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What would decay look like in an environment so intensely radioactive that no bacteria can survive it for any appreciable amount of time? This is in a bunker that's been hit by a malfunctioning 'dirty' nuclear bomb specifically meant for long-term area denial, and they managed to seal the hole after it hit to keep the radiation contained, sealing the environment in the process.

I'm imagining corpses would mostly desiccate in place, becoming mummies, but I can also imagine an environment not quite dry enough for that where grey-blue bodies just sit on the ground for hundreds of years, fat slowly turning to wax and holding the shape it had shortly after death indefinitely.

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    $\begingroup$ Oxygen? Some things are stable. But at what temperatures are you talking about? Any precipitation? Rain erodes, so does wind. What sort of radiation (alpha, beta, gamma, neutron)? $\endgroup$ Feb 26, 2023 at 23:32
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    $\begingroup$ Because you haven't defined the radiation, a microwave oven demonstrates decay due to radiation that no bacteria can survive. Can you be much more specific about the nature of the radiation? What kind of radiation? What's the source? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 26, 2023 at 23:44
  • $\begingroup$ The source is a bomb intended for long-term area denial that crashed through the roof of a bunker complex, failed to detonate as designed, but still deposited an enormous amount of weaponized radioactive material throughout the complex. This killed everyone in the building. The hole in the roof was bulldozed shut, sealing the sterilized environment. As for what sort of radiation, let's just put the answer as 'yes,' since I don't think any specific kind would meaningfully change the decay process. $\endgroup$ Feb 27, 2023 at 0:20
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    $\begingroup$ @NoustheSpaceAlien Never simply answer in comments. Never ever trust that people will read through the comments to find the clarifications. Please edit your post to include all clarifications. Thanks. Are we talking thermonuclear bomb (uranium/fusion), an atomic bomb (plutonium & uranium/fission), a neutron bomb (uranium/fusion enhanced radiation weapon)? You've told us the back story, but you've not defined the radiation. However, we can work with "failed to detonate" if we know which kind of bomb it is. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 27, 2023 at 0:23
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    $\begingroup$ Question: If the radiation is strong enough to kill bacteria for hundreds of years - why are we presuming that this sort of radiation wouldn't have an effect on the Organic matter of a corpse? $\endgroup$ Feb 27, 2023 at 3:07

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Ionising radiation has the energy to penetrate through and break organic molecules, which is why it is dangerous to us. Alpha and beta radiation, though not so penetrant, are still capable of breaking organic molecules.

Therefore corpses exposed to such radiation would undergo molecular alteration, maybe with different intermediate products with respect to bacterial induced decomposition.

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    $\begingroup$ "...that no bacteria can survive it..." I'm beginning to suspect the corpses would simply dry out and blow away as dust. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 27, 2023 at 8:08
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    $\begingroup$ Or tar, which seems to be the typical end result of complex organic chemistry gone awry. Somewhat similar to the formation of kerogen, except with the radiation splitting large polymer molecules: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerogen#Formation $\endgroup$ Feb 27, 2023 at 13:48

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