#3. The U.S. Government Shot at Toxic Waste Barrels to Make Them Go Away
As discussed above, sometimes we simply can't figure out what to do with nuclear waste, at least not anything that could be in any way considered "wise" or "safe." In the 1950s, the U.S. Navy decided to quit pussyfooting around with all of that nonsense and dumped barrels of waste off the coast of San Francisco. The problem is that sometimes the barrels tend to want to float, which is bad news, so they shot cannons at them until they sank.
"They've got a big target symbol on them, right?"
The waste included scores of dead animals experimented on by nuclear research facilities and 55-gallon drums of radioactive mystery. Representatives from the Atomic Energy Commission would occasionally drop by to review the amount of radioactivity on the ships to determine whether or not they should be cleaned before taking on another toxic load, because apparently that makes a fucking difference. Today the government estimates about 48,000 barrels of waste were dumped in the bay, but gallantly refuses to provide any kind of documentation as to what, specifically, that waste might be.
"We shot up all the paperwork, too. Our pens were out of ink."
Similarly, at a disposal site in Idaho, buried nuclear waste containers would sometimes be exhumed by flooding, bobbing to the surface and challenging the long-held national belief that when you bury things or toss them into the sea, they cease to exist. Naturally, the government's response to the newly unearthed sludge was to break out the firearms and shoot at it until it sank again.
"Just take out everything above sea level."
Then they realized the water in the area was now contaminated ("But how, damn it?"), so the topic of removing the waste altogether is currently being fiercely debated to the tune of millions of dollars in litigation.
#2. A Guy Tried to Build a Nuclear Reactor in His Kitchen
Richard Handl is a Swedish man who wanted to see if he could build a nuclear reactor in his own home, perhaps because he thought he'd never have to pay an electricity bill again. It's called being proactive, people!
In 2011, Handl began his strictly amateur plans to split the atom in the precise manner that a person with no business splitting the atom would -- he went online and ordered radioactive material on eBay. He bid on a strange combination of items, including smoke detectors, glowing watch hands and some straight-up uranium (the seller of which couldn't recall where it had come from). In one of his experiments, he started cooking americium, beryllium and radium in sulfuric acid on the stove to see if he could cause a nuclear reaction. Stunningly, the concoction exploded in his face.
We are at a loss as to how this could have possibly failed.
Eventually, Handl began to worry that experiments intended to split the atom to pass the time might not be legal, which is typically a concern you address before anything explodes. So he did what anyone would do and called the police to check. Not wanting to trivialize his scientific pursuits, the police told him what he was doing was "pretty stupid" and immediately detained him to inspect his apartment for radioactivity.
Which took a while because uranium marbles goddamn.
When directly questioned about the safety of unleashing radiation in his home, Handl dismissively pointed out that he had a Geiger counter, which suggests that he doesn't fully understand exactly what a Geiger counter does. Regardless, the police determined that his house was clean and he was quickly released from custody. Handl shut down the blog that he had been keeping on his experiments and claimed he would be moving on to purely theoretical nuclear physics.
And radioactive-based lock-picking services.
#1. The U.S. Government Unleashed Radioactive Clouds in Populated Areas. For Science.
During World War II, the U.S. was scrambling to become the first and only member of the nuclear arms club. But as the years wore on, the Americans began to fear that other countries, in particular the Soviet Union, might have used their communism powers to scrape together their own nuclear program.
The only question was figuring out a way to confirm it. The U.S. reasoned that if the Soviets had reactors, they would emit enough radiation to create a radioactive cloud. Therefore, all they had to do was look for these clouds to find any secret reactors the USSR was hiding.
No reactors here. Just the Earth burning down two blunts.
To test their measuring instruments, government scientists naturally decided to create their own radioactive clouds, which they did in the Pacific Northwest, in a place called Hanford, Washington, in 1944. Without telling anyone.
It didn't stop there. Later on in the war, the government seized the whole town and gave its residents 30 days to pack up and leave. The town's population was replaced with engineers and scientists, forming an arm of the Manhattan Project. Starting in 1944, over the next three years the Hanford nuclear plant released huge amounts of radioactive particles into the air, something in the neighborhood of hundreds of thousands of curies of iodine-131 (to compare, about 15 curies of iodine-131 were released during the Three Mile Island core meltdown).
Where the Old West greets the new facial tumors.
Then came Operation Green Run. In December of 1949, the government took the filters in the stacks at the weapons plant in Hanford and just shut them the fuck off, releasing thousands more curies of radioactive material directly into the atmosphere and daring future Americans to even try to guess what the hell they thought this would accomplish.
But at least they tried to get rid of some of the waste material by feeding it to the sheep, for fuck's sake.
When all this was declassified decades later, the people potentially affected by this radiation festival included not only the residents around Hanford in Washington but also folks in Idaho and Oregon, because clouds tend to move when anything resembling wind touches them. To top it all off, neither the exact number of test clouds released nor the identity of the person or people who authorized them are known for certain, which we feel just adds to the charm of being secretly irradiated.
Never be too concerned about enemy powers when your own government can mess you up twice as bad.
For more catastrophes that shouldn't have happened, check out 6 Natural Disasters That Were Caused by Human Stupidity. Or learn about which ones are coming up in the queue in 6 Man-Made Natural Disasters Just Waiting to Happen.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn how not to follow through on your resolutions.
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