Keeping Up With the Atom (Dec, 1955)

Wow, a Strontium 90 powered lamp doesn’t seem like the best idea.

Keeping Up With the Atom

LARGEST atomic power plant contracted for in the U.S. is the $45,000,000 installation General Electric will build for Commonwealth Edison Company of Chicago. A scale model (right) of the dual-cycle boiling reactor plant, which will generate 180,000 kilowatts, was shown at the Geneva atomic conference and later taken to Chicago for public exhibition. Individual earphones connected with the model bring a description of the project to the listener in English, French, Spanish and Russian. The reactor will be built at the junction of the Kankakee and Des Plaines rivers, southwest of Chicago, with completion planned for 1960.

To detect the minutest variations in thickness of aluminum, steel, plastic and other materials, Pratt & Whitney has devised a beta-ray gauge (below). Not only does the gauge sense changes in thickness or weight of the material as it comes from the rolling mill, but it makes a record at the same time, accurate within a few micro-inches. Radiation is within safe limits.

Because radioactive phosphorus seems to accumulate more in cancerous tissue than noncancerous, injections of the substance under the skin are proposed by a Japanese scientist for the diagnosis of cancer of the stomach. He reported that his method proved close to 100 percent correct in diagnoses.

To produce a light that will burn without fail in storm or battle, independent of electric lines or batteries, the Navy is experimenting with phosphors which glow like luminous watch dials under bombardment of radioactive strontium 90. A lamp has been developed which emits light ten times as strong as bright moonlight.

The United States Army is experimenting with radiation to prevent formation of mildew in shoes.

Both Russian and American scientists are using carbon 14, the radioactive form of carbon, in botanical experiments seeking to pry loose the secret of photosynthesis.

Venezuela plans a nuclear-research center at the Institute of Neurology and Brain Disease Study at the capital, Caracas.

  1. Christoph says: February 23, 201210:11 am

    As an almost pure beta emitter, Sr90 isn’t that hazardous.

  2. Hirudinea says: February 23, 201210:36 am

    “The United States Army is experimenting with radiation to prevent formation of mildew in shoes.”

    I think I’ed rather have moldy shoes.

  3. JMyint says: February 23, 201211:17 am

    The big problem with strontium 90 is that it is taken up by the body and replaces calcium. This then puts exposure times to lifetime. The secret to stay safe with radioactive materials, Distance, Shielding, and Time.

  4. Charlene says: February 23, 201211:18 am

    Pretty soon they wouldn’t need the light – they’d have glow-in-the-dark soldiers.

  5. Mike says: February 23, 20121:00 pm

    You don’t eat the strontium 90 (or it would replace calcium in the body) it’s supposed to stay sealed inside the glass ‘bulb’, just don’t break it. Militaries are fond of tritium-powered lights of very similar design, used in things such as ‘location markers’ on ships and glow-in-the-dark keychains.

  6. mikeB says: February 24, 20129:14 am

    Right on the tritium. One problem with using very mildly radioactive substances is that not only do the manufactured goods have to be safe, but the manufacturing process must be rigidly controlled so that the plant making the product doesn’t itself become the hazard. Read the chocolate cake story:…

  7. whoozle whaazle says: February 24, 20129:43 am

    @Mike and mikeB – agreed.

    As a matter of fact you can buy glow-in-the-dark key fobs that contain tritium. Makes finding keys or whatnot in the dark a cinch.

  8. Glow says: February 24, 201210:15 pm

    There’s actually a tritium shortage, because of lack of production (since Savannah River stopped production), a short half-life, and a miscalculated sell-off of most of our tritium stock-pile. This makes those key fobs hard to get. There are actually more important things that rely on tritium that are beginning to face shortages. BTW – tritium is not toxic and is low energy beta emitter. 90Sr is another animal all together

  9. Orv says: February 27, 20122:46 pm

    The Soviet Union used radioisotope thermal generators to power a lot of remote navigation lights — they were basically a large, shielded radioactive Strontium-90 source surrounded by thermocouples and shielding. The problem is since the Soviet Union broke up, a lot of these were abandoned; while they’re relatively safe if left alone, some have had the shielding stripped off by metal scavengers.

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