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Author Topic: Radiation from potash?  (Read 8314 times)

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January 15, 2023, 05:49:59 PM
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Ryan


The part that I keep getting stuck on is chief radiologist Levashov’s report. It’s clear that all of the Ravine 4 were wearing clothing with radioactive contamination well above background, and some of the clothing samples exceeded sanitary guidelines for nuclear workers. But these are hikers, not nuclear workers, so anything significantly above background should raise eyebrows. The Ravine 4 were also the last to be discovered (according to the official records, although they may have been re-discovered if the 1079 theory is correct) and the only ones tested for radiation, at least according to extant records.

If Levashov is truthful and competent, the radiation is beta only. No alpha or gamma detected. This really should raise eyebrows because pure beta emitters are typically manmade isotopes like Sr-90. What would hikers be doing contaminated with Sr-90?

Now there is a caveat here. I remember being very surprised after a Chernobyl trip because a small amount of contamination accidentally found on clothing appeared to be beta only, when I know for a fact that the fission products left in Chernobyl mainly give off a lot of both beta and gamma due to Sr-90 and Cs-137. I later learned that the issue is Geiger counter efficiency. A Geiger counter will register a count for nearly 100% of betas that hit it (assuming they are energetic enough to get through the window), but only a small % of gammas will register a count; most gammas get ignored by the Geiger tube. The amount of contamination was small enough that the beta activity was noticeably above background, but a few percent of the the gamma activity would not register significantly above background. (A more accurate instrument like a NaI(Tl) scintillator has a much higher gamma counting efficiency, but Sverdlovsk probably didn’t have such sophisticated equipment and relied on Geiger counters.)

So it is possible that beta-gamma contamination of the clothing would be recorded as beta-only if the amount was small enough that only the beta could be detected above background. That said, alpha detection is fairly efficient, so any significant amount of alpha contamination (Radium, Thorium, Uranium) can be ruled out.

Lately, I’ve been considering the 1079 theory that the bodies were moved. Could whatever was used to move them before Ivanov’s team re-discovered them have contaminated them? Or could something have happened to them during the move that contaminated them?

Today, I had a new idea. I’m not sure if it is viable, but it can definitely be quantified.

Farmers use chemical fertilizer. Potassium is a common ingredient. For example, potash, which includes potassium compounds such as K2O. Could the bodies have been transported in a truck that carried potash? Also, potash is used for ice melting. Could people have dumped potash on the bodies to speed their thawing during the first investigation before they were brought back to the mountain? (Again, assuming the 1079 theory…)

Let’s try to quantify this. 0.0117% of all potassium is K-40, which is radioactive. K-40 has a  1.251x10^9 year half life. 10.72% of the time it decays by electron capture, emitting a gamma. 89.28% of the time it emits a beta. Yes, it’s not pure beta, but we will examine this later.

The most radioactive clothing was Dubinina’s brown sweater. I also want to double-check Levashov. This measured 640 counts per minute. The background for the instrument was 90 counts per minute. So the sweater was 550 counts per minute. Now there’s an 8.9 correction factor, so the beta activity of the sweater is 4895 cpm. The table lists it as 4900, so we are in agreement and will use that. 4900 cpm / 60 seconds/min = 81.67 Bq (beta decays per second.) If we assume this is all K-40, 81.67 / 0.8928 = 91.5 Bq of K-40 activity.

Now let’s look at electron capture decays producing a gamma. 91.5 Bq * 0.1072 * 0.03 / 8.9 * 60 seconds = 1.2 counts per minute gamma. (I’m making the assumption that the detector is 3% efficient on detecting gammas. I’m also assuming the beta efficiency is 100%, meaning the 8.9 correction factor is all due to detector geometry, and that same geometry applies to gammas.) Considering background is 90 cpm, an additional 1.2 cpm of gamma would likely be considered insignificant. Of note, soil from the site was reported at 96 cpm, so 6 cpm above background, and Levashov did not consider that significant. So I believe K-40 contamination in this amount would be reported by Levashov as beta only.

Next, we need the K-40 specific activity.

