What's The Most Radioactive Place On Earth?

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Radiation can be a rather dangerous thing. It can cause us a host of health problems and, in high enough doses, prove fatal.

Fortunately, there are very few places on Earth where you could be subjected to enough radiation to cause you too much harm. But there are a few where it’s advisable not to spend much time.

From nuclear decommissioning sites to the locations of past disasters, several places on Earth remain off limits. And some of them are unlikely to be safe to visit in the near future.

So here are some of the most radioactive places on Earth, although there are others too. Below we've also included a handy guide to radiation doses from XKCD.

Randall Munroe/XKCD

Ramsar, Iran

The first place on our list is the town of Ramsar in Iran. People in this town receive an annual radiation dose of 260 millisieverts (mSv), which is much higher than the 20 mSv allowed for radiation workers each year. An average person receives 3.1 mSv each year.

The cause of this radiation in Ramsar is nine hot springs, which bubble uranium-rich igneous rock dissolved in groundwater from below the surface. Radium from these springs enters the limestone, from which the houses are built, but it can also be found in crops and drinking water.

A study in 2002 found that these doses had caused 56 percent more chromosomal abnormalities in the 33,000 or so inhabitants of the town. Scientists have recommended that the residents relocate, but that doesn’t seem to have had much effect.

Goiania, Brazil

Back in 1987, two robbers ransacked an abandoned hospital in Goiania, mostly for scrap metal. Unfortunately, they also found a small capsule of highly radioactive caesium chloride, which had been used in a radiotherapy device.

They took the material with them, ultimately causing the deaths of four people. It’s reported that children, attracted by the bright blue of the material, also touched it and rubbed it on their skin. Several city blocks became contaminated and had to be demolished.

In the end, 300 people suffered radioactive contamination, but “radiophobia” swept through the city. More than 100,000 people queued to be screened for radiation exposure. The topsoil was removed from several sites to remove the radiation. Levels as high as 2 sieverts an hour were found in some locations, but while life has mostly returned to normal, some places still remain contaminated.

Goiania has recovered, but it remains the location of one of the worst radiation disasters in history. Daniel Precht/Shutterstock
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