The U.S. Air Force deployed one its nuclear bomb “sniffer” aircraft over Europe Friday after a spike in radiation was discovered.
The WC-135C Constant Phoenix, better known to its operators as the “sniffer” or “weather bird,” was reportedly deployed in response to higher than normal levels of radioactive iodine-131 in the air across much of Europe in mid-January.
The sniffer is used to detect and identify nuclear explosions, it accomplishes this task by collecting particle samples and gasses in the atmosphere.
France’s Institute of Radiation and Nuclear Safety, or IRSN, reported the spike in radioactive iodine last Monday, but it is still unclear what may have caused it.
The Aviationist reported Tuesday some speculation that the spike could be the result of Russia testing a new nuclear warhead, however, such a test would be easily detected by other monitoring systems and represent a major violation of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The Pentagon has yet to release an assessment on the cause of the spike.
The nuclear sniffer, flying under the callsign “Cobra 55,” deployed to Royal Air Force Mildenhall, United Kingdom. The Air Force currently flies two of the so-called sniffers out of the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron based at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. While they are primarily used for the monitoring of nuclear tests, the sniffers have also been deployed to monitor radioactive activity at famous nuclear disaster sites like Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Sniffers rarely deploy to Europe, making Cobra 55’s trip very unique. The aircraft’s primary mission lately has been the monitoring of North Korea’s ongoing nuclear weapons tests.
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