links for 2010-12-30

  • Folks in Chatham should read this Scientific American article about the problem of abandoned uranium mines. When some of their mines ceased to be profitable 20 years ago, Tronox (née Kerr-McGee) just up and left, abandoning their mines. Folks living in the area are terribly sick, their very homes are radioactive, and radioactivity levels at the site are so high that their off the scale of the EPA's geiger counters. It'll cost hundreds of millions to clean up. It's great to ask what Virginia Uranium is going to do to make the Coles Hill mine safe while they're there, but what are they going to do to make it safe once they're done? Is it possible to make them post a bond for the life of the mine that will cover the cost of closing down the mine safely?
  • A mother tracked every time that her newborn son woke and slept for the first year of his life. The resulting chart is really interesting. It takes about eight months for a baby's sleep patterns to become (relatively) consistent and well-defined. The first couple of months is just a mess—there's just no forecasting when it'll be awake and when it'll be asleep.
  • Usually, art created by prehistoric cultures has faded with time. Lascaux's vivid colors were lost due to exhaled CO2. Ancient Greek and Roman sculptures have lost their paint—we admire white, smooth marble, not the brightly painted works that they were created as. But aboriginal rock art in Western Australia looks as good as it ever did, some 40,000 years after it was created. That's because it was made with paint impregnated with fungi that constantly renews itself. Bajillions of bacterial generations later, it's as fresh as it was when it painted.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

11 replies on “links for 2010-12-30”

  1. There is no recovery from a uranium mine, because uranium itself is so radioactive. One of the items from the elections that sucks is that Robert Hurt and his family stands to make hundreds of millions of dollars from this mine.

    I need to remind everybody that when the last uranium commission met,any danger was downplayed by the members who are supposed to be impartial and fact-finding.

    Nothing says stupid better than a mine that will be dangerous for 10’s of decades, maybe 100’s. We don’t need uranium and the danger it represents, the cost to citizens and taxpayers will be too high.

  2. For more information on what happens to a ruined piece of land, look up Rocky Flats or Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Colorado.

    In the case of the arsenal, it is a wildlife preserve, because humans are not allowed to go into such a polluted area.

  3. It is prudent to examine all real and imagined health effects that can actually be attributable to Uranium mining operations.

    What is curious about the article, is that it was taken entirely from the NYU student online publication, Scienceline. The writer, Francie Diep, claims to hold a BA in English from UCLA (as well as having been a “Teaching Assistant at both the UCLA Biochemistry Lab and at the Genomic’s lab, for three years.”

    I called Dr. Ken Lange who runs the UCLA Medical School’s Genetics lab, and he has never heard of Diels and he said that they do not hire English majors as TAs.

    Perhaps after the holiday break, I can find out just what is going on at NYU and why Scientific American would use a student magazine for a source of their articles.

    The most important elements for the citizens to consider when evaluating the Uranium mining proposal are:

    1. What are the current background radiation levels. The typical adult gets about 360 millirem of annual radiation exposure, just from the environment. In some locations, like the black sand beaches in parts of Brazil, you can get 400 mrem in just two hours.

    2. What are the actual measured increases (if any) in exposure to radiation by populations who live near a Uranium mining site?

    So far, the EPA has documented that a typical Uranium mining operation settling pond, has only 30 (pico Curies per gram) pCi/g of radiation. Typical soil samples, like from your garden will have between 1-30 pCi/g. BTW a pico is ten to the minus twelve; pretty darned small).

    The research done thus far, shows that some instances may occur, associated with Uranium processing that may result in low levels of radiation being released to the environment. However, health effects research is inconclusive on the long term effects of exposure to these low levels or background radiation.

    Put plainly, if someone works out in the sun regularly, flies airplanes, or lives in a brick house that releases trace amounts of Radon, they get substantially more radiation than what is documented as typical radiation added to the local environment through mining or processing Uranium.

    3. Given quantitative measurements of background radiation in the Pittsylvania mining area, what will be the acceptable level of risk and what will be the acceptable level of added radiation to the local environment?

    Based on what has been already published by the EPA regarding other mining operations, it appears that Uranium processing presents a risk of low level radiation exposure, but these exposure levels are well within established safe limits. However, more quantitative research on the long term effects of low level radiation exposure must be provided to the local citizens, before any decision is made. Most citizens, do not know that they live with radiation exposure from all sorts of environmental sources, throughout their lives.

    The citizens of Pittsylvania must be provided with local data to establish baseline radiation, as well as continuous monitoring, of local air, soil and water