Surplus contamination question


April 18, 2006, 06:14 PM
Anyone ever run a geiger counter over their milsurp guns and ammo, especially that from the former soviet bloc? I was reading an article about chernobyl, and it got me thinking that army warehouses aren't the most sensitive places when it comes to industrial contaminants or even radioactive pollution. Just wondering if there is any known problem with surplus (or current stinky Wolf, for that matter) having any issues regarding this.

No point in "buying it cheap and stacking it deep" if that would turn your basement into a Superfund site:eek:

If you enjoyed reading about "Surplus contamination question" here in archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join today for the full version!
Mikee Loxxer
April 18, 2006, 06:28 PM
I would think your gun, ammo, or accessory would have to be pretty hot to have it's radioactive contaminant detected by a geiger counter(which is the test it would have to pass in order to be a problem). That would mean it had been directly exposed to radioactive materials (in other words the radionuclide would be physically stuck to the item). One would'nt think that there was some Russian soldier be carrying a Mosin Nagant near the reactor around when Chernobyl blew. One could surmise that a soldier may be equipped with a Mosin Nagant while taking part in some sort of nuclear weapons test in Kazakhstan in the 1950's though. It is really hard to say what the likelihood of a rifle or other item being hot would be. One would have to take a very large sample of items to even begin to get a picture.

New production stuff shoud be pretty clean. How many nuclear accidents/weapons tests would my Barnaul really be exposed to? Probably none.

Personally I don't think anything we lay are hands on in milsurp market would be hot, but I may be naive.

Anyone here have a calibrated geiger counter?

Ohen Cepel
April 18, 2006, 06:48 PM
I think it's an extremely small risk. However, I will ask a peer who specializes in this field.

If you were the poor guy who got a box that was sitting at Chernobyl's reactor then I think you may have an issue. Other than that I can't see it happening. Also, as bad as the system is there are checks for rad coming into the country and on trucks through out the country.

It would be extremely low on my risk scale (driving to work or smoking is multitudes more likely to kill you).

I'll let you know if I'm wrong though after I talk with my counter-part.

El Barto
April 18, 2006, 06:53 PM
Remember, radiation is not that bad (The Navy told me so) you get more exposure playing outside then living onboard a submarine. It just washes off.

But seriously, you do bring up a good point. I'm sure that if you measure for radiation on enough samples, you will find it. That "glow in the dark" paint used to be redium and I remember seeing lantern mantles on ebay that were irradiated to calibrate Geiger counters.

For a good chuckle, read about the Radioactive Boy Scout. You have to give him credit and it makes you realize that the bad guys don't have to pilfer old Soviet goods to get stuff to make a dirty bomb.

April 18, 2006, 06:58 PM
I suppose if the rifle was stowed in an arsenal near the disaster and was later moved through the open air to a new facility outside the dead zone, you could have some contamination. That cosmoline-soaked wood would suck up any dust or matter, and it wouldn't take too much of that stuff to pose a serious health risk if you ingested it or came into extended contact with it. But the chances of that one rifle out of the 20 million plus in their arsenals being exposed in this matter are next to none.

cracked butt
April 19, 2006, 01:41 AM
I'd worry a lot more about termites or other noxious critters that may have hopped a ride on your new toy.

April 19, 2006, 06:44 AM
1st in answer to your question. Yes it is theoriticly possible for your rifle to be contaminated. It is EXTREMELY EXTREMELY EXTREMELY unlikely to have any significant contamination.

Also don't forget that while some of the nuclides released at Chernobyl do indeed have very long halflifes (>10,000 years ) a great deal of the released contaminants have a much shorter half life (I-131 8 days, Xe133 5 days) so even if there had been some from the fallout from Chernobyl much of it would have had a chance to decay away.

your gun, ammo, or accessory would have to be pretty hot to have it's radioactive contaminant detected by a geiger counter(which is the test it would have to pass in order to be a problem).

Uhmm... You might want to check your reference. If I was testing it there is a 3 part procedure.
1) Survey with Geiger Mueller tube (that way if it is realy hot I am not sticking around.
2) Survey with a Scintillation Probe
3) Perform a wipe test for removable contamination
GM by itself is NOT definitive, nor complete GMs have a hard time picking up Low energy Beta and Alpha.

That would mean it had been directly exposed to radioactive materials (in other words the radionuclide would be physically stuck to the item).

Uhmm.. no not realy. When you expose something to radioactive materials they are exposed to ionizing radiation. Unless the energy level of the Gamma/X-ray portion are extremely high (IIRC rougly 10 MeV would not swear to it ) or you have high energy particulate exposure (think inside a nuclear reactor) the material being exposed does NOT become radioactive any more than a gun would emit light after you shined a flashlight on it and then turned the flashlight off. As soon as you the flashlight is turned off no more light, as soon as the gun is removed from the exposure of the radioactive material no more radiation.

If the radionuclides are physicly present on the (think dust)gun then the gun is contaminated. Once the radionuclides are removed the gun is no longer contaminated (once the dust is removed the gun is no longer dirty )

Again the onlly reason I say it is possible is because I cannot prove that it is not contaminated (though I would be willing to bet $1,000.00 it is not contaminated) however if you are still concerned ship the rifle to my FFL and I will store the gun in my underground storage vault for you (Oh yeah and send any ammo for the gun with it you never can be too carefull :neener: )


Ohen Cepel
April 19, 2006, 07:12 AM
Well, looks like NukeJim knows the subject well so I'm not going to bother my guy. Always hard to ask him stuff anyway.

It's soooooooo low on my risk meter that I don't get a reading myself.

April 19, 2006, 08:44 AM
looks like NukeJim knows the subject well

Thank you, as my board name implies I work with radionuclides (Nuclear Medicine) Since I'm injecting radionuclides into people I hope I know what I am doing :p


Mikee Loxxer
April 19, 2006, 09:46 AM

You're right there would be more to testing a potentially contaminated item than a quick sweep from a geiger counter in order to determine whether or not it is dangerous.

You are also right that items exposed to ionizing radiation do not become radioactive . They have to have radioactive material stuck to them, like dust. The exception to this (which you are probably aware of) is when materials are exposed to neutron flux.

All in all I would think any militaria coming from the former Soviet Union would not be radioactive.

Bwana John
April 19, 2006, 11:32 AM
The latest 30mm ammo cans are very highly sought after by river guides and outfitters for waterproof food containers, and toilets to pack out EVERYTHING.

It is my understanding that the 30mm cannon shoots a "depleated urainium" round.

The boxes I have seen are labeled "inert"

I guess that "inert" and "depleated" could be the same?

Its just kind of funny because many river people are hippys and liberals. I always get a kick out of explaining what used to be in the boxes.

April 19, 2006, 11:45 AM
No, "depleated" is what you do when you iron the pleats in your shirt flat.

"Depleted" is what non-volatile uranium is, or an empty bottle of something tasty.

Hope this helps.


Bwana John
April 19, 2006, 12:14 PM
So does anybody know, how many nutrons does depleated urainium have?

And unless it consists of a Nobel Gas, it aint "inert" either.

Mikee Loxxer
April 19, 2006, 12:22 PM
Wouldn't depleted Uranium (U238) have 119 neutrons on it's nucleus? Not that it would make any difference as far as its being dangerous is concerned.

AJ Dual
April 19, 2006, 12:23 PM
The heavy trans-Uranic elements actualy need extra Neutrons to keep that many Protons stable. The number of Neutrons is actualy more than half. Uranium is element 92, so that's 92 Protons, and 146 Neutrons for U238, 143 Neutrons for U235 etc.

Uranium, both the "stable" 238 isotope, and the "hot" 235 isotope that's useful in bombs and reactors is more dangerous as a toxic heavy metal, than it is as a neutron source. (U238 is stilll "radioactive", just a really, really, really, really, long half-life, which makes it a very weak emitter, and why it still exists in nature from the microsecond of insanely high-order fusion from the Population I supernova that made all the gas and dust for our current Solar System. It's also why we have to process so much 238 to find that fraction of remaining 235 that hasn't decayed yet...)