SA = (NA * ln 2) / (T1/2 * M) = (6.022E23 * 0.6931) / (1.251E9 * 365 * 24 * 3600 * 40) = 264,500 Bq / g K-40

So we can find the mass of the K-40 that will produce this activity:

91.5 / 264,500 = 346 micrograms K-40

Using the elemental abundance:

346E-6 / 0.000117 = 2.96 g K

Using the molecular weights for K2O:

2.96 g * (39*2+16)/(39*2) = 3.56 g K20

We know Dubinina’s sweater sample was 75 cm^2. So if it was contaminated with 3.6 g potash at the time of discovery, this would exactly explain the radioactivity. That said, that seems like more than one would pick up via trace contamination. I question whether a wheelbarrow that previously held potash would transfer 3.6 g potash to 75 cm^2 of clothing if used to transport the body.

But is it possible that people tried to deice the Ravine 4 bodies with potash or another substance containing potassium, such as potassium chloride? That seems like it might transfer the necessary amounts to their clothing such that if the bodies were then returned to the site and dumped in the ravine, the clothing would still be radioactive.

I’m still a little wary about water solubility, e.g. that the potash or KCl stayed in their clothes and didn’t wash away during the running water in the ravine, as I think they would be water soluble. Also, it must have really got into the clothing, because washing the clothes in the lab in cold water for 3 hours only removed 30-60% of the radioactivity.

Also, it doesn’t explain why anyone on Ivanov’s team would have a Geiger counter and use it to check the bodies for radiation in the first place.

Still, potassium is one simple explanation for the bizarre beta-only results that Levashov observed, which doesn’t require a purified manmade isotope like Sr-90.
« Last Edit: January 15, 2023, 07:20:35 PM by Ryan »
 
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January 16, 2023, 07:07:23 AM
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Ryan


Some more thoughts along these lines:

Potassium is right below sodium on the periodic table and is similar in properties. Sodium hydroxide, NaOH, is commonly known as lye, and people trying to make bodies disappear have attempted to dissolve them in lye. Potassium hydroxide, KOH, is likewise a strong base known as caustic potash.

I’ve admittedly not finished the 1079 book but have been skimming various parts of it. From what I’ve read, the idea is that a tree fell on the tent, (most of) the bodies were discovered soon after, and there was concern that the tree falling could be blamed on geologic prospecting with explosives, so the tent was moved and the scene staged to make it look like the hikers left their tent and died of hypothermia.

The Ravine 4 include the three most seriously injured bodies. What if they were not intended to be found, as their injuries would contradict the hypothermia story that was being staged? So they were dumped in the ravine, and caustic potash was dumped on them in an unsuccessful attempt to speed their decomposition? But Ivanov’s team found them anyway.

Then, if we assume someone in Ivanov’s group had a Geiger counter, all the potassium dumped on these four bodies would have set it off, prompting the radiological examination of these four, and this would be consistent with the reported results. It follows that the remaining five bodies would not have been covered with caustic potash, so they would not set off a Geiger counter if they were scanned.
 
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January 16, 2023, 07:36:29 AM
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Missi


I like the basic idea you had there.
I've been skimming through wikipedia for a while now, but all chemical compounds of potash I found were either easily soluable in water or react rather violently with water.
I'm not sure, how that would work, taking into account the amounts of snow and the thawing creek, the corpses were found in...
 
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January 16, 2023, 03:31:36 PM
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Ryan


You’re right, most potassium compounds that don’t react violently with water are going to be very water soluble. Still, if a lot of potassium hydroxide was used, this still might be possible.

I know more about radioactivity and radioactive measurement than I do general chemistry. I don’t know if this is possible, but it does seem plausible to me. Specifically:

We are dealing with a “conspiracy” that isn’t well educated in forensics or body disposal. They are making decisions as they go, rather than executing a careful plan. They are under a lot of pressure and make big mistakes.

The bodies are in Ivdel. They’ve been washed, dressed in new clothes, and suddenly there’s a rush to strip them, put them in their original clothing (which is done haphazardly because nobody was sure who was wearing what, and some was cut off), and take them back to stage.

