I’m Radioactive! – WIF Contaminated Geography

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The Most Radioactive

Places on Earth

There are many terrifying places in the world, but few of the horrors that they contain are as scary as radiation. When a site becomes thoroughly nuclear, you can’t fight it, you can’t outrun it, and you’re pretty hard-pressed to contain it. No matter how well the location is cleaned and taken care of, the residual radiation can still affect the environment for hundreds of years. There are many of these extremely creepy and dangerous sites around the world. These are their stories.

10. The Polygon

When the Soviet Union crumbled and Kazakhstan became independent, one of the first things they did was shutting down The Polygon. This Soviet nuclear testing site had seen tryout nukes of various sizes for over four decades, and during its Cold War heyday, it was home to an estimated 25% of the world’s nuclear tests. The site was originally chosen because it was unoccupied, but this didn’t take into account the many villages that were located near its perimeter. Years of nuclear radiation bombarded the area, and eventually, the residents of the “safe” villages started showing birth defects and various radiation-related illnesses.

Today, it is estimated that at least 100,000 Kazakhs near the Polygon area suffer from the effects of radiation. The radioactive materials at the Polygon itself will take hundreds of years to reach safe radiation levels, and the poor people suffering from the effects may do so for five generations.

9. Chernobyl

It’s impossible to discuss radioactive sites without bringing up Chernobyl. The 1986 nuclear power plant explosion in Ukraine is considered the worst nuclear disaster that the world has ever witnessed, and despite the fact that it’s been extensively researched, many questions remain. The most pressing of those questions concern the long-term health impacts of the people who were exposed to the radiation. Acute radiation sickness wreaked havoc among the first responders to the scene, but that was just the tip of the deadly iceberg: The nearby town of Pripyat was not evacuated until 36 hours after the disaster, and at that point, many residents were already showing symptoms of radiation sickness. Despite all these clear signs that the situation was pressing, and the realization that the disaster sent nuclear winds blowing towards Belarus and into Europe, the Soviets still tried to play the situation close to their chest — right up until the radiation alarms at a nuclear plant all the way in Sweden went off, and the terrifying situation unfolded.

On the surface, Chernobyl’s death toll was surprisingly moderate: “only” 31 people died in the disaster and its short-term aftereffects, and the Still, the long-term effects to the people in the area were still unsafely high, though just how the disaster affected their lifespans is very difficult to measure. For instance, an estimated 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer in Ukraine,  Russia and Belarus may be connected radiation exposure in some way, but it’s borderline impossible to directly link them to the disaster.

8. Siberian Chemical Combine Plant

Siberian Chemical Combine (SCC) is an old uranium enrichment plant in, yes, Siberia. When it comes to its waste disposal, it was always a product of the patented Soviet “eh, just put it wherever, comrade” way of doing things: Significant amounts of the combine’s liquid radioactive waste were pumped into underground pools of water. That would probably been bad enough even without the nuclear accident of 1993, which saw an explosion damage the radio-technology plant of the complex. The blast wrecked two floors of the building,  and more importantly, destroyed a tank containing highly dangerous materials such as plutonium and uranium.

The radioactive gas released by the incident contaminated 77 square miles of downwind terrain, and only sheer luck prevented the fumes from turning the nearby cities of Tomsk and Seversk into Fallout locations. The cleanup process took four months, but for locals, the disaster was just the beginning of the nightmare: They found out that there had been a whopping 22 accidents at the SCC over the years, and even during its normal operations it released around 10 grams of plutonium into the atmosphere every year. For reference, it takes just one millionth of a gram to potentially cause serious diseases on humans.

7. Sellafield

Sellafield is to Great Britain what Chernobyl is to Russia: The worst ever nuclear accident to happen in the country. In a way, it managed to be even more badly managed than its more famous counterpart — or rather, managed in a more British way. When the Windscale No. 1 “pile” (a sort of primitive nuclear reactor) of the Sellafield nuclear material processing factory caught fire in October 1957, eleven tons of uranium burned for three days. Despite this rather worrying situation, everyone went  about their day as if nothing had happened. While the reactor was close to collapse and radioactive material spread across the nearby areas, no one was evacuated, and work went on in the facility with a stiff upper lip. In fact, most people weren’t even told about the fire. The workers realized that something was going on, but were told to “carry on as normal.”

