Watching the excellent but horrific HBO Miniseries Chernobyl. There is a scene where the radiation level is so strong, it ruins the batteries of flashlights being operated inside the plant, in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster.

Being wise after seeing that, I was wondering if it could have sufficed to just use a fluorescent light tube?

My thought is that the radiation on the site would be strong enough to cause the tube to light up.

What type of radiation and on what intensity would be required to achieve an unpowered fluorescent light tube to light up?

Could the radiation be too powerful, causing the light tube to fail?

In any case also bringing a carbamide lamp might be a good alternative.


To answer your question. Yes, but not by all radiation. Gamma radiation can, but I do not believe the other 2 can. The problem is that the amount of gamma radiation needed to ionize the powder inside the bulb would be a lot more than needed to cook you and everything around you.

You might see a slight glow before you died...

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, but the situation was that the people in need of light where inside the reactor building of the Chernobyl plant while the core meltdown was still happening days after the incident. I doubt those workers lived happily ever after. $\endgroup$ – George May 22 '19 at 8:48
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    $\begingroup$ @George, two of them are still alive and one died of heart failure in 2005 $\endgroup$ – AlexD May 31 '19 at 9:22
  • $\begingroup$ That’s great to hear that they survived. $\endgroup$ – George Jun 1 '19 at 14:26

You are mixing different kind of radiations.

The one which carries electromagnetic energy, a.k.a electromagnetic radiation, is the one which lights up fluorescent lights. This one is produced by the movement of charges for example and that is why you can light up fluorescent lights under a tension line.

The other one is the radiation produced by the disintegration of nuclei and several subatomic processes. This radiation can be:

  • Alpha radiation: Helio nuclei

  • Beta radiation: Electrons and positrons

  • Gamma radiation: High energetic photons

From all of these, the one around Chernobyl is the second kind. And as you can see, it is made up of particles that interact with the environment and produced changes (mutations, destroy electronic devices, etc.)

The first one, the electromagnetic radiation, is everywhere (WiFi, bulbs, screens, everything with temperature...) and you don't have to be afraid of it. It does not interact with you or make you ill.

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    $\begingroup$ I am aware of the difference of electromagnetic radiation and nuclear radiation. But maybe I'm naive, but is it not at all possible for nuclear radiation to ionize atoms? In my understanding (from this dramatization of the nuclear disaster) there where light phenomena in the sky from the radiation ionizing particles in the atmosphere. Could this not happen to the lining of a flourescent ligth tube? $\endgroup$ – George May 16 '19 at 21:08

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