Archive for the ‘Enviornment’ Category

North Korea’s Nuclear Test

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Since this is a subject of interest to many blog visitors, it seems worth creating it’s own post.

As all readers probably know, North Korea conducted a nuclear test, the third one in recent history.

In 2006, a nuclear test was conducted which yielded less than one kiloton and was almost certainly a fizzle, a major failure of the design.

In 2009, a second test was conducted.  This test seems to have had a yield in the range of four to five kilotons.  Although this represents a high enough yield to be a semi-viable weapon, it may well have been a partial fizzle, in which the weapon failed to detonate properly and efficiently.   However, it is difficult to know this for sure, and it could have been a scaled down test.

The more recent test has been estimated to have had a yield of more than seven kilotons and as much as ten kilotons.   This appears to be a weapon that is functioning more properly and is thus a viable nuclear explosive.  However, by modern standards, it remains a relatively small nuclear explosive.  The US inventory includes weapons of more than a megaton and only the smallest tactical nuclear weapons would be of a yield of ten kilotons or less.

North Korea has stated that the device was designed to be miniaturized in order to make it a more viable weapon for delivery by missile.  This cannot be verified.
Up until now, it has been presumed that the sophistication of North Korean nuclear weapons was probably comparable to the earliest US and Soviet Nuclear weapons, such as the Mark-3 Fat Man and the Soviet RDS-1 device.

The actual design and construction of the device is unknown.  Previous tests almost certainly used only plutonium, but North Korea has recently been developing the capability to enrich uranium.  It is not known if this was a uranium or plutonium bomb.  A uranium bomb can be constructed with much lower tolerances and will still function reliably.

All verifiable information comes from seismic data.  The tests were conducted underground and at a depth sufficient to prevent any discharge of fallout that could be subject to radiochemical analysis.

Currently it is unknown whether North Korea has any standing arsenal of nuclear devices or to what extent those devices may be suitable for use as a weapon.  However, if they do have any, it is certain that their inventory is quite small.

Releasing a First Draft Outline of Climate Change Policy

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

For those who do not know, I had previously run for the United States Congress and I fully intend to do so again in the year 2014.   As a proponent of science and energy policy reform, the issue of global warming/climate change and how the US should respond to mitigate it is of special importance.

I have begun work on a detailed policy outline on the topic of greenhouse gas emissions and how to reduce them while maintaining a policy that does not result in draconian cuts on energy usage or resort to the use of carbon taxation.   This is accomplished by targeting sectors that produce the most greenhouse gasses and attempting to facilitate change through the creation of economically-beneficial alternatives.

The current draft is in outline form.  It is not a full report but only a skeleton version of the areas that will need to be addressed.   Still, it is sixteen pages long even as is.

It is very important to remember that this is only a draft.  This does not represent the final policy statement and is subject to change.   It is a first draft of what is expected to be several revisions before a final, detailed report is put together. Some of the items may end up being dropped if they turn out to be too expensive or have too little benefit.  In the first draft, all potential areas are included.  It thus may be viewed, at least in some ways, as a “wish list” of policies that should be considered.

The reason I am publishing this is I am hoping to get some constructive criticism and suggestions from readers.   I recognize that readers of this blog are often very insightful.  Also, I pride my campaign on being as open as possible and listening to others for input.

Full Outline in PDF Form

Again, remember it is not the final revision and is not what I have officially stated as my fixed policy.  It is only a draft under revision.

“Smart Meters” – No, they do not make people sick

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Much to do has been made of the s0-called “smart meters” – electric meters that monitor the times electricity is used and transmit the data back to the utility company in order to bill customers based on the time they use electricity – charging higher rates for peak demand time and lower rates for electricity used during times of low demand.  The idea is that by doing so, they could encourage customers to better manage their electricity use and schedule energy intensive tasks for times of low demand – for example, washing and drying clothes.  This could help balance demand and lead to less need for more expensive peaking and load-following generation.   It also can supposedly save the customer money, but it often does not.

