Juarez Chernobyl – The Largest Nuclear Contamination in America
Chernobyl was a big hit for HBO. I found a question on AskReddit "If HBO's Chernobyl was a series with a new disaster every season, what event would you like to see covered?" CLICK HERE to find out what some of the suggestions on Reddit were.
As we brought this topic up on the air, we had some suggestions for something called Juarez Cherobyl. Interestingly enough, there are almost no articles in English about this disaster. But, thanks to technology, I can look up the articles written in Spanish and have them real time translated for me. So, here we go. Possibly the first English article about Juarez Chernobyl.
Back in 1977 Dr. Abelardo Lemus and his group of private hospital partners purchased a radiotherapy machine that came equipped with a Cobalt-60 pump. Cobalt-60 is used to treat cancer patients, and, you guessed it, it's radioactive. Direct from Wikipedia:
Now, no one at the hospital really knew how to use the machine, so it ended up sitting in a warehouse, collecting dust. Then in December of 1983, a maintenance worker at the hospital named Vicente Sotelo Alardin and one of his friends, Ricardo Hernandez took the machine to scrap it for parts and metal. Yes, they got the approval from a hospital supervisor to take it.
Vicente got the machine home and started to take it apart. Unfortunately the machine didn't have any markings about how dangerous the materials inside were. While taking apart the machine, Vicente opened up the housing for the Cobalt-60, which was in 1 millimeter sized pellets.
Here is where the contamination starts. They took the parts to the scrapyard, spreading the radioactive Cobalt-60 pellets all over the city as it is falling out of the back of his pickup truck.
At the scrapyard, they use the gigantic magnet to move the parts around, contaminating the magnet. So now everything that the magnet touches, becomes radioactive. And it's a lot. The scrapyard makes two big piles and sells the metal to 2 main smelters. These smelters then melt down the metal and, in turn, basically making radioactive pieces of rebar and table legs.
This radioactive metal gets shipped all throughout Mexico and the US. It isn't until a semi truck carrying a contaminated shipment took a wrong turn and triggered automatic radiation sensors.
Cameras at the base are used to track down what set off the sensors, and trace the semi truck back to Mexico and all the metal that was being used for the rebar and table legs. But at this point it's pretty much too late. This is before Chernobyl so they know it's bad, just not sure how bad.
Needless to say there's about 20,000 tons of radioactive material still floating around the US, Mexico, and Latin America. There's even a mall in Juarez that is still there today that used a lot of this radioactive rebar.
And in case you're wondering, Vicente survived. He got some burns, but lived. In fact, his truck that was used to haul the radioactive material finally broke down, but he didn't get rid of it. He kept it out in front of his house, and neighborhood kids would play in it, as well as it becoming a spot for the guys to go drink beer after a long day at work.
So there was no major explosion or nuclear reactor leak that led to this contamination. But the sheer amount of radioactive materials that were released to the public makes this one of the worst, if not the worst contamination in America. Nothing is official, because it's not exactly known how much radioactive material is still out there.