Once they get on site, and are moving the tent to the new location, someone realizes the foolishness of the plan. Dubinina and Zolotaryov have had their chests crushed, Thibeaux-Brignolle has a crushed skull, and Kolevatov had neck and facial wounds, none of which look like the hypothermia deaths they want to stage. (Slobodin’s skull injuries may not be visible to the group, so his body was deemed presentable for the hypothermia ruse.)

People who have seen too many bad movies think that a caustic like lye will dissolve bodies. Caustic potash is the closest chemical that anyone has on hand, so the four bodies are dumped in the ravine, tens of kilograms of KOH are dumped on them, snow is shoveled on top, and they figure (incorrectly) that they succeeded.

Meanwhile, the KOH drops the freezing point of the water. Some snow melts, forms a supersaturated solution, which is exothermic as KOH dissociates, and melts more snow until all the KOH is in solution, and soaks into the clothing. Then the overall cold causes everything to freeze. (And it also prevents the KOH from dissolving the bodies as planned.) The bodies stay this way essentially until spring. There may be some snow melt, which may carry more KOH into the clothing, or which might wash some away.)

Ivanov’s team (re)discovers these bodies while they are still frozen. He wants to get them to Ivdel before they can thaw. As they do thaw, the frozen KOH solution that was absorbed by the fibers in the clothing becomes liquid, and eventually evaporates, leaving KOH in the fibers.

This has the unusual side effect of making all the clothing that absorbed the KOH measurably radioactive.

We need 3 g of K in the 75 cm2 sample of Dubinina’s sweater. Given the atomic weights, that means 3g * ((39+16+1)/39) = 4.3g KOH. KOH is soluble in 0 C water at 97 g / 100 mL. So the 75 cm^2 sweater sample only needs to retain 4.3 mL of saturated KOH solution. That seems reasonable it could retain that much moisture before the water evaporated and it dried, leaving KOH in the fibers.

Yes, there was snow melt and parts of the bodies were found in running water. That could certainly wash KOH away. But not all of the bodies are going to be washed uniformly. Any area not washed, or whose geometry would lend itself to retaining the KOH, would yield hot spots. How the sampling of the clothing was done at Sverdlovsk was not stated, but I think it likely that they used a handheld Geiger counter on the clothing and tried to pick samples to measure that were hot.

I’m also concerned because several cloth samples were washed for 3 hours under cold running water and measured again, but significant amounts of the radioisotope(s) remained. Maybe certain fibers hold on to certain things better than others? I’m not sure.

But ultimately, this does provide a simple explanation for the radioactivity that integrates with the theory in the 1079 book. It does not require the military detonating dirty bombs dispersing Sr-90. Its plausibility can be tested. I can picture MythBusters doing experiments with potassium hydroxide, snow, a deep freezer, and fiber samples. Forensic experts can be consulted to determine what would happen in this kind of botched body disposal scenario. It would also be interesting to know about the availability of potassium hydroxide in that part of the Soviet Union.
 

January 16, 2023, 04:15:10 PM
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Missi


Go ahead and ask the Myth Busters. I'd watch it. thumb1

But if I understand your theory correctly, the KOH should be distributed equally across all clothes and especially all parts of the clothes. As far as I remember, there were only some hot spots as in there are areas that are radioactive and those that aren't. That doesn't go well with your theory, does it?
 

January 16, 2023, 04:46:59 PM
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Ryan


This is a complex environment to model, and I don’t believe the contamination from KOH would be uniform. Specifically, snow melt and running water. As you pointed out, solubility in water is an issue. I imagine the clothing all started with a very high amount of KOH, but clothing exposed to the most running water would be most likely to have lower KOH concentration over time.

Also, it can’t be said whether the contamination was spotty or not based on the case files. All we know is that all the hikers’ clothing (as it existed when found by Ivanov’s team) was presented to the lab, they chose 9 samples to study, with at least one from each hiker found in the ravine, and all 9 had varying levels of contamination ranging from 600 to 9900 counts per 150 cm^2. We don’t know if some clothes were completely clean, or if everything was contaminated. It is possible the sampling was random, it which case it is very likely that just about everything was contaminated to some degree. It is also also possible they used a handheld Geiger counter to “cherry pick” the hottest samples from all four hikers, in which case some clothing might be completely clean. Nothing is said about the sampling methodology in the file.
 