Even the "hot" U235 isn't all that "hot" as compared to other isotopes, like say Cobalt 60, wich is really NASTY stuff. Uranium is much more useful because of how it's heavy nucleus can sustain a chain reaction.

Because of the chain-reaction effect, substantial sub-critical chunks of U235 would be more dangerous as a radiation source than it's chemical toxicicity as a heavy metal (what'll kill you faster etc.), but chunks that big, or purified U235 in solution in a "bad" container with high volume, low surface area*, is exceptionaly rare, tightly controled, even by the "bad guys", because of all the effort and expense to produce it. You'll find it nowhere outside the weapon and power industry.

* In the early days, lab workers were killed by Uranium solutions when they were poured from thin containers like graduated cylinders into "fat" containers like beakers and Erlenmyer jars. The thin containers allowed enough Neutrons to escape without splitting other Uranium atoms. When it went into the "fat" jar, the statistical number of neutrons hitting other Uranium atoms went higher, and the flask went critical in a flash, irradiating the hapless workers with a lethal dose.

Double Naught Spy
April 19, 2006, 12:26 PM
I would think your gun, ammo, or accessory would have to be pretty hot to have it's radioactive contaminant detected by a geiger counter(which is the test it would have to pass in order to be a problem).


Are you suggesting that being able to be detected by a geiger counter somehow defines being "pretty hot" in some manner that not registering on a geiger counter would mean it could still be radioactive, but not pretty hot?

What is pretty hot? Do you mean to imply that "pretty hot" is a dangerous level?

Simply burning wood releases radioactivity. Do you have a compost pile? It is radioactive. At death, plants and animals stop intaking of carbon 14, an unstable isotope created by solar radiationing impact nitrogen 14 in our atmosphere. As the formerly living animal decays, the carbon 14 is realeased and the amount released can give some idea how long ago the animal was alive, starting about 100-200 years back to about 40,000 years for some of the less precise measuring equipment and back to closer to 100K for more precise measuring equipment.

Do you have tritium night sights? They are radioactive, only their radioactivity poses no risk so long as you don't break the little vials and breath the gas. Simple exterior skin tissue is enough to block it from entering your body.

Your microwave is radioactive.

Not all solar radiation is blocked by our atmosphere and it can be measured.

Lead is radioactive. It is a common shielding material to block stronger types of radiactivity.

Depression glass is radioactive.

Many things around us each day are radioactive and they can be measured with geiger counters.

Could military materials be radioactive. Absolutely, regardless of the country of origin. They would not necessarily need to be exposed to nuclear radiation tests to be radioactive. The decaying wood stock is releasing carbon 14.

The question is more of one pertaining not to if there is radioactive materials that we are buying, such as military surplus, but do said materials actually contain radioactive materials of the type and amount to be harmful to humans and if so, over what time period of exposure.

Keep in mind that we are surrounded by radiation. There is background radiaiton "noise" in the atmosphere and in the ground. It is hard to measure radiation at levels lower than the background noise, but it can be done to some extent with many controls added to the process. Just because something cannot be detected as radioactive does not mean it is not. Sensitivity settings for most commerical geiger counters will have their lowest levels or lowest useful levels set above background noise radiation levels.

AJ Dual
April 19, 2006, 12:37 PM

Everything is "radioactive" it's just a matter of "how much" that's important.

The steel and wood of a milsurp rifle would probably set off a gieger counter set to high sensitivity. Granite blocks in public buildings do so even easier.

April 19, 2006, 12:56 PM
The steel and wood of a milsurp rifle would probably set off a gieger counter set to high sensitivity. Granite blocks in public buildings do so even easier.

If you had a place/detector with a low enough background (i.e. a massive lead shield, then yep.

Remember, radiation is not that bad (The Navy told me so) you get more exposure playing outside then living onboard a submarine.

