Monday, July 30, 2012

Uranium: It's Frantic History

     I'm reading a very interesting book right now that  a geologist friend gave to me.  It's called  Uranium  : War energy, and the rock that shaped the world and it's by Tom Zoellner.

    I admit that my knowledge of uranium is somewhat limited. I've never read anything that's in any depth. My knowledge comes from news and that can be sketchy.

   When we were kids in school in the 40's and 50's we were told that if there was an atomic attack we were to go under our desks. I was not old enough to remember the Hiroshima attack. To put it bluntly as little kids during the cold war we were frightened as we didn't understand the situation and our governments were only too willing to feed the public fear of an atomic attack.

    So now to the book. This book tells the story of uranium from the time it was discovered to the present day. The first large uranium mines were in Africa. People did not know what this mysterious mineral was like. The Dutch mining company employed slave labor to get the uranium out of the ground. Another location was in eastern Europe were German prisoners were forced to mine the stuff. There was no concept of what danger there was in uranium. The ore was reduced to a more pure form and became more hazardous. The stuff was shipped around the world in barrels.

    Physicists discovered that the substance could be used to make a very powerful bomb. The United States wanted to use the bomb to end the Second World War but they did not have enough uranium to get the substance needed to produce a bomb. They were worried that the Germans would produce a bomb. What surprised me is that much uranium was found in New Mexico. The mining was primitive operation. There were small deposits and some was dug out by hand and trucked to a large processing plant. All of this was done without any idea that the product was hazardous.

    The first bombs made were tested and the developers were very impressed with the big bang. There was no idea of the dangers of radiation. People were very close to the detonation site. They were only concentrating on the power.

   Since the cold war there has been more emphasis on producing electrical power and trying to back away from the abbyss of total destruction.

  I think we are still at the beginning working with and controlling uranium. We have not discovered any way of safely disposing of the substance once it's been used.

   So for an interesting and understandable account I recommend that you take a look at  this book.