The Radioactive Lake of Kazakhstan

By Anupum Pant

If you haven’t heard about the operation Plowshare, it was a US operation focused at developing techniques that would help them utilize the massive power of nuclear weapons for peaceful construction purposes. Now if that sounds dumb, remember, it was the year 1961 when they thought of trying it out. Look back at other things from that time and you’ll realize how dumb those times were. Maybe the next generation will say the same for the year 2014.

How would someone use nuclear weapons for construction, you ask? If you think about it, using it to make huge holes in the ground, blasting rocks for mining seems like a good idea at first. How quick it would be, right? No.

After 27 such experimental blasts, the researchers from US learnt that this wasn’t a very wise thing to do, even if it seemed like a good idea. However, they ended up inspiring the Soviets.

While US had learnt about the ill effects of it and had stopped the operation by the year 1977, Soviets made their own version called “Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy” and continued doing it till the year 1989. 156 such tests were done by them.

Among all of them, one was done at the edge of a test site in Kazakhstan. In the year 1965, a 140 kiloton device was placed at about 180 meters below the surface, and detonated. As a result, a 400 meter wide and 100 meter deep hole was created in the ground.

This hole was planed to be a reservoir for an overflowing river nearby and it eventually got filled with water. A lake was formed. It has since been known as lake Chagan.

Lake Chagan contains water that remains radioactive till date. Even today the lake has “100 times more than the permitted level of radionuclides in drinking water“. Only at a distance of about 100 to 150 meters from the lake the radioactivity levels are at a background level.

Here is the video of the test that created this radioactive lake. The audio is in some other language, so you might have to do with just the video…

via [AmusingPlanet]

Soviet Man Who Survived a Particle Accelerator Beam

By Anupum Pant

Not even the world’s greatest researchers are too sure about what really happens when you put your hand in front of a particle accelerator beam.  And yet, we know what happens (not always) when you stick your head into a particle accelerator.

The Accident

That is because a Russian scientist named Anatoli Petrovich Bugorski, in the year 1978, working at U-70 synchrotron at the Institute for High Energy Physics in Protvino, accidentally put his head into a particle accelerator while checking for a dysfunctional part in the equipment. His head came in the path of a high-energy proton beam moving at a speed that was just slightly less than the speed of light. The beam entered his head from the back and came out from somewhere around the nose. Only he knows what he exactly saw when that happened. Apparently, he saw a very bright light, a light brighter than thousand suns and felt no pain.

Post Accident

The left part of his face, where the beam had passed, started swelling beyond recognition and people were certain that the man would soon die due to radiation poisoning. The proton beam had travelled through his head, burning all the living tissue in between and caused the skin at entry and exit points to peel off. The beam had passed a part of his brain and had burnt a considerable amount of brain tissue too. The picture below shows the path where the beam travelled and burnt all the living tissue.

particle accelerator beam head picture

Miraculously, he survived after being exposed to about 200,000 rads of radiation dose (enough to nearly kill the toughest bacterium)! Hell, even 500-600 rads are lethal for human beings. That was mostly because the beam was very thin and only a fraction of tissues out of the whole body that  got exposed to the beam were severely damaged, it left most of the remainder of the body exposed at pretty low levels of radiation.

Not just that, his mental performance showed no signs of degeneration. He even went on to complete his Ph.D after this accident and still lives a fairly healthy life. However, the accident did leave him with a dysfunctional left ear and a permanently paralysed left side of his face. Notably, the left side of his face became frozen and also never aged. At the same time, the right side of his face ages normally.

At that time this accident was buried by the Soviet Union and was branded as top-secret. It was only a couple of years later the whole world came to know about this.

Anatoli remains to be the only person to have ever done this. Most shockingly, he also survived it and still lives a fairly healthy life today.

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