Meanwhile, a true disaster was just barely averted, largely thanks to one heroic man. When the fire started, deputy general manager Thomas Tuohy was called on site from a day off. When it came apparent that the blaze could not be easily contained, he threw away his radiation-recording badge so no one could see the doses he was taking. Then, he climbed at the top of the 80-foot reactor building, and stared at the inferno below him while taking the full force of the radiation. He did this multiple times over the next hours to assess the damage, and when the blaze started to reach the melting point of steel, he made the last-ditch call to use water to drown the pile. It was a risky maneuver that was untested on a reactor fire, and if anything had gone wrong, the whole area would have been blown up and irradiated to the point of uninhabitability. Fortunately, Tuohy’s gambit paid off, and 30 hours of waterworks later, Sellafield was saved. While the area was thoroughly irradiated all the way down to its milk and chickens, Britain carried on with a stiff upper lip. Of course, Tuohy himself, who had basically wrestled with the burning reactor, eventually died … at a respectable age of 90.

6. The Somali Coast

The coastal areas of Somalia are better known for their pirate activity than their nuclear materials, but that’s just because the radioactive waste tends to be hidden under the surface.  Weirdly enough, the two phenomena have the same cause: The area’s unrest during the 1980s led to a long period where the country had no central rule, which left its shores unguarded. Unfortunately for Somalia’s residents, this meant that every unscrupulous operator and their mother was free to cheaply dump their unwanted nuclear and other hazardous waste along the country’s coastline, instead of disposing of it in a safer (and much more expensive) manner.

The United Nations have been aware of the problem for years, and describe it as a very serious situation. It was further aggravated in 2009, when a large tsunami made the problem literally resurface. The wave dislodged and broke many of the containers, causing contaminants to spread at least six miles inland. The cocktail of radioactive materials and assorted toxic sludges caused a host of serious health problems for the residents, and may even have contaminated some of the groundwater.

5. Mayak

Even before Chernobyl, there were whispers that the Soviet Union’s track record with nuclear power wasn’t exactly spotless. Some of said whispers were almost certainly about the Mayak complex, which was the country’s first nuclear site. Built in the remote southern Urals shortly after WWII, Mayak was a secret military site that was near the closed town of Chelyabinsk, and specialized in manufacturing plutonium for the army. Its secretive nature eventually came in handy for the Soviet government.

In 1957, the complex suffered one of the worst little-known nuclear disasters, when an accident at the facility contaminated 7,700 square miles of the nearby area, which affected roughly 270,000 people. The incident would eventually become known as the Kysthym disaster, after the nearest town. At the time, however, the authorities fully played the “secret facility” card, and released little information about the crisis. The true scale of the disaster would not emerge until the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s. It took until 2009 for the villagers nearest to the Mayak facility to be relocated … and even then, most of them were just moved a little over a mile up the road.

4. Church Rock uranium mill

In 1979, a spill at the Church Rock uranium mill in New Mexico sent 1,100 tons of uranium mine tailings and 94 million gallons of effluent into the Puerco River, spreading contamination some 50 miles downstream. Together, these released three times more radiation than the notorious Three Mile Island nuclear accident.

To this day, the Church Rock spill remains the largest accidental release of radioactive material the United States has ever seen, and its damage to the environment was wholesale. Radioactivity was in water, animals, plants and, eventually, the Navajo population of the area, who suffer from an increased likelihood of birth defects and kidney disease.

The disaster is particularly tragic because it would have been perfectly avoidable. The spill happened because one of the dams holding the United Nuclear Corporation’s disposal ponds at bay cracked. Later, both the corporation itself and various federal and state inspectors noted that the rock it had been built on was unstable.

