In 1950, Muriel Howorth, who was a great believer in the benefits of atomic energy, wrote and staged a ballet/pantomime about the atom. It was titled Isotopia: An Exposition on Atomic Structure. This description from Time magazine, Oct 30, 1950:
Last week in Aldwych's Waldorf Hotel, Mrs. Howorth's high-minded Atomic Energy Association of Great Britain (membership: 300) celebrated its second anniversary with an atomic pantomime called Isotopia.
Before a select audience of 250 rapt ladies and a dozen faintly bored gentlemen, some 13 bosomy A.E. Associates in flowing evening gowns gyrated gracefully about a stage in earnest imitation of atomic forces at work. An ample electron in black lace wound her way around two matrons labeled "proton" and "neutron" while an elderly ginger-haired Geiger counter clicked out their radioactive effect on a pretty girl named Agriculture. At a climactic moment, a Mrs. Monica Davial raced across the stage in spirited representation of a rat eating radioactive cheese.
The Japanese government recently created an animated character that definitely belongs in our ongoing series of strange spokesbeings. It was a "cute fish-like creature with rosy cheeks" that was intended to represent a radioactive hydrogen isotope. The government was hoping that this creature would help gain public support for its plan of releasing contaminated water from Fukushima into the sea.
While the government didn't give this creature a name, people have been calling it "Little Mr. Tritium".
Potentially mad scheme: After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian navy was casting about for ways to raise revenue and came up with the idea of using Typhoon-class submarines as oil tankers. The Soviets had built six Typhoon-class nuclear subs which were, and still are, the largest submarines ever made. The main selling point of this idea was that the subs could travel under Arctic ice, eliminating the need for expensive ice-breakers. From wikipedia:
In the early 1990s, there were also proposals to rebuild some of the Typhoon-class submarines to submarine cargo vessels for shipping oil, gas and cargo under polar ice to Russia's far flung northern territories. The submarines could take up to 10,000 tonnes of cargo on-board and ship it under the polar ice to tankers waiting in the Barents Sea. These ships – after the considerable engineering required to develop technologies to transfer oil from drilling platforms to the submarines, and later, to the waiting tankers – would then deliver their cargo world-wide.
The idea was abandoned when someone over there decided that a nuclear sub filled with 10,000 tons of oil might pose some safety concerns.
Firestone came out with radioactive spark plugs in 1940. The idea was that radioactive material (polonium) would improve the electrical conductivity of the spark plugs, resulting in better fuel combustion. More details from the Health Physics Historical Instrumentation Museum:
Other than the slightly improved performance when the plugs were first installed, their benefits were questionable. The short half-life of polonium-210 (138 days) meant that the enhanced performance was only temporary. It also put dealers in the uncomfortable position of having to decide what to do after unsold plugs sat on the shelf for extended periods. Furthermore, the inevitable accumulation of deposits on the surface of the plugs’ electrodes as the vehicle burned fuel would attenuate the alpha particles and prevent them from ionizing the gas.
In 1952, in response to growing concerns about the safety of cigarettes, the Lorillard Tobacco Company introduced Kent cigarettes, boasting that they contained a "Micronite filter" developed by "researchers in atomic energy plants".
Turned out that the key ingredient in the Micronite filter was asbestos. From wikipedia:
Kent widely touted its "famous micronite filter" and promised consumers the "greatest health protection in history". Sales of Kent skyrocketed, and it has been estimated that in Kent's first four years on the market, Lorillard sold some 13 billion Kent cigarettes. From March 1952 until at least May 1956, however, the Micronite filter in Kent cigarettes contained compressed carcinogenic blue asbestos within the crimped crepe paper. It has been suspected that many cases of mesothelioma have been caused specifically by smoking the original Kent cigarettes.
Science-fiction author Cleve Cartmill is best known for his short story "Deadline," which appeared in the March 1944 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. The story isn't famous because it's a good story. Cartmill himself described it as a "stinker." It's famous because it contained specific details about how to make an atomic bomb — details which Cartmill somehow knew over a year before the existence of the bomb had been revealed by the U.S. government.
When Military Intelligence learned about the story they freaked out, fearing a security breach, and launched an investigation. They questioned Cartmill, as well as Astounding editor John W. Campbell. But eventually they concluded that Cartmill had gained his info, as he insisted, from publicly available sources.
However, the rumor is that Military Intelligence bought up as many copies of that issue of the magazine as they could, to prevent its dissemination. Which makes that issue quite valuable. For instance, at Burnside Rare Books it's going for $400.
Sometimes vendors would like to sell relatively high-value items in vending machines. That is, merchandise worth more than a candy bar. Nowadays that's not a problem because there's technology that can scan paper currency or read credit cards, making larger transactions possible.
But back in the 1960s, vending machines relied on coins for payment, so selling high-value merchandise wasn't practical. Especially since the machines could only measure weight, shape, and size to determine if the coins were real — and these characteristics are easy to fake with low-value blanks.
The British printing company Thomas de la Rue devised a solution: radioactive vending machine tokens.
Its researchers realized it would be possible to create tokens made out of layers of radioactive materials such as uranium and carbon14. These tokens would emit unique radioactive signatures that could be measured by Geiger counters inside a vending machine. Such tokens wouldn't be easy to forge. The company patented this idea in 1967.
I'm not aware that any vending machines accepting radioactive tokens were ever put into to use.
I imagine they would have suffered from the same problem that plagued other efforts to put radiation to practical, everyday use — such as the radioactive golf balls we posted about a few months ago (the radiation made it possible to find the balls if lost). The radiation from one token (or golf ball) wasn't a health hazard, but if a bunch of them were stored together, then the radiation did become a problem.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.