A study published in the peer-reviewed Chinese language journal Environmental Chemistry found that plutonium from US nuclear weapons tests is polluting the South China Sea.
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A new study has found that plutonium sediments in the South China Sea have their origins in fallout from US nuclear tests conducted in the South Pacific in the mid-20th century.
The study, published in the peer-reviewed Chinese language journal Environmental Chemistry, traced plutonium particles found in sediments on the seabed of the South China Sea to nuclear weapons tests in the US Pacific Proving Ground, a series of atolls and islands in the South Pacific nearly 3,000 miles to the east, where the US detonated dozens of nuclear weapons between 1946 and 1962.
Their conclusion was based on a precise identification of the ratio of two plutonium isotopes, 240Pu and 239Pu, which is a unique part of the process of manufacturing plutonium. The ratio in the South China Sea sediments is identical to that left by US nuclear weapons tests at the PPG, with a range of 0.306-0.36.
Plutonium from other sources, such as the worldwide radioactive fallout from atmospheric nuclear weapons tests, or the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Soviet Ukraine in 1986, each bear their own unique ratios of 240Pu and 239Pu, enabling scientists to discern the origins of different types of plutonium.
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According to the scientists, the radioactive sediment was carried westward by the North Pacific Gyre, an ovular ocean current that rotates clockwise. The current comes west through the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Caroline Islands before hitting the Philippines and Taiwan, swinging north, and then turning east along the southern coast of Japan. On the California coast, it turns south until it is forced westward again by other currents along the Mexican coast.
The sediments would have passed along this current, entering the South China Sea via the Luzon Strait that separates Luzon from Taiwan.
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