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Radiation Emergencies
Emergency Response:

EPA's Response to the Reentry of Cosmos Satellites

Ready to Respond

On three occasions in the past several years, the former Soviet Union announced that one of its disabled nuclear-powered Cosmos satellites would reenter the atmosphere. Nations around the world prepared for the possibility of radioactive fallout from the fuel contained in the nuclear reactor-powered satellites.

Long, tubular satellite against the black of space.

In the United States, EPA, along with the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense, developed contingency plans for addressing potential harm to public health if a satellite reentered over the United States. Public health threats were averted, however, when the satellites fell on uninhabited parts of the globe. In the first instance, in 1978, pieces of a Cosmos satellite fell over the sparsely populated Northwest Territories of Canada. EPA dispatched response personnel to help the Canadians assess the situation. In 1983, a Cosmos satellite landed in distant reaches of the Indian Ocean and in 1988, a Cosmos satellite failed again, landing in the Atlantic Ocean.

For the 1988 reentry of the Cosmos 1900 Satellite, EPA and the Department of Energy readied the Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center (FRMAC) in case radiation measurements were needed. EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services also formed a group to advise on possible environmental, food and health matters. Fortunately, the satellite landed in the ocean and did not pose a threat to humans.

EPA staff search for pieces of Cosmos in frozen Canadian landscape

DOE and EPA personnel
Search for Fragments
of the Fallen Cosmos
Satellite in Canada

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