Radiation    (Ver 5)

Most people could be forgiven for thinking 'what has this to do with collecting old vehicles'? In reality it may be quite relavent.

This section is not advice, nor is it specific, it is purely what I have been told and seen. Radiation is a VERY complicated subject, there seems to be very little that the average person can find out about it, or for that matter do about it.
What I do believe is that it should be treated with a lot of care.


1) The most intense source of radiation danger is any vehicle or object that has been used in Nuclear testing. In all likelyhood the western military has been very carefull to isolate these vehicles and monitor them. I can think of several Mustang fighters that were sold off in the 1970's?, long after the Maralinga test in Central Australia only after having been declared safe. I believe they are now all in the USA.
There is also the glow-in-the-dark 25 Pounder Field Gun story. Whether this is urban myth or not I cannot prove. The story goes that there were some of these guns sold onto the surplus market after the Maralinga tests which showed slight signs of melting, blast damage and scorching, the story being, that you could tell them because they would "glow in the dark": which is highly unlikely, radioactive bomb particles don't really tend to do this.
There are also a number of vehicles, mostly M1 Abrams tanks and M2/M3 Bradleys that are a quandry to the US government. They were victims of "friendly fire" incidents during the Gulf War and have been hit by Depleted Uranium projectiles. It is thought that this type of contamination, of these and enemy vehicles, MAY be one of the causes of "Gulf War Syndrome". Not so much a case of radiation but of the VERY toxic dust that is given off when a depleted uranium projectile strikes a target.

STAY AWAY from any vehicles that may have been exposed!

Last I heard they were still sitting in security enclosures waiting for someone to figure out how to safely dispose of them.
This article may be of interest also (Right click on the green writing). -
"Kuwaiti AFV Graveyard"

2) The more likely hazard is from the radium paint used on military guages and is the same stuff that caused all the problems years ago in the watch industry.
This can be in vehicles, radios and sundry other devices. Beware of any guage that has its markings in anything but the purest of "white" paint. Any variation of the off-white, yellow-white, cream or dirty yellow colour is in all likelyhood radioactive. How dangerous? This is where it gets tricky.
In Europe, it has been standing practise for quite some time that all ex-military vehicles, other than relatively recent, are disposed of without guages, this is not so they can be spoil-sports, but is actually the military looking after civilians health!
Some examples of potential danger:
- All US military guages up till the mid 1960's ANY vehicle so equipped.
- YES, even Jeep guages! This may include compasses etc.,
- All English military radios, probably until 1956. eg., #19 Radio sets and "C" series sets.
This is just what I have heard about. There would be a lot more items out there.

This is where it gets even worse. Most of the the WW2 era compasses and radios had the radium paint applied directly to indentations etc., with no barrier (such as glass or clear plastic), this paint is now up to 60 years old and is getting chalky, flaky etc. Leave them alone, best place for them is in a glass case in a museum!
I have seen a 1960's US tacho that still made a Geiger counter go crazy (when held close) through 4 inches of lead! Hot stuff!
So, don't go opening any sealed guages unless you are sure that they are safe! Don't be fooled by the old "if it doesn't glow it isn't radium paint" story either. Just because it may have lost it's glow is no indication that it is no longer radioactive.

Just how radioactive is the question I can't answer (hence the reason why my Ferret carries no radios), when in the Commander's seat I don't want my kidneys irradiated as they are only 2" away from the radios.

Opinion (not mine) has it (I tend to err on the over cautious) that whilst the meters are in-situ in the radio they are not a problem and that although there is an increased radiation exposure it is still within occupational limits. I often wonder if the experts who sprout these opinions put their kidneys 2" from an emitting source?
My Dad died from Asbestos cancer, he was a builder. For 80 years after it was known exactly how dangerous this substance is (comprehensive medical investigation was carried out in England in the 1890s), Asbestos was marketed as a miracle building product. He, like many others, believed it was inert and not a hazard as their was no information to the contrary - we all know better I have not been able to source any information about radium paint either, plenty of heresay, but nothing official. As I said, I prefer to be very cautious about radiation.

HOWEVER, back to guages, when the case is opened, or the glass/plastic face broken there is considerable risk (in my opinion) of ingestion, whether by breathing or by skin contamination being passed on to food, of small particles of the marking paint. Correct handling procedure involves all sorts of expensive "space suits", supplied air breathing equipment and decontamination procedures. I own a Geiger counter and have pointed it at these meters. I was not impressed.

