Date: Fri, 1 Dec 2006 08:18:40 -0700
Reply-To: DAVID KATZ <dakatz45**At_Symbol_Here**MSN.COM>
Sender: DCHAS-L Discussion List <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU>
From: DAVID KATZ <dakatz45**At_Symbol_Here**MSN.COM>
Comments: To: Barbara Foster

The article referred to shows a typical reaction of uninformed 
individuals to anything labeled "nuclear" or "radioactive".  I am not 
trying to trivialize this incident, but there was no need for alarm.  A 
telephone call to a proper waste handler could easily have had the 
materials disposed of.  Depending on the age of those minigenerators, 
the radiation level should have been quite low.

The radioactive materials pictured and described in the article are the 
Union Carbide minigenerators used in the teaching of radioactivity in 
schools. There were two types of these minigenerators available, a 
Cesium 137/barium 137m and a tin 113/indium 113m.  Only the cesium 
137/barium 137m minigenerator is still available today. (Spectrum 
Technologies, Oak Ridge, TN)   The minigenerators contained 9 
microcuries of isotope.  The short-lived daughters were extracted from 
the minigenerators using a dilute salt solution.  Due to the short 
half-lives of the daughter isotopes (2.55 m for cesium 137m and 100 m 
for indium 113m) and the extremely small amount of material eluted from 
the minigenerator (less than milligram quantities), there was 
essentially no waste to dispose of.  At the time, there was an excellent 
laboratory manual by with information on proper handling and excellent 
experiments.   I still utilize the the cesium 137/barium 137m 
minigenerator in my chemistry courses  for both demonstrations and a 
hands-on laboratory class. Obviously, I stress safe handling of these 
materials and proper education.

The small amount of isotope in the minigenerators is considered "safe" 
and is not regulated by the NRC and most states.  (Note: No radioactive 
material is safe without proper training in handling and storage.) 

Unfortunately, nuclear chemistry is normally omitted from most chemistry 
courses, being relegated to a chapter near the end of the textbook, an 
area many courses never teach. As a result, students and the public have 
been poorly informed about radioactivity to a state of complete fear of 
anything nuclear, as evidenced by the name change of "Nuclear Magnetic 
Resonance" imagining to "Magnetic Resonance Imagining" (no nuclear 
radiation is involved).

The American Nuclear Society ( provides 
speakers, provides information, and teaches workshops for teachers on 
radioactivity around the country.  They have an excellent dose chart 
( on their web site that should be utilized in any class 
where radioactivity is discussed. Chances are there is someone from the 
ANS within a reasonable distance from any school who can properly advise 
local schools on the handling and proper disposal of these materials.

To all the teachers on this database.  If you do not teach any nuclear 
science in your course, it's about time you joined the 21st century and 
put it in your syllabus.  When you discuss the nucleus and atomic 
structure, you should talk about nuclear stability and nuclear decay.  
It's all part of the transuranium elements on the periodic table.

David Katz

  David A. Katz              
  Chemist, Educator, Expert Demonstrator, Science Communicator, and 
  Programs and workshops for teachers, schools, museums, and the public
  133 N. Desert Stream Dr. * Tucson, AZ 85745-2277 *  USA
  voice/fax: (520) 624-2207 * email: 
           Visit my web site:
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Barbara Foster 
  To: DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU 
  Sent: Tuesday, November 28, 2006 8:03 AM

  An article that may be of interest to our members:

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