Yep again. We always had higher background counts when we were shutdown and tied up to the pier than we did submerged at 100%.


Mikee Loxxer
April 19, 2006, 01:02 PM
Yes Double Naught radiation is eveywhere and most everything (including you) is radioactive to varying degrees.

I should have made myself clearer regarding the geiger counter. I meant that it have to read when set on a high range in order to indicate the presence of radionuclides.

April 19, 2006, 01:09 PM
What about Agent Orange or some other, as of yet, undiscovered nefarious substance? I try to stay away from all surplus clothing, tents etc for that reason.

April 19, 2006, 06:06 PM
"Inert" ammo usually implies dummies.

April 20, 2006, 10:24 AM

What about Agent Orange or some other as of yet, undiscovered nefarious substance?

Very unlikely. Agent Orange hasn't been used since DDT was banned.

Military gear is cleaned constantly everytime it's used, everytime it's turned in for re-issue and for storage.

Surplus gear is usually taken out of storage where it was cleaned and prepped prior for long-term storage before it is surplused onto the open market.

The worse substance you'd encounter in surplused tents, uniforms and gear would be moth balls.

Besides you'd clean it again after purchase to make sure.

silicon wolverine
April 20, 2006, 11:50 PM
If you live in colorado, kansas, the dakotas, montana, or idaho you have a better chance of getting cancer or MS from leftovers from 50s nuclear tests than you do from your mosin.


April 21, 2006, 12:48 AM
For the rifle and ammunition to be radioactive it would have to have radioactive materials piggybacking on it, in it or in the crevices; or have been bombarded with neutrons.
Simplying sharing a room with radioisotopes won't cause contamination.

Remember, even bananas are dosing you with naturally occuring potassium radioisotopes :)

I work with a guy that was given a barium milkshake (or something similar) for a medical test. Here at work we were holding dosimeters (charged ionization chamber used to measure radiation rates, not the more sensitive Geiger-Mueller radiometer!) up to his chest and getting readings in the 1-4mR/hour range. That's .001 to .004 R per hour: 500 RADs at once will result in a 50/50 chance of death.

silicon wolverine
April 21, 2006, 01:59 AM
If i remember my radiological classes right a human can take 200 rads at one time and surive with little or no effect. At the absolute outside you might get .001 or .002 rads off a contaminated weapon.


April 21, 2006, 03:55 AM
bad guys don't have to pilfer old Soviet goods to get stuff to make a dirty bomb.

Dur. :rolleyes: A "dirty bomb" involves no nuclear reaction beyond the decay of the natural radioactivity of whatever susbstance you used. It's basically an explosive that pulverizes a radioactive substance to contaminate an area with radiation. No nuclear blast initiates. It is entirely a chemical reaction, (conventional explosives)

A nuclear weapon relies upon nuclear reactions, (splitting or fusing of atoms), to create the mushroom cloud and incredible temperatures. If all you want to do is throw radioactive material into the surrounding environment, but not release the sun's energy on Earth, all you need is access to a hospital BioHazard dumpster, (a pair of bolt cutters will get you that), and look for the international radiation symbol. Then all you need is a medium-strength explosive, (Got deisel?, Ammonium nitrate was first made in 1659 by Johann R. Glauber (

You really don't need that much of radioactive substances. If the gieger counter goes off, the media-induced mass panic will do far more damage then the radiation would ever do. A dirty bomb DOES NOT create a nuclear reaction. If you want a nuke, that's quite complicated, and unless AQ has nuclear engineers and several multi-million dollar facilities, (or buys one from a rouge country), that's a very small risk. Somehow, I highly doubt I'm ever going to see AQ manage to vaporize LA or NY with a 50MT detonation. China, DPRK, Russia, or Iran maybe, but not AQ.

April 21, 2006, 07:50 AM
Depleted mean "depleated" in the uranium isotope U235 in contrast with natural uranium isotope ratios. Depleted uranium is less radioactive than natural or enriched uranium because the U235 has been removed leaving an even greater percentage of U238.

