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Scientists Discover Enriched Uranium Particle Above Alaska

Image: Scientists Discover Enriched Uranium Particle Above Alaska
(Becky Bohrer/AP)

By    |   Thursday, 15 February 2018 10:32 AM

In 2016, a research plane flying above the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska discovered an aerosol particle enriched with uranium, the first time any such particle floating in the atmosphere in 20 years of plane-based research.

According to an article published in the April 2018 edition of the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, "a submicron aerosol particle [was] sampled at an altitude of 7 km near the Aleutian Islands that contained a small percentage of enriched uranium oxide."

The naturally occurring element usually shows up in nature as the isotope uranium-238, while uranium-235, the kind found in the atmosphere above Alaska and the kind used in making bombs and fuel, has never been found in the atmosphere before.

"Aerosol particles containing uranium enriched in uranium-235 are definitely not from a natural source," the article notes.

"One of the main motivations of this paper is to see if someobody who knows more about uranium than any of us would understand the source of the particle," scientist Dan Murphy, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told Gizmodo on Tuesday. 

"It's not a significant amount of radioactive debris by itself," Murphy added. "But it's the implication that there's some very small source of uranium that we don't understand."

The scientists were unable to identify the particle's origins, but did rule out Fukushima or Chernobyl as the reactor-grade uranium was recently made. Judging by the direction of the wind, the scientists estimate that the particle came from somewhere in Asia, possibly China or Japan.

"We're hoping that someone in a field that's not intimately associated with atmospheric chemistry can say 'a-ha!' and give us a call," Thomas Ryerson, another author from NOAA, added to Gizmodo.

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In 2016, a research plane flying above the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska discovered an aerosol particle enriched with uranium.
scientists, uranium, alaska
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2018-32-15
Thursday, 15 February 2018 10:32 AM
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