School Unknowingly Displays Radioactive Rocks In Classroom

October 27, 2016

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To the untrained eye, an ordinary rock and radioactive uranium would look the same.  Now for those not familiar with uranium, it's the stuff that makes up an atomic bomb!  So to have it sitting inside a school’s science lab is a bit unsettling.  Last week, Thomas Neff, a nuclear expert came into the science lab at Missionaries of the Sacred Heart School in Salzburg, Austria, for a lecture.  As an education tool he brought with him two items, a luminous watch and a Geiger counter.  The watch from the 1960s contains a small amount of radium so that its dial would light up in the dark and the Geiger counter to measure the levels of radiation emulating from it.  Although the radiation is not very strong the Geiger counter would pick it up. As part of the lecture he also explains how low levels of radiation are naturally occurring everywhere, which he was showing by taking his Geiger counter around the room.  But when he got near a group of display rocks, minerals and fossils, the meter went crazy, going up over 100 times what was displayed when pointing at his watch. Realizing something was wrong, he stopped the lecture and alerted the school, who evacuated everyone while experts could work out if they were in danger. Come to find out, the rocks on display were indeed radioactive. An evacuation order was given to 11 other schools who had approximately 38 similar rocks on display at their campuses. IT is not known how long the rocks had been on display. They’ve been removed and although the uranium exposure wasn't enough to give anyone acute radiation poisoning, it isn't exactly something you’d want to find at school. In the USA, The maximum exposure allowed for people who have to work with radiation is 50 millisievert. A dose of 100 millisievert per year is enough for a likely increase in cancer risk and radiation poisoning occurs with around 2,000 per year. Neff said that if you carried the rock in your bag every day for a year, you would be exposed to about 210 millisieverts.


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