Inert means a practice or non-explosive round or in the case of a DU round one without uranium at all.

Depleted uranium results from the enriching of natural uranium for use in nuclear reactors. Natural uranium is a slightly radioactive metal that is present in most rocks and soils as well as in many rivers and sea water. Natural uranium consists primarily of a mixture of two isotopes (forms) of uranium, Uranium-235 (U235) and Uranium-238 (U238), in the proportion of about 0.7 and 99.3 percent, respectively. Nuclear reactors require U235 to produce energy, therefore, the natural uranium has to be enriched to obtain the isotope U235 by removing a large part of the U238. Uranium-238 becomes DU, which is 0.7 times as radioactive as natural uranium. Since DU has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, there is very little decay of those DU materials.

Materials that are not naturally radioactive (give off radiation) become radioactive when activated by neutrons. Things become contaminated with radioactive material when you "spill" radioactive material on them. Think of tuna fish water from the can. If you spill it on your pants your pants are "contaminated" with tuna fish water that gives off a nasty smell. You didn't turn your pants into tuna fish (regardless of what the cat thinks). Instead you've gotten material that gives off tuna fish stink on them. Wash them (decontaminate) and you remove the tuna fish and the tuna fish stink. Spill radioactive material on your pants and you've contaminated them. The contaminant gives off radiation that may be hazardous, but decon the pants and the material and it's hazardous radiation is gone.

Hope that helps.

April 21, 2006, 08:13 PM
Not a concern at all. Yes, you could test it, but it would not be worth the trouble (it takes more the than a Geiger-Mueller Detector).

As far as the Gau-8 cans go, the 30 mm ammo is all clad in Aluminum so there wouldn't be any DU in the cans. Uranium metal readily oxidizes on contact with air. Even if there was contamination, it is about on par with lead in terms of hazard.

If you are really worried, just send the stuff to me -- I'll protect you!

Atomchaser -- Certified Health Physicist (Radiation Protection Nerd) in real life.

ghost squire
April 21, 2006, 08:24 PM

Come on is that even a word :D

Alternatively: THATS WHAT SHE SAID!

April 21, 2006, 10:53 PM

Where are you CHPing at? I'm in Oak Ridge.

The ignorance and mythology about radioactives is like that around guns.;)

April 21, 2006, 11:37 PM
Now it's contaminated with K40!:cool:

April 21, 2006, 11:42 PM
barium milkshake (or something similar)

If it was Barium it was not radioactive. Barium is used in X-ray procedure to absorb ionizing radiation not to generate it. Yes there are Barium isotopes that are radiactive but none are administered to patients.

Most likely a Nuclear Medicine Gastric Emptying study or a NM esophogeal reflux, several other low order probabilities.

Your microwave is radioactive

Uhmmm,,, could I get a reference on that one please? Sure not from any books that I have used.


April 21, 2006, 11:42 PM
hso and atomchaser, I work for the NRC. :eek:

There are a few of us gun nuts in the agency-- my coworker and I just spent a good day at the range -- a couple of AR's, numerous handguns and a couple of choice Anschutz's.

Good times were had by all....

April 22, 2006, 07:09 AM

Plenty of gun nuts in DOE.

Microwave radioactive!?!:scrutiny: I hope you're joking, but if you aren't, no. No more than your walkie talkie is when it's broadcasting.

Although I have seen some micorwave ovens that have been crapped up (contaminated) after being used by slobs to dry contaminated samples.:banghead:

April 22, 2006, 11:00 AM
I do my "CHPing" in the Air Force. I only dabble in it a bit these days, as I do mostly occupational/environmental health management and oversee the HP Program. I'll be retiring from the AF next year and hope to get back to into Health Physics full time. How is the job market for HPs in Oak Ridge these days? I'm on the East Coast of Fl right now, but I'm sick of hurricanes and retirees.

If you enjoyed reading about "Surplus contamination question" here in archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join today for the full version!