It sounds like the way Homer Simpson would store spent fuel rods at the Springfield nuclear plant. For 20 years, officials at Grand Canyon National Park kept radioactive uranium ore in three plastic, five-gallon paint buckets in the park’s Museum Collections building near the taxidermy exhibit. The buckets were discovered in 2018, but the public wasn’t informed, said a whistleblower, Elston “Swede” Stephenson, the park’s safety manager, in an unofficial email to Park Service employees on February.

“If you were in the Museum Collections Building (2C) between the year 2000 and June 18, 2018, you were ‘exposed’ to uranium by OSHA’s definition,” he wrote. “The radiation readings, at first blush, exceeds [sic[ the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s safe limits…Identifying who was exposed, and your exposure level, gets tricky and is our next important task.”

The buckets were found in March 2018 by the teenage son of a worker who brought a Geiger counter into the museum. They weren’t removed from the site until June, when workers wearing dishwashing gloves and using a mop handle loaded them into a van and dumped the contents in a closed uranium facility and Superfund site two miles away. The buckets inexplicably were brought back to the museum empty, where they were discovered by Occupational Health and Safety Administration workers.


One of the buckets was so full the lid couldn’t be shut, Stephenson said, and he calculated that exposure could have 4,000 times higher than safe levels for kids and 400 times for adults. Children often gathered by the taxidermy exhibit for 30-minute presentations.

Photo by Robert Magnusson on Unsplash

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Steve Casimiro is the editor of Adventure Journal. Follow him on Instagram at @stevecasimiro.