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Predicted Genetic and Somatic Effects of Carbon-14 from Tests of Nuclear Weapons

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  • Radioactive Fallout
  • Nuclear Warfare
  • Mutation
  • Abnormalities
  • Radiation-Induced


Predicted Genetic and Somatic Effects of Carbon-14 from Tests of Nuclear Weapons By Linus Pauling In his 1956 paper on radioactive fallout' Libby pointed out that neutrons released in the explosions of nuclear weapons react with nitrogen nuclei in the air to make carbon-14, which has a half-life of about 5,600 years. In his discussion of bomb-test carbon-14 he said that "Fortunately, this radioactivity is essentially safe because of its long lifetime and the enormous amount of diluting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere." He pointed out that 5.2 tons of neutrons would be needed to "double the feeble natural radioactivity of living matter due to radiocarbon. Such an increase would have no significance from the standpoint of health." He mentioned that, for a given energy release, thermonuclear weapons produce more neutrons than fission weapons, and concluded that "the essential point is that the atmos- phere is difficult to activate and the activities produced are safe." Perhaps because of a feeling of reassurrnce engendered by these state- ments, I did not make any calculations of the genetic and somatic effects of the carbon-14 produced in the testing of nuclear weapons until April 19%. I was then surprised to find that these calculations, which form the subject of this paper, lead to the conclusions that the genetic damage, as measured by the predicted number of defective children caused by the mutations in- duced by the radioactivity, is greater for carbon-14 than for the fission products ordinarily classed as worldwide fallout, and that the somatic effects are of the same order of magnitude. In his 19>6 paper Libby stated that a 200kiloton weapon, involving fission of 1 kg of plutonium or uranium, would produce 10 g of neutrons, of -29 which 15 percent might reasonably be estimated to escape and make carbon-lb. The yield of carbon-14 would hence be 1.05 kg. per megaton (maximum 7 kg. per megaton,

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