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I grew up eating off of radioactive dinnerware (and you can, too!)
10:45 am

Pop Culture

Cold War

Want a radioactive gravy boat for $70? You can get one!

Growing up with a young single mom, we had had neither the money nor the time to assemble any sort of “aesthetic” theme to our home. Our little two-person family always had a cozy hodge-podge of housewares, compiled almost entirely of hand-me-downs; when a relative had a mixing bowl or a few plates they didn’t need anymore, we were happy to add them to our eclectic little collection. One of the more memorable second-hand gifts came from my grandpa, when he brought 13-year-old me a single plate. He had taken it from the inventory of antiques he scouted and sold to collectors.

It was art deco-ish, with a sort of bold, reddish-orange that stood out in our otherwise reserved midwestern cabinet. Before handing me the plate, my grandfather asked with a squint, “Do you know what Fiestaware is?” When I replied that I didn’t, he mumbled something about it being an antique from the 40s that he couldn’t seem to get rid of. A few months ago, during a “I want some kitschy kitchen shit” moment, I remembered the bright plates, and I looked up Fiestaware. It turns out the company has been around forever, and is actually just called, “Fiesta.”

It also turns out a sizable portion of their product line, including the plate I grew up eating off of, used to be radioactive.

The glaze of older Fiesta dinnerware contains a measurable amount of uranium oxide. The highest levels of uranium were used in the red glaze, which actually owes the vibrancy of its hue to the radioactive material. (Other companies produced dishes with uranium, but none were so widely sold as Fiesta’s.) The exact amount varies, but the uranium ratio was often as high as 14%. This was sizable enough for the federal government to seize Fiesta’s uranium stocks during World War 2 for the development of the atomic bomb. By 1959, Fiesta relaunched their red product line using depleted radiation (a slight improvement, I guess), and they didn’t stop using that until 1972.

At this point, I think it’s important that you know my grandpa is very knowledgeable about the antiques he dealt, and that he absolutely knew these plates contained uranium. He’s just the sort of guy who doesn’t see what the big deal is. He still believes DDT is fine, and he thinks everyone concerned about hydrofracking is a liberal “Chicken Little.” But I digress.

Now, while my grandpa couldn’t unload his radioactive Fiesta plate, there are collectors who actually seek out pieces with the uranium glaze. And why wouldn’t they? In addition to the fantastic art deco design of the plates (Andy Warhol actually collected Fiesta!), you could possess the sort of radioactive novelty conversation piece that can be used to frighten away overly-comfortable dinner guests! And, you can do fun experiments with a Geiger counter like the video below, teaching your whole family science as you slowly poison them to death!

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Kazakhstan’s Radioactive Legacy
12:39 pm


Cold War

60 years ago, on the steppes of northeast Kazakhstan, “First Lightning,” the very first nuclear weapon to detonate in Russia, went off at the Semipalatinsk Polygon test site.  Over its 40-year existence, Semipalatinsk Polygon would go on to host 456 additional explosions.  These photos, just two of many, depict that legacy’s haunting aftermath on the people of Kazakhstan.

Residents in the surrounding area became unwitting guinea pigs, exposed to the aftereffects of the bombs both intentionally and unintentionally. The radiation has silently devastated three generations of people in Kazakhstan—the total number affected is thought to be more than one million—creating health problems ranging from thyroid diseases, cancer, birth defects, deformities, premature aging, and cardiovascular diseases.  Life expectancy in the area is seven years less than the national average of Kazakhstan.

For more photos: Kazakhstan’s Radioactive Legacy


Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment