1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Is the part I bought from a Soviet Nuclear Sub radioactive?

  1. Jul 26, 2013 #1
    Hi all, just to point out that I am a lay person as far as physics go, but thought that perhaps someone here can help me!

    While in St. Petersburg recently I went to a flea market and purchased the ship's compass from a Soviet Submarine. Not exactly sure from which sub or when it was built (the seller says an L-31 Barrakuda class nuclear sub from the 1960s, however the Barrakuda-class was built in the 1980s). The part number plaque on the compass itself says 1990 so it may have been a replacement part. Regardless, it's a neat piece for my coffee table.

    So... possibly a silly question, but is there any radiation risk at all from this piece, if it is indeed from a nuclear sub? I reckon that the Soviets had good safety controls in place (?), especially by the 1990s, and the bridge would have been far from the reactor anyways. To note that it went through a number of airport x-ray machines coming home, of course security always wanted to inspect it but that's about all (or do x-ray machines detect a different type of radiation altogether?)

    Should I be buying a geiger counter, or not worrying about it?

    Thanks in advance for your comments!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 26, 2013 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Radiation risk - highly unlikely. Airport x-ray is irelevant. However airport screening might include radiation detection, since something radioactive would be risky.
  4. Jul 26, 2013 #3
    May be worth checking out - I'd call the physics department of the closest university to see if they have one you can borrow, or they can send out some students to evaluate the Compass.
  5. Jul 26, 2013 #4
    If I were you I wouldn't worry. Airports are so full of radiation detectors that makes me feel the compass is totally safe.
  6. Jul 26, 2013 #5
    Well if it comes from a subs control room or any other place where higher ranking people also stay not only mechanics I think it safe as even though military and working for the soviet government they are still people and I personally don't believe that they would risk their lives knowingly using radioactive parts.

    The only cases when some equipment got radioactive was when something had gone wrong etc but as you normally imagine sooner or later it was fixed the problem spotted and things changed , repaired and back to normal.

    P.S. to the OP , it happens to be that I live near Russia, Baltic region , I once had a book about nuclear missiles and bombs and how they should be maintained and kept + the schematics , inner designs etc.I got the book from a urban visit to a local ICBM missile underground silo.Kinda interesting stuff.
    Do you collect war time cold war stuff or was it just a random piece of souvenir that you bought?
  7. Jul 27, 2013 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    I inherited an old compass with what looked like old fluorescent paint on the dial, it no longer glowed. I was concerned the fluorescent paint may contain Radium so I rang up the radiology department of the local hospital. They were happy for me to take it in to be checked with their counter, but they suggested we meet in the car park. Presumably to avoid any possibility of me contaminating their hospital! It was declared safe.
  8. Jul 29, 2013 #7
    Thanks everyone for their comments. I'll try to convince some research contacts of mine in the universities to help me out in getting the thing tested, just to put my mind totally at ease, especially if the thing will be in my house for the next who knows how many years.

    Funny how I was excited about finding the thing, only when I got it back into town did a friend point out, initially in jest, that it "was probably radioactive"... then awkward silence...

    To Crazymechanic, I'm not a serious collector but I like old mechanical components and military history, plus souvenirs that have a story attached to them. Your book sounds very interesting!
  9. Jul 29, 2013 #8
    An ordinary compass would not contain anything seriously radioactive. Just to be sure, non-seriously radioactive would be any marking that should glow in the dark, like some hand-held compasses sometimes do - you can easily check for that.

    Other than that, it could be radioactive if it was hoisted from a sub that had a nuclear accident. There have been a few, but the last time it happened was before 1990s, so you should be pretty safe, especially with all those airports past your back.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook