the stratosphere. As jetliners during the 1970s flew straight through contaminated air masses, neutron and gamma rays penetrated through the plane's walls and stratospheric radionuclides from hydrogen bomb tests entered the cockpit air intake and circulated throughout the aircraft's cabin. Other than one or two sets of samples by the PHS, commercial airline passengers' inhalation of radioactive particles from the stratospheric debris of high altitude and hydrogren bomb explosions has never been studied. 

Our own calculations show that 20,000 Curies of cesium-137 and strontium-90 is still airborne in the stratosphere and above the stratosphere.  This amount of radioactive cesium and strontium fallout is about the same that would be created from an atomic bomb five times the size of the Hiroshima blast.  It is a certainty that airline travelers, to this day, are breathing in radioactive air when they take long-haul flights. (Read more in the section below titled 'Special section: Radioactive air-travel?')   

Other HANE tests detonated above the stratosphere - at altitudes (<100km) containing enough oxygen to create a fireball - posed added health negatives.  These such tests, conducted in the Pacific by the U.S. in 1962, were visible over a greater area of the globe than surface tests, perhaps up to 500 or 1,000 miles.  Due to the extreme brightness of a fireball in space or near-space, anyone watching such a test within hundreds of miles of the ground-zero may have suffered eye injury or blindness.    Sinisterly, this is one of the strategic tactics of conducting high-altitude nuclear bomb attacks - to cause mass-scale blindness.  Another is to disable the electronic systems of a nuclear enemy. 

1 'A Very Scary Light Show: Exploding H-Bombs In Space,' All Things Considered, July 1, 2010. [NPR mentioned several common rainbow colors seen by observers/victims of Starfish Prime, but they forgot one: black, the 'color' that remained as the only visual experience for those who were blinded by Starfish Prime (also the color worn at funerals by those mourning the death of radiation victims from U.S. nuclear testing)]

2 Six and seven years after the test, traces of charged particles were still being detected, trapped in the Earth's magnetic field.

3 A general rule of thumb is the time it takes for one half of the debris to be removed from the upper atmosphere from a nuclear test conducted above 100 kilometers is about 10 years.

4 Coordinates: Argus 1: 38.5 S, 11.5 W; Argus 2: 49.5 S, 8.2 W; Argus 3: 49.5 S, 9.7 W


A rough estimate+ of the Curies of Strontium-90 and Cesium-137 released from Starfish are found below: (compare this to other Chernobyl-like disasters a href="1curies.php">here) 

table border="1" cellpadding="6" cellspacing="0">   Curies of Sr90 Curies of Cs137 Height of burst What percent of space debris remains by 2010 (~50 yrs)   Curies of Sr90 and Cs137 remaining in upper atmosphere Chernobyl  216,000 2,700,000  0 km - - Starfish Prime 72,500 116,000 400 km 3% 5,655 Teak 190,000 304,000 77 km 3% 14,820

+ Starfish Prime's total yield was 1.45 megatons, and about 50% was fission yield.  Our estimates use conversion ratio of 0.1 megaCi/Mt for Sr90; and 0.16 megaCi/Mt for Cs137

We assume above for Starfish Prime and Teak that both were conducted in 1960 and that the above rule of thumb applies to Teak's burst altitude of 77km

Other U.S. high-altitude tests included three tests in the 1958 Hardtack series, and five tests, including Starfish Prime, in the Fishbowl Series of 1962 that were nuclear-effects tests of high altitude nuclear detonations. The 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty prohibited nuclear explosions under-water, and above-ground or in space (in the atmosphere up to 50 kilometers, or about 31 miles).

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Special section: Radioactive air-travel?

Full-body scanners at our airports give off about about 0.01 milliRems - or 10 microRems - of x-ray radiation.  But Rapidscan, the leading provider of scanners to the TSA ("Rapidscan Secure 1000"), can't know for sure if that is a correct number.  

One of the company's previous models, the Rapidscan 'Secure,' gave out a dose per 'exam' of just 3 microrems, per the company, but that wasn't quite correct.  At a presentation at the 25th meeting of the DHHS' Technical Electronic Products Radiation Safety Standards Committee in 1998, it was learned that the "The radiation dose produced by the Secure is 3 microrem per scan, and again, there is some controversy whether it is 3, whether it's 5, whether it's 4, but it is generally in that range.  It is certainly not 10 microrem per scan.  When you get to these levels, it is very difficult to do the dosimetry on them. " 

Now that Rapidscan claims 10 microRems of dose to passenger per 'exam', we need to ask - what is the margin of error for the dose?  

There is also evidence suggesting that the x-rays pumped out of the Rapidscan are so weak that they don't result in a 'whole body dose,' meaning the x-ray radiation is absorbed mostly by the skin organ and can't penetrate much deeper.  This adjusts the dosage significantly - for the worse, for the skin organ - yet it doesn't appear that anyone has any answers or is getting the answers.  For persons carrying babies or with skin cancer risks, backscatter x-ray machines could be doing damage hundreds or thousands of times worse than what you're being told.  Also, since it has happened at the world's best hospitals, we can expect that (backscatter) x-ray scanners will malfunction and give off excess radiation to thousands of passengers before the errors are determined through routine calibrations!  Will we hear about this on the evening news one day, when it is too late?  What is the TSA's protocol for machine calibration and is this protocol open for citizen comments and review?

