Posts Tagged ‘radioactive waste around abandoned mines’

Aimsley, in his own wandering way, clarified the matter.

27, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

From amid the leafy screen I wandered into a field of heaped lumber, greying with age and collapsed in piles. I looked for a head structure that might indicate the location of the old shafts I could not see one. Somewhere within the debris two shafts lie hidden. Sealed I would imagine, but beneath, they will lead down to a system of underground passages.

Numerous concrete pilings surveyed from afar suggested a Greek amphitheatre. The shattered stumps were lined up like soldiers boots. The roof and walls were gone. The floor was now open to the sky. A massive concrete platform at the far end of one room was topped by high octagonal platforms.

What I found most intriguing was a rusting metal silo. It lay on its side, a hatchway leading into blackness through its rusting skin. Rivets lined the hole. It was like a submarine or an old battleship washed up on a reef. Curiosity lured me forward to take a peek. Inside the murk hung like a polluted cloud. I could discern a shaft with some sort of propeller at its end. Henry D. later explained that the canister was probably one of the vessels in which the yellow fudge was mixed. The liquid had to be continually stirred or it would gel. I wondered what would happen if this toxic-brew solidified. Would someone have to scoop it out?

In Aimsley’s kitchen the kettle had been boiling for some time, none of us had noticed, I was absorbed in the story of his amazing life around the mine. Henry finally switched the stove off and filled the pot. With trembling hands Aimsley poured the tea. To my surprise not a drop was spilled. He had an especially wicked sense of humour and it punctuated most of what he said. Humour aside, he went on to explain the meaning of “Yellow Fudge.”

The yellow cake or fudge is the uranium concentrate typically containing 70 to 90% uranium oxide (U3 08) by weight. The cake is derived from the crushed and separated ore after it had been mixed with acid and leached. Technically speaking, the yellow cake is no longer yellow. Higher calcining temperatures in new mills produce a substance that is a drab, blackish-green colour. This is the base material from which fuel rods for reactors and nuclear weaponry is made. I asked Aimsley if he had any idea of where I could see some uranite ore. Fatefully, he jerked his head, like a hanged man back toward the front door and said in a matter of fact sort of way that if it interested me I could see some yellow fudge that was seeping from the beams in their barn! The wood had come from the mines and according to him, in one of the many spills it had been penetrated by the radioactive sludge. I wondered whether he was having me on.

With some small amount of trepidation I followed my hosts “out back.” It was exactly as they said. In the barn’s roof above there were yellowing planks where some sort of granular encrustation had collected. This I was assured was “yellow fudge.” Henry discussed the toxic horror in a matter of fact sort of way, tracing the powdery smear along the grain with his finger. I wondered if my curiosity would kill me. My mind was racing as I frantically tried to comprehend the absurdity of the situation. Was I absorbing a lifetime’s radiation in that little jaunt? Teetering at the door, Aimsley smiled serenely, oblivious to my concern. Should I even have been concerned? They weren’t. I backed out of there as fast and politely as possible.

I suppose the whole area is hot. Aimsley says that the unused uranium was poured back down the shafts when the mine closed and the whole thing was entombed beneath thousands of tons of rubble. According to him, all the acidic tailings were piped up to a nearby lake and that is where they were dumped, though, as Aimsley pointed out, it has done him no harm! He relates the story of “Bruce Evans”; who recently died in his 80’s, “and not of radiation poisoning”, he states, his index finger raised to emphasize the point. His job had been to pack the yellow fudge into barrels. “Lived a good long time that fellow did, and he had plenty of exposure to the stuff”.

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