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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Also, calling out of work to watch a crappy movie might implicate you in one of the worst radiation accidents in human history. Really, just a lot of stupidity all around.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goiânia_accident

The Goiânia accident was a radioactive contamination accident that occurred on September 13, 1987, at Goiânia, in the Brazilian state of Goiás after an old radiotherapy source was stolen from an abandoned hospital site in the city. It was subsequently handled by many people, resulting in four deaths. About 112,000 people were examined for radioactive contamination and 249 were found to have significant levels of radioactive material in or on their body.[1][2] In the cleanup operation, topsoil had to be removed from several sites, and several houses were demolished. All the objects from within those houses were removed and examined. Time magazine has identified the accident as one of the world's "worst nuclear disasters" and the International Atomic Energy Agency called it "one of the world's worst radiological incidents".[3][4]

Hospital abandonment


Culture and Convention Center, built where IGR was located.
The Instituto Goiano de Radioterapia (IGR), a private radiotherapy institute in Goiânia,[5] was just 1 km (0.62 mi) northwest of Praça Cívica, the administrative center of the city. It moved to its new premises in 1985, leaving behind a caesium-137-based teletherapy unit that had been purchased in 1977. The fate of the abandoned site was disputed in court between IGR and the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, then owner of the premises.[7] On September 11, 1986, the Court of Goiás stated it had knowledge of the abandoned radiological material in the building.[7]

Four months before the accident, on May 4, 1987, Saura Taniguti, then director of Ipasgo, the institute of insurance for civil servants, used police force to prevent one of the owners of IGR, Carlos Figueiredo Bezerril, from removing the objects that were left behind.[7] Bezerril then warned the president of Ipasgo, Lício Teixeira Borges, that he should take responsibility "for what would happen with the caesium bomb".[7]

The court posted a security guard to protect the hazardous abandoned equipment.[8] Meanwhile, the owners of IGR wrote several letters to the National Nuclear Energy Commission, warning them about the danger of keeping a teletherapy unit at an abandoned site, but they could not remove the equipment by themselves once a court order prevented them from doing so.[7][8]


Theft of the source

On September 13, 1987, the guard in charge of daytime security, Voudireinão da Silva, did not show up to work, using a sick day to attend a cinema screening of Herbie Goes Bananas with his family.[8] That same day, scavengers Roberto dos Santos Alves and Wagner Mota Pereira entered the partially demolished facility, found the teletherapy unit--which they thought might have some scrap value--and placed it in a wheelbarrow, taking it to Alves's home,[9] about 0.6 kilometres (0.4 mi) north of the clinic. There, they began dismantling the equipment. That same evening, they both began to vomit. Nevertheless, they continued in their efforts. The following day, Pereira began to experience diarrhea and dizziness, and one of his hands began to swell. He soon developed a burn on this hand in the same size and shape as the aperture - one month later, the arm required amputation. On September 15, Pereira visited a local clinic where his symptoms were diagnosed as the result of something he had eaten, and he was told to return home and rest.[1] Alves, however, continued with his efforts to dismantle the equipment, which was now sitting under a mango tree in his back yard. In the course of this effort, he eventually freed the caesium capsule from its protective rotating head.

The source is partially broken

On September 16, Alves succeeded in puncturing the capsule's aperture window with a screwdriver, allowing him to see a deep blue light coming from the tiny opening he had created.[1] He inserted the screwdriver and successfully scooped out some of the glowing substance. Thinking it was perhaps a type of gunpowder, he tried to light it, but the powder would not ignite. The exact mechanism by which the light was generated was not known at the time the IAEA report was written, though it was thought to be either fluorescence or Cherenkov radiation associated with the absorption of moisture by the source; similar blue light was observed in 1988 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory during the disencapsulation of a 137Cs source.

Over the next three days, he invited friends and family to view the strange glowing substance and offered a reward to anyone who could free it from the capsule. He mentioned that he intended to make a ring out of it for his wife, Gabriela Maria Ferreira.
About 130,000 people overwhelmed hospitals.[2] Of those, 250 people, some with radioactive residue still on their skin, were found, through the use of Geiger counters, to be contaminated.[2] Eventually, 20 people showed signs of radiation sickness and required treatment.[2]
 

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But Herbie Goes Bananas is arguably the ultimate film in the Herbie saga; you can hardly fault the guy for taking his family to witness such a cultural event firsthand.
 

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That isn't really stealing. People salvage stuff from abandoned buildings all the time.

There was a similar incident in Mexico as well. Some salvagers got hold of a teletherapy source which broke open, scattering a few thousand pellets of Cobalt-60. It got into everything, including steel which was scrapped and melted down. I think they estimated a little over 5,000 tons of steel were made radioactive from that incident.
The whole thing was eventually discovered and traced when a truck driving in the US went through the Los Alamos facility and set off their radiation detectors.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
It was definitely stealing. The building was abandoned by the owners but the property was still owned by someone. That's why it couldn't be removed in the first place.
 

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I used to work in nuclear counterterrorism and incident response. We trained the people who would respond to a terrorist nuclear event. Part of this training was dealing with improvised dirty weapons that would make use of poorly-secured sources like the one you cite.

One of the more disturbing aspects of this job was learning just how much of this sort of stuff is laying around. For instance, the former Soviet Union distributed hundreds of seed sterilizers that used a cesium source. The idea was that Ivan the Farmer could dump seeds into a hopper and they'd emerge at the other end and be able to be stored without sprouting. This came to light with a story of some hunters coming across a cabin in the wilderness in the middle of winter. They entered the cabin to find other hunters gathered around a ring-shaped object on a table. The hunters at the table were all dead. They'd discovered that the seed sterilizer gave off warmth, so they pulled it apart and huddled around it.

Like I said, there are hundreds of these scattered around, with no record of where they are.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I feel like it should be common sense that if a tiny object is glowing and giving off heat, you should probably get away from it.

Then again, I know a good amount about nuclear physics so I guess my perspective is biased.
 

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I feel like it should be common sense that if a tiny object is glowing and giving off heat, you should probably get away from it.
Why is that? In the past magic was considered real. Keep in mind that a candle is tiny and gives off a lot of heat, too. If you don't believe me, let me know how long you can keep your finger in one.

Common "sense" must only be judged by what a person (or culture) has been introduced to.
 
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