Wednesday, June 8, 2011

[Threat Alert] Solar Proton Bombardment of High Atomic Weight Fallout

A Solar Coronal Mass Ejection with Proton energies of greater than 100 MeV is set to make a "glancing" blow on the Earth 6/8/11 and for a few days following. The Solar storm will be the strongest since 2006 and will result in the visibility of the Northern Lights in Latitudes north of 38 degrees; the light show has the potential to be more unusual than normal because the upper atmosphere is filled with high atomic weight fallout from Fukushima.

The Fukushima fallout, both the radioactive stuff and the stuff that has decayed to be non radioactive, will be slammed with high energetic particles from the Solar Coronal Mass Ejection. Those particles include electrons, alpha particles, and protons, all of which may have energies broaching 1000 MeV. The result of those solar particles slamming into the radioactive and non-radioactive high atomic weight Fukushima fallout is a veritable witches brew of nuclear spallation, photofission, and et al generated deadly radioactive elements.

What makes this witches' brew of interactions potentially catastrophic is that unlike Fukushima where the radiation is coming from one single point on the planet in a continuous pump like fashion; these Solar particle nuclear spallations can create new dangerous radioactive particles near simultaneously over the entirety of the Northern Hemisphere. Unfortunately, this is almost all uncharted territory.

There is no readily available Arnie Gundersen equivalent who can give us a seat of the pants estimate of the likely damage from these interactions. Without the proper tools to model these interactions and quantify the risk, and absent anyone with requisite tools publicly stepping forward, the best I can offer is a readily verifiable description of ONE of MANY such Solar/Atmospheric nuclear spallation interactions and the worst case consequence. Hopefully as a result, someone with the right tools will step forward and provide a risk matrix with the associated likelihoods and impacts of these events.

Probably the easiest threat for the public to verify from the nuclear spallation of Fukushima fallout via Solar Coronal Mass Ejection is the production of radioactive iodine from the high energy spallation of Cesium 133 from solar produced protons. Fukushima has pumped the upper atmosphere full of radioactive Xenon 133. There are plenty of plume models that show the contamination, here is an example of one.

The radioactive Xenon 133 shown in the above chart has a half life of 5 days, after which half of it turns into non-radioactive Cesium 133. That non-radioactive Cesium 133 continues to float around in the upper atmosphere until it gets hit by a high energy proton ejected from a Solar Storm. Well it just so happens, that bombarding Cesium 133 with high energy protons is a method described in a US Patent to manufacture radioactive Iodine.

In short, the proton slams into the Cesium 133 like a cue ball into a rack of billiard balls. The result is the production other sub-atomic particles that shoot off looking to slam into something else, and a plethora of radioactive high atomic weight elements like 123Xe, 125Xe, 123I, 124I, 125I, 126I, and 129I. These radioactive Iodine and Xenon particles have half lives that range from hours to thousands of years. The radioactive particles which don't end up raining down into our thyroids are free to float around in the upper atmosphere for the next spallation (or other) reaction.

It is a scenario which sounds like a Bond villain's attempt to destroy the thyroid of every living mammal in the Northern Hemisphere. Unfortunately the long term high atomic weight atmospheric pump coming out of Fukushima combined with the upcoming Solar Maximum events over the next several years, moves the event from the realm of science fiction into the realm of the not impossible. Moreover this is only ONE of MANY such possible interactions.

Even though these spallation interactions will occur, I don't have access to the tools to readily calculate the distribution likelihood and impacts of these events. But, I can provide at least one rough guideline that people can use to judge some aspects of the threat. The size of the threat is proportional to visibility of the Northern Lights from lower latitudes. Charged particles from the sun flow towards the poles; solar storms cause geomagnetic affects that allow those particles to impact further away from the poles. The danger coincides and increases with the Northern Lights stretching further south. Hence, the greater the potential visibility of the the Northern Lights, the greater the risk of Solar induced nuclear spallation reactions.

In the current 6/8/11 Solar storm, the impact zone is as far south as Latitude 38 degrees North (roughly Saint Louis). That risk zone applies for the entire Northern Hemisphere from Scandinavia, Greenland, Russia, Canada, and the USA. The affect should be strongest on the the Sun lit side of the planet. Stay Out Of The Rain, don't fly through fallout, and say your prayers.

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