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 ...
6A 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.
"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.
"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.
"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.