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VIDEO – Radioactivity: watch out for these radium objects lying around in French attics


EXPLANATIONS – Although the use of radioactive substances is closely controlled by the public authorities, it happens that seemingly banal, very old objects still give off radiation. They are even part of our everyday environment.

In some French attics, vestiges of the Roaring Twenties vogue for radium objects remain… and call for the greatest caution. As you can see in the report at the top of this article. Inside a well-protected iron box is a small, intriguing object. Barely twenty cm, rather pretty, but don’t be fooled by appearances. The radium fountain, visible in our subject, was discovered in an attic. Almost a century old, it remains radioactive and potentially dangerous.

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“Once protected, we will put the source in a closed package to prevent the contamination from dispersing”, explains Laurent Cronimus, cleanup and recovery of historic radioactive objects from the National Agency for the Management of Nuclear Waste (Andra), requested in our report. Special equipment is obviously mandatory before dismantling the object to isolate the radioactive part and start a decontamination process.

Radium in vogue in the 1920s

After the discovery of radium by Marie Curie in 1898 and its first applications in radiology or for the destruction of tumors, bath salts, ophthalmological creams or even anti-wrinkles containing radium flourished in pharmacies in the 1920s.

At the beginning of the 20th century, radium and its supposed curative properties thus aroused considerable enthusiasm. Symbol of modernity and good health, it was then used in everyday objects. At the time, radium was mixed with water to be consumed or poured into one’s bath, hence the term radium fountain. These contaminated objects are still very present in the attics of individuals. And this witness of an era will join the Marie-Curie museum.

Read also

  • What radioactivity do we face on a daily basis?

Radium disappeared little by little after 1945. Radium 226 is a natural radioactive element descending from uranium 238 present in the earth’s crust. It causes long-term cancers in the event of significant and prolonged exposure. Its radioactivity remains measurable for thousands of years.

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