Nuclear Collection (Part VI)

March 13, 2011

Click any thumbnail image to view in full size. And, as always, if you have something radioactive and in need of a good home, contact me: I buy and trade all the time. Enjoy!

Lithograph by Leo Vartanian commemorating the CP-1 nuclear reactor.  In what has to be the winningest art idea ever,  moderator graphite from the historic reactor was actually ground up to make the ink in which the portraits of physicists Leo Szilard, Arthur Compton, Enrico Fermi, and Eugene Wigner were rendered.  Prints were distributed by Argonne National Laboratory to honor long and illustrious careers.  The ink is not detectably radioactive.  See my other mementos of CP-1 here. Size is 17″ by 22″(framed).

Though it is in many ways a modern and progressive nation, Japan steadfastly clings to certain curious anachronisms.  From the land of whaling and sailor-suit school uniforms come these examples of radioactive “quack cures”, modern instances of a fad phenomenon that, half a century ago, had largely been driven into extinction in the US and Europe.  Both items pictured—the Wellrich Co. Ltd. “Health Card” (top) and the “Mainasu ION” plaque (bottom)—contain natural thorium as verified by gamma spectrometry.    The “Health Card” claims to offer benefits that include denaturing nicotine in cigarettes.  The health benefits of the negative ion disk aren’t mentioned on it, but surely have no basis in sound science.  It is equipped with an adhesive surface on the back for mounting.  Dozens of varieties of negative ion quack products are peddled by Asian eBay sellers, and I have no idea how many of these items might be radioactive.  The Wellrich card and the ion disk measure 1400 CPM and 550 CPM respectively on a Ludlum 44-9 pancake Geiger tube.  (Donated to my collection by Bill Kolb.)




More radioactive vacuum tubes. All the specimens in this batch were kindly donated anonymously, and all are receiver protection tubes for military radar sets.  In this application, gas breakdown, aided by deliberately-included radioactivity, dissipates any high-power RF energy that finds its way into the receiver waveguide.  From left to right in the top photo: Varian MA37002X with Co-60 (originally “0.7 microcuries max.”), date code 1995; Omni-Wave MPT-24 with (originally) 25.0 microcuries of Kr-85, date code 1984; Omni-Wave MPT-47-B with (originally) 25.0 microcuries Kr-85, date code 1976.  The gamma spectra of the two Kr-85 tubes clearly shows the residual 514-keV gamma activity of the 10.8-year fission product and even permits a coarse estimate of the quantity remaining (about 3 microcuries in the MPT-24, 0.2 microcuries in the MPT-47-B).  More radioactive tubes are described here and here.

Large receiver protection tube with tritium. The application is the same as the tubes mentioned above, but this one is a monster, measuring almost 16 inches in length.  The part number is MA3948L-12, the manufacturer is Varian, and the contents are mostly argon and a small amount of radioactive tritium (H-3), 10 mCi.  The second photo shows an electrodeless RF discharge established in the tube.
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Contaminated Geiger counter strap from Chernobyl trip. Last summer’s trip to Pripyat resulted in detectable radioactive contamination of my shoes (see description) as well as this shoulder strap.  Gamma spectrometry easily identifies Cs-137, one of the handful of long-lived fission products, in a hot spot on the strap.  The activity in the spot is small, only about one nanocurie (~35 Bq).  Some possible contribution from the synthetic transuranic americium-241 is also noted.


  1. i just found (behind an old photo) a hand painted vintage (1920-30s) mother’s day card that has a label on the back that says
    radium-mottoes and pictures
    copyrighted – Hand Painted- copyrighted
    Continuously shine in the dark. Will not fade or rub off , will last a lifetime. Dust and dirt may be easily removed with wall-paper cleaner. Simply RECHARGE with day-light. electric light or lamplight. before placing in the dark.
    The School of Life ~~(ART Department)
    Do you think this really has radium in the paint – if so is it dangerous?

  2. I also have this lithograph as my grandfather retired from Argonne Lab I actually spoke to you about a year ago I was wondering is there any value to it if so I will put it on my homeowners policy

  3. Thanks for this fun resource, Carl. Will link to your blog on our isotope-specific blog, http://www.isotope.info. Check us out on Facebook when you can — we’re at IsotopeDigest. We will enjoy following your future posts!

    • Thanks for your interest, Camille. I’m not exactly a regular blogger, but now and then I get the chance. Best regards, Carl

  4. My father was Leo Vartanian and he created the lithograph. I don’t even have a copy as my brother claimed my parents’ framed copy.

    • Amazing! Thanks for sending this comment, Ellen. Did your father say much about this particular project? Can you perhaps describe or point to photos of some of his other work? Finally: are you looking for an impression of this Chicago Pile lithograph? You certainly should have one to help remember your father’s legacy. Let me know, since I get asked by people to help find good homes for these with fair regularity.

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