There are some valid reasons to oppose having a smart meter:

  • They could be considered part of an effort to shift the burden for reliable power and grid stability to the end customer.
  • Depending on your usage, they may not save you money and could result in your costs going up.
  • Life is complicated enough without having to worry about scheduling your tasks around the electric price schedule.
  • Once you get one installed, it’s likely to be impossible to get it removed, so if your electric company is asking for customers to volunteer for the new meters, it might be worth waiting to see if they really do end up saving money before taking the plunge.
  • You can tell a lot about someone from the times they use electricity (what days of the week they work, when they get up, when they leave for work, when they get home, when they go to sleep, when they are away from home etc)  Not all utilities have been very forthcoming about how they treat the information and whether they consider it private.  A telemarketer would definitely like to know what time would be good to call and bother you.   Even if the utility company does not sell the information, the government could certainly get it, and these days, at least in the US, the authorities have been acting like search warrants are obsolete.
  • The utility company may charge you a fee to install or for rental of the unit.  Not all utilities have been forthcoming about this, and it would be especially irritating if it turns out that the meter does not save you any money, AND you had to pay for it.

For all of these reasons, if my utility company were to offer the option of having a smart meter or opting out, I would opt out, at least until the meters had been installed for a few months and it was possible to find out whether other customers really did experience savings and did not end up getting targeted advertisements for insomnia medication or to have pizza delivered right at the time they have dinner.

But there is also a completely bogus reason to oppose smart meters: fears of radiation.   It’s ridiculous, not only unproven but completely out of line with decades of understanding of non-ionizing radiation.   Despite this, claims that smart meters are causing everything from cancer to headaches have become rampant.

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Liquid Air for Energy Storage? No, it’s not a joke

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Thought that compressed air energy storage was ridiculously inefficient?   Well, it looks like they’ve managed to best it with a new concept in energy storage:  liquid air.

Yes, liquid air, as in cryonic liquid air.  In other words, this is a combination of liquid nitrogen, liquid oxygen and little bit of liquid argon.

Via Discovery News:

Frozen Air ‘Battery’ Stores Wind Turbine Energy

Liquid air, which can be frozen, stored and warmed later, could work better than batteries or fuel cells to store energy from wind turbines or other renewables.

The technology was originally developed by Peter Dearman, a garage inventor in Hertfordshire, U.K., to power vehicles. For the past several years, U.K. tech firm Highview Power Storage has been working to transfer Dearman’s innovation to a system that can store energy for power grids.

Dearman’s idea works like this: electricity generated by wind farms at night is used to chill air to -310 Farenheit — its cryogenic state — turning it into a liquid. The liquid air is then stored in a giant vacuum flask until it time to be used again. This is done at night when demand for electricity is low and the energy from wind would otherwise go wasted

When demand increases during the day, the air can be warmed to ambient temperature. As it vaporizes, it drives a turbine to produce electricity, according to the BBC’s Roger Harrabin.

In July, Highview Power Storage signed a commercial agreement with a German firm to develop “frozen air” plants in Sub-Saharan and South Africa. And it now has a pilot facility near a traditional gas-powered plant outside London. That way it takes advantage of the plant’s waste heat to warm the liquid air, making the entire process more efficient and less costly. Company officials say their energy-storage system is best designed to help smooth out the peaks and valleys of energy production that often occur with wind, solar and other renewable energy project.

And the video…



Liquifying air is a common industrial process.  It is most often used as the first step in certain types of air separation techniques.   Partial liquification of air can be used as the first step for the separation of nitrogen and oxygen, followed by additional liquification to separate out argon, or it can be used to produce liquid air which is then boiled in a series of distillation columns.    Occasionally, air is liquified and used in its mixed state as an ultra-low temperature refrigerant.

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Residents Shocked About Uranium Facility – Demand Closure

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

For decades, a nuclear fuel fabrication facility has operated on the outskirts of Toronto, Ontario.  Here, in a small industrial area, natural uranium oxide is brought to be compressed into small pellets, which are used for fuel in Canadian nuclear reactors.  The uranium is not enriched, as Canadian nuclear reactors use natural uranium with .7% uranium-235.   The material is identical to what is found in rocks and soil around the world, although it is purified and concentrated.  It’s about as common in the crust of the earth as tin, and, on rare occasions, may be found in a nearly pure oxide form in nature, as the result of geological forces.

No nuclear activities actually go on at the facility and the material does not result in any more radiation than would be found in many rock quarries.  The material is not a radiation hazard and only slightly toxic, considerably less toxic than substances like cadmium or mercury.

The plant also has never been a secret.  Granted, there are no big signs displaying the fact that the product produced on site happens to be uranium, but its operated completely in the open.  Copies of relevant licenses and permits can be obtained from the Canadian government.  Workers at the plant are free to discuss the nature of their employment openly.  If you knocked on the door of the plant and asked whoever came to open it what happens there, they would surely tell you that they make uranium fuel pellets.   There’s absolutely nothing hidden about it.

