1934 Ford, Blown 392 HEMI
Advisability of using WW2 Radioactive Aircraft Toggle Switches in a Hot Rod build, Radium Toggle Switches, Radioluminescence.
Well they look harmless enough, but these switches contain a poison called Radium. Radium is a highly radioactive element that saw wide use in luminescent paints from 1913 through World War II. The luminescent glow of this paint made these aircraft switches visible to their operators at night.
The little glass bead at the tip of the toggle switch contains a mixture of Radium-226 (an isotope) and Zinc Sulfide (a phosphor). Initially it gives off a greenish glow, but as the Zinc Sulfide degrades over time, it leads to loss of brightness at a rate significantly faster than the depletion of Radium. And after 65+ years, you’re left with a switch that no longer glows yet is still 97% as radioactive.
These little switches are pretty awesome, and certainly historically significant, but I’d think twice about using them in a Hot Rod build. The radiation itself may be a concern, but say if the “glass bead” were to break?! Well… that could contaminate hands and fingers leading to ingestion or possibly worse: the Radium could atomize in the closed environment posing a serious inhalation risk to everyone in the vehicle. If Radium were ingested, our bodies would basically treat it the exact same way it treats Calcium– incorporating it right into our bones. Inhaled Radium?– well that’s not too fun either. Better start living your life to the fullest! Let’s just say that the results of a continual exposure to a source of ionizing radiation would be dire- just ask these chicks. With a half-life of 1601 years, your bones will be glowing long after you are gone. Fun stuff.
How radioactively “Hot” are these switches? From the photos above, you can see my rough background radiation is around 42 CPM (the detection rate of ionization events). Opening the flap at the bottom of the Radiation Alert Inspector allows for a more accurate reading, pushing the CPM to roughly 10,000 Counts Per Minute. Now if we were to combine several switches together in close proximity??… I think you get the idea. To help you visualize this, here’s a video showing alpha (the “fat”), beta (the “thin squiggles”) and gamma tracks produced by a radioactive toggle switch in a cloud chamber.