Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

They used to use uranium glaze to color pottery and other objects

  1. Mar 21, 2013 #1
    Before nuclear elements had any practical applications, they were used as an orange coloring glaze for pottery and various other objects.

    Please correct me if I'm mistaken, but wouldn't this coloring glaze be highly radioactive?

    s9.JPG
     
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 21, 2013 #2
    Highly radioactive? No. Uranium has a very long half life, which means it is only slightly active.
     
  4. Mar 21, 2013 #3
    And U-238's decay is alpha, therefore the very little radiation which's produced won't be able to harm you (unless you inhale parts of the pottery...).
     
  5. Mar 21, 2013 #4

    SteamKing

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Only if it glows in the dark.
     
  6. Mar 21, 2013 #5

    jim mcnamara

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Up until 30 years ago, the porcelain in false teeth contained uranium salts:

    http://hps.org/publicinformation/ate/q2215.html [Broken]
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  7. Mar 21, 2013 #6

    QuantumPion

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    The radiation dose received from uranium oxide glazed pottery is about the same as the dose received from living or working in a building made of brick or concrete.
     
  8. Mar 21, 2013 #7

    jim hardy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2016 Award

    Indeed some of that old tableware is active.
    We used to keep some in the training department at the nuke plant where I worked, for introductory classes in radiation safety. It makes a Geiger counter sound scary and is a good starter for the lecture for it wakes the class up..
    But as somebody pointed out it's not very penetrating radiation. So don't worry about your antique china in the display cabinet.

    My father in law was a ceramic engineer. He cautioned us about some of the very old blue glazes, said they could leach significant cobalt into your food.

    Myself , I use modern tableware because of what's been learned since the 1930's.
    Dad's old prewar chemistry book said of element Uranium:
    "... sometimes used as colorant in ceramics. The metal has no practical use."

    I framed a copy of that page and hung it above my desk in the nuke plant.

    old jim
     
  9. Mar 21, 2013 #8
    Certain types of granite contain many different kinds of nuclear elements and can give off levels of radiation that are many times higher than normal background readings, such as this video shows.



    300 cpm and almost 1 msv/h were the highest readings for this granite kitchen sink. The uranium-glazed pottery has nothing on this granite kitchen counter top in terms of radioactivity.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  10. Mar 21, 2013 #9

    etudiant

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Uranium was used for ceramics and for glassware, to provide color.
    I still have some old wine stems with a orange hue from the uranium salts used.
    Marie Curie extracted radium from the tailings of the Czech uranium mines. That waste product was cheap enough for her to buy and still held the radioactives she sought.
     
  11. Mar 21, 2013 #10

    SteamKing

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Radium used to be painted on watch and clock faces so that they could be read in the dark. The clock and watch factories where this was done became increasingly 'hot' over time.

    One time, I saw an old advertisement for a toothpaste which contained a small amount of thorium in its ingredients. Of course, this was pre-Hiroshima and the dangers of radioactivity were not as well known.
     
  12. Mar 21, 2013 #11
    Check this out:
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  13. Mar 21, 2013 #12
    Before WW2 and the dawn of the "nuclear era" most people were woefully uniformed about the dangers of radiation. Back then, radiation-producing ingredients were frequently included in retail products that would have been outright banned by today's standards.
     
  14. Mar 21, 2013 #13

    etudiant

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    If you look back at this, there were some really nightmarish cases of young women hired to paint radium dials who died from mouth cancers. They were moistening the brushes with their lips to paint the fine lines.
     
  15. Mar 22, 2013 #14
    Back then, did they teach anything about radiation in elementary and high school science classes? How many people even knew what radiation was?
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2013
  16. Mar 22, 2013 #15
    At the Manhattan project they had a ball of plutonium that they handed to guests. It was radioactive enough to be warm to the touch.
     
  17. Mar 22, 2013 #16

    etudiant

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Reportedly they handed one to Stalin, who was suspicious and wanted to be sure that the scientists were not just fooling him. A spontaneously warm metal lump in sunny Moscow was pretty persuasive evidence to him that the researchers were doing something out of the ordinary.
     
  18. Mar 22, 2013 #17

    etudiant

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Not many had any sense of risk. Even the Curies were initially incredibly casual about the radiation exposure. There is another 1920s case of a man who sold radioactive soft drinks as a healthy refresher, sort of a nuclear Gatorade. He eventually also died an ugly death from his elixir, which he had great faith in.
     
  19. Mar 23, 2013 #18
    Was this the plutonium warhead core of an atomic bomb?

    I'm guessing it was probably radioactive enough to make you very ill within 15-30 minutes of exposure. Plutonium is the most toxic and dangerous substance known to man. I'm sure that the Manhattan project scientists were well aware of this risk.
     
  20. Mar 23, 2013 #19

    jim hardy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2016 Award

    That often heard statement is tripe circulated by activists who want to appear impressively knowledgeable.

    Manhattan project machinists who fabricated the bomb parts, as well as scientists who worked with the stuff, were monitored for decades after the war.
    By 1997 the only unnatural death was from a car crash.

    http://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/doe/lanl/pubs/00818013.pdf

    again, please don't spout propaganda as fact.
     
  21. Mar 23, 2013 #20
    Although I'm not sure about the "most" part of your statement, Plutonium is indeed very toxic and therefore dangerous. Inside the body. Unless I'm mistaken, nuclear warheads are normally stored outside the human body.

    As long as the scientists don't start eating the core, there'll nothing happen to their health. Even if they take the thing to bed every night.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook




Similar Discussions: They used to use uranium glaze to color pottery and other objects
Loading...