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It is not hard sci fi, but I need something plausible.

A spaceship falls on a planet and destroys itself. The area surrounding the wreck becomes highly radioactive. It can be because of the leak of radioactive fuel used to propel the ship; or because of the radioactive cargo the ship was carrying; or because of the reaction triggered by the impact with the ground.

This area is now deadly for humans, like going near Chernobyl reactor was, right after the incident.

I need something that could make possible again to go through the zone. An event - something near a hundred years after the incident - that abruptly changes the radiation levels, allowing humans to pass without deadly consequences. Since highly radioactive isotopes usually decay after a longer period of time, and not so suddenly, I thought about a climatic event that could change the features of the area.

A volcanic eruption that covers the radioactive waste, a big flood that carries it away, an earthquake that makes the ground swallow the waste, a rainfall of some sort that lowers, even temporarily, the radiations. It's not the Earth, so it is plausible that a methane or a liquid lead rainfall would reduce the threat, don't hesitate to take it into account.

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    $\begingroup$ "Since highly radioactive isotopes usually decay after a longer period of time" - wrong $\endgroup$ – Anixx Mar 9 '15 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Anixx, you misread me: after a decade or so, highly radioactive isotopes will have decayed. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Aug 12 '15 at 16:28
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The wreck was highly radioactive when it crash-landed, and the lethal dose would accumulate in minutes. This was enough for the primitive locals to create strong taboos about the ship (a cursed and haunted place -- the radiation-induced hallucinations were most vivid)

Option 1:

However, most of the radiation was in the form of fast-lived radionuclides, and the main containment core of the ship drive was never breached. This means the radiation decreases exponentially with time. Most areas around the ship were relatively safe to visit for short periods within about 2 decades, but the taboo persisted.

Option 2:

Recently, a massive flood in this normally dry and parched wasteland washed away the top 3 inches of soil into the large river nearby, from where they were carried out to sea. Radiation in the area dropped by 98%.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks. The second option is much better, because I need something that in few hours changes the area from "people that go there come back sick, and die within a week" to "it's safe enough to pass some hours near the wreck" (like chernobyl today, it's not healthy to stay near the reactor area, but it could be done without severe consequences). Other solutions are welcome. $\endgroup$ – nekron Mar 7 '15 at 16:59
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Based on research that they're trying to do in Fukushima:

  • A plant or fungus spontaneously mutates the ability to consume material contaminated by radionuclides. It does this by binding the cesium (etc.) into a form that is stable and non-bioreactive.

The radioactivity would still be there, but the Cesium (etc.) would be bound in a form that wouldn't easily pass into the human body or would be quickly excreted even if it were.

Remember that the actual beta/gamma background radiation isn't as harmful as the effect on the human body when the contaminants enter the blood stream.

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Since we're talking a period of 100 years.... how about simple technological improvement?

The human society won't stay static, after all. Especially after watching a ship crash. That's bound to be a driver of new scientific inquiry. After 100 years of research, inventors finally create effective radiation suits and have the medical technology to treat radiation poisoning.

So now, 100 years later, with the latest hazmat suit, combined with the natural reduction of radiation due to time, the crash site can be explored.

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Who says the radiation has to go away for the area to be survivable? There are organisms that can withstand extreme levels of radiation. Meet the toughest organism in the world: Deinococcus radiodurans.

As you probably know the problem with radiation is that it damages the DNA. However, deinococcus radiodurans evolved the ability to repair the damage very quickly. Humans could probably adapt to radiation in the same way.

As an aside: The TV series "The 100" revolves around planet earth having been rendered "inhabitable" by nuclear warfare. But the people having lived on a space station for several generations were adapted to the radiation in space so that they survived the remaining radiation when they came back to the ground.


I need something that could make possible again to go through the zone. An event[...] allowing humans to pass without deadly consequences.

If this is all you want to achieve you could have an asteroid impact near the original crash-landing site removing/relocating most of the radio active material. This could create many many small radiated spots while allowing several routes through the wasteland without deadly consequences. Even after the impact it would take people some time to discover ways to pass the area and maybe there will be some relatively unknown routes.

Basically, you could have a deadly maze – think Dead Marshes – allowing those who know how to pass through unharmed. Plus: Maybe there are shorter but more dangerous routes you'd only take in case of an emergency?

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  • $\begingroup$ "inhabitable" means possible to inhabit, or livable. Is that really what you meant? I think you meant "uninhabitable", which means not possible to inhabit, or not livable. Maybe you are confusing with "inhospitable" which is the opposite of "hospitable" (which in turn means approximately "friendly to life")? $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 12 '15 at 11:07
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I like Serban's first two answers, but because you'd like more, I've just read an article from Science News:

Option 3:

"To retrieve the radioactive loot, scientists just need a magnet". Small, tiny nano-particles of iron can attract, and encase uranium, which has implications on future events that are similar to Fukushima and Chernobyl. The article also notes that they could be harvested from sea water.

Your planet's ocean has a much larger amount of these than our ocean, and a storm surge floods the area for a short time, enough for these little buddies to clean your site. It can also take some soil with it.

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A big meteor, with a uranium core, fell from the sky nearby the crash site. By hitting the ground it went critical and exploded into a natural nuclear explosion. The huge amount of neutrons released made the nuclides generate secondary explosions promoting their neutralization into less radioactive materials. A side effect was the vitrification of a large portion of soil. The radioactive levels are still a bit high, but survivable. Well, this might be a good excuse for a plot, if not scientifically perfect.

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  • $\begingroup$ You're going to induce far more radioactivity than you'll consume. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Apr 6 '15 at 20:11

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