Saturday, August 15, 2009

Uranium


I recently finished the audiobook version of "Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock That Shaped the World" by Tom Zoellner and I really liked it. It currently has 4.5 stars (of 5) from 17 Amazon reviewers. I learned a lot from this book.

I learned about the horrific conditions in the Jachymov uranium mines and penal camps. When they needed more miners, they'd arrest men for anything they could make up and send them off to the mines. This was around 1950, when the Communists ruled what was then Czechoslovakia and they were desperate to build stockpiles of uranium to counter the US nuclear threat.

I learned about the even worse conditions at the famous Shinkolobwe mine in the DRC in Africa. Apparently, that mine was the mother lode of uranium mining and supplied a lot of uranium that went into US nuclear weapons after World War II.

I learned about the government sponsored rush to find new deposits of uranium in the American west and the millionaire, Charlie Steen, that rose to fame there. Steen setup home in Moab, Utah and became a colorful celebrity there. He's since died leaving his children to fight viciously over the estate.

I also learned about the prosperous uranium mines in Australia, who exports it all and doesn't use any of it. The most famous one being the Ranger Mine, which has been embroiled in controversy thanks to its proximity to Kakadu National Park.

Another colorful figure described is Robert Friedland. Said to have attended college with Steve Jobs, Friedland went on to become a mining magnate reviled by many. He's been called the "Ugly Canadian" and a "mercenary miner". Environmentalists call him "Toxic Bob" after a big mess in Colorado had to be cleaned up by the government for around $180M.

I recommend the book to anyone interested in following the many unrelated threads of uranium's influence across the planet.

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