Sunday, December 28, 2014


The myth of radioactive UFOs? The case of Falcon Lake

It all started innocently enough.

I had been reading some of UFO groups on Facebook and in the MUFON group, there was much kudos for MUFON members who had attended a "boot camp" at which they refined their investigative skills. Among the things they were tested on was a simulated UFO landing site, at which they used a Geiger counter.

Which made me pause to wonder.

This was because this year, Geoff Dittman and Ashley Kircher and I finished our 25-year study and analyses of Canadian UFO reports. Since 1989, we had looked at about 15,000 reports of UFOs in Canada, from nocturnal lights to Close Encounters.

And none involved radiation. Well, more correctly, none involved physical traces that might have been radioactive. If there were any sites where radiation might have been present, I could have had the samples tested easily enough - and not just with a Geiger counter, but with more sophisticated equipment, even beyond a GeLi ionizing radiation detector. But no such sites were apparent in the entire list, over 25 years.

The absence of radioactivity at UFO "landing sites" is not a recent observation. It's been known for many years that the number of "trace cases" has been plummeting and hovering near zero, even worldwide. So the lack of radioactivity at any current UFO-associated site shouldn't be surprising.

But why? Isn't radioactivity a staple of ufology? 

(Of course, this is apart from any discussion about why UFOs would be leaking radioactivity to begin with, or why nuclear propulsion would be the aliens' choice of travel.)

So, on November 26, 2014, I posed the following to the readers of the UFO Updates group on Facebook:

My thesis: "The assumption of radioactive traces found at UFO landing sites is largely a myth. With the exception of a small handful of disputed cases, radioactivity associated with UFOs has never been conclusively established."

It started one of the longest and most heated discussions in that group.

MD first replied:

Whatever energy emanates from the low-hovering UFOs/Saucers does radiate away from the object(s), affecting soil and plants as you and I know it.  As far as what type of energy that is...? No one has a clear idea...all we find are the side-effects that result from such energy numbing of the fingers...desiccation of the plant life....etc.

To which I answered:

Yes, but as for actually detecting this radiation, that's another matter...

JB opined: 

This isn't true. If you need proof, come to Sedona and bring your geiger counter. I will point out where witnesses saw UFOs land and you can do your own research.

That's an interesting offer. I wonder why Sedona ufologists haven't done exactly that.

But then CH pointed out that I've previously written about radioactivity in a well-known Canadian UFO case.

Taken right from your book, "Unnatural History True Manitoba Mysteries"(pg 19-26), the Stefan Michalak Falcon Lake incident.

To which I replied: 

Yes, an exception that is being disputed. And I always wondered why they brought Geiger counters with them.

You see, I have actually handled the radioactive silver bars found at the Falcon Lake site. I had a container of radioactive soil from the site for many years in a cinderblock "safe" in my garage. I had been loaned the materials for testing by the Michalak family (and had given them back when they requested). [NB: The materials have now been lost.]

As I noted in my published study of the case:

As a result of prompting by civilian UFO investigators, Michalak went to a radiologist on May 23, 1967. No evidence of radiation trauma was found. On May 30, 1967, Michalak was taken by a UFO investigator to the Whiteshell Nuclear Research Establishment, where he was given a whole-body count. Again, nothing above normal background readings was found.

So Michalak had not been blasted by a radioactive beam or gas or whatever aliens use against us pesky humans.

Despite this, 

Brian Cannon, a founder of CAPRO, reported to that group's membership that the healing of Michalak's burns was "a characteristic trait of radiation burns" (Cannon 1968).

In addition,

... Dr. Horace Dudley, a radiologist and APRO advisor at the University of Southern Mississippi, observed that Michalak's ...
 "... nausea and vomiting followed by diarrhea and loss of weight is a classical picture of severe whole body [exposure to] radiation with x- or gamma rays. I would guess that Mr. Michalak received on the order of 100-200 roentgens. It is very fortunate that this dose of radiation only lasted a very short time or he would certainly have received a lethal dose."

