Dead body + intense radiation = what?

We can radiate food to prevent spoilage – so long as the food remains sealed in a package it was irradiated in.

Radiation kills things, like cells and bacteria.

Now, suppose you take a deceased body, within several minutes of death, and place it in a high radiation area, say the containment bath for used fuel rods in a nuclear reactor or within a chamber full of radioactives that are not intense enough to generate heat, but powerful enough to give a lethal dosage to an unprotected person in something like a 30 second exposure. Kind of like what happened to that scientist who got exposed to fission while making the first atomic bomb.

Would the body decay?

Decay is due only to bacterial action. Would the intense radiation kill all bacterial and prevent the inevitable decay? So, would the body stay intact so long as it is being exposed to the radiation?

We also know that intensely radioactives glow. After say, a month, if the body was removed, would it glow and how long might it be before it started to decay?

Intense radiation can change molecular structures. Would the radiation over a prolonged period of time change molecular formations in the body – say like organic lead to metallic? Organic potassium into crystalized?

It seems to me that just as frozen bodies or ‘bog bodies’ deprived of oxygen survive relatively unscathed, so would our irradiated friend.

Exposing tissue to ionizing radiation leads to damaged tissue. It does not lead to glowing tissue. Nothing organic glows as a result of ionizing radiation. All ionizing radiation does is create ions, hence the name. Think of it this way: Radiation is, for our purposes, composed of particles. Some of them, like alpha and beta radiation, are actually particles. Other types, like gamma radiation, just act like them sometimes. Those particles hit the chain and ring molecules a body is made of and break them up, like BBs shot at a paper target break it up. The pieces are ionized, meaning they have electromagnetic charge attached to them. They happily break up other molecules exactly like acid dissolves things. Summary? You end up with a lot of simple molecules that have radioactive atoms composing them. No glow, no super powers, just sludge. What makes irradiating food safe is the timeframe and the dose control: It is a brief blast of a very controlled dose of radiation. Try telling that to the anti-radiation people, though.

To expound on Derleths post, ionizing radiation typically causes harm to living tissue by ionizing the water inside cells. These ions are chemically reactive, and they can attack the DNA in the nucleus, usually by breaking one side of the double-helix (i.e. they do not typically harm the base pairs themselves; I think mutations happen when your cellular machinery tries to repair the damage). This doesn’t matter when you irradiate food (or other dead stuff) because you don’t care whether your food has intact DNA–it just kills the microorganisms that cause spoilage.

Exposure to radiation also does not typically cause that which was irradiated to become radioactive. This only happens in certain special cases, and almost always involves irradiation by neutrons.

Radioactive stuff does not glow, although in certain circumstances exposure to ionizing radiation can cause other stuff to glow (e.g. Cerenkov radiation).

So if you expose a dead body to ionizing radiation at a high dose rate, all that will happen is the natural decomposition will slow down. It will not become radioactive, and even if it did it would not glow. I doubt there would be any other noticeable effects.

Seems like it’d be easier and cheaper to put it in a block of luctie. But even then, I would think the bacteria and gases contained within would make it turn all uji and you’d end up with a pile of bones and green slime within a corpse-shaped cavity in a clear block. Maybe you could use it for a really big level or something.

You’ve got it all wrong! If you expose a corpse to high doses of radiation, it reanimates. Then it walks around attacking the living, eating the flesh of its victims. Of course even a bite from one of these nuclear undead will infect the victim, who will die and turn into a flesh-eating zombie!

Hey, I saw it in a movie, and a movie wouldn’t lie!

Actually, the irradiated corpse thing was used in a teevee episode I saw on the SciFi Channel. Some people dug up a scientist who was exposed to lethal doses of radiation during the Manhattan Project. When they dug him up he was stiff, but uncorrupted. I thought it was rather far-fetched, but it was a neat plot device.

Quoth Derleth:

Except without the “radioactive atoms” part. You need extremely high energy radiation, preferably neutrons, to render anything radioactive, as Bobort noted. As long as your energies are below that threashhold, you could expose food to radiation as intense as you like, and for as long as you like, and the worst that’ll happen to it is that you’ll cook it.

As to the preservation of bodies, how about we do the encasing in lucite, and then irradiate the whole mess? Kill any germs already there, and prevent any new ones from getting in. Would that work?

This would help, and would prevent actual decay entirely if done carefully enough, but I don’t think that it would completely prevent deterioration of the corpse. I suspect that you would still see fluid migrating downward as gravity caused it to seep out of the more rigid tissue. Eventually you’d get a corpse that was rather dried out on top, and a wet mess on bottom. The precise effects would probably depend on whether you had the body upright or lying flat. Of course, keeping the whole shebang cold enough would prevent this, but that would work even without the ionizing radiation.

Without the lucite, the fluids would eventually seep or sublime away, leaving a desiccated corpse (which you might politely call a “mummy”).

I could be wrong, of course…

What about if the body was left in the water bath, like said in the first post, would it decay under the constant bombardment from the fuel rods and eventually act like a bloated corpse? With no surviving bacteria and no new types able to be introduced, I think the body would just remain untouched, possibly growing ‘prune-like’ as salts leached out into the surrounding fresh water.

Like when you go swimming in fresh water and your hands get all wrinkled.

Didn’t the irradiation of meats, like chicken, cause some changes in the chemical compounds that they were concerned about, like destroying vitamins or something?

Chronos:
I thought carbon and oxygen would have higher absorption cross-sections than that. Oh well, you live, you learn.

Twentyeight:
Here is a site that addresses your concerns:
http://www.iaea.or.at/worldatom/inforesource/other/food/quality.html
It says that, by and large, irradiation does not affect the nutritional content of food when done properly.

We’re all forgetting about autolysis folks. With or without microbes the cells in the body will automatically begin digesting themselves as soon as the cell membranes break down after death. If the body is irradiated and left in water or enclosed in lucite then it won’t be able to dessicate, and autolysis will continue indefinitely. The enzymes resonsible would break down eventually, but under sterile moist conditions it could take some time. By the time they did denature the body would be a fairly gooey mess I’d imagine.
The only way around this I can think of is to use sufficient radiation to denature all the enzymes responsible, but that would basically involve cooking the corpse and leave you with a gooey mess.
Sorry Advent, human bodies just weren’t designed for easy preservation and display.