Radioactive uranium sculptures



Australian artists Ken and Julia Yonetani created a series of sculptures from radioactive uranium glass. The large artworks, including the chandelier above and a 6-meter green ant, will be unveiled this week at the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in Sydney, Australia. The artists were inspired by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The show is titled "What the Birds Knew," which was the alternative title for Kurosawa's film "I Live In Fear," about the fear of nuclear war. According to the press release, "Modern uranium, or "Vaseline" glass is typically only up to maximum 2% uranium by weight. This is not sufficiently radioactive to pose a health hazard to those viewing the glass."

"What the Birds Knew" (4A Centre)

"Radioactive art tackles fall-out for Japan" (SMH)


  1. 2% uranium by weight? Sound like a substantial amount until you realize how friggen’ heavy uranium is and how light glass is.

    That said, I get kind of tired of “nuclear art”. There’s only so much that can be said about nuclear weapons, and we’ve been retreading the same messages over and over again. Nuclear war is unacceptable, yes we know, but the Cold War ended decades ago. Times have changed. People have learned.

    And while a 6 meter glowing green glass ant is kind of cool looking, it has nothing meaningful to say about nuclear war or nuclear policy. It’s simply a gimmick wrapped in the veneer of a legitimate (if obsolete) issue.

  2. Ironic that Australians are doing this, as Science fiction writer (Huxley, On the Beach), generally seem to think that Australia and New Zealand are the only part of the world that would survive.

  3. Not everything that glows is Vaseline glass.  Vaseline glass has a milky opalescent finish. Green depression glass does not.  (I collect both.) Cadmium is also used in glass making. That glass is orange and glows yellow under black light. (Cadmium glass is rare. Considering it is a toxic metal, that is a good thing.)

  4. And that is why the worlds leaders and military advisors are lining up around the block to view this work, hoping to finally find the answer to this problem.

  5. My only issue with the title.. uranium glass isn’t radioactive. I mean hell, I know of a number of chemists who eat off of red Fiestaware plates, the kind made with uranium. 

    1. Wrong. Uranium is radioactive, stuff made of uranium is radioactive. It’s not *very* radioactive though, and it’s locked up in the material. Putting food on a fiestaware plate isn’t going to make the food radioactive.

      Most cases of radiation poisoning/radiation induced cancers are due to ingested radioactive particles, which can stay in the body indefinitely. As long as you’re not grinding up the glass/fiestaware and snorting it, you’d be fine.

      1. True enough, from what I understand most of the issues with red fiestaware are if you put an acidic food on it and it leaches the pigment.

    2. I bought some uranium glass to test my Russian geiger counter with, it worked. Although now, years later, the geiger counter still works – I’ve tried it with uranium ore in a university geology department – but the glass doesn’t seem to be giving off any radiation like it used to.

  6. All Uranium glass is radioactive as there are no stable isotopes of Uranium.  Not that that should be cause for worry… the 2 main isotopes found in nature, U238 and U235 have half-lives of ~4 1/2 billion years and ~3/4 billion years respectively. Uranium is the most basic building block of nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants not because of it’s radioactivity, but because U235 becomes immediately unstable when it absorbs a neutron.

  7. My wife’s grandmother collected elephant figurines. They were a series created in the 40s, iirc, made out of a variety of materials. She had one that was made with Uranium – when I learned that I was a little shocked to be sharing a room with radioactive material, but she assured me it was harmless. 

    Ironically, both her and her husband contracted cancer. She died from it, but he made a recovery and is still kicking 20 years later.

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