Increased levels of radioactive iodine isotopes have been detected across Europe, and now the deployment of the Air Force’s WC-135 “Constant Phoenix” atmosphere-sniffing jet has deepened the mystery.
by Tyler Rogoway, The Drive:
There have been rumblings regarding some sort of nuclear incident—or possibly incidents—in the Arctic over the last month. Multiple reports, some of them from official monitoring organizations, have reportediodine 131—a radioactive isotope often associated with nuclear fission—has been detected via air sampling stations throughout the region.
The first detection of the isotope came during the second week of January, via an air sampling station located in Svanhovd, on Norway’s border with Russia’s Kola Peninsula. Within days, air sampling stations as far south as Spain also detected the presence of small amounts of the isotope.
The fact that iodine-131 has a half-life of just eight days would point to the release occurring just days earlier, and not being a remnant of a past nuclear event.
Iodine 131 levels monitored across Europe last month (IRIN graphic):
After weeks without answers, the story seemed to pass as a peculiarity, notnearly an unprecedented one at that, until Friday when the US dispatched its WC-135 Constant Phoenix atmospheric testing aircraft to Europe without explanation. The highly unique aircraft are specifically designed to respond to nuclear incidents—especially those that include the detonation of nuclear warheads.
— CivMilAir ✈ 🚁 (@CivMilAir) February 17, 2017
By sampling the air over wide areas and at altitude, the aircraft can provide critical data to better understand the “signature” of a radiation release. During nuclear tests, this can help scientists define what type of weapon was detonated, and, in conjunction with other data, how large the blast was. They can also be used to measure the effects and scale of other radiological events, like the meltdown of nuclear plants. For instance, the WC-135s went to work following the 2011 earthquake that resulted in the meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant.
WC-135 taking off on a mission (USAF photo):
This leaves us with a number of unanswered questions. The first: What are WC-135s doing up there? Was this a good opportunity for a training sortie and to support scientific endeavors, or is it in response to a specific incident?
You can check twitter to see loads of people claiming this is proof that the Russians have restarted nuclear weapons testing at Novaya Zemlya near the Arctic. That assertion is problematic for a variety of reasons. The first is that we have no corresponding seismic data indicating a nuclear detonation from that region. Some have floated the possibility that a small tactical nuclear warhead may have been tested; once again, this still makes a big boom, and it is not clear if the levels of iodine-131 are indicative of such a test. Of course, politically speaking, restarting nuclear weapons testing would signal a massive shift in Moscow’s nuclear weapons policy.
Please follow SGT Report on Twitter & help share the message.