The US Air Force is expected to fly its “radiation sniffer” jet off the Korean Peninsula to take air samples to determine if a nuclear event occurred in North Korea.
The Air Force WC-135 jet, dubbed the “Constant Phoenix,” will look for distinctive elements a nuclear test of any type would emit into the air. The collected samples can be analyzed to determine exactly what occurred.
Japan’s Air Self Defense Force also said it was sending four jets to collect airborne dust for radiation samples.
The US Air Force’s four-engine Boeing jets are equipped with external devices that collect radioactive material from the atmosphere on filter paper. The planes also have “a compressor system for whole air samples collected in holding spheres,” according to an Air Force fact sheet.
The Air Force has two of the WC-135 jets that operate out of Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.
The United States also has ground stations in the area that will also be taking samples.
The Constant Phoenix program originated with Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1947. The then-Army Air Forces, which would later become the Air Force, used WB-29s, variants of the B-29 bomber model, to try to detect evidence of Soviet nuclear tests, according to the Air Force.
The WB-29s were replaced by WB-50s beginning in 1950, with the current WB-135s coming on line in 1965.
The radiation-sniffing planes have been used to monitor compliance with nuclear weapons treaties, and also monitored effects of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in the Soviet Union, the Air Force says.