So there was certainly some disagreement over whether there was any associated radioactivity in the case.

In my chapter on radioactivity and the Falcon Lake case, I noted:

On June 30, 1967, Michalak traveled to Falcon Lake with Gerald Hart... They found a ring of debris, thought to have been made when the object lifted off. In addition, they found bits of Michalak's shirt and his tape measure which he had left behind. When they returned to Winnipeg, they informed the RCAF of their findings. On July 2, RCMP, RCAF and CAPRO investigators accompanied Michalak to the site, gathering samples and taking photographs. The RCMP analyses of the samples showed significantly high radiation readings. On their recommendation, consideration was given to cordoning off the area due to a possible health hazard.

This was noted in an Incident Report from an inspector with the RCMP Crime Laboratory in Ottawa, the result of tests on some samples sent by the RCMP to the Department of National Health and Welfare. They found:

"... a radiation value of .3 microcuries in the soil sample ... the radiation is from a radium source and is a possible serious health hazard." [RCMP 1967]

 Samples taken from the site by Michalak and Hart were eventually tested by the Radiation Protection Division of the Canadian Department of National Health and Welfare. They examined samples of "soil, burned shirt and steel tape for possible radioactive contamination." The initial gamma analysis showed significant levels of "Ra 226 or its equivalent."

As part of their investigation, the team traveled to East Braintree, Manitoba, near the Whiteshell, where hazardous waste from the Manitoba Cancer Institute was buried. The reason for this was the suggestion that someone had "seeded" the landing site with commercially produced radium. If it had not come from a radium watch dial, they reasoned that it must have come from a nuclear waste disposal site. Again, the seriousness with which the case was regarded is evident. Tampering with a nuclear waste disposal site is a very grave matter. No indication of tampering was found, however. The team also visited Michalak's place of employment to see if it used radium in any of its products. They then visited Michalak at his home to check for radiation in the samples he had in his basement. 

"A survey of the basement showed no evidence of any loose contamination. Radiation fields were detectable coming from the plastic bags containing soil and the remnants of Michalak's burned shirt...  

Stewart Hunt, of the Safety Assessment Branch, along with investigators convinced Michalak to visit the site again with them, and they found:   "One small area was found to be contaminated. This was located across the crown of the rock. There was a smear of contamination about 0.5 ' 8.0 inches on one side of the crack. There was also some lichen and ground vegetation contaminated just beyond the smear. The whole contaminated area was no larger than 100 square inches. All water run off areas were checked for possible contamination, but nothing was found." 

After examining the site, he felt there was "no serious health hazard involved." The fact that only a small area was radioactive conflicted with the fact that Michalak's steel tape measure was radioactive, yet it was found "40 paces" from the site. The explanation offered for this was that everything taken from the site had been left together in a pile in Michalak's basement, so that unaffected items could have become contaminated after the fact.
 In an undated Department of National Defence Minute Sheet, an official in the office of the Chief of Defence Staff in Ottawa noted:
 "There is some doubt that the soil samples did in fact contain "226" or pure radium. This question of doubt is a scientific evaluation beyond this investigation. The quantity of "226," namely 0.5, is equal to approximately 1/3 of that associated with an average wrist watch. However, the quantity, although pertinent, does not explain how this "smear" got on the rock at the alleged landing site. This is what is bothering the scientific people." [Canadian Department of National Defence 1967?]

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the "radium seeding" scenario was Hunt's visit to the provincial Environmental Sanitation Laboratory in Winnipeg:

"Samples from [the] UFO site and those taken from Michalak's residence were checked under a UV light... . The samples taken from the UFO site gave an indication that they were contaminated with Radium luminous paint. The samples from Michalak's house did not respond to the UV light." 

This was puzzling. If Michalak or Hart had seeded the radium, then they would surely have had some luminous paint in their own radioactive samples. Yet this was present only in the later samples.

