At a Tokyo radiation hotspot, weirdness abounds

Officials were worried this week, when they discovered a radiation hotspot in Tokyo, kicking off readings as high as 3.35 microsieverts per hour. (For context, a dental x-ray is about 5 microsieverts. This wasn't a massive amount of radiation, but it was concerning. The AP reports that readings of that level have been found in the Fukushima evacuation zone.)

The good news: This has nothing to do with Fukushima. It turned out to be an extremely localized hotspot, and officials found the real source nearby.

The bad news: The real source turned out to be something the AP is describing as "mystery bottles" stored under someone's house. No. Really.

So, I guess the takeaway to this story should be something like: Japanese officials find source of radiation hotspot, and are no longer worried that it's being caused by Fukushima. Instead, they are now worried about why somebody in Tokyo is storing bottles of a radioactive substance under a house.

(Via Steve Silberman)


  1. 2011, where pretty often you can find the plot to a Shadowrun adventure on any given news day.  MYSTERY RADIATION BOTTLES?  WHAT THE HELL?

  2. My favorite part is how the AP just kind of skims over this like, “Oh, problem solved then!” 

    No. No the problem is NOT solved. There’s some dude keeping “mystery bottles” of radioactive material under his house. Let’s talk about that. 

  3. Oh come now Maggie, are you telling us you yourself don’t keep mystery bottles of radioactive material under your house?  It’s a tradition that transcends nationality and religion!  Indeed, is there anything that unites humanity more than our instinctual love of radioactive mystery bottle burying?

  4. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that they are old bottles of radium paint from glow in the dark products. Those things stay hot as hell for a long, long time, and they’re exactly the kind of thing that someone would stash away.

    Not used anymore, since the phosphors burn out long before the radium cooks off, but there’s a lot of military and consumer products up until the 70s that used that nasty-assed stuff…

  5. My first thought is fiesta ware or Vaseline glass though neither of those is really hot. For Halloween we break out the Vaseline glass and eat off it under a backlight. I wouldn’t do the same with fiesta ware.

    These sound like old bottles of a now outlawed product, medicine or paint or something similar. That stuff is still all over the place. You have no idea how easy it is to buy radioactive medical waste at a scrapyard.

  6. This reads like the beginning of a horror movie. 

    how long until the mutated beasties swarm out of that basement to establish their dominion over earth?

  7. Isn’t it funny how, when the general population gets the means to measure radiation and begins an informal but independent survey, invisible hot spots suddenly appear?

    1. Make sure they never bring their instruments near the banana display at the grocery store.  Standing around the bottles for an hour is about the same as eating about 43 bananas (@0. 078 microseiverts per).

        1. You don’t have to, but some people like a challenge. 

          I think the Soviet students that were part of a student exchange I was involved with could have, though.  $25 (in 1990 dollars) worth of bananas lasted all of ten minutes between a dozen of them.  I imagine they got enough bananaradiation to glow in the dark for weeks.

  8. They’re keeping radioactive mystery bottles because they’re hoping that the deposit that they paid will go up when they return them to the store. Why get a radioactive mystery nickel when you can wait a half-life and get a radioctive mystery dime per bottle?

  9. I wish we could find out whether there’s been some sort of radioactive event in Japan’s past.

  10. Actually, an angsty teenage boy lives in the house, and he’s about to learn that his great-great-great-great grandfather fought demons from outerspace back in the day.  Beautiful lady demons.  And after defeating them, he stored their spirits in bottles , buried on the family land.

  11. i wonder how long its been there, and how much people have been exposed to it. high quality data points for effects of low radiation doses are few and far between.

  12. The article is a little sparse on the details.  What kind of radiation are we talking about here?  Alpha, beta, gamma, neutron?  Even the strongest beta emitter will be rendered harmless by a few feet of air between you and it. If it’s thick enough, glass blocks beta radiation.  I keep a radium paint clock in my basement inside a Pyrex baking dish and there’s no problem.  Gamma/X-rays are different though.  They pass through most everything like sunlight through a window.  
     The air doesn’t bother a gamma ray in the least.

    kc0bbq: I have a very sensitive, digital, pancake Geiger counter and I’ve never been able to detect radiation from bananas.  Potassium-chloride salt substitute will make it click a little faster though. 

    1. Wow. Got it in one. To be fair, I’ve heard of this happening before in the US – a couple of rad freak friends of mine have come across old bottles of radium paint, and keep them in lead casks.

  13. Please don’t use the word “takeaway”, Maggie.  It is a buzz word for corporate douchebags, one thing that you are not.

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