On 16th July 1945 a blinding flash of light in the New Mexico desert marked the start of the nuclear age.
The US spent many decades conducting nuclear tests from there on out, setting off as many as 1 000 nukes before the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty banned all testing of nuclear weapons.
That ban may have been too little too late following the publication of research that has found evidence of radioactive caesium in honey.
Radioactive caesium as you may know is not a naturally occurring element and is created during nuclear fission.
Given caesium’s long half life and the fact that it is ejected into the atmosphere during testing, wind carried the element around the US and the fallout can still be seen in the soil.
Its presence in honey is interesting, however, and James Kaste, a geologist at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia is to thank for the discovery.
The geologist tasked his undergrad students with bringing in food from their Spring break destinations and testing it for radioactive caesium.
Caesium is water soluble and apparently, plants can mistake it for potassium. A test which found honey containing Cesium levels 100 times higher than other samples prompted Kaste and his colleagues to collect and test 122 samples of honey from across the Eastern US.
The element was discovered in 68 of the samples test at levels above 0.03 becquerels per kilogram. The highest concentration of radioactive caesium was discovered in a sample from Florida which contained 19.1 becquerels per kilogram.
If you’re familiar with the Banana Equivalent Dose you’ll know that this amount of radiation isn’t dangerous and falls well below the 1 200 becquerels per kilogram cutoff for food safety concerns the US Food and Drug Administration told Science Mag.
What this research does tell us is that humanity needs to be very cautious about what it does to the environment and the long term effects our activities may have on the world.
For instance, researchers are curious about how fallout from decades past could have an effect on bee colonies. While radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster did hamper reproduction in nearby bee colonies, the radiation seen then was a thousand times higher than it is now but it still warrants investigating as hives are likely concentrating the radioactive caesium.
This is especially important given Japan’s plans to release 1.2 million tonnes of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean. While the Japanese government said it would release the water when it’s safe to drink, as we can see from Kaste’s research, that might still be many decades away.
[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]