If we add the Rapidscan dose from its scanners to the radiation that passengers get from cosmic rays while being up in the unprotected parts of the atmosphere, which is about 1.5 millirems per flight per person (0.5 mRem/hr), then the cumulative external dose from flying a normal 'haul' is around 1.501 milliRems.  Although this is a tiny number, for every 1,000,000 passenger-trips we can expect 1.2 of these passengers - in their lifetimes - to contract leukemia and another 1.2 of them will contract non-fatal cancer and another 1.2 of them with contract a fatal cancer, all attributable to the radiation.  Considering there are millions of 'passenger-trips' each year worldwide, it is apparent that radiation exposure from flying and getting x-rays at airports isn't harmless.  (We use the 'Fatal Cancer Yield' determined by the late John Gofman, a Manhattan Project scientist.)

But let's say you can accept the risk that that you might be one of those 1.2 persons per million passenger-trips who get a malignancy from Rapidscan's machines and flying on a commercial jetliner -  you're not out of the woods yet.

A scientific paper "Estimation of the fluence of high-energy electron bursts produced by thunderclouds and the resulting radiation doses received in aircraft" noted that airplanes a href="">may be rarely struck by 'terrestrial gamma ray flashes' from lightning blasts.  Not all lightning blasts will cause these flashes, but when they do occur the microsecond intense bursts of radiation can expose passengers to 'biologically significant levels' that could go as high as 10,000 millirems, which is about 30 years' worth of an individual's annual radiation dose put in one microsecond!

Have you ever heard this?  Probably not. Airline corporations do not warn their passengers about the high-radiation threats from terrestrial gamma ray flashes.  When we strap ourselves in our cars, we know the risks from driving - we are informed by recall information, weather conditions, road signage and guidelines for vehicle operation and maintenance.   But when we board an airplane, we are not being told all of the risks.  Pregnant mothers and our infants aren't told that they could be in grave danger from these 'flashes' of radiation. 

It is high time that airline passengers stop being so damn naive about health assurances given to them.  For decades, airlines accepted medical cargo that they placed directly under the cabin in the cargo bay and these packets contained radioactive materials that would shoot out neutron and gamma rays from literally below our feet through the floor into us, the passengers!  Most of us were never told about these health risks.  Similarly, sitting so close to people can also be hazardous while flying.  There is always a fraction of people in our society that have been recently discharged from hospitals after receiving radiotherapy implants - upon leaving, they are told to limit their time around their co-workers and relatives.  But they board planes and sit next to us, for hours!  Radiation experts will tell you that radiation-implanted persons are literally too dangerous to be near for hours upon hours and they may be hazardous to your health.  In Congress, legislators are trying to get hospitals to keep these radioactive persons from leaving the hospital too early.  Why won't the airlines screen passengers for radiation implants, disclose all health risks from flying, ban radio-medical cargo and address the controversies over X-ray scanners?  Why won't they work to improve our health and not just take our money to fly us from Point A to Point B?

It is speculated that human activity can likewise create the same conditions. Dr. Haym Kruflak, a scientist from Michigan, noticed in the 1950s that following open-air atomic detonations in Nevada, cosmic radiation counts increased by as much as 1,700 percent in a matter of days. The cosmic radiation levels shot up following the 'Turk' test on March 7, 1955 in Nevada from 46/minute on March 7 to 67/minute on March 9 to 200/minute on March 10. Dr. Kruflak recorded following the next test in Nevada, shot 'Hornet' on March 12, that cosmic radiation counts increased in snow two and one-half days later to 800 counts per minute. The cosmic radiation increases, explained Dr. Raymond Bernard in his 1960 book 'The Danger We All Face,' was likely due to the disruption of 'the protective ozone canopy covering our atmosphere' by atomic explosions. Atomic explosions can affect the ozone in two ways - by literally punching a 'hole' in the ozone layer, and two via production of ozone-depleting gasses formed by the nuclear blast. Increases in neutron and proton activity on the Earth's surface following a nuclear test may explained as follows: the shock wave from an atom bomb blast jolts the ionosphere so much that charged particles simply get knocked out of the magnetic 'hold' of the Van Allen Belts and fall down to Earth.

Tribal cultures aren't the ones to note that outbreaks of new diseases are correlated with strange cosmic events. What few scientists have admitted thus far is that human activities can aid the rise of new, deadly diseases and viruses. Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet atomic scientist-turned-critic, wrote in his book 'Memoirs,' published last decade, that in the late 1950s he had suggested 'that a global increase in mutations of bacteria and viruses...might have been an important factor in the spread of such diseases as diphtheria in the nineteenth century, or the influenza epidemic, and that low-level radiation might further increase the rate of mutations.' What Sakhavrov had implied is that the introduction of man-made sources of radioactivity has aggravated the situation, contributing to the rise of increased mutations of living organisms, including viruses. documents in case study fashion how things went wrong in the quest - if there truly ever was one - to keep human beings safe from the biological dangers associated with splitting the atom and its tempting applications. Nuclear crimes are usually only committed by the state (government) and companies - sometimes both working together; but they are nearly always enabled by millions or billions of silent witnesses, all of them living in a state called denial.

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