Radioactivity timeline

Radioactivity is all around us. Travel through time and discover the stories behind our collection.

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1895
Discovery of X-rays
1895

Discovery of X-rays

Wilhelm Röntgen discovered the invisible X-rays.

1896
Radioactivity discovered
1896

Radioactivity discovered

Henri Becquerel discovered radioactivity.

1898
Three types of radiation
1898

Three types of radiation

Ernest Rutherford discovered three types of radiation: alpha-, béta- and gamma radiation.

1898
Discovery Polonium and Radium
1898

Discovery Polonium and Radium

Marie Curie discovered Polonium and Radium.

1900
E = hv
1900

E = hv

Max Planck discovers that energy (from radiation) is emitted in small packages: E = hv.

1902
Changes in the atom
1902

Changes in the atom

Ernest Rutherford discovers that radiation can appear by changes in the atom.

1903
Henri Becquerel receives the Nobel Prize
1903

Henri Becquerel receives the Nobel Prize

Henri Becquerel receives the Nobel Prize in Physics together with Pierre and Marie Curie.

1905
Publication E=mc2
1905

Publication E=mc2

Albert Einstein publishes in “Analen der Physik” the theory of relativity: E = mc2.

1908
Rutherford receives Nobel Prize
1908

Rutherford receives Nobel Prize

Ernest Rutherford receives the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

1909
Thorium in gas hose
1909

Thorium in gas hose

First used in streetlighting later on in the twentieth century used in camping lamps. The Thorium added to the gas hose ensured the bright white light.

1910
Application of Radium in spark plugs
1910

Application of Radium in spark plugs

The radiation from the Radium on the spark plug tips ensured ionization (charged particles in the air). In that way it is even possible to ignite moist air.

1911
Model of an atom
1911

Model of an atom

Ernest Rutherford publishes his model of the atom: the nucleus with electrons in orbits.

1917
Radium in watches
1917

Radium in watches

Using Radium in watches through the luminous effect.

1918
Planck wins Nobel Prize
1918

Planck wins Nobel Prize

Max Planck receives the Nobel Prize in Physics.

1918
Tritium in exit signs
1918

Tritium in exit signs

Exit signs: the large amount of Tritium used in the signs made them light up in the dark. These signs were used in airplanes.

1920
Radium paint in meters
1920

Radium paint in meters

On the plate and hands of meters Radium paint was painted to make it possible to readout the meter in the dark.

1922
Compass with Radium paint
1922

Compass with Radium paint

The hands and pool designations were painted with Radium paint to keep on the right course in the dark.

1922
Albert Einstein receives Nobel Prize
1922

Albert Einstein receives Nobel Prize

Albert Einstein receives the Nobel Prize in Physics.

1923
Legible spirit levels
1923

Legible spirit levels

Radium was also used in legible spirit levels through the luminous effect.

1925
Radium water is beneficial
1925

Radium water is beneficial

Radium was also used in drinking cups as a cure for at least 27 diseases. Water in the drinking cup had to stay there for at least 12 hours with the Radium source in it. A daily portion of this water would be very beneficial. The water was ionized and got a sparkling taste.

1929
Patent on cyclotron
1929

Patent on cyclotron

Discovery of the cyclotron for the production of short living radioisotopes.

1930
Fluoroscope to measure feet
1930

Fluoroscope to measure feet

Until the 1950s, many shoe stores had a fluoroscope, a simple X-ray machine, for measuring shoes.

1938
First nuclear fission
1938

First nuclear fission

The fission process was discovered in 1938 by Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann in Berlin. Enrico Fermi and his associates were the first to bombard uranium with neutrons in 1934. The impetus for the discovery of nuclear fission was that a radioactive substance was formed that appeared to be chemically identical with barium, atomic number 56, which was thus considered impossible until then. With the help of directions from Meitner, the decisive experiment was conducted on December 17, 1938, and Hahn definitively determined that nuclear fission had taken place. The results were published in Die Naturwissenschaften in early 1939.

1939
The Netherlands buys uranium ore
1939

The Netherlands buys uranium ore

The Dutch government buys approximately 10 tons of uranium oxide in the Belgian Congo through the Delft Glass factories. The 200 barrels of yellow cake (with a uranium content of 67%) come to Leiden by train.

Better light output with thoriumlens

In camera lenses, thorium is processed, which provides a better light output.

1941
Smoke detector with americium
1941

Smoke detector with americium

The americium source in the smoke detector continuously emits radiation, if it becomes less intense due to the smoke present between the source and the sensor, a signal is emitted.

1941
First use of radioactive iodine
1941

First use of radioactive iodine

In 1941 radioactive iodine was used for the first time in thyroid research. Radioactive iodine is used for testing the functioning of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland produces hormones that are important for the regulation of the metabolism. For the production of these hormones, the thyroid gland is mainly dependent on iodine, which enters the body in small amounts with food. By measuring the uptake of radioactive iodine in the thyroid gland, an uptake that is too high or too low can be demonstrated.

1942
First controlled nuclear fission reaction
1942

First controlled nuclear fission reaction

Enrico Fermi allows first controlled nuclear fission reaction to take place.

1942
Manhattan project
1942

Manhattan project

The Manhattan project was the name of the top secret operation led by the United States with the help of Canada and the United Kingdom. This project allowed the United States to develop the atomic bomb during World War II.

1945
Atomic Bomb
1945

Atomic Bomb

The first ever atomic bomb, the Trinity Test, exploded in Alamogordo in the Nevada desert on July 16, 1945. The atomic bomb was the result of the Manhattan project.

On August 6, an atomic bomb containing 60 kilograms of enriched uranium detonated at 580 meters above Hiroshima. The bomb kills 130,000 people almost instantly and about 70,000 to 100,000 people in consequences afterward. Three days later, an atomic bomb containing plutonium detonated over Nagasaki.

 

1950
Coloring glaze with uranium
1950

Coloring glaze with uranium

Long before uranium became known as a radioactive raw material for the generation of nuclear energy, it was mainly used as a means to color glass and glaze. The glass and glaze was relatively safe for the users due to the low concentration and confinement in the glass. It was less safe for the makers who had to deal with large quantities of powdered uranium.

1953
Atoms for peace
1953

Atoms for peace

For the United Nations General Assembly, US President Eisenhower will deliver a speech that will go down in history as the ‘Atoms for Peace’ speech. Eisenhouwer announces that the US will give up its monopoly in nuclear technology. Nuclear technology should no longer be used to wage war, but serve humanity. He also calls for the creation of a control body to prevent countries with the technology from making nuclear weapons: this will lead to the establishment of the IAEA.

1955
Start Reactor Center Netherlands
1955

Start Reactor Center Netherlands

The current ECN (Energy Center Netherlands) started in 1955 as Reactor Center Netherlands. The aim of RCN was ‘to acquire knowledge about the peaceful application of nuclear energy and to make it available, in particular to Dutch institutions and companies’. RCN was founded by the Ministers of Education, Arts and Science and of Economic Affairs. The foundation had a large branch in Petten and a smaller one in Scheveningen. In addition to the low-flux reactor, a high-flux reactor was also commissioned in Petten in 1962.

1957
Het Atoom exhibition
1957

Het Atoom exhibition

In 1957 the exhibition Het Atoom was organized at Schiphol, where the miracle of atomic energy was explained. The exhibition broke visitor records almost daily. The showpiece was a working reactor purchased by the Department of Education, Arts and Science from AMF Atomics in New York.

1957
Founding of ITAL
1957

Founding of ITAL

On January 7, 1957, the Institute for the Application of Atomic Energy in Agriculture (ITAL) was established in The Hague with the aim of ‘promoting agriculture by stimulating, advising and conducting research on the application of ionizing rays and the use of isotopes and labeled compounds’. Wageningen was chosen as the location for ITAL; at the Agricultural College. A research reactor was also built on the ITAL complex.

