The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Mystery of particle of enriched uranium floating above Alaska

Scientists Have No Idea Why This Enriched Uranium Particle Was Floating Above Alaska  Gizmodo, Ryan F. Mandelbaum, Feb 14, 2018,  On 3 August 2016, 7km above Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, a research plane captured something mysterious: An atmospheric aerosol particle enriched with the kind of uranium used in nuclear fuel and bombs.

A NASA WB-57 plane, like the one that located the mystery particle.

It’s the first time scientists have detected such a particle just floating along in the atmosphere in 20 years of plane-based observations.

Uranium is the heaviest element to occur naturally on Earth’s surface in an appreciable amount. Normally it occurs as the slightly radioactive isotope uranium-238, but some amount of uranium-235, the kind humans make bombs and fuel out of, occurs in nature. Uranium-238 is already rare to find floating above the Earth in the atmosphere. But scientists have never before spotted enriched uranium, a sample uranium containing uranium-235, in millions of research plane-captured atmospheric particles.

“One of the main motivations of this paper is to see if somebody who knows more about uranium than any of us would understand the source of the particle,” scientist Dan Murphy from NOAA told me. After all, “aerosol particles containing uranium enriched in uranium-235 are definitely not from a natural source,” he writes in the paper, published recently in the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity………

where the particle came from is a mystery. It’s pretty clear it came from recently made reactor-grade uranium, the authors write (AKA, not from Fukushima or Chernobyl). Perhaps from burnt fuel contaminated with uranium, they thought. They tried to trace it to a source using the direction of the wind – but their best estimate pointed vaguely to Asia. Higher probability areas include some parts of China, including its border with North Korea, and parts of Japan. ….


February 16, 2018 - Posted by | general

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