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Widget Of The Week

DP-66M Cold War Geiger Counter, 1970

Even those who weren’t around during the Cold War will know that the US and much of Western Europe spent the best part of three decades living in dread of being blown to smithereens. What’s rarely mentioned is the fact that populations in the former USSR and Eastern Block countries had similar fears, possibly more so, thanks to tightly controlled media and even more pervasive propaganda. Precautions were taken on both sides to prepare for the aftermath of a nuclear exchange and this included manufacturing large quantities of Geiger Counters and radiation monitoring equipment for use by the military and Civil Defence services.


We’ve already covered several Western instruments, like the iconic American CDV-700 and the British PDRM-82, so it’s about time we had a look at what they were using (or rather, hoping never to use...) on the other side of the Iron Curtain. This is a DP-66, a Polish made derivative of the Russian DP-5V, and widely used in Warsaw Pact countries.  In many ways the DP-5V was the Soviet equivalent of the CDV-700, however, it was nowhere near as good and nowadays is only of interest to collectors of Cold War memorabilia but the DP-66 is another kettle of fish and a vast improvement on the DP-5V. It was very well made with modern – for the time -- electronic components and unlike its predecessor, used readily obtainable batteries. Even though it dates from the late sixties they are still very useable and sensitive enough to detect low levels of natural and man-made radioactivity. Many were made and stockpiled and a lot of them have survived. What’s more, compared with Western instruments of the same period, they’re relatively inexpensive.       


Although it’s similar in size to the CDV-700 there are a couple of very obvious differences. The first one is the brown Bakelite-type thermoplastic case; the other is the probe, which is a good deal larger than the one on its US contemporary. It is clear that the designers were keen for users to keep potentially dangerous sources of radiation at arm’s length, and preferably even further away, using the supplied half-metre long telescopic extension pole.


The other reason for the size of the probe that it contains not one, but three Geiger Müller detector tubes. These vary in sensitivity and the types of radiation they can detect, from low level Beta up to lethal, kill you dead Gamma. As an added bonus the DP-66 outfit comes with a DKP-50 quartz fibre pen dosimeter and there’s a charger built into the case. This is worn on the user’s clothing, to monitor long-term exposure to high levels of Gamma radioactivity. All of this means that the DP-66 outfit can function in a very wide range of post-apocalypse situations; the US approach was to use at least three separate instruments (CDV-700, CDV-715/7 & CDV-742), which was clearly less convenient than this one box solution.


The unit is powered by two standard 1.5-volt D cell torch batteries that can keep it running for 60 hours or more (most CDV-700’s used four D cells) and these fit into a cylindrical holder with a screw cover in the end of the case. The large moving coil meter in the middle of the top panel has several very useful features and as well as scales showing counts per minute and milli-Roentgen/Roentgen per hour (when measuring Gamma radiation), there’s battery test indication. It’s also backlit, by pressing the button marked ‘OSW’ to the right of the meter and it’s also luminous, so it’s easy to use at night or in darkened conditions. In addition to the backlight button there are three other controls. A second button, marked ‘KAS’ zeros the meter (enabling a new reading to be taken quickly as the needle moves quite slowly when taking continuous readings).  A rotary control to the left of the meter (marked DKP-50) is used to zero the needle (quartz filament) inside the pen dosimeter during charging, which takes place when it is inserted into the capped tube in the bottom left hand corner of the top panel. Finally there’s the 8-position rotary switch on the right hand side. The Off position is marked ‘W’. The next position ‘K’ is for battery test and the remaining six positions set range and sensitivity. Positions 3, 4 and 5 are for detecting high to medium levels of Gamma radiation and relate to the Roentgens per hour part of the meter scale (0 – 200, 0 – 5 & 0 – 0.5); positions 6, 7 & 8 are for low-level Gamma and Beta radiation, as milli Roentgens/hr (0 – 50, 0-5 and 0 - 0.5) and counts per minute or cpm (0 – 1M, 0 – 100k & 0 – 10k cpm). In the middle of the top panel there’s a capped cover protecting the meter pointer’s zero adjustment. The thick cable for the external probe emerges from the right end of the case and on the other end of the case there are two small sockets for the proprietary two-pin connector used by the magnetic earpiece, which is also included with the outfit.


