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TitleCOSMOS 954, the occurrence and nature of recovered debris
AuthorGummer, W K; Campbell, F R; Knight, G B; Ricard, J L
SourceAtomic Energy of Canada Limited, Info no. 6, 1980, 60 pages (1 sheet) Open Access logo Open Access
LinksOnline - En ligne
PublisherAtomic Energy of Canada Limited
MapsPublication contains 1 map
Map Info.location, location of satellite debris, 1:1,333,333
Mediapaper; on-line; digital
File formatpdf
ProvinceNorthwest Territories
NTS75; 85
AreaHay River; Great Slave Lake; Artillery Lake
Lat/Long WENS-118.0000 -104.0000 64.0000 60.0000
Subjectsenvironmental geology; radioactive minerals; radioactivity; satellites; environmental impacts; environmental analysis; environmental studies
Illustrationssketch maps; photographs
Released1980 01 01
The Russian nuclear-powered satellite, Cosmos 954, re-entered the earth's atmosphere early on 24 January, 1978, watched first by the tracking instruments of NORAD and then by the startled eyes of a few residents of the Northwest Territories. Concern about radioactive debris, whose presence was quickly verified on the frozen surfaces of lakes and land, led to a massive airborne and ground search and recovery program that lasted from re-entry date to the middle of October, 1978, interrupted only by the spring break-up period. The search area extended from Great Slave Lake northeastward towards Baker Lake.
Only about 65 kilograms of material were found, although it is probable that the satellite weighed several tons. All fragments but one - itself weighing over 18 kg - were radioactive; many showed clear evidence of melting and erosion. A few were extremely radioactive and could under certain conditions have caused serious effects on people, even death. In addition to the obvious fragments that fell along a well-defined track nearly 600 km in length, a wide area stretching southwards from Great Slave Lake was affected by a scattered shower of minute particles representing the enriched fuel of the satellite's power source, with a highly variable density perhaps averaging a few hundred per square kilometre. Because of their radioactivity and of public concern about the hazards that might be presented by contamination of water supplies, or by pickup of particles by clothing, for example, intensive searches were carried out in the Territories and adjacent Alberta and Saskatchewan, in frequented areas such as towns, roads, fishing and hunting camps in an effort to find and remove as much as possible of such material. Laboratory studies were carried out on particles to learn their chemical and physical nature, in order to understand their probable behaviour in the general environment.
Search and recovery continued until it could be concluded that 1) it was most unlikely that highly radioactive fragments had been missed; 2) all obvious large fragments had been located and removed; 3) the risk to people from particles remaining in unfrequented areas was not great because of the particles' tiny size, their general insolubility, and their scattered distribution. Residual radiological risks were also fading rapidly relative to the natural radiation background.

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