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We present plutonium (Pu) and uranium (U) isotopic fingerprints (or signatures) in environmental samples collected at Bikar Atoll. Bikar is the second -most northern atoll of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and therefore an important reference point to evaluate the extension of the regional fallout from the Pacific Proving Grounds (PPG) in Bikini and Enewetak Atolls. Previous studies have shown that regional fallout from atmospheric nuclear weapon testing (NWT) in Bikini and Enewetak has resulted in elevated levels of fallout radionuclides in this atoll. In order to optimally interpret the isotopic fingerprints, we compare our results with data obtained in eleven certified reference materials, representing different contamination sources. As well as 238Pu, 239Pu, 240Pu, 241Pu, 238U and 235U, this study also encompasses less commonly reported radionuclides such as 242Pu, 244Pu and 236U. We show the importance of combining numerous fingerprints for improved assessment of the source of a nuclear contamination. In samples from Bikar, Pu and U isotope ratios were found to vary within narrow ranges. Pu and U fingerprints suggest that regional fallout from the Castle Bravo test in March 1954 was the main source of the contamination. This was further confirmed by two different age dating approaches that estimated 1954 as the year of the contamination. We demonstrate that use of an exponential function to approximate the yield of heavy radionuclides in thermonuclear explosions with increasing mass is a valid approach for estimating the age of a contamination. We show that, if sufficient radionuclide activity concentration measurement results with low uncertainties are available, this method is robust. Copyright © 2021 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.


J A Corcho Alvarado, S Röllin, H Sahli, P McGinnity. Isotopic signatures of plutonium and uranium at Bikar atoll, northern Marshall Islands. Journal of environmental radioactivity. 2022 Feb;242:106795

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PMID: 34923320

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