Radium in my garage
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Author:  ammdb [ Sun Aug 03, 2014 8:17 am ]
Post subject:  Radium in my garage

About 10 years ago, I borrowed a radiation detector to find out if an antique green glass bowel I had contained uranium, because it fluoresced very nicely under black light. The bowel didn't register at all, but a couple of glass marbles, which also fluoresced under black light and I knew contained uranium, did increase in counts per minute a bit. The radium in the tiny sliver of luminescent paint on the watch hands of my grandfathers '54 rolex could easily be detected.

A few week before, I bought a bag of old watch parts, which had a pocket watch inside I thought might be worth something. When I checked the bag, the radiation detector lit up light a Christmas tree. Inside there was a small tin full of watch hands, and when I checked the tin, it pegged the detector on its highest setting. I had to go back and look it up, but I believe the detector I was using was a Monitor4, so on it's high setting it was registering over 10,0000 cpm! There was also some dust in the bottom of the bag with paint flakes, which caused the detector to tick away. The good news is standing only a few feet away the detector dropped back to normal background readings, and I was keeping the bag in my garage so at least it wasn't inside the house.

I had the good sense to put down paper over and old plastic table cloth, so I didn't get anything on the table, but I didn't think to put on gloves. I tossed the old table cloth, but I could still detect radiation on my finger tips even after washing my hands. I double bagged the parts and put this in a plastic container, which I turned over to my local university radiation safety officer. His only comment was they didn't normally handle long half-life isotopes like radium, and his only concern was I transported it the trunk of my car.

I'm sure glad I borrowed that detector, and have been interested in radiation ever since.

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