3. Fukushima

In March 11, 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake moved the entire Japan several feet east, and sent tsunami waves washing over the country’s shorelines, causing a death toll of 19,000 people … and the worst nuclear plant disaster in the country’s history. Initially, it seemed that the Fukushima Daiichi power plant had withstood the watery onslaught, and that all of its reactors had automatically shut down and survived without significant damage. However, the plant was not quite as tsunami-proof as everyone had assumed, and it soon became evident that the wave had disabled the cooling systems and power supply for three of the reactors. Within three days, their cores had largely melted, and a fourth reactor started showing signs of trouble.

The government evacuated roughly 100,000 people from the area, and engaged in a battle to cool the reactors with water — and even more importantly, to prevent radioactive materials leaking in the environment. Since the facility is just 100 yards from the ocean and on an area that’s prone to various natural disasters, the cleanup process is a difficult, yet urgent task. The radiation inside the plant is so deadly that it’s impossible to enter the facility, so no one’s even sure precisely where the molten fuel is within the plant. In a massive, unprecedented challenge that is estimated to take decades, the cleanup officials are currently mapping the terrain with radiation-measuring robots, and hope that strong robots are eventually able to seal and retrieve the radioactive substances from the premises.

2. Mailuu-Suu

Mailuu-Suu is a town in Kyrgyztan that not only lives under the constant shadow of Soviet-era radiation, but has actually made its peace with the fact. Some locals joke that they actually need the radiation to survive. You can even get walking tours to the worst radioactive waste dumps — followed by a healthy dose of vodka to flush the radioactivity out of your system, of course.

The town is one of the largest concentrations of radioactive materials in former Soviet Central Asia. Because the area is naturally rich in uranium, the Soviet Union mined it to death, while toxic waste was buried all around town. All in all, some two million cubic meters of radioactive waste lies under gravel and concrete, in 23 different dumping sites around Mailu Suu. The sites are often just lazy piles of hazardous material lying in their deteriorating bunker pits, halfheartedly marked with barbed wire and concrete posts.

Unfortunately, this makes Mailu Suu both a current crisis and a future, potentially much worse one. The dumping sites are located right by a fast-moving water source, the Mailuu-suu river, which is a water supply for two million people downstream. What’s more, the area is tectonically active, and extremely prone to landslides. This has already led to one nasty disaster: In 1992, one of said landslides busted one of the waste dumps open … and 1,000 cubic meters of radioactivity spilled into the river.

1. The Hanford Site

In the 1950s, America was happily entering the Atomic Age, and the nuclear site in Hanford, Washington was where the future was made. The plant had already made its mark in the 1940s during the Manhattan Project, for which it was built to produced the plutonium required for the nukes. After the war, the future seemed bright in more than one way. Although every kilogram of plutonium the site produced came with a side order of hundreds of thousands of gallons of radioactive waste, the site’s entrepreneurial owners believed they could sell even that. Unfortunately, they couldn’t … and they also hadn’t bothered to create proper ways to store the deadly sludge.

As years went by, temporary underground containers quietly became permanent, cracked, and allowed their radioactive contents to seep in the ground. The Atomic Energy Commission, which oversaw the manufacture of nuclear bombs, didn’t even bother to set up an office for waste management, so unregulated radioactive material ended up buried wherever, in containers that creaked at the seams. In the end, Hanford and its nearby areas were so saturated with radioactive waste and strange toxic sludges that the site became the largest nuclear cleanup site in the entire western hemisphere. The cleanup process has gone on for decades, caused health problems to dozens of workers, and cost billions of dollars, but the treatment plant that’s meant to deal with the sludge is yet to materialize. In fact, the area is still so deeply dangerous that when they started to demolish the site’s plutonium finishing plant in 2017, 42 workers became exposed to radioactive particles despite all the precautions.