However, it seems that most in the community were simply unaware that the plant existed or that in this normal looking building uranium was being made into pellets.  They just went about their every day lives presuming that thenondescript building must be doing some non-scary industrial process, like storing large amounts of chlorine gas or hydrofluoric acid.

Until one day someone found out the horrible truth, that had never even been hidden to begin with…
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It had to Happen: Proposals to Ration Air Conditioning Coming Out

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

**Sigh**

I suppose I’m not surprised. First, it was the green groups telling people to use less air conditioning on their own, but since that is unlikely to make a big difference, the next suggestion: resort to draconian measures like “rationing” of air conditioning.

Via the New York Times:

An online “Room for Debate” segment posted on the New York Times website June 21 posed a left-leaning question to a symposium of six left-leaning outside experts: “Should Air-Conditioning Go Global, or Be Rationed Away?” While it may have been acceptable for New Yorkers to beat the heat with air conditioning, when developing countries like India strives for the same comfort, it becomes an environmental concern to privileged liberals. The Times asked from its air-conditioned headquarters in Midtown Manhattan:

Temperatures in New York City have pushed toward 100 degrees this week, and air-conditioners strained the power grid (thanks in part to stores with their doors open). Meanwhile the demand for coolant gases, especially in rapidly developing countries like India, threatens to accelerate global warming.

Is it a good goal for everyone in the world to have access to air-conditioning — like clean water or the Internet? Or is it an unsustainable luxury, which air-conditioned societies should be giving up or rationing?

The debate was keyed to a 2,000-word piece that same day by environmental reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal, “Relief in Every Window, but Global Worry Too.”

In the ramshackle apartment blocks and sooty concrete homes that line the dusty roads of urban India, there is a new status symbol on proud display. An air-conditioner has become a sign of middle-class status in developing nations, a must-have dowry item.

It is cheaper than a car, and arguably more life-changing in steamy regions, where cooling can make it easier for a child to study or a worker to sleep.

But as air-conditioners sprout from windows and storefronts across the world, scientists are becoming increasingly alarmed about the impact of the gases on which they run. All are potent agents of global warming.

….

So the therapy to cure one global environmental disaster is now seeding another. “There is precious little time to do something, to act,” said Stephen O. Andersen, the co-chairman of the treaty’s technical and economic advisory panel.

Rosenthal also contributed a personal dose of liberal guilt to the paper’s Green blog, “My Air-Conditioner Envy,” complaining that she can’t buy a more environmentally correct model and so chooses to forgo repairing her old evil one. (A confession that calls Rosenthal’s journalistic objectivity on the matter into question.)

With scorching heat enveloping New York City this week, I’m suffering from air-conditioner envy. I want a model like the one I saw in April at the Terre Policy Center in Pune, India. But I can’t buy it.

As Andrew W. Lehren and I report in The Times, the warming effects of air-conditioning gases are reaching crisis proportions as more and more people in countries like India and China buy the appliances. (Some readers have rightly pointed out that people in industrialized countries depend far more heavily on air-conditioning.)

At least she’s not a hypocrite; Rosenthal is willing to (metaphorically) don Jimmy Carter’s cardigan sweater, and personally suffer in the heat to save the planet.

Which is why I can’t bear to replace the old air-conditioner in my living room, even though it is on the fritz and not cooling much these days. Having reported on the coolant issue, I am reluctant to invest in a model containing any of the coolant gases commercially available in the United States. I’d prefer to wait until a machine with a climate-friendly coolant is available. And I know there are many options in development.

In August 2011, Rosenthal called on China and India to turn off their air conditioners to save the planet, writing “As more people in more countries come to rely on air-conditioning, the idea of thermal comfort may need to be rethought to curb the growth in greenhouse gas emissions.”

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Evacuation Policy Versus Radiation Level Measurements In Japan

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

Here are some of the latest measurements of radiation levels in the Fukushima region of Japan, these were made just last month.

There is something very striking about this image even at first glance. Notice that the no-entry zone has absolutely no correspondence whatsoever to radiation levels. It’s simply a circle drawn around the nuclear plant. Much of the area has quite low radiation levels and some of the area outside the exclusion zone has higher radiation levels than the area within it. Since there’s now no real danger of the reactors being further damaged or experiencing uncontrolled discharges, there’s absolutely no reason to enforce a no-entry zone based on such a blind method of drawing the map. If a no-entry zone is to exist at all (which it really, at this point, does not need to)

Actual Doses experienced:

Few areas exceed 20 uSv per hour by very much. The red area signifies areas with higher than this level, but most of this area is only slightly above 20 uSv/hr. Areas with 20 uSv/hr or more exist in a relatively narrow strip running northwest from the area of the nuclear plant.