Further confusing details were found when Hunt visited the home of Barry Thompson, the APRO investigator. Hunt checked some soil and vegetation samples Thompson had in his possession. Thompson had been given the samples by Michalak when he accompanied him during a separate visit to the site on July 17, 1967. One sample:

"... proved to be radioactive. Levels up to 1mR/hr were detected ... The sample was sealed in a plastic bag. A contamination check was made of the area where the samples were, using the UV light. The area was extremely cluttered with photographic equipment and a great deal of junk. Several areas responded to the UV light, but these did not prove to be areas of contamination, probably photographic emulsion splashes. Thompson appears to be a very sloppy worker." 

This raises the possibility that "emulsion splashes" were also the cause of the luminosity found in the RCAF samples from the landing site. Hunt learned that Thompson had given some samples to George Dyck, a technician at the Nuclear Medicine Department of the Winnipeg General Hospital. On his own time, Dyck had tested the samples using his department's standard laboratory equipment. One sample was said to have shown a "1.4 MeV peak" and two other weaker peaks.

So there's no question there had been some radioactive materials at the "UFO landing site." But there seems to be a good possibility that it was commercial radium!

But that's not the radioactive material that had everyone puzzled. It was what was found later.

On May 19, 1968, Michalak again visited the site with a friend. In his report to the Condon Committee, Roy Craig said Michalak found:

"... massive pieces of radioactive material in a fissure of the rock within the "landing circle." This ... consisted of two W-shaped bars of metal, each about 4.5 in. long, and several smaller pieces of irregular shape. These items were said to have been found about 2 in. below a layer of lichen in the rock fissure... . the two fragments each consisted of a central massive metal portion which was not radioactive. One of these was 93% and the other 96% silver. Both contained copper and cadmium, and had a composition similar to that found in commercially available sterling silver or sheet silver. The metal was coated with a tightly-adhering layer of quartz sand, similar to that used as a foundry sand. This also was not radioactive. The radioactivity was contained in a loosely-adhering layer of fine-grained minerals containing uranium. This layer could be removed readily by washing and brushing. The minerals were uranophane and thorium-free pitchblende, characteristically found in vein deposits." [Condon 1969: 323]

In his own teletype to headquarters, RCAF Sgt. Bissky said that when he examined the metal pieces at Michalak's home:

"All shown objects were subjected to civilian Geiger counter and majority of readings at same level as that of the dial face of a service wrist watch in same counter."

A number of institutions performed analyses on the metal pieces. Biospace Associates apparently had some samples tested through Colorado State University. They noted that:

"This particular alloy is made of silver, with no metallic impurities detectable by the x-ray fluorescence analysis." In a note from the UFO Research Institute, located in Pittsburgh, Dr. J. Roesner reported that:
 "The gamma spectra were complex; 15 distinct energies ranging from 0.11 MeV to 2.57 MeV could be resolved. The three major contributors to the total gamma radioactivity had energies of 0.61 MeV, 1.10 MeV and 1.53 MeV and decayed with half-lives of ~14 days, 8 days and 21 days, respectively... . A semiquantitative chemical analysis ... showed that 95 percent of the specimen is silver. The amount of copper in the specimen was determined to be 0.5 percent... . The energies and half-lives of the gamma rays emitted by the specimen do not agree with the expected decay of silver activation products formed in an (n, g) reaction on natural silver." 

In his report to the Condon Committee, Craig quoted the conclusion of R. J. Traill, head of the mineralogy branch of the National Research Council of Canada, who reviewed the WNRE findings:

 "I would interpret the specimen as pieces of thin sheet silver that have been twisted, crumpled, partly melted and dropped into or otherwise placed in contact with nearly pure quartz sand while still hot. They have subsequently been covered with loosely adhering radioactive material which consists of crushed pitchblende ore, much altered to uranophane and containing associated hematite." 

