Chernobyl isn’t the only radioactive place on Earth

Science News

One of the most fascinating energy sources featured in our Energy Quest exhibition is nuclear power.

Many associate this energy source with the Ukrainian City of Chernobyl, which experienced a nuclear reactor accident in 1986. This event was so extreme that Ukraine even maintains an exclusion zone around the city to keep people safe from the radiation.

But did you know Chernobyl isn’t the only radioactive place on Earth? Places like your own home are radioactive, too!

While areas with nuclear activity have higher levels of radiation, we experience radioactivity everywhere, every day. Some elements, like uranium, emit high levels of radiation, while others give off less.

In your kitchen, materials like countertops made from granite often contain small traces of uranium. This makes them slightly radioactive. If you have old fiestaware, it may also be radioactive. Many old ceramics — especially red ones made before the 1970s — have a radioactive glaze due to uranium in the pigments. The glaze in modern fiesta ware doesn’t contain uranium, however.

Also, the dials on some old clocks and watches are also radioactive. This is because they were painted with phosphor and uranium so they would glow in the dark.

While you may think glow toys are radioactive too, they actually are not. Their glow is from harmless light given off by phosphor in the plastic.

But even if you stood in an empty room — a room with no uranium rocks or electronics or fiesta ware — you’d still be exposed to radiation. A low level of it occurs naturally in the environment. This background radiation triggers about 1 click every few seconds on a Geiger counter.

So if you carried a Geiger counter with you throughout your day, you’d still hear plenty of clicking. There’s no cause for alarm though, because not many places are as radioactive as Chernobyl!

Interested in learning more about radiation? Check out our Energy Quest exhibition, located on the fourth floor. We even have a machine that lets you spin objects in front of a Geiger counter to see how much radiation they give off!

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