Goiania Radiation Accident

Date: 1987
Owner: Greenpeace International
Source Type: Images


In 1987, a container full of cesium-137, a radioactive element used to combat cancer, was opened by the owner of a junkyard in Goiania, Brazil. Children and adults both were attracted to the glowing blue substance that was imagined to be valuable and was thus soon broken into pieces for distribution. Many rubbed it on their bodies and one six year old girl even ate some of this highly radioactive material. Without knowing it, these people spread radioactive particles throughout the city of Goiania until two-hundred and forty-four people were exposed. Once the clean-up and medical efforts began, several of the relief workers were contaminated as well and dozens of people were hospitalized because the cesium had severely damaged their bodily tissue. The radiation killed four people within a week, including the girl who had ingested the cesium dust, and they were all buried in lead coffins sealed in concrete (in an attempt to prevent further exposure). Several blocks of Goiania were destroyed and the rubble sent to a sealed storage facility several miles away. The problems caused by the improper disposal of a small amount of radioactive material used for medical purposes is a daunting reminder of the dangers posed by the large quantities of radioactive waste produced at the world's nuclear power plants. Until Brazil and other states using nuclear power develop safe means for disposing of this highly toxic waste, nuclear power will remain controversial.

CITATION: Goiana Radiation Accident Memorial. Image copyright Greenpeace International.