A person lives in an area where the external radiation dose rate is 20 uSv/hr. Of course, this is really only outdoors and inside there will be less contamination, but for the sake of argument, lets assume the worst: They get 20 uSv/hr and they stay in that are all the time. There are 8760 hours in a year, so if they spend all their time outdoors in the 20 uSv/hr area, they receive 175,200 uSv per year or about 175 mSv per year.

This is still a bit unreasonable for what a person would actually be exposed to because it assumes they are always outdoors and standing over ground that has not been in any way cleaned of contamination. Indoors, the level will be a lot lower. If they travel outside the area of highest radiation, their dose is also reduced. As time goes on, both radioactive decay and natural weathering and erosion will reduce levels further. Therefore, after a year in such an area, it’s more reasonable to expect a total exposure of something like 100-150 mSv and maybe quite a bit less.

Most of the no-entry zone is far bellow this. The yellow areas would produce only about half the dose of the highest regions and the areas shaded green would result in an annual dose of only about 10-30 mSv her year. That’s hardly a lot of radiation.

How much radiation a person is exposed to in a year from background sources varies greatly depending on things like location, diet, travel and things like whether they happen to cook with natural gas, live in a granite structure or have radon seeping into their home’s foundation. About 3 mSv is a normal average for those living at sea level in much of the world. Of course, it’s quite common for it to be much higher than this. Areas with background radiation in excess of 10 mSv per year are quite common. A few areas have much higher. In the Guarpari region of Brazil, background levels can exceed 175 mSv per year due to local deposits of uranium and thorium. Residents of Kerala India experience doses of over 70 mSv per year. Ramsir Iran is famous for having some of the highest levels in the world at over 260 mSv per year. Locations across Africa and Australia may produce levels above 40 mSv per year.

Studies have been done of the populations of these areas and no ill effects have been documented as a result of the high radiation exposure. Of course, the expected radiation exposure from living in such an area for an extended period of time would be much higher than for those in the Fukushima area. Since the radioactivity in the Fukushima region is mostly limited to the surface and includes many relatively short-lived radioisotopes, it will diminish significantly in the years to come. Natural sources, on the other hand, are constantly replenished. So a person who lives in an area with increased radiation levels as a result of the Fukushima incident will not experience the same dose next year as they will this year. It will be less.

And no, there have been no calls that high background areas of the world be evacuated and declared off limits.

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An Open Letter to The Radiation Safety Professionals of the World

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

My appeal to those who have the authority and credentials to refute some of the idiocy and harmful policies that have followed the incident at the Fukushima Dachi nuclear power plant nearly a year ago.

To the health physicists, radiation safety officers, radiologists, reactor operators and other radiation safety professionals of the world:

In most circumstances professionalism and a desire to remain impartial to political matters dictates that those who art part of highly scientific professions exercise a great deal of restraint while addressing pressing policy concerns. Research scientists especially tend to be very tight lipped about policy matters and are not prone to engaging the media directly. In many circumstances, there is no direct response from professionals, or if there is, it comes in the form of highly moderated and subdued official statements from organizations.

There is certainly good reason for this. Science professionals must remain impartial and not risk having their loyalties called into question. Strong statements about pressing issues of policy can result in criticism which degenerates to mudslinging. Some experts would simply rather not have to engage non-professionals who are likely to respond with a frustrating lack of understanding of their fields and believe their talents are better utilized in the world of scholarly journals and professional research. There is, of course, some risk to ones reputation and to the integrity of ones work that can come from becoming heavily involved in issues of advocacy and direct engagement of the government, media and public.

That said, there exists a humanitarian crisis that is only getting worse due to a combination of unjustified fear of ionizing radiation and pressure to exploit this fear to advance a political or social agenda. The result has been a enormous unnecessary human suffering. Those with professional credentials and credibility in the field of radiation safety are in a unique position to help bring this crisis to an end, and, as such, have an ethical duty to do so.