I’m Radioactive! –

WIF Contaminated Geography

BS or Truth III – WIF Confidential

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Facts That

Sound Like

BS

no_bs_zone

 

It seems like only yesterday that we dredged the back vaults of our list-writing brains to give you ten facts that sounded like they couldn’t possibly be true, but were. And what a list that was, huh? Full of crazy, once-in-a-lifetime facts of the sort you’re unlikely to witness ever again, the sort of tales that could only come once in a blue…

 No. Hold on, now. You mean we’ve got a whole other list of impossible facts lined up? And this one features a levitating city, 20 million tons of unclaimed gold lying right under our noses, and a mouse that literally screws itself to death? Jeez, we’ve really got our work cut out for us on this one, haven’t we?

10. Chicago Was Once Raised 6 Feet (and no-one noticed)

chicago

There are some facts that you instinctively know are BS, even if you’re not sure why. The idea that someone once managed to make the city of Chicago levitate 6 feet in the air without anyone noticing is definitely one such fact. For one thing, it’s impossible. For another, well, just listen to what you’re saying. You might as well claim the Moon is made of cheese.

Well, sorry, but we’re about to completely mess with your perception of how reality works. On New Year’s Eve 1855, the Chicago Board of Sewage Commissioners tasked engineer E.S. Chesbrough with finding a solution to the city’s regular cholera outbreaks. Chesbrough decided the easiest option would be to hike the entire city out its swamp, 6 feet into the air.

It was known as the Raising of Chicago, and it was completely literal. To get the city out the cholera-infested swamp it sat on, hundreds of men jacked up the streets using massive screws, filled in the space beneath them, and called the result ‘ground level’. The work carried on for 20 years, and was often completely mad. There are stories of whole hotels being hoisted up into the air, and not a single person inside them realizing it was happening.

Nor was it a temporary fix. The Chicago you see today is the ‘raised’ version. That’s right: Chicago is still levitating today, and no-one living there has ever noticed.

9. Irish Traffic Police Accidentally Invented their own Supervillain

prawo-jazdy

Not so long ago, the name Prawo Jazdy struck fear into the hearts of Ireland’s traffic cops. A Polish immigrant, Mr. Jazdy was also the most prolific petty-criminal the Garda had ever encountered. Over the course of two short years, he racked up over 50 speeding tickets in every part of the island. Stranger still, he’d never been caught.

It gets weirder. Mr. Jazdy was a master of disguise. Sometimes he’d be dressed as a middle-aged man when he was stopped. Other times he’d be dressed as a young woman. Irish traffic cops found he’d given them a different driver’s license every time they’d stopped him. He’d given 50 different home addresses, and 50 different dates of birth. Eventually, a special task force was assigned to catch this international man of mystery.

At which point a native Polish speaker joined the Garda’s traffic division. He took one look at Mr. Jazdy’s file and probably fell down laughing. Y’see, Prawo Jazdy wasn’t a supervillain. He wasn’t even a person at all. Prawo Jazdy is Polish for ‘driver’s license’.

According to the BBC, Ireland’s confused traffic cops had spent 2 years writing up tickets for different Polish drivers under the assumption that they were all the same person. The mistake was finally discovered in 2009, to the embarrassment of all.

8. The State of Maine Has More Black Bears than Black People1

black-bear

The northeasternmost state of the US, Maine is one of the most-rural places in America. With a population of 1.33 million, it’s not the emptiest state, but it’s definitely kinda lonesome. It’s also one of the whitest places in the whole of the States. How do we know this? Because according to data from both the state of Maine and the US Census, Maine has more black bears than it has black people.

Seriously, it ain’t even close. The last US Census recorded roughly 19,000 African-Americans living in Maine. A couple of years before, the state of Maine estimated its black bear population at roughly 36,000. In other words, there are roughly two black bears for every single black person in Maine.

That’s a crazy figure, especially if you grew up in a big city, or in the South, or on the West Coast, or, well, anywhere but Maine. Nationally, black people make up 13.2% of the US population. In Maine, they make up just 1.4%. By contrast, if black bears were people, they’d make up 2.7%.

