A history of atmospheric tritium gas (HT) 1950-2002

James D. Happell, Göte Östlund, Allen S. Mason

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Scopus citations


Data collected as a part of this study from 1968-2002 and data from other studies from 1950-1967 show that the maximum atmospheric concentration of tritium gas (HT) occurred in the early to mid 1970s, which corresponds to the era of frequent, large underground nuclear tests. These data clearly show that the major source of HT to the atmosphere between 1962 and the early 1990s was the underground testing of nuclear weapons. Samples collected at both our Alaska and Miami stations clearly show marked increases in the autumn of each year between 1970 and 1975 that were associated with large underground explosions conducted by the former Soviet Union at the Novaya Zemlya test site. Other significant sources of HT include accidental releases of HT used in the manufacture and maintenance of nuclear weapons stockpiles, the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods and emissions from nuclear power plants. Since the early 1990s, when underground testing largely ceased, emission estimates from our data agree very well with United Nations estimates of worldwide releases from fuel reprocessing and nuclear power plants, suggesting that the nuclear power industry is now the major source of HT to the atmosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-193
Number of pages11
JournalTellus, Series B: Chemical and Physical Meteorology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'A history of atmospheric tritium gas (HT) 1950-2002'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this