Before we move on a quick mention for the probe’s rotating metal shield, for discriminating between Beta and Gamma radiation. It has three positions: Bx1 has series of horizontal slots that exposes a thin internal aluminium foil window, allowing the weakest Beta particles to pass through to the detection tubes. The second Bx10 position has a single small hole, which decreases Beta sensitivity by a factor of 10, and the third position, marked ‘G’ shields the aluminium window so only gamma radiation can enter the probe.


Inside the case the electronic components are mounted on two superbly well-made printed circuit boards. It’s proper old-school construction with a neat, laced loom connecting the circuits boards and internal components. Both boards are protected from damp by effective case seals and a thick coating of waterproof or conformal paint. 


A complete DP-66 outfit includes a heavy-duty leather carry case with shoulder and waist straps, a rather dodgy looking mains adaptor that fits into the battery compartment, the previously mentioned probe extension pole, a DKP-50 pen dosimeter, a small screwdriver, a pack of protective covers for the probe and the instruction book and equipment log book (both in Polish – fortunately there are good English translations on the web). Everything is securely contained in a tough wooden case. It’s a bit rough and ready and typical of boxes used to transport military hardware, but stripped, sanded and varnished, it can look quite presentable. Normally the DP-66 comes with a radioactive check source, to verify that it is working and check calibration however, these were all stripped out following removal from storage.


This DP-66 is date-stamped 1970 and I acquired it some time ago, shortly after they were released from storage and found their way into the civilian market. It had been little used and was very well preserved. There was dirt and tarnish on exposed metal surfaces but it scrubbed up really well with liberal applications of household cleaner and Brasso. I suspect that the case had never been opened – the seals on the bolts holding it together hadn’t been touched – and inside it was as clean and dry as the day it was made. Since then it has only been opened a couple of times, but only to take photographs as it was working faultlessly when I got it, and has continued to do so ever since.  


With a set of fresh batteries installed it gives good readings on the low ranges (with shield in Bx1 position) from watches and clocks with luminous radium painted dial and hands. There also healthy clicks from the earpiece. It sounds like an attractive alternative to the increasingly expensive American CDV instruments, and in many ways it is but there are a few minor drawbacks. To begin with it is around 20 percent less sensitive to Beta radiation than a CDV-700 so it takes a slightly more ‘lively’ source to really get the meter moving. The probe is a bit of a handful and not well suited to a spot of undercover detection – it’s pretty clear what you are up to if you’re out hunting for radioactive antiques, glass or ceramics, waving that big black and shiny probe around. Lastly, the electronics are more complicated than its US rival. There are 8 transistors, three Geiger tubes and a few components that could prove tricky to find should it go wrong. On the plus side they have proved to be more rugged and reliable than their American counterparts, and the manual includes a good circuit diagram, but if a fault does develop it could prove challenging to fix.


What Happened To It?

Production of the DP-66M continued until the early eighties and it remained in service until the late 1990s when it was presumably replaced by smaller, lighter and doubtless cheaper and more sophisticated instruments that would be easier to maintain and store. Even though most DP-66’s are now over 40 years old, in good working order they’re still practical instruments for detecting and measuring radioactivity. Clearly they’re a bit too bulky for discreet urban prospecting -- there are plenty of pocket-sized instruments better suited to that sort of application -- but they still have a lot to offer to experimenters, hobbyists, amateur scientists, environmentalists, rock hounds and not forgetting Doomsday Preppers. They’re affordable too, with prices for complete boxed outfits starting at around £60; these probably work but may need a good clean and some TLC. £100 or so should buy a more presentable example, but if that’s above your pay grade there’s always the bargain basement option. If you know your way around simple electronic circuits, dead ones can sometimes turn up on ebay selling for £30 or less, but be warned, you could be lumbered with a doorstep if the fault is due to a hard or impossible to obtain part.


First seen:          1969

Original Price:   N/A

Value Today:     £60 (0117)

Features:           3-tube Geiger counter (STS-5, DOB-50 & DOB-80), Beta & Gamma sensitivity 0.5 mR/h – 200R/hr (6 ranges) rotating Beta shield, built in charger for DKP-50 type pen dosimeter, luminous & backlit meter scale, meter/reading zero, magnetic earphone output. Accessories: earphone, mains adaptor, leather case with neck & waist straps, probe extension handle, manual & calibration logbook, wooden storage/carry case

Power req.                           2 x 1.5v D cells

Dimensions:                         Main Unit: 173 x 115 x 100mmm, Probe: 290 x 49 (max)

Weight:                                2.1kg (main unit & probe)

Made (assembled) in:           Poland

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest)         4