233U/236U signature allows to distinguish environmental emissions of civil nuclear industry from weapons fallout

K. Hain*, P. Steier, M. B. Froehlich, R. Golser, Xiaolin Hou, J. Lachner, T. Nomura, J. Qiao, F. Quinto, A. Sakaguchi

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Isotopic ratios of radioactive releases into the environment are useful signatures for contamination source assessment. Uranium is known to behave conservatively in sea water so that a ratio of uranium trace isotopes may serve as a superior oceanographic tracer. Here we present data on the atomic 233U/236U ratio analyzed in representative environmental samples finding ratios of (0.1–3.7)⋅ 10− 2. The ratios detected in compartments of the environment affected by releases of nuclear power production or by weapons fallout differ by one order of magnitude. Significant amounts of 233U were only released in nuclear weapons fallout, either produced by fast neutron reactions or directly by 233U-fueled devices. This makes the 233U/236U ratio a promising new fingerprint for radioactive emissions. Our findings indicate a higher release of 233U by nuclear weapons tests before the maximum of global fallout in 1963, setting constraints on the design of the nuclear weapons employed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1275
JournalNature Communications
Volume11
Issue number1
ISSN2041-1723
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Cite this

Hain, K., Steier, P., Froehlich, M. B., Golser, R., Hou, X., Lachner, J., Nomura, T., Qiao, J., Quinto, F., & Sakaguchi, A. (2020). 233U/236U signature allows to distinguish environmental emissions of civil nuclear industry from weapons fallout. Nature Communications, 11(1), [1275]. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-15008-2