The matter becomes more curious when one considers the results of reanalyses by the Ufology Research of Manitoba (UFOROM) during 1977 to 1983. Soil samples allegedly from the Falcon Lake site were provided by a former CAPRO representative and tested for UFOROM at the University of Manitoba. The samples showed natural uranium activity but no radium signatures. This suggested that earlier indications of the presence of radium were in error.

In an internal Whiteshell Nuclear Research Establishment memorandum, lab analyst J.D. Chen reported on the analyses of "chared [sic] fabric," native silver, mineral fragments, twig fragments and jack pine needles. He wrote that:

"The gamma spectra showed an abnormally large 190 KeV photopeak which was thought to be due to enrichment of U 235. However, chemical extraction for uranium of the 100 mesh sample and subsequent mass spectrometric analysis indicated the samples containing uranium were of natural U 235 content. Experiments are being continued to identify the cause of the large 190 KeV photopeak."

A further analysis of a soil sample was done in 1994 by UFOROM associate Greg Kennedy of Montreal. Gamma-ray spectroscopy found four radionuclides: U235, Pb214, Bi214 and Cs137. The cesium was probably due to fallout from nuclear weapons tests. Again, no enriched uranium was found, and no metal particles.

The soil was simply naturally high in uranium, a typical finding in the Whiteshell region. The original soil samples retrieved from the site contained only natural radioactivity. However, radium 226 was detected by some investigators. It is not clear whether or not this was an error.

So, as I stated in my original thesis statement: 

With the exception of a small handful of disputed cases, radioactivity associated with UFOs has never been conclusively established.

The Falcon Lake UFO case, although it is a prime example of one in which radioactive materials were examined and tested, is still much in dispute. 

So, if there's some doubt as to whether there really was any abnormal levels of radiation in this case, for which radioactive materials have been easily available and tested repeatedly, including by major nuclear research establishments, what about other UFO cases that have been said to have some kind of radioactivity?


Hello Chris, 'Thou shalt not poke at the hallowed bones of ufology lest ye be kicked with resounding vigour upon thine idle rump by a soiled boot.'

I think radiation at 'landing sites' became popular due to the self-defensive nature of ufology. Under the scrutiny of detractors, we sought to present masses of anecdotes as evidence, cite radar cases and point to 'radiation' cases. Packing a Geiger counter implied that research was considerably scientific.

UFO researchers driving around with tape measures and Geiger counters lends a sheen of academic rigour. It's similar to our TV ghost hunters with their mobile labs and flashy technology. Naturally I exclude some of the serious researchers from this comparison!

There are references in Ruppelt's book recalling an incident from the 1949. During research into background radiation, there was apparently a spike that coincided with a sighting of a silver disc-shaped craft. The guys involved later set up a 3 month study that seems to have a couple of interesting results.

I only mention it to highlight how quickly radiation became attached to UFO reports.

Those results and subsequent accounts have never been conclusive, have they? Correlation and causation being the familiar issue notwithstanding the wider problems of unfounded claims.

I realise your focus is on ground-level radiation cases and tend to agree that there are not as many cases as popular belief would tell us (<0). There are still those 'sunburn' reports that suggest something like microwave radiation although I think they faded out by the late '70s.
Great article !
"...And none involved radiation.."
Your using a logical fallacy..
Since the majority of the reports you went through..involved witnesses seeing lights..and nothing more..why would they be expected to have any form of dosimeter with them ?
And in that regard...we are talking about localised ionisation of air an inverse square law would possibly rule it out if an "object" was at a great distance anyway..
So your hypothesis might be correct re nocturnal lights..but its untestable..
If you are talking ground traces of supposed "landing sites" fair enough.
The late Luciano Boccone "La realtà nascosta"-The Hidden Reality used geiger counters and when the devices picked up ionisation, he would take ired photos...and he achieved some odd results as well..
The majority of ufologists have zero interest in his work of course..they prefer to promote the folklore and fakery.. :)

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