To quote an often used British Squaddie saying "sod that for a game of soldiers".......................

In the picture below you can see my Geiger counter (for those who are interested, it is a "White Instruments of Texas", medical dosage type, calibrated on Cesium 137 and reads in milli-Rads) scale is set on "x 1".
You will note the meter is at full deflection!
The reading only drops slightly when 1" of lead is inserted between it and the guage.


Download the big pics by clicking on the small pics...

How do you know? You don't!!!! Unless that is, you get someone with the skill, qualifications and test instruments to check anything you are doubtfull about and give you their opinion. Authenticity should come a long second to your health.
I remove these guages and substitute something modern or repro whenever I encounter them as in the particular vehicles I own, the instruments are within 12" of me. You can make up your own mind about what your personal comfort level is for exposure. The rule of thumb with radiation is that the intensity drops to 1/4 if you double the distance eg., moving from 1" away to 2" away (doubling the distance) will give 1/4 of the dosage of being at 1".

3) Electromagnetic Radiation - such as emitted from military radios. If you read the appropriate manual for the radio you have or are considering, you will normally find all the warnings applicable to that set. They are not there for decoration! Some military sets are very high powered and capable of reaching impressive distances. I have heard of a #19 set that can be used to talk to Brazil from Australia. The transmission power (radiation from the antena/aerial) of some of these sets is dangerous if mis-handled: Mobile phones emit far less, as a comparison.
It is illegal in Australia and probably most other countries for that matter, to transmit on ex-military radios.

Plus a caution received from a former British crewmember:
I had a quick look a your website, anyhow - radiation I forget now but one of the Scorpion gunners instruments had some radiation hazard (traverse indicator maybe) and if the glass broke you had to evacuate the vehicle until it dispersed. I guess your friends with more modern vehicles should be aware. Perhaps a REME instrument mechanic may be able to tell you more.

(Doug) I queried what instrument he was referring to and received the following reply:

The TPI (if thats what is was called I forget). Is not the same as the traverse indicator, the TPI (Turret Position Indicator) shows you where the turret is in relation to the hull - the traverse indicator is more like a compass dial and used for gunnery when the range is too long to use the gunners sight . Anyhow I am trying to find out what has the radiation in I think it might have been the clinometer which may well be removed as its gunnery kit.
Basically I think if anything glows in the dark its suspect.

(Doug) I think, (but don't know for sure) that a clinometer is a bubble level device, much like a curved version of the bubble device found in a carpenter's spirit level.
Can anyone clarify which guage is the problem?
To which I received the following reply:

I am an ex REME Inst Tech, and still work in the defence electro optics industry.

The radiation hazard mentioned re the Scorpion TPI is a Trittium light, which glows in the dark due to it containing Trittium radioactive gas. The evacuation is to allow the gas to disperse. Guess it should say hold your breath and evacuate?

I was stationed at I BR Corps Workshops in Germany in the late 70's and a Royal Navy radiological survey team checked on our old prismatic compass section. They instantly removed bench and luminous paint safe!

Just to let you know things are still risky, most modern AFV Thermal Imaging sighte hava a radio active thorium coating on the Germanium lenses. Its fine as long as you don,t smash a lens!


This whole subject is contentious. Recently I have received 2 emails, one from a bloke purporting to work with high levels of radiation (but giving no email address) saying, in essence, that this article is alarmist. The other was from a former military bloke, specifically qualified in radiation who agreed with the tone and intent of this article. He pointed out that the reason I obtained such high readings when placing lead in front of the guage mentioned earlier is that it was blocking most frequencies: BUT high end Beta radiation is intensified (its a bit more technical than that, but "intensified" will do) by lead, not reduced! So the net effect was to only reduce the reading on my Geiger counter slightly rather than dramatically as I would have expected. This floored me; all my life I have been under the impression that lead was a very good radiation shield. Now I find out this is not necessarily the case, you have to know EXACTLY the type and wave length you are dealing with....... he states that glass and plastic makes better shielding for this specific frequency. But what about the other frequencies emitted with it?

What it all amounts to is - don't ask me - I can't get enough information one way or the other. When I do get information it is soon contradicted, so who do I believe?


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