7. Congress Name-Checks Hitler Seven Times a Month

hitler

Godwin’s Law states that the longer an argument goes on, the greater the chance of someone bringing up Hitler. It further states that, the minute Hitler comparisons are invoked, the conversation becomes worthless. Which, when you think about it, is the perfect way of describing Congress. Both parties have been engaged in a never-ending argument for decades now, and both have essentially become worthless. We know this because they just can’t stop bringing up Hitler.

The nonprofit Sunlight Foundation tracks all words in the official Congressional record for their Capitol Words project. The database stretches back to 1996, and contains millions of words. In 2015, they crunched the numbers for Hitler, and found Congress name-checked the Nazi dictator an average of seven times a month.

Hitler has been compared in Congress to Saddam Hussein, to global warming, to modern China, to Gaddafi’s Libya, to Sudan, to Iran, to ISIS, to the cloning of human beings, to the American military, and (bizarrely) to the Founding Fathers. No other dictator even comes close. The high point came in 2003, when Hitler was mentioned 93 times in a single month.

Republicans mention Hitler slightly-more often, with 57% of mentions to the Dem’s 43%. But, as the Daily Dot pointed out, no party has yet been known to mention Godwin’s Law.

6. We Still Have No Idea How Many People Chernobyl Killed

Chernobyldisaster1

On April 26, 1986, the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, Ukraine, exploded. The resulting meltdown killed 31 people more-or-less instantly, and poisoned millions of square miles of land. At the time, the World Health Organization estimated the disaster would ultimately cause 4,000 deaths from radiation-induced cancer. Over 30 years later, we’re still guessing. Depending on your source, Chernobyl caused anywhere from a mere 53 deaths, to over half a million.

 The trouble is Chernobyl blew radiation over such a vast area, no one really knows how many excess fatal cancers in Europe, Asia and Africa are due to the accident. The UN estimates around 16,000. The Russian Academy of Sciences estimates up to 200,000. The Ukraine National Commission for Radiation Protection calculates 500,000.

And those numbers keep climbing. One recent high-end estimate pegged the total number dead at nearly one million. If true, that would make Chernobyl the deadliest disaster in human history bar the catastrophic China Floods of 1931 (which may have killed up to 4 million). For comparison, the combined atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima killed a maximum of 236,000. That’s right, the screw up of a bunch of Soviet engineers may yet turn out to be deadlier than the bloody endgame of the most-brutal war in human history.

5. Nintendo Existed at the Same Time as the Ottoman Empire

nintendo cards

One is a modern Japanese entertainment company, best known for a certain, red-suited, Italian plumber. The other was a vast Islamic empire founded in the 14thcentury, that was ruled by sultans and once laid siege to Vienna in Austria. Both of these things existed at the same time for thirty three whole years.

The issue here is that Nintendo is way older than you probably imagine, while the Ottoman Empire didn’t fall apart till much later than you probably think. The Ottoman Empire only collapsed in 1922 as a result of losing WWI, after the Allies had carved up its territory for themselves. Nintendo, meanwhile, was founded way, way back in 1889.

At the time, Nintendo was a simple playing card company, with nary an Italian plumber in sight. That’s probably not surprising, as Italy had only been a unified state for less than 2 decades by that point, less than the time separating us now from the release ofTitanic. Europe was still (mostly) ruled by the Prussians, Austro-Hungarians, Russians and Ottomans, and Britain had an empire that stretched all the way around the world. Meanwhile, Japan had only just left two and a half centuries of self-imposed isolation 35 years beforehand.

4. The Ocean Contains 20 Million Tons of (unclaimed) Gold

sunken-treasure

 Imagine if you discovered a near-limitless supply of gold sitting right under your nose. All your worries would be over, right? Well, we’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. The good is that such a stash of gold really does exist, likely within easy driving distance. The bad is that its scattered over the entire ocean.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), our planet’s oceans contain a staggering 20 million tons of unclaimed gold. That’s enough to give every single person alive today 9 pounds of the stuff… or to just hoard it for yourself and become the richest person on the entire planet.

