Idiot moves are all too common in history. Take that time when a Brazilian cancer clinic moved to a new building, and left behind, abandoned and unsecured, machinery that contained highly radioactive substances. It was the first in a chain of idiot actions that led to what the International Atomic Energy Agency described as “one of the world’s worst radiological incidents“. Following are thirty things about that and other idiot moves that ended badly.
30. The Idiot Clinic That Left Radioactive Machinery Behind in an Abandoned Building
The Goiania Institute of Radiotherapy, a private chemotherapy clinic about half a mile from the administrative center of Goiania, Brazil, moved offices in 1985. It left behind many outdated hospital machines and supplies that the administrators figured that they would not need in their new location. Among the items left behind was a teletherapy treatment device that used caesium-137, a highly radioactive isotope. Under the terms of the clinic’s license, the authorities should have been notified and careful disposal methods should have been followed. The clinic’s idiot administrators did not bother with any of that.
The institute’s former premises became an abandoned building that housed homeless people, and morphed into a hangout for drug addicts and derelicts. The abandoned teletherapy device and its caesium-137 contents were thus totally insecure. On September 13, 1987, two scavengers entered the clinic’s former treatment room and came across the teletherapy unit. Unaware of what it was, but figuring that it might have scrap metal value, they removed the source assembly – the part that contained the radioactive isotope – from the machine’s radiation head. It was a start of a serious nuclear incident.