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January 17, 2023, 12:33:16 AM
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Teddy

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Quote from: Ryan
I recently did some math on the radiation report numbers and realized that potassium might explain the radiation if we assume the Sverdlovsk lab only had simple Geiger counters.

I’m wondering if this could integrate with your 1079 theory. Let’s say the people staging the tent and bodies decided at the last minute that four bodies were too damaged to look like hypothermia, so they were dumped in the ravine and covered with potassium hydroxide, a.k.a. caustic potash, which is chemically very similar to lye, in an unsuccessful attempt to dissolve them. This clearly didn’t work, but it did make their clothing mildly radioactive.

This is a quote from Ryan's email to me from today.
They could have been covered like spread over, the clothes that were contaminated belonged to two people only https://dyatlovpass.com/controversy#radioactiveclothes.
It was not common at all at the time to test for radiation. One big mystery in this case is why Lev Ivanov asked for anything to be tested on first place? Nothing on the bodies suggested death by exposure to radiation. How would the conspirators fathom that the severe injuries would be attributed to radiation?
But this case is such a mess that one can throw anything in the mix. Take off from the bodies three pieces of clothing, tear them up, dip them in whatever you say, put them back on the bodies, wait for Lev Ivanov to have a revelation to test them... Why didn't he test the first bodies found in February-March? Or if he didn't test those why would he test the bodies found in May?
Igor Pavlov had a theory about this which I will post a little later since I am waiting for a filming crew. They are not filming me though, but the dendrologist who is bringing the results of testing the tree cores I brought form the pass. He is coming with an operator since I said I can not repeat what he says, so we are going to film it.
 
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January 17, 2023, 12:39:19 AM
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Teddy

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I’ve admittedly not finished the 1079 book but have been skimming various parts of it. From what I’ve read, the idea is that a tree fell on the tent, (most of) the bodies were discovered soon after, and there was concern that the tree falling could be blamed on geologic prospecting with explosives, so the tent was moved and the scene staged to make it look like the hikers left their tent and died of hypothermia.

The Ravine 4 include the three most seriously injured bodies. What if they were not intended to be found, as their injuries would contradict the hypothermia story that was being staged? So they were dumped in the ravine, and caustic potash was dumped on them in an unsuccessful attempt to speed their decomposition? But Ivanov’s team found them anyway.

Then, if we assume someone in Ivanov’s group had a Geiger counter, all the potassium dumped on these four bodies would have set it off, prompting the radiological examination of these four, and this would be consistent with the reported results. It follows that the remaining five bodies would not have been covered with caustic potash, so they would not set off a Geiger counter if they were scanned.

Wow. If only Igor were alive to comment on this. It's a very interesting idea.
Only till now I imagined the conspirators didn't mean to do something so horrific but wanted the bodies to be found only tried to avoid implication. Poring chemicals to speed the decomposition of the corpses kind of crosses the line.
Let me take care of the shooting and I will get back to it.
 
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January 17, 2023, 12:47:29 AM
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Teddy

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Then, if we assume someone in Ivanov’s group had a Geiger counter, all the potassium dumped on these four bodies would have set it off, prompting the radiological examination of these four, and this would be consistent with the reported results. It follows that the remaining five bodies would not have been covered with caustic potash, so they would not set off a Geiger counter if they were scanned.

It didn't just happened someone to have Geiger counter, it was a big device back in the days, and Kikoin, a professor in 1959 was called on purpose. The question is why. It was a not a routine practice to bring a device like that. You needed to make a request and it comes with an expert.
 

January 17, 2023, 01:12:34 AM
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Teddy

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It didn't just happened someone to have Geiger counter, it was a big device back in the days, and Kikoin, a professor in 1959 was called on purpose. The question is why. It was a not a routine practice to bring a device like that. You needed to make a request and it comes with an expert.

The rest is correct but Kikoin had nothing to do with the testing of the bodies for radiation. He was at the pass in March. I had to read my own book.
 

