Thursday, 31 March 2011

Nuclear fallout causes mutated snow flakes

Aberrant ice crystal formation in the wake of the earthquake in Japan: a wakeup for the world?
Professor I Strabismus and Dr I Madoc, University of Vienna
Corresponding author:

We report a hitherto unnoticed but highly disturbing development in the area surrounding the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. This complex has been fraught with problems as a result of the initial failure of power consequent to the magnitude 9.0 Tōhoku earthquake that struck Northern Japan on 11th March 2011.   The critical plant equipment appeared to survive the earthquake without serious damage, and the safety systems performed as designed, although the magnitude of the earthquake was in excess of design parameters.  However, the following tsunami engulfed the emergency power generation systems and compromised the battery backup systems.  Off-site power was lost, and power to operate the pumps required to provide cooling of the reactors and the used fuel pools remained unavailable for over a week.  As a result of this, small amounts of radioactive material have reportedly escaped into the environs.

Our findings relate to the formation of abnormal, ‘mutant’ ice crystals in the snow that has fallen in the Fukushima region since the earthquake. Besides hampering rescue and repair efforts, this snow potentially provides us with an early warning as to how wide-reaching the consequences of the earthquake could be.
It is a fact known to most schoolchildren that ice crystals (snowflakes) have regular hexagonal crystal structures and multiple axes of symmetry. Photomicrographs of ‘normal’ ice crystals are shown in figure 1 below.


Figure 1. Normal ice crystals. Note the hexagonal growth habit with multiply related sub-symmetries.
However, in the region of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, there are sufficient ‘mutant’ snowflakes falling that a casual observer can easily capture examples within a few minutes. The abnormal snowflakes we have detected appear to be divided into two types; those in which one plane of symmetry is (nearly) preserved, and those in which crystallinity shows major deformation. Crystals in the second category may appear lumpy and malformed with stunted radial growths or the superimposition of random polygonal shapes upon the basic hexagonal crystal form.
Figure 2 below shows some aberrant ice crystals from the Fukushima region.  These are examples of the first category of affected crystals, which have retained one axis of symmetry. 

Figure 2. Abnormal ice crystals, Fukoshima region, Japan. These types of ‘mutant’ crystals show only one plane of symmetry.
Examples of the second category can be seen in some other abnormal ice crystals, which demonstrate polymorphic assemblages of irregular hexagons as pictured in figure 3 below.

Figure 3. Abnormal ice crystals. Note the lack of symmetry and the apparently random superimposition of polygonal shapes upon a failed hexagonal layout.
As is well known, the HOH molecular stuture is quasilinear, but with a 104.45 degree (internal angle) knee, sufficiently close to the internal angle of a hexagon for this to be the preferred symmetry during the nucleation phase. Growth from the vapour proceeds via the well-known Wegner-Bergeron-Findeison route of dynamic exchange between water droplet formation and instantaneous evaporation, and colocated precipitation of the solid.
There are several possibilities for malformation: in the present context the transient attachment of a neutron to one of the hydrogen atoms seems the most likely candidate[1]. The asymmetry of the HOH molecule caused by such a transient attachment of a neutron originating from the decay of fission products engenders irregular growth in the presence of these so-called HOH-DOH transitions. (We note the widespread media references to “radioactive water” at the site). One further consequence is a shift in the frequency of maximum energy absorption when the dipolar polarisability of the molecule is immersed in a strong electromagnetic field, which may require a manufacturers’ recall of all Japanese-made microwave ovens for retuning of the defrost mode.
Biologically, water interacts with living things at the cellular level. Water diffuses into and out of cells and forms the solvent for the cell contents of all life forms. Alterations like this, to the basic physical behaviour of water at the molecular level will have very profound consequences for the delicate structures and tissues that make up all living things. 
We thank the two anonymous referees for their helpful comments and gratefully acknowledge the prior contributions to the field from W.A. Bentley and W. J. Humphreys. We thank the Australian Government for funding this project under the Centrelink scheme.

[1] During neutron-induced nuclear fission, Uranium atoms are split into lighter atoms called fission products. These fission products stabilize themselves by emitting energy in the form of small particles (alpha, beta, gamma, neutron).  A multitude of fission products are produced, but it is important to note that many of these fission products decay extremely quickly, becoming harmless in seconds. Others, like cesium, iodine, strontium, or argon will decay more slowly.