1957
Establishment of the International Atomic Energy Agency
1957

Establishment of the International Atomic Energy Agency

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was founded in 1957 at the suggestion of US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, following his Atoms for Peace speech, on December 8, 1953, before the United Nations General Assembly, in which he advocated an international body to research and develop atomic energy. IAEA is an autonomous United Nations organization for scientific and technical cooperation in the field of nuclear technology and its peaceful uses.

1958
Hydrotector invented
1958

Hydrotector invented

The troxler contains a source that emits neutrons and a receiver that registers the reflected neutrons. When neutrons collide with hydrogen atoms, they enter a lower energy level. The number of neutrons with a lower energy level gives an indication of the amount of water in the subsoil. These devices are used in road construction and the roofing industry.

1958
Euratom Treaty in force
1958

Euratom Treaty in force

In 1957 the Euratom Treaty was signed in Rome. On January 1, 1958, the Euratom Treaty entered into force and the Euratom Commission was established in Brussels. The European Atomic Energy Community, Euratom for short, is an international organization with the aim of promoting peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Euratom is a separate organization, but for decisions it uses the institutions of the European Union. All countries that accede to the European Union must also accede to the Euratom Treaty.

1961
First technetium cow
1961

First technetium cow

In the middle of the container of the technetium cow is the radioactive substance molybdenum that is transported in this form to hospitals. The radioactive molybdenum decays to technetium. Technetium is a widely used radioactive substance for diagnosis. Because technetium has a short life, it is only removed from the “cow” in the hospital by means of elution (rinsing).

1961
High Flux Reactor in Petten
1961

High Flux Reactor in Petten

In 1961 the first nuclear fission took place in the new High Flux Reactor (HFR) in Petten. The HFR initially served for research into materials for nuclear power plants.

1963
Opening Interfaculty Reactor Institute
1963

Opening Interfaculty Reactor Institute

The Interfaculty Reactor Institute (IRI) is opened at TU Delft. This is a research reactor.

1969
First nuclear power plant in the Netherlands
1969

First nuclear power plant in the Netherlands

Dodewaard nuclear power plant was the first nuclear power plant in the Netherlands. NV Common Nuclear Power Plant Netherlands (GKN) was founded in 1965 as the owner and operator of the nuclear power plant. Construction began in 1965 and the nuclear reactor was commissioned in the presence of Queen Juliana on March 26, 1969. The plant was in operation until 1997.

1970
Lightning rod with radium
1970

Lightning rod with radium

The radium in a lightning rod causes ionizations in the air around the arrester. The ionized air makes it easier for a lightning bolt to find the lightning rod.

1973
Borssele nuclear power plant in operation
1973

Borssele nuclear power plant in operation

The reactor at the Borssele town was put into use in 1973 to generate electricity.

1973
URENCO starts in Almelo
1973

URENCO starts in Almelo

URENCO is a British-German-Dutch consortium that produces enriched uranium by means of ultracentrifuge technology. The name stands for URanium ENrichment COmpany. The company was founded in 1970. The URENCO site in Almelo has been enriching uranium since 1973.

1980
Dust brush with polonium
1980

Dust brush with polonium

Due to the ionizing radiation emitted by polonium, the static charge was neutralized and the dust could be removed with the brush.

1982
Establishment of COVRA
1982

Establishment of COVRA

In 1982 the Central Organization for Radioactive Waste (COVRA) was founded with the task of collecting, processing and storing all radioactive waste in the Netherlands. In 1984 the first staff started working for COVRA and COVRA took over the collection of low and medium radioactive waste from ECN. COVRA still works from Petten.

1982
End of sea dumping
1982

End of sea dumping

In 1982 the dumping of low-level waste in the Atlantic Ocean comes to an end.

1984
Depleted uranium as counterweight
1984

Depleted uranium as counterweight

Due to the high specific weight of depleted uranium, relatively little volume is required for a proper counterweight. This was used in, for example, aircraft and sailing yachts.

2000
Charlotte's shoebox
2000

Charlotte's shoebox

This collection of natural radioactivity stones comes from a girl. Due to the amount of radioactivity in the stones, she legally had to apply for a museum permit. This was of course not the intention and that is how the collection ended up at COVRA.