Since the tragic earthquake and tsunami struck Japan almost a year ago, hundreds of thousands of Japanese remain in limbo due to unnecessary evacuations and continued restrictions on habitation or even visitation to the area around the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. The earthquake and tsunami killed tens of thousands and left whole communities devastated. In such circumstances, the survivors want nothing more than to recover what property they can and begin to rebuild their lives. Yet this has not been allowed to happen. Despite the fact that the radiation exposure in the exclusion zone is well within any reasonable safety limits, many have been bared from even visiting their homes. In the time after the disaster, domestic animals needlessly starved, property that could have been recovered was lost and serious chemical and biological hazards were allowed to fester. This continues to happen even as the reactors have been stabilized and the most worrisome isotopes have long decayed away.

In addition to this tragedy, the Japanese government continues to spend enormous amounts of money in the cleanup of areas where radiation “hot spots” would result in only the most minimal of exposure and in a policy of idling most of the country’s nuclear power plants, resulting in huge economic losses. What the people of Japan sorely need is to have the damaged regions of their nation rebuilt. Every Yen spent on the unnecessary removal of soil is one more Yen that cannot be spent on the necessary rehabilitation of the areas effected by the quake and tsunami. The message being given to citizens is that they are in grave danger, especially their children. Inconsistent information, panic and confusion have resulted in enormous psychological stresses to those who have already suffered from the terrible natural disaster.

I therefore ask all radiation safety professionals of the world to stop biting your tongues and speak out loudly and in no uncertain terms, engaging the public, the media and the Japanese government as directly and candidly as possible. The Japanese people need to be told the truth, without the fear-based spin that politicians often use to try to scare their way into office or special interest groups try to exploit. The Japanese government must be urged to begin a far more measured and scientifically consistent approach to resettlement and repair that is based on the anual exposure from living in a region as compared with normal background in locations around the world. Resources should not be wasted in the removal of small “hot spots” which are no more radioactive than clusters of uranium-bearing rock. All areas should be made accessible to visitation and most to resettlement. Repairs to local infrastructure and economic assets must take precedent over concerns of radioactivity that have little or no basis in science.

As experts in this field, you are the only ones who can challenge these policies and overrule them by virtue of the authority you have gained through education and experience. Doing so may well open you to the mud-slinging of certain groups, who would rather not face the truth. Yet in the face of such suffering, caving to the fear of being attacked by dishonorable interests is the height of cowardice.

In conclusion, I once again ask that all professionals in this field take individual initiative to take a stand against these harmful policies and messages and that groups like the Health Physics Society and others step up to the plate and pull no punches in defense of the well being of the people of Japan. Your field stands for the furtherance of human understanding and for improved human safety and health. These ideals demand that you step up to the plate and fight for the refugees of fear who continue to suffer in Japan.

Respectfully,

Stephen M. Packard
depletedcranium.com

Why NOT to Look To Aviation For Greenhouse Gas Reduction

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

A lot has been made recently of a plan by the European Union to assess fees on airlines landing in EU airports for the carbon dioxide emitted by those aircraft.  Many countries outside the EU are not taking kindly to the proposal.  The US is one of them, but Russia, China and a few other Asian countries have gone even further in calling for an end to proposals of carbon fees on airlines. Officially the fees took effect on January first, though not all EU countries are expected to begin enforcing them right away.

Via the BBC:

Countries rally against EU carbon tax on airlines
Delegates from 26 countries opposed to a new EU carbon tax on airlines are meeting in Moscow to consider possible retaliation, amid fears of a trade war.

China, India, Russia and the US are among the countries opposed to the EU fee, which took effect on 1 January.

Critics say the EU has no right to impose taxes on flights to or from destinations outside Europe.

But in December the European Court of Justice ruled that the EU tax on CO2 pollution from aircraft was legal.

The Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) creates permits for carbon emissions. Airlines that exceed their allowances will have to buy extra permits, as an incentive to airlines to pollute less.

“Nobody has fought harder than the European Union over the years to get a global deal.

The number of permits is reduced over time, so that the total CO2 output from airlines in European airspace falls.

The EU’s Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard, said the opponents should work with the EU to create a global scheme to cut aviation pollution.

“Nobody would be happier than the EU if we could get such a global deal,” she told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This is just a bad idea. If you’ve concerned about pollution and especially greenhouse gasses, don’t go after aviation. It’s the smallest, highest hanging of the fruit you can pick from. Well under 1% of human generated greenhouse gases come from aviation and yet that relatively small percentage comes with enormous benefits to mankind.

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Nuclear Waste In Context

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

What if I told you that a material existed with the following properties?

