✅ Fact-checked    

Gizmodo: no, China secretly did not detonate an atomic bomb in the South China Sea as a sign of the outbreak of World War III

It can almost certainly be argued that the Chinese government did not detonate tactical nuclear weapons in the South China Sea as a warning to the United States, contrary to widespread allegations to the contrary on social media.

The source of these specific rumors seems to be Hal Turner, a far-right radio broadcaster and former FBI whistleblower who is considered the racist of the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center (and who has already been sentenced to over three years for appealing to the murder of three federal judges). A publication on Turner's website claimed that unknown “sources in military circles” said that around 18:22 on Wednesday, November 20, a nuclear explosion that occurred at a depth of about 50 meters below the surface of the South China Sea caused an “unexpected underwater shock wave such a force that the power of the explosion itself, in all probability, ranged from ten to 20 kilotons. ”

Further, the article that appeared on Turner's website was updated and it reported that the uRADMonitor global environmental monitoring network recorded “significant” radiation levels on the southern coast of China near Zhanjiang and Hong Kong, as well as Taiwan.

Turner suggested that the Chinese government blew up nuclear weapons in order to send a quiet signal to the US government that it was tired of interfering with China’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, the ongoing trade war between the US and China, or simply as a hint that World War III was just around the corner :

“China blew up a small tactical nuclear explosive device to send a warning sign to the United States in connection with the approval by the US Senate and the House of Representatives of the Hong Kong Democracy Act, which China sees as“ interference ” in the country's internal affairs?

China Tired of US Navigation in the South China Sea?

“Did China feel the effects of the economic downturn due to a trade war with the United States, or is it” raising the stakes “to signal an actual war?”

Normally, reasonable people ignore this kind of information. But thanks to a number of tweets from accounts using official-sounding account names like “IndoPacific_SCS_Info” and the like, Turner's statements have caught the attention of thousands of Twitter users.

Of course, no one should be surprised that all this is utter nonsense. Firstly, the uRADMonitor website itself captures this “giant” jump in radiation at 0.24 microsievert per hour. About the same amount is observed in South India, in some parts of the southwestern United States and in Mexico, and this is a very meager level of radiation. For comparison, the World Nuclear Association estimates the average global natural background radiation rate of 0.17-0.39 microsievert per hour, which is about 2100 microsievert per year, or just over 2 millisieverts. The United States sets the upper limit of safe occupational exposure at 50 millisieverts per year.

One university radiation specialist who spoke with our publication on condition of anonymity due to a lack of permission to talk to the media confirmed that the allegedly ominous testimonies of uRADMonitor appear to reflect normal levels of background radiation, and called the statements made “unreasonable insane speculations”. (This specialist also warned that uRADMonitor is not a reliable source.) Data on the presence of radioactive particles in the air published on the RadNet Environmental Protection Agency Honolulu page, as well as on the radiation design chart of Japan by the Information Design Institute, also do not appear to indicate either what deviations from the norm (except for elevated levels in the territory where a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant occurred in 2011).

Our publication spoke with Robert Rosner, a former scientist at the Department of Energy, now a theoretical physicist at the University of Chicago, who heads the Science and Security Commission for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Rosner laughed at the suggestion that someone would be able to detect underwater nuclear tests using ground-based sensors, or that someone would be foolish enough to conduct such tests in the South China Sea.

“I would be surprised if an event occurred that someone defined as such, based on a radioactive trail,” Rosner told our publication over the phone. “This is highly unlikely.”

Rosner added that the primary way to record such a fact would be seismic: the very first underwater nuclear tests in the world, that is, the Baker nuclear missile on the Bikini Atoll with a capacity of 23 kilotons in 1945, was reflected in seismographs around the world. There was no indication that something similar happened on Wednesday.

“We record underground incidents,” says Rosner. — The standard fixation method is a network of sensor stations around the world. They capture both underground explosions and underwater, and even if you have some kind of event above the water, it will also cause a seismic signal to the sea. ”

“If you are going to conduct secret tests, which supposedly it could be, then the South China Sea is the last place for this,” added Rosner. — ... This is a very crowded place... Great attention is riveted to him. This territory is under vigilant surveillance in connection with what the Chinese are doing there, so the likelihood that someone will try to do something reprehensible right there is extremely low. ”

Rosner went on to say: “There is such intensified observation that it would be amazing if no one noticed this. And if this had not been noticed because of the radioactive debris, given, moreover, that with an underwater explosion there should have been no debris ... above the surface of the ocean. “

In addition to security issues, Rosner said, the region is being monitored due to seismic activity due to “truly deadly tsunamis,” like the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. Rosner said that an explosion with a power of ten to 20 kilotons would “be clearly visible” in these parameters, noting that the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had similar power.

In other words: one should not trust a racist-radio host who cites data from completely unremarkable background radiation as evidence that China intends to start a third world war.

Rosner offered a list of recommendations for those who are trying to secretly conduct nuclear tests. Do not do this underwater, it is better to send the bomb on an inflatable floating vehicle somewhere far away, as was the case with the alleged joint South African-Israeli nuclear tests at the Prince Edward Islands in the subantarctic Indian Ocean territories in 1979.

“It’s better to wait for a very cloudy day” to make it difficult to detect using satellites, said Rosner. “Potentially, the explosion will be difficult to fix. But conducting tests underwater is just a very unfortunate undertaking. ”

Tom McKay

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