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The 6 Most Reckless Uses of Radioactive Material

If we told you there was a leak of radioactive material in your basement, you'd get the hell out of that house. You'd probably get the hell out of that town. We've learned the hard way that you have to respect anything that upsets a Geiger counter.

But some people are, let's just say, a little more casual around nuclear material than the rest of us. And by "people" we mean governments, corporations and just random, everyday dumbasses. They have combined to give us a lot of ridiculous/terrifying stories, like the time ...

#6. A Radioactive Core Was Left Unguarded and Contaminated an Entire Community

The first thing you have to know is that highly radioactive material isn't just found in heavily fortified power plants and nuclear missile silos. A lot of the stuff is kind of just laying around.

For instance, the Instituto Goiano de Radioterapia (IGR) was a radiotherapy clinic in Goiania, Brazil, that had relocated to a new facility in the mid-1980s, leaving behind an abandoned building full of medical equipment. As one might guess, all of those machines were tempting targets for thieves, particularly because of the value of the scrap metal that could be harvested from them (metal is such a high theft item pretty much everywhere in the world that it suggests the existence of an underworld boss who is a cross between Wesley Snipes in New Jack City and Shaq in Steel). One of the machines in question was, appropriately, a radiotherapy device with a caesium-137 core.

4urology
"Anyone fancy a round of cancer roulette?"

Now for those of you who don't know or haven't already guessed, caesium-137 is radioactive as balls. Remember that, because it comes up later.

The hospital had hired minimal security to try and keep people away, because somehow the removal of the potentially hazardous equipment was tied up in litigation. However, one day the guard called in sick to catch a showing of Herbie Goes Bananas, which proved to be the chink in the armor of their bulletproof anti-theft initiative.


Huh. Well, this is certainly a film that exists.

Two scavengers named Roberto dos Santos Alves and Wagner Mota Pereira saw their opportunity and swooped in to steal whatever they could carry. "Whatever they could carry," as you can guess, turned out to be the caesium-137 radiotherapy unit, which they brought back home and promptly tore open like a Christmas present.

They removed the core and smashed it open, finding a blue glowing substance inside that mystified them. This was the caesium, and predictably, it poisoned the everloving shit out of both men, eventually causing internal damage, contact burns and the need for amputation. Luckily, they were able to take the exposed core to a scrapyard before any of that happened.

iaea
"Hey look, that girl could look after it for a while. Pass her a 20. We're creating jobs here."

From the scrapyard, things only got worse. No one knew what the glowing substance was, outside of maybe Predator blood, so no one felt the need to handle it with anything resembling caution. The junkyard owner wanted to make a ring for his wife out of it, several people smeared it on their bodies like paint and a 6-year-old girl even wound up eating some of it, because that's what you do with a glowing blue mystery from a garbage dump.

Finally, after numerous people started getting frighteningly sick all at the same time, a local woman collected the substance and took it to a hospital to be examined, rightly suspecting that perhaps the fantastic powder of dreams was to blame. A visiting physicist detected the danger almost immediately.

smashinglists
"Alright, let's take a look at what we've got he -- SWEET JESUS."

All told, 250 people had been contaminated by the exposed material, four of whom received fatal doses and died. The people in charge of IGR were charged with criminal negligence for leaving the caesium unit essentially unguarded in a derelict building.

#5. A Waste Company Forgot to Plug a Hole in Their Radioactive Truck

Getty

In March of 2002, a piece of cancer treatment machinery broke down at a hospital in Leeds, England. Because of the presence of radioactive material (and because those needy cancer patients wouldn't quit their bitching), it was decided that the machine was to be sent to a nuclear facility 130 miles away to be disposed of properly, because step one in disposing of wildly hazardous material is to parade it across the entire countryside.

Getty
There's very little to do in northern England at the best of times.

A nuclear waste transport company, AEA Technology, was then commissioned to take it away. The machinery was put in a sealed container, driven 130 miles north, and unloaded at the nuclear disposal site of Sellafield on the Irish Sea to be dealt with by professionals. When the truck arrived, the receiving crew prepared to unload the container, only to find a nice little surprise -- the container wasn't sealed at all.

A plug to seal the radioactive machine in was somehow left off, and as a result, 130 miles of highway had been exposed to 100 to 1,000 times what is deemed a "very high" amount of gamma radiation.

Getty
"I wouldn't mind my sperm dying if their screams didn't block out the radio."

After the cleanup, the crown court in Leeds said it was "pure good fortune" than no one was harmed or gained superpowers from the leak. Also written off as "lucky" was the fact that the leak was angled toward the ground, focusing the gamma radiation into what real, actual experts referred to as "a beam of radioactivity" directly into the earth. This was seen as better than if the "beam" had been pointing upward, where people's faces live.

Getty
We dare you to try and fuck with all the science in that statement.

Evidently deciding to roll the dice on flesh-eating mutant earthworms, British officials determined that AEA was indeed guilty of a colossal boner, but essentially called it a win since nobody melted. Because of the carelessness, AEA was eventually fined about a half a million dollars for making the English countryside glow in the dark.

#4. Radioactive Material Was Added to All Sorts of Consumer Goods

Getty

Once everyone realized the sheer power of atomic energy, companies went a little nuts trying to shoehorn it into everyday life, the logic being that every activity could be made better and more efficient by the presence of spine-fusing radiation. For example, one of them came up with the idea to irradiate golf balls with cobalt-60, so that if you lost one in the rough somewhere, it could be located. With a Geiger counter.

modernmechanix
Ladies and gentlemen, behold the greatest idea of all time.

Numerous advertisements were run for radioactive golf balls, with some even claiming that they would travel farther than regular balls (you may notice that by all accounts, this does not make sense). While the golf balls were not dangerous to humans unless they had constant exposure to them (like if you carried them around in your pocket all day on the golf course, but luckily nobody does that), the same can't be said for the atomic pacemaker.

Yep. Amazingly, doctors during the 1970s thought placing mini plutonium batteries in people's chests was a good thing. Gamma rays escaping the pacemaker would slightly irradiate the patient every year, and the U.S. government deems them such a hazard that when any person with a plutonium pacemaker dies, it has to be immediately removed and taken straight to the Los Alamos nuclear facility for destruction.

orau
And then the body shot in the head as a preemptive measure.

And then there was nuclear makeup.

cosmeticsandskin
"Wow, those tumors really set off your cheekbones!"

During the early 20th century, the London based company Radior Co. specialized in radium-enriched cosmetics such as talcum powder, face powder, vanishing cream, soap and numerous other things women applied to their faces every day. After this company unsettlingly just disappeared around the 1920s, France picked up the nuclear baton with Tho-Radia products, which included all the powders and soaps from before while tossing lipstick into the mix.

Most people believed low radioactivity could kill germs, and while this is technically true, it is ignoring the larger truth that radioactivity kills everything. After taking an embarrassingly long time to figure this out, production was halted on radium-instilled beauty creams.

oobject
Fellas, there's a reason she's glowing, and it's not luminous beauty.

Understandably, the focus switched from painting your face with radioactive isotopes to painting your house with them, because houses don't get cancer. For example, after the Fukishima disaster in 2011, scientists combing Tokyo for radioactivity found alarming levels coming from an old woman's house. Inside, they found the source to be some old luminescent paint bottles in her basement, which were giving her the radioactive equivalent of a CAT scan every hour of every day. The paint was quickly disposed of, but because it was regularly produced, and because this is Japan, there may be tons more of it out there.

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