20 Radiation Crimes and Incidents That Will Scare You

1Karlsruhe plutonium affair

In 2001, an unnamed German man was convicted of attempting to poison his ex-wife with plutonium stolen from a small scale German plutonium reprocessing plant he worked at. He stole rags used for wiping surfaces and a small amount of liquid waste. At least two people (besides the criminal) were contaminated by the plutonium. Two flats near him were contaminated and had to be cleaned at a cost of €2 million.


2. In 2006, former KGB officer named Alexander Litvinenko died of polonium-210 poisoning in the UK. In 2000, he had fled from court prosecution in Russia and received political asylum in the United Kingdom, where he wrote a book which described Vladimir Putin's rise to power. Initial investigations concluded his death was a state-sponsored assassination orchestrated by Russian security services, but in 2012, newspapers in the UK ran a piece suggesting the existence of an ongoing cover-up by the British Government to bury the case.


3. Roman Tsepov, a politically influential Russian who provided security to Vladimir Putin and others, fell sick on September 11, 2004, after a trip to Moscow, and died on September 24. A postmortem investigation found a poisoning by an unspecified radioactive material. He had symptoms similar to Aleksandr Litvinenko, another victim of radioactive poisoning allegedly by Russian security forces.


4. An unnamed truck driver in Russia was killed by 5 months of radiation exposure to 1.3 curies of cesium-137 source that had been put into the door of his truck around February 1995. He died of radiation-induced leukemia on 27 April 1997.


5. In 1993, director of the Kartontara packing company in Moscow, Russia, Vladimir Kaplun was killed by radioactive material (cobalt-60 and/or cesium-137) placed in his chair. He died of radiation sickness after a month of hospitalization. The source of the radiation was found after his death.


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6Karen Silkwood Poisoning

In 1971, Karen Silkwood, a nuclear whistleblower from Oklahoma died in a car crash en route to meet a New York Times reporter with a packet of documents that linked Kerr-McGee, her employer, to unsafe workspace conditions and gross negligence of safety practices at her plant that manufactured nuclear fuel. Before her death, it was suspected that she might have been a victim of Plutonium poisoning, for which she was undergoing treatment.


7. In 1999, 6 people attempted to steal radioactive cobalt-60 rods from a chemical plant in Chechnya. During the theft, the suspects opened the radioactive material container and handled it, resulting in the deaths of 3 of the suspects and injury of the remaining three. The suspect who held the material directly in his hands died of radiation exposure 30 minutes later. This incident is described as an attempted theft, but some of the rods are reportedly still missing.


8. Some anti-Castro activists claim that the Cuban secret police sometimes used radioactive isotopes to induce cancer in "adversaries they wished to destroy with as little notice as possible". In 1997, the Cuban expatriate columnist Carlos Alberto Montaner called this method "the Bulgarian Treatment", after its alleged use by the Bulgarian secret police.


9. In 2010, a 35-year-old man in New Delhi, India was hospitalized after handling radioactive scrap metal. An investigation led to the discovery of scrap metal containing Cobalt-60. He died from his injuries, while six others remained hospitalized. The radioactivity was from a gammacell 220 research source which was incorrectly disposed of as scrap metal.


10. In 1999, the radioisotope core of a radiothermal generator was recovered at a bus station in Kingisepp, Russia. Radiation levels at the surface of the source were 1000 rad/hour. The source had been stolen from a lighthouse 50 km away by three men stealing metal to sell as scrap. All three died of radiation injury.



11Estonia Radiation Incident

In 1994, a cesium-137 source was stolen from a radioactive waste facility by three brothers in Estonia. One of them placed it in his jacket pocket and took it home. A few days later he was hospitalized when he felt ill and died a month later. His whole family suffered radiation sickness and one dog who slept near the radiation source died.


12. In 1960, a 19-year-old research worker at a radiological laboratory in Moscow committed suicide by exposure to a cesium-137 source. He took a capsule containing the source from the laboratory and put it in his left pants pocket for 5 hours, then shifted it around his abdomen and back for 15 hours. Symptoms of radiation sickness developed within hours, and he died after 15 days.


13. A Michigan man named David Hahn was arrested in 2007 for stealing smoke detectors, apparently to collect radioactive sources from them. He was charged with stealing at least 13 smoke detectors (containing americium-241) from several buildings. At the time his face was covered with open sores reported to be related to exposure to radioactive materials. Previously, around 1993 at the age of 17, he had accumulated large amounts of commercial radioactive sources in an effort to build a homemade nuclear reactor.


14. In 2002, a Chinese nuclear scientist named Gu Jiming used radioactive iridium-192 pellets in an attack on a business rival. He obtained iridium-192 and placed it above the office ceiling panels of his rival. The victim soon reported symptoms of memory loss, fatigue, appetite loss, headaches, vomiting, and bleeding gums. Another 74 staff members, including one pregnant woman, also had symptoms. Gu was convicted in 2003 and given a suspended death sentence.


15. In 1979, an individual in France placed radioactive graphite fuel element plugs under the driver's seat of a car. The victim sustained a 25-30 rad dose to his spinal bone marrow and 400-500 rads to his testes. The perpetrator, who was trying to kill his employer, was tried and convicted of poisoning by radiation, fined $1,000, and served 9 months in prison.


16Texas Radiological Assault

In 1972, a man in Texas used radioactive sources to intentionally irradiate his 11-year-old son. The man had limited visitation rights following divorce from the child's mother in 1971. He obtained capsules from one or two cesium-137 oil and gas well logging sources, which he was licensed to use with a company. On several occasions, over a period of 7 months, he exposed his son to the capsules, which resulted in skin blisters, nausea, rashes, hair loss, and castration. The case was reported to law enforcement authorities on 31 January 1974, and the father was convicted in 1975.


17. In 1999, a welder working with a radiographer at a hydroelectric plant in Peru picked up a lost iridium-192 industrial radiography source and put it in his pocket for several hours. After about six hours, the worker began experiencing pain in the back of the right thigh. He went home with the source, causing minor exposures to family members. Radiographer, having discovered the source was missing at about midnight came to the welder's home and discovered the source. The welder received an estimated whole body dose of 150 rem, although localized doses were much higher, up to 10,000 rad to one buttock, requiring amputation of one leg.


18. In 2000, casualties resulted from a radiography source unwitting brought into a household in Egypt. Four iridium sources used for checking pipes were lost and the workers searched unsuccessfully for them. One poor family found one source on and took it home, believing it to be a precious metal. It contained iridium-192. The father of the household and his 9 years old died of radiation sickness and other family members were hospitalized. 76 neighbors were treated for minor symptoms of blood changes.


19. In 1987, a radiotherapy unit was abandoned in a clinic in Brazil which was being demolished. The unit had a source which consisted of 1,375 curies of cesium-137. The source was stolen by two people, one of whom took it to his home and extracted the source from its containment enclosure. Then onwards the radioactive source changed a lot of hands around the town before it was discovered. About 112,800 people were examined at the city's Olympic stadium, of whom 129 were found to be contaminated and 20 were hospitalized. All in all four people died and many others displayed long-lasting effects.


20. In 1984, a 16.3-curie iridium-192 industrial radiography source was lost and taken home by a laborer in Morocco. The laborer laid the source on a table in the family bedroom, and it remained in-house for a few weeks. Exposure to radiation caused the deaths of 8 family members, including 4 children and their parents within a few days of each other, about 45 days after exposure. Three other people received significant exposures. Diagnosis of radiation exposure was only made 80 days after initial exposure.

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