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Found a bottle of uranium nitrate, safe to be around?

  1. Jul 26, 2015 #1
    No, I'm not asking if I *should* handle it, just what my level of concern ought to be in regards to being around this stuff.

    My physics department hired me to clean up one of the labs they want to start using again. I opened one of the cabinets and saw a pair of small glass stoppered and sealed glass vials with a yellow powder in them, the labels were very faded and the bottles looked extremely old, but I could see that the labels said they contained uranium nitrate. This concerned me, so I asked the professor I'm working for about it and he insisted it was "probably safe", which still left me extremely worried (especially due to the use of the word "probably"). We have some very old equipment in our department and it's entirely feasible that these samples were acquired before current standards for handling radioactive materials were implemented. Also, there were no radiation warnings anywhere. I'll upload a photo of the bottles the next time I go in.

    Despite his assurance, I'm still very worried. I don't know a great deal about radiation safety aside from "stay away from it" so erring on the side of caution I haven't been back in that room. I have not touched the bottles since I saw the labels and they didn't break or crack or anything. Compounding my concern was the fact that the professor who had been using that room as an office for several years left 2 years ago for unspecified "chronic health issues". I'm beginning to wonder if I should contact some kind of authorities about this. Advice?
     
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  3. Jul 26, 2015 #2

    mathman

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    Uranium has a very long half life, so it is probably safe. Shouldn't there be someone around who handles radiation safety?
     
  4. Jul 26, 2015 #3
    There's that "probably safe" again... :P

    There is someone whose responsibility this is, but it's possible that they didn't know it was in there. I'll let him know. Thanks.
     
  5. Jul 26, 2015 #4
    @Borek might have some good advice
     
  6. Jul 26, 2015 #5

    Borek

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    You definitely should check what are the local regulations about storing such things.

    Other that that I can't add much more than another "reasonably safe" comment :wink: In other words - not more dangerous than most chemicals in the lab, as long as treated correctly (glasses, gloves, fume hood, don't swallow - you know, usual stuff, more of a common reason than specific requirements).
     
  7. Jul 26, 2015 #6
    Uranium decays by alpha particle emission that won't penetrate the the glass. But radioactive radon-222 gas is in the decay chain. I'd say, don't breath the vapors out of the bottle, and don't eat it.
     
  8. Jul 26, 2015 #7

    mfb

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    There are some gamma emissions in the decay chain as well. The overall activity is probably low.
    That person should learn about radioactive samples anyway, then he/she can decide what to do with it and it is not your responsibility any more.
     
  9. Jul 26, 2015 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    Are you in the US? If so, your university has a radioactive source custodian. You should talk with him or her.
     
  10. Jul 26, 2015 #9

    arivero

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    "Sealed" is a big point, but it would be good to know when it was sealed and if this was just a museum room or if the powder was actually used in the room out of the vial, as part of some experiment... if it were, an extra check of the area could be good idea.
     
  11. Jul 26, 2015 #10

    bcrowell

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    I'm at a community college in the US. We don't have any such person.
     
  12. Jul 26, 2015 #11

    Vanadium 50

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    Ben, if you don't have a source custodian, I hope you don't have any sources!

    More specifically, for small sealed sources (under 10CFR whatever) you may be exempt from reporting, although your institute still should have a responsible individual. A bottle of uranium salts, however, is not exempt.
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2015
  13. Jul 26, 2015 #12
    What is CFR?
     
  14. Jul 26, 2015 #13

    SteamKing

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    CFR = U.S. Code of Federal Regulations
     
  15. Jul 26, 2015 #14

    bcrowell

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    We have some 10 uCi sources, which don't require any administrative work.
     
  16. Jul 27, 2015 #15

    Astronuc

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    Likely, the uranium is of natural enrichment (I expect and hope so). The sealed sources are probably below levels required for radioactive sources, but stoppered vials of powder or liquid should be controlled under an accounting system, although if it is grams of U, and thus milligrams of U-235, it might be under a threshold for Materials Control and Accounting (MC&A), but under a normal chemical control system.

    It's been a while since I had to be concerned about that. In the nuclear engineering department, all our sealed radiological sources and quantities of U and Pu were under MC&A.

    One should discuss the matter with the department chairperson.
     
  17. Jul 27, 2015 #16
    I worked at a uranium refinery for 19 years around tons of uranium salts and metal. Sealed as you describe, and kept at a safe distance (say one meter away) this poses no threat. Ask around for a Geiger counter. You'll be amazed at how close you have to be to see a reading above background.

    Handling these vials for short periods (an hour or two) also poses no threat. Washing hands afterward is, of course, prudent.
     
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2015
  18. Jul 27, 2015 #17

    arivero

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    Let me insist that bottle is not problem... the real issue is if then bottle has been open, used and closed in the room and how the powder has been used. Same issues that any other chemical venom with the advantage that some radiation measure can help to look for powder in drawers or other vials.
     
  19. Aug 12, 2015 #18
    Guys... what is there even to discuss? Just have him grab a Geiger counter and measure if there's any danger. Problem solved.
     
  20. Aug 13, 2015 #19

    mfb

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    You cannot measure alpha radiation reliably with most Geiger counters. Also, interpreting their measurement results is not trivial.
     
  21. Aug 13, 2015 #20
    Absolutely true. This type is a minimum:

    http://www.geigercounters.com/Detector.htm [Broken]
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
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