Speaking of Plutonium

That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons even death may die.

Quoting Lovecraft may be uncool; I know he was an asshole – but his writings were excellent at conveying a sort of creeping poisonous dread that is very appropriate for radioactive poisoning. In a way, I suppose, these substances that never would have occurred naturally, are literally the stuff of supernatural terror.

The first H-bomb (Ivy Mike) was set off in a worthless (but inhabited) test-ground far from anything, in the Pacific. Ivy Mike exploded harder than expected and completely vaporized the island of Elugelab – it was a ground-burst, so it sucked up a lot of sand and stuff that was formerly island, irradiated it, and lofted it up into the atmosphere. Eniwetok Atoll, where Elugelab formerly was, became a testing-ground for nuclear weapons and – as usual for the military – they made a great big mess of the place.

Clean-up efforts consisted of shoving everything into a hole and putting concrete over it. This was deemed to be such a good idea, that the US shipped tons of irradiated dirt from its own nuclear processing labs, to bury safely far away from the motherland.

The background radiation there is higher than at Chernobyl, in spots.

They didn’t think about global warming and ocean rise. There’s already some leakage going into the local water, but the whole thing is going to be submerged eventually, unless they move it, or build a wall around it and it becomes a little tiny island.

Maybe they can call it “R’lyeh.”

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More on this cheerful story at Vice [vice]

The Nuclear Claims Tribunal, an independent ruling body with the authority to arbitrate legal relations between the United States and the Marshall Islands, awarded the Marshall Islands $2 billion in damages in 2001. Washington has paid only $4 million.


  1. lorn says

    “History will judge post – WW2 USA as worse than Nazi Germany.”

    I doubt it.

    One rule of thumb I use is that if a bad behavior makes the headlines as an immediate threat it is likely to be only a minor concern. What we did in the South Pacific with nuclear testing is an insignificant blip in geologic time and will certainly be judged a minor issue compared to Global Warming. Set up a kilometer-wide circular coffer dam, excavate a lip all-round to provide a displacement seal to bedrock, and pour a couple of hindered feet of concrete on top to drive the assembly down and provide a couple of hundred feet of sacrificial casing. In a few thousand years decay will have taken care of most of the problem. Any remaining issues will still be buried and well shielded.

    And who knows what might develop in that time. Humanity might not be here. So, no longer our problem. Humanity might come up with a better solution. We might find it profitable to excavate the site for … what … archeological interest, perhaps the isotopes will be valuable by then. Who knows ‘The concrete eye’ might be the first evidence that humanity existed. What will the aliens think?

    Do doubt in my mind that Global Warming will be seen as a crime against our ecosystem. But it is also likely to be seen as a crime against our own interests. An act of global ecological self-mutilation committed while seeking short-term gain for a very narrow subset of the human race. We will look not so much criminal, as foolish.

  2. wereatheist says

    Seconding lorn @#2:
    A thermonuclear bomb will produce some kilograms of fissile products (from the Pu needed for ignition), some kilograms of neutron-activated stuff (and both sorts will be mostly short-lived), and some leftover, non-split Pu (which is long-lived).
    Of course it’s bad, or embarrassing, if this site leaks, but it’s not of global concern. Not even of regional concern, if the next inhabited atoll is not too close.

  3. wereatheist says

    substances that never would have occurred naturally

    The heaviest elements, such as uranium, are produced in neutron-star mergers.
    In these extremely energetic events, evering is produced, that can possibly be produced including stuff like dubnium and darmstadtium and the like. Including Pu-244, the most stable isotope.
    You might find, on average, one atom of plutonium in a bucket of dirt :)
    The initial mass of plutonium in the young Earth, 4.5bn years ago, has by now decayed to some tenths of a quintillionth.

  4. lorn says

    U ain’t Sirius, R U?
    I’m a Kraut, and I think I know some shit about Nazi Germany.”

    So you are agreeing with the original poster @#1 and saying that the record of what the US has done after WW2 to present is worse than what Germany under Hitler did 1936-1945? Perhaps you misread. It is an easy mistake to make when thinking and reading in multiple languages. If so, it isn’t a problem.

    Hard to see how a German who “know|s| some shit about Nazi Germany” would agree that the US record is worse but if this is your view, please elaborate.

  5. Ridana says

    @ lorn: His question could be restated as “I can’t believe you’re seriously saying that post WWII USA is worse than Nazis.” How did you read that as agreement?

  6. wereatheist says

    I’m pretty much against something I used to call ‘US Imperialism’.
    But I refrain from comparing it to what my grandfathers did.

  7. lorn says

    “@ lorn: His question could be restated as “I can’t believe you’re seriously saying that post WWII USA is worse than Nazis.” How did you read that as agreement?”

    Okay, fair enough … except that means he read my comment as exactly opposite of what was meant. And I really think I made it pretty clear how I saw it: The post war US was NOT worse than Nazi era Germany. How it was interpreted as reading otherwise is bey … odd.

    Oh well, so it goes. No matter nothing really surprises me anymore. I’ll leave it there.

    Besides, there is a Django Reinhardt set on the stream … a far more important input.

  8. Ridana says

    The only explanation I can see is that either you’re sonofrojblake or you somehow think his reply was meant for you instead of sonofrojblake. sonofrojblake said US worse than Nazis. wereatheist expressed his disagreement with sonofrojblake’s premise. You said you don’t think US is worse than Nazis. wereatheist has never replied to you at all, until indirectly at comment 9. So how do you conclude that he’s misread you when he’s made it clear twice that he agrees with you?

  9. says

    Personally, I would never claim, “X is the worst country.”
    Depending on what criteria you pick for measuring and comparing evilness, you can end up with different “worst countries.”

    (1) Do you count all time murders since the inception of the state? Or murders per year? The total number of murders or murders per capita?
    (2) What constitutes a murder? How are indirect killings counted? For example, when people are forcefully put in crowded places without proper sanitation and too little food, they will die of diseases or malnutrition. Does this count as a murder?
    (3) At which point do we stop counting indirect killings? What about engineered famines that happen in some regions when food imports are halted? What about people who die from preventable diseases, because trade sanctions didn’t allow importing medicine? What about the deaths of refugees who die while crossing some desert or some river? For example, technically I could argue that undermining climate agreements and promoting fossil fuel usage is a crime against humanity.
    (4) How do we measure the number of deaths caused by polluting some land with radioactivity or toxic waste?
    (5) Do we only count dead bodies, or do we also take into consideration people who were badly hurt and had their lives ruined. For example, children who are currently detained on the USA border are bound to develop severe PTSD that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
    (6) Do we only count government-sanctioned crimes, or do we also look at the harm caused by American corporations? What about crimes technically committed by some corporation but facilitated by American politicians making specific laws? For example, let’s look at the USA waste dumping in the Third World, cases like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khian_Sea_waste_disposal_incident this one. How do we count this? What about, for example, the crimes of United Fruit Company against the people living in Honduras?

    I’m way too lazy to do the math, but I assume that it might be possible to cherry pick criteria so as to conclude that USA was worse than Nazi Germany.

    Ultimately, trying to determine the absolute worst country would be pointless anyway.

  10. mailliw says

    When the French were still doing nuclear weapon tests in the Pacific a French diplomat was on British radio to discuss the protests in New Zealand against the test.

    He explained that the tests were perfectly safe and posed no threat to people in the Pacific region.

    The interviewer then asked him why, if the tests were so safe, that they didn’t conduct them in France.

    “But you do not understand, these weapons are very, very dangerous, we couldn’t possibly do the tests in France”.

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