The trouble, sadly, is getting at it. Much of the oceans’ gold is distributed on a very, very fine level. As in, a single liter of seawater contains 13 billionths of a gram of gold. There’s just no way of extracting that, and the stuff that’s concentrated is equally hard to get at. The biggest gold deposits are buried a mile or two under the sea’s surface, and would require a massive mining operation to extract.

Still, if you go looking, you might get lucky. In 2015, the nation of Colombia discovered$1 billion worth of sunken Spanish gold sitting right off the coast of Cartagena.

3. The Biggest Quake in History Hit 23 on the Richter Scale

earthquake

 If you live in earthquake country, you’ll know anything above about a 4 on the Richter Scale is terrifying. The 2010 earthquake that leveled Haiti was a magnitude 7.0. The 1964 earthquake that nearly upended the whole of Alaska was 9.2. The largest in modern history was a 9.6 off the coast of Chile, and that caused 35 foot waves 6,200 miles from the epicenter.

But there’s actually an even-bigger earthquake on record. It went beyond standard measurements and hit a devastating 23 on the Richter Scale.

That estimate comes courtesy of NASA, who observed the quake in action. That’s right, thankfully for all life on Earth, the quake happened millions of lightyears away, at a star known as SGR J1550-5418. The ‘starquake’ was big enough to destroy everything in a 10 light year radius.

Starquakes are caused when the crust of a magnetar – a super, super dense neutron sta1r that packs the mass of more than million Earths into an area the size of Manhattan – cracks. The resulting release of energy is one of the deadliest events in the universe. Any nearby planets would be wiped out instantly. One single, 20 minute quake releases more energy than our sun does in 20 whole years. Thank God we haven’t got any in our galactic neighborhood.

2. Antechinus Mice are so Sex-obsessed They Literally Screw Themselves to Death

mouse

 You might like to think you’ve got going power in the sack. You ain’t got nothing on the Antechinus. A mouse-like marsupial found in Australia, the male is capable of mating for 14 hours straight. In mating season, guy Antechinus’s get so much action in that they literally screw themselves to death.

We don’t mean there’s some crazy biological mechanism that makes them die after reproducing. We mean they simply keep going for so long, and go so hard, that their bodies are destroyed by multiple stress injuries and they die of a failed immune system. Think about how you get more susceptible to disease if you’re tired and already injured, from playing football, say. Mr. Antechinus gets that times a million. Eventually, his stress levels rise so high that his immune system cuts out and he dies.

According to National Geographic, this malady infects every single male Antechinus. 11 months after birth, they become so desperate to mate that they wind up screwing for 3 weeks solid. They then die, and a new generation of boys are raised, who will also grow up to have a libido even Ron Jeremy would envy.

1. You Make History Every Time You Shuffle a Deck of Cards

cards

 Stop reading this for a second, and go find yourself a deck of cards. Got it? Right, now give that mother a shuffle and lay the cards in the order they come out. Congratulations, you’ve just done something completely unique in the whole of human history.

52 cards may not sound like much, but it creates an insane number of possible combinations. Highbrow British quiz show QI calculated the number at 52 factorial, which means 52 times 51, times 50, times 49… etc. Written out, it looks like this:

80,658,175,170,943,878,571,660,636,856,403,766,975,289,505,440,883,277,824,000,000,000,000.

That’s a big number, but we’re not even close to describing just how insanely big. The QI ‘Elves’ phrased it like this: “If every star in our galaxy had a trillion planets, each with a trillion people living on them, and each of these people has a trillion packs of cards and somehow they manage to make unique shuffles 1,000 times per second, and they’d been doing that since the Big Bang, they’d only just now be starting to repeat shuffles.”

 So there you have it. If you wanna make history, don’t cure cancer or invent a new device or conquer half the world. Just grab a pack of cards and get shuffling. We guarantee the results will be historically unique.

BS or Truth III

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– WIF Confidential

I’m Radioactive! – WABAC to Chernobyl

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"Where is the WABAC Machine going to take us this time, Mr. Peabody?

“Where is the WABAC Machine going to take us this time, Mr. Peabody?

“Put on your HAZMAT suit Sherman My Boy & let’s head to 1986 Russia.”