And where does this expression come from?

I have tried looking it up and looking up nuclear separately but haven't found anything useful.

Edit: I've encountered this expression in the following sentence: "That nuclear orange jacket—believe me—fails to complement your lime green pants."

  • 4
    As far as I know, it's simply a name for a particular shade of the color orange. Could you please give some context?
    – Catija
    Aug 5, 2015 at 17:12
  • A drink? : rocketfizz.com/products/more-soda/…
    – user66974
    Aug 5, 2015 at 17:16
  • 1
    Keep in mind that paint manufacturers ran out of good names for paint colors about 60 years ago.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 5, 2015 at 17:38
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's all a matter of opinion. My opinion is the speaker isn't very attentive/articulate, and that what he means is "fluorescent" (perhaps figuratively, as in "unnaturally bright, vivid"). But he just came out with the loosely-related "technological" word nuclear. Aug 5, 2015 at 18:27

3 Answers 3


Nuclear orange (or atomic orange or radioactive orange) refers to very bright and very intense oranges favored by attention-seeking purchasers of athletic shoes, Corvettes, cosmetics, and other products.

As others have noted, there is an association of glowing with radioactivity, but as a child of the 1980s, long after advent of the Atomic Age, I would have referred to such an orange as fluorescent orange or perhaps DayGlo orange. The resurgence of radiological adjectives since then I would attribute to publicity about the dangers of Fiesta dinnerware, a highly popular line of ceramic dishware produced by the Homer Laughlin China Co. from the 1930s to 1972. Its vivid oranges (sold as "Fiesta red") were made possible by glazes containing uranium oxide or depleted uranium.

As noted in a Baltimore Sun article from April 23, 1994:

The uranium-bearing orange variety was discontinued in 1943 when the government placed wartime restrictions on uranium. Production resumed in 1959 when the restrictions were lifted and continued until 1972. In 1976, the company reintroduced the Fiesta line, but the orange color could not be duplicated with the new lead- and uranium-free glazes. …

Other brand names that used uranium-based pigments included Caliente, Early California, Poppytrail, Stangl and Vistosa, according to the federal Food and Drug Administration.

(Besides uranium, glazes may have also used radioactive thorium or potassium, and radioactive materials were also used in the manufacture of Cloisonné jewelry and canary glass).

The products containing the radioactive dyes were discontinued in 1972, due to changing tastes (according to the manufacturer), but the general public's skittishness about (and general ignorance of) nuclear radiation will help to ensure that calling a color nuclear or atomic or radioactive will add to its appeal, not to mention make ordinary plates and cups into collector's items. The most dangerous metal in the glaze, after all, is the lead.

  • Holy nuclear orange cow! What a treatise you wrote! Many thanks for such a thorough answer! Aug 6, 2015 at 15:35

The only context I'm familiar with for the phrase "nuclear orange" is that of processed cheese foods. Cheez Whiz and many pre-made nacho cheese dips are described as "nuclear orange". I think the "nuclear" here comes from the fact that processed cheese foods are often a little brighter and bolder in color than real cheeses, and people incorrectly associate "nuclear" materials with glowing. There's also the connotation that they are unnatural or dangerous.

  • Agreed, except for the incorrectness of the association of nuclear materials with glowing. See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cerenkov_radiation. Aug 5, 2015 at 17:35

I believe this is a reference to the color of warning signs for radiation.

  • My first thought was that symbol is always yellow, but I see from the results of that search that they're occasionally orange (or red, or green, or purple! :). On balance though, I'm sure most people wouldn't easily make the "orange" connection, since they surely must think of yellow first if they "picture" the standard warning sign. Aug 5, 2015 at 17:32
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers Yeah, the official sign is a magenta (in the US) or black (elsewhere) trefoil (the radiator fan thingy) on a yellow background. I don't know why orange shows up so much.
    – deadrat
    Aug 5, 2015 at 18:29

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