I think he best way to start this is by shaking my ANGRYFIST at Amazon & eBay for being the gray/black markets of choice for all manner of things that should not be there. Bullshit Lasers only scratch the surface of their almost complete lack of policy enforcement.

[The twentieth in an ongoing series of my compiled explainers for my CHOOSE YOUR OWN RADIATION ADVENTURE quizzes. There’s never really a right answer but some might work out better under the constraints of the scenario. It’s like poetry, really.]

It is known that once you have three of something, you officially have a collection. The moment you get that third flamingo, you’re The Flamingo Guy and you start accumulating more flamingos until you have so many that they collapse into a pink hole.

NOTE: I’m not necessarily complaining about this.

I have so many different collections, people have a hard time deciding which pile of things to add more things to. It’s polite to give folks variety to work with for gift giving occasions. But there are some collections that lead to problems. If you’ve ever played the card game Set, which is about rapid pattern recognition, you may see some patterns in the poll options for some Cursed Collections. Do you have a collection of Atomiciana? You might get any of these. A collection of radioactive thingees? All but the AVLIS plans, unless they were contaminated.

Wait, do you have dedicated room of Nazi artifacts?


Let’s start with the most benign of these gifts, the CP-1 graphite. Chicago Pile-1, our first reactor of sorts, was dismantled and rebuilt at the site that would later become Argonne National Lab. The moderating graphite was broken down into small bits that turned into souvenirs. Every sample I’ve seen is encased in acrylic, properly labeled that it came from CP-1, and had been given out as executive desk/lab retirement gifts in the 1950s & 60s. Every year, the American Nuclear Society has a drawing for the student chapters to win one. The graphite is a neat historical object with almost zero activity. It will present no difficulties to get, other than proving provenance for a random hunk of aesthetically pleasing carbon. Incidentally, if you have a spare kicking around please drop @nuclearkatie or I a line. Did I say no difficulties? I mean no difficulties other than the very limited quantity of CP-1 graphite in the world. Getting a piece that’s not incredibly overpriced bullshit is the hard part. 

More difficult and way more fraught is your own personal fuel element from the Haigerloch reactor. Incidentally, I would love a chandelier made to look like this with dimmer from dark gray OFF to supercriticality blue-white ON using LED cube elements.

The Lament Configuration, courtesy of

The good news is that these cubes weren’t enriched uranium, just naturally occurring uranium. It’s still technically speaking Not Okay to ship this as it is TENORM (technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material) but it may be hard for people to notice. What you do have is something that’s an esoteric, VERY IDENTIFIABLE, product of Nazi Germany. Depending on where you are in the world, it may be very illegal to possess, much less sell, this outside of a museum. Austria, Belgium, France and Germany comes to mind. In America, sigh, it’s merely tacky.  It is the ultimate in cursed cubes, short of this one.

Consider not giving the gift of authentic Nazi items. Or reproduction ones. Really, just don’t. Unless you really, really, REALLY know that the recipient wants it and is going to use it for the Forces of Good.

Speaking of don’t, DON’T LOOT ANTIQUITIES! If you aren’t familiar with the Elamites, we’re talking about one of the earliest city building civilizations. Proto-Persians. Eternal foes of the Sumerians. The last undeciphered original alphabet from the Fertile Crescent. Do I specifically know of any Elamite figurines with uranium based glazes on them? No, but then [folds arms with a harrumph] it’s been a while since I’ve been allowed in a museum with my meters. BUT WHY DO YOU HAVE ONE?!!?


The collector market in antiquities is very fraught. The argument that without the collectors, some of these items might never have been found ignores that this almost always comes with the loss of the context they were found in. Context is often more informative than the item. But why uranium glazed? We’ve only known about radioactivity for 135 years, but the uranium ores have been regarded as awesome since time immemorial. Everyone loves those yellows and greens! Antiquity was as gaudy as they could achieve, we didn’t invent garish color. If you’ve received a glaze-shedding Elamite figurine, the dispersible radioactive material is the least of your problems. You have stolen from the cultural heritage of humanity but, more specifically, Iran. There are some laws about this. If there’s any saving grace to the Hobby Lobby bullshit, it’s that forgers learned that they had a incredibly rich idiot customer that had no idea what they were buying. But some was real. Some of it was looted from museums, some from digs, and that context is lost forever.  But the interesting value of a radioactive glaze is that could help identify sourcing and trade routes in the Elamite kingdoms. No need to worry about classified information informing the current Iranian regime that they have RICH domestic uranium deposits. They’re well aware.

But when it comes to classified items, the AVLIS-1 drawings are where you’re gonna get into the deepest trouble. Elamite figurines are gonna tangle you in court for years. Classified drawings will land you in prison while being tangled in court for years. There’s certain folks who recreationally collect schematic drawings and vacuum equipment, trolling surplus sales hoping for rare, weird esoteric things. But I have an important piece of advice: If you find a drawing or a piece equipment stamped with AAA and a number…shit. Don’t read any further. Don’t take any pictures. Call your local DOE site office and let them know you have a Triple-A marked item and would like to surrender it for destruction. This is because someone fucked up and you shouldn’t have this.

*YOU* didn’t fuck up. This is the key thing to keep in mind.

AAA means that something is a special form and was supposed to be destroyed before leaving where it was made, or it should have been reviewed for release and had that AAA marking removed/defaced. If you’re in the UK, the AWE had an equivalent marking but damned if I remember what it is at the moment. The Soviets never had anything as useful for their gear, just summary execution. AVLIS-1, in case you weren’t aware, stands for Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope Separation Mk1. If I can summarize the project, everything is possible and more awesome with lasers, please give us all the appropriations money. Because we wanted to prove that there were other ways to do uranium enrichment other than centrifuges.

ANSWER: Yes, we can. We can do a lot of things, but they’re not the most efficient, cheap, clean and good way. High fives everyone, project complete.

Except no project is really complete. Nothing is abandoned. As I said, “the drawings for AVLIS-1”. The last time I saw a reference to AVLIS, it was with respect to an AVLIS-5 facility in Iran being mothballed as part of the JCPOA.  If you recall a thing called Stuxnet being used to temporarily wipe out the Iranian centrifuges, it is also good to keep in mind that was never the only option Iran had. That, very likely, they took what America abandoned and worked on it some more. Four iterations worth.

This is your horrifying reminder that once you do the Manhattan Project once, you know the end point works. You just have to find your way there and you aren’t obligated to follow the same path as before. In fact, you can leapfrog entire decades of dumb stuff.

Happy holidays.