  • It is highly radioactive. Because it is a very high energy alpha emitter, it is very radiotoxic. It also produces a long decay chain of daughters that emit high energy gamma and beta particles.
  • It has a half-life of over one thousand years, making it difficult to dispose of and requiring long term storage considerations. Despite the relatively long half-life, it is still short enough to make it highly radiotoxic, especially because of the nature of the radiation it emits directly and through its daughters.
  • It emits enough gamma radiation that a pure sample of the material can kill tissue on contact, after only exposure of a few minutes.
  • The gamma radiation emitted by the material and its daughters is sufficient that if you sat next to a few dozen grams of the material, you could easily end up with acute radiation sickness in a matter of hours. In less than a day it could kill you.
  • A pure sample emits enough radiation to create significant amounts of heat. The total decay heat is more than 100 watts per gram.
  • It is chemically reactive, it forms compounds which readily dissolve in fresh and salt water. It may be mobile in the environment, but it also may cling to materials, making decontamination of areas difficult.
  • It has a high biological uptake in most of its chemical forms.
  • It may be persistent in the body and has a tendency to be incorporated into bones, replacing calcium. In such cases, it will not clear the body and has been associated with leukemia and bone cancer.

Such a substance does, in fact, exist: radium-226. Gram per gram it’s more toxic than plutonium-239, the isotope most common in spent fuel. It’s a highly energetic particle emitter that does not decay to a stable isotope but rather to a long chain of other radioactive substances. First it decays to radon-222, then to polonium-218, astatine-218, radon-218, lead-214, bismuth-214, polonium-214, thallium-210, lead-210, polonium-210 and finally lead-206, which is stable. For this reason, a chemically pure sample will actually increase in radioactivity until it reached equilibrium with its daughter products. Despite the relatively long half-life, it produces a great deal of radiation because for every decay of radium-226, there are decays of all the other daughters all the way down the line. Some of these emit high energy gamma rays. Radon poses some additional challenges. Because it is a gas, it may not remain in place and can result in the area around a radium-226 sample accumulating potentially dangerous concentrations of radon. The radon gas can also disperse, contaminating the area with further decay products.

Despite these dangers, radium-226 was once far more valuable than gold. For the first half of the 20th century, radium and its decay products were the most widely used radioisotope source for any purpose that required radioactive materials. It was used for cancer treatment, in the form of radium needles, external sources and devices that collected radon for use in irradiating tissue. Radium was commonly used in any circumstance where calibration sources were required, with many earth geiger counters coming with a radium-based test source. It was used in ion and moisture gauges, cold cathode vacuum tubes and combined with beryllium to produce small neutron sources. Radium was well known for its use in radiolumonescent paints. The paint was commonly used for clock and watch faces, allowing them to glow brightly without first having to be exposed to light. Larger concentrations were used for aircraft instrument dials, illuminated markers and cords. It was realized that the heat from radium could be used as a means of powering boilers or other thermal engines, but was far too expensive to ever be used in this capacity. It also was experimented with in early “nuclear battery” designs.

Radium-226 exists in small concentrations in uranium ore. To recover a single gram of the material, several tons of uranium ore must be processed. Still, because the material had so many uses and was so valuable, large operations existed all over the world to produce it. In the 1920′s, a gram of radium could cost as much as $120,000, (about 1.3 million USD in modern terms) though the price later fell to $75,000 due to more efficient production techniques. Radium needles could contain up to .1 grams of radium, making them worth more than ten thousand dollars. Because of this, radium was also used as an investment commodity. Radium needles and other radium sources were kept in bank vaults in the same way gold, silver and platinum might be kept.

Of course, radium is also pretty dangerous for the reasons mentioned above. Its chemical properties make it prone to contaminating areas and easily absorbed into the body, where it is distributed into bones and teeth, making it an especially persistent and damaging substance. It produces a great deal of alpha, beta and gamma radiation, which is not desirable for most situations. Its half life is inconveniently long for applications where disposal after a period of time is expected and the production of radon can be a danger and complicate its use. For radiolumonescent items, gamma radiation is not desirable and the energy of the alpha particles emitted by radium has a tendency to degrade the phosphorescent compounds in the paint over time. Radium was blamed for a number of deaths and illnesses, most notably in the “radium girls,” who worked in clock factories, painting the hands and numbers of clocks with radium paint. Some were encouraged to lick their brushes to sharpen them, resulting in ingestion of large quantities of radium.

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