January 17, 2023, 07:07:19 AM
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Ryan


They could have been covered like spread over, the clothes that were contaminated belonged to two people only https://dyatlovpass.com/controversy#radioactiveclothes.

Thanks, Teddy, for the responses.

I believe there is a serious misunderstanding around Levashov’s radiation testing report. Radiation measurement is a part of my university studies. I have had coursework specific to the kind of data presented in Levashov’s report.

https://dyatlovpass.com/case-files-371-377?rbid=17743

Levashov tested 9 clothing samples, with at least one piece of clothing from each of the four ravine bodies. The results show that all nine clothing samples had radioactive contamination on them that significantly exceeded the natural background radiation one would expect to measure.

Levashov then subtracted the background, corrected for detector efficiency and geometry, and produced a normalized number of beta counts per minute for a 150 cm^2 sample. The 9 clothing samples had results ranging from 600 to 9900. Again, this is after background was subtracted. These results are all statistically significant.

It appears the Soviet nuclear industry has a sanitation standard, where >= 5000 counts per minute per 150 cm^2 is in acceptable for nuclear workers. According to that standard, three of the nine clothing samples, worn by just two of the hikers (Kolevatov and Dubinina) met or exceeded the limit. That does not mean Zolotaryov and Thibault-Brignoles weren’t contaminated! It just means that their clothing wasn’t contaminated beyond what a nuclear worker could acceptably receive in a shift.

But these are hikers, not nuclear workers! Any significant radioactive contamination should be cause to question what happened. This is especially true when one considers that the radiation measured was beta only, which excludes common naturally occurring alpha emitters like radium, thorium, and uranium.

So please, let’s stop the misinformation that only two of the ravine bodies were contaminated. All nine pieces of clothing on all four hikers were measurably contaminated! Some were just more contaminated than others.
 

January 17, 2023, 07:52:09 AM
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Ryan


It didn't just happened someone to have Geiger counter, it was a big device back in the days, and Kikoin, a professor in 1959 was called on purpose. The question is why. It was a not a routine practice to bring a device like that. You needed to make a request and it comes with an expert.

Geiger counters for surveying radiation would have been man-portable at the time. I believe this model military Geiger counter might have been available in 1959:

http://www.civildefensemuseum.com/southrad/russian-dp5a.html

Still, search and rescue workers travel light and take nothing unnecessary. One of the things that stunned me most about the DPI is why anyone would have even thought to test the bodies for radiation.

I don’t know why Kikoin would have been called in to test the bodies for radiation. But it seems clear that once the bodies were determined to be radioactive, criminal procedure seems to obligate Ivanov to have Levashov perform the tests that he did on the bodies and on the clothing at his Sverdlovsk lab.

Given that the bodies were recovered at different times, is it known whether any Geiger counter scans were attempted on any of the first five bodies found?

Given that all four bodies in the ravine had contaminated clothing, it begs the question of whether the other 5 did too and they just weren’t tested, or if the radiation was confined to the ravine.
 

January 17, 2023, 09:01:43 AM
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Missi


You are definitely right concerning the contamination of the samples. But I think that the expert stated that not all parts of the clothes were radioactive.
Quote
As stated in the conclusion, there is a contamination of radioactive substances (substance) by the beta emitters of individual, selectable areas of clothing, sent samples.
This is from the additional questions posed on the expert as you can find in the case files: https://dyatlovpass.com/case-files-371-377?rbid=17743


 

January 17, 2023, 09:25:17 AM
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Ryan


Wow. If only Igor were alive to comment on this. It's a very interesting idea.
Only till now I imagined the conspirators didn't mean to do something so horrific but wanted the bodies to be found only tried to avoid implication. Poring chemicals to speed the decomposition of the corpses kind of crosses the line.
Let me take care of the shooting and I will get back to it.

I agree, this is pretty dark and sinister. My thought process here was essentially working backwards:

Your 1079 theory explains so much about the injuries and ties up a lot of loose ends, but I really want a satisfying explanation for the radiation. Levashov’s report on radiation is so specific, quantified, and unusual that I can’t just dismiss it. There is no reason for him to lie (and criminal penalties if he did.)

Most common radioactive substances (radium watches, thorium lantern mantles, uranium) primarily emit alpha, and can be eliminated.

Man-made pure beta emitters like Sr-90 are not obtainable by the general public and don’t just randomly contaminate people. Nuclear tests, dirty bombs, etc. require vast military conspiracies to explain. I’d like to see a relatively simple answer.

I realized naturally occurring potassium is radioactive, and after doing some math, saw that while it is a beta and gamma emitter, the gamma dose associated with the beta doses Levashov was measuring would not be measurable with the Geiger counters they have.

The most radioactive clothing found, Dubinina’s brown sweater, would need 3 grams of elemental potassium retained in 75 cm^2 of fabric.

My first thought was that the bodies could have been exposed to potassium if they were moved in a wheelbarrow that previously held fertilizer. But it doesn’t seem like that would transfer enough, especially considering potassium is water soluble, and the bodies were subjected to snow melt and running water.

Then I started thinking that maybe the bodies were intentionally covered with a whole lot of a potassium containing chemical. Why? To melt ice seemed like one idea, but would that really be necessary when the bodies could thaw naturally?

Then I realized that KOH is pretty much the same as lye (NaOH), which has a reputation in fiction for dissolving bodies. (In practice, it often doesn’t work that well.) Someone trying to stage a scene suggesting hikers leaving their tent and dying of hypothermia might want the most obvious bodies injured by trauma, which would contradict that narrative, to disappear. This could explain why these bodies were found in the ravine, and why they were mildly but noticeably radioactive with beta particles (the K-40 naturally occurring in the potassium.)

A caustic chemical like KOH won’t dissolve the bodies like the people staging this mistakenly believe, but it may have physical effects too. I’m also wondering if this might explain Dubinina’s missing eyes and tongue. I am very well aware that animal predation could also cause this. But a caustic chemical could dissolve some exposed soft flesh, and additionally could account for the more advanced decomposition Ivanov noted in these four bodies.
 
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January 17, 2023, 09:48:56 AM
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Ryan


You are definitely right concerning the contamination of the samples. But I think that the expert stated that not all parts of the clothes were radioactive.
Quote
As stated in the conclusion, there is a contamination of radioactive substances (substance) by the beta emitters of individual, selectable areas of clothing, sent samples.
This is from the additional questions posed on the expert as you can find in the case files: https://dyatlovpass.com/case-files-371-377?rbid=17743


That would make sense. I don’t expect every square centimeter of every piece of clothing to be radioactive.

My primary concern is that I see people claim only Dubinina and Kolevatov wore contaminated clothing. That is not correct. All four wore contaminated clothing. Dubinina and Kolevatov happened to exceed safe levels for nuclear workers. But these are not nuclear workers, these are hikers, so any significant contamination of their clothing, regardless of whether it rises to that level, is very unusual.
 

January 17, 2023, 03:44:11 PM
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RMK


First of all, great work in this thread, Ryanthumb1

Let me make sure I understand the gist of your hypothesis.  You propose that the beta radiation detected in the Ravine 4's clothing was merely due to naturally occurring K-40, and that the reason said clothing was emitting a substantial amount of beta radiation is that it had been exposed to a LARGE amount of some potassium compound (specifically, KOH).  Correct?
 
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January 17, 2023, 05:47:43 PM
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Ryan


Thanks. That’s exactly what I’m proposing.

A pure beta emitter, energetic enough to be detected by Geiger counters, could explain the results. But most of these are man-made isotopes like Sr-90. This crosses a certain line; these isotopes are so unobtainable that it would likely require a really big military conspiracy.

K-40 opens up an additional natural option to explain the results. While K-40 is a beta and gamma emitter, given the low gamma to beta ratio of K-40 and Geiger tubes have approx. 3% sensitivity to gammas vs. near 100% for energetic betas, this still works. At the levels of beta found on the Ravine 4’s clothing, the gamma would be below the level of detection.
« Last Edit: January 17, 2023, 06:11:44 PM by Ryan »