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The Trinity test device contained about 6 kg of plutonium as its fission source, resulting in a fission yield of 21 kT. However, only about 15% of the Pu actually underwent fission. The remaining unfissioned plutonium eventually was vaporized in the fireball and after cooling, was deposited downwind from the test site along with the various fission and activation products produced in the explosion. Using data from radiochemical analyses of soil samples collected postshot (most many years later), supplemented by model estimates of plutonium deposition density estimated from reported exposure rates at 12 h postshot, we have estimated the total activity and geographical distribution of the deposition density of this unfissioned plutonium in New Mexico. A majority (about 80%) of the unfissioned plutonium was deposited within the state of New Mexico, most in a relatively small area about 30-100 km downwind (the Chupadera Mesa area). For most of the state, the deposition density was a small fraction of the subsequent deposition density of Pu from Nevada Test Site tests (1951-1958) and later from global fallout from the large US and Russian thermonuclear tests (1952-1962). The fraction of the total unfissioned Pu that was deposited in New Mexico from Trinity was greater than the fraction of fission products deposited. Due to plutonium being highly refractory, a greater fraction of the Pu was incorporated into large particles that fell out closer to the test site as opposed to more volatile fission products (such as Cs and I) that tend to deposit on the surface of smaller particles that travel farther before depositing. The plutonium deposited as a result of the Trinity test was unlikely to have resulted in significant health risks to the downwind population.


Harold L Beck, Steven L Simon, André Bouville, Anna Romanyukha. Accounting for Unfissioned Plutonium from the Trinity Atomic Bomb Test. Health physics. 2020 Oct;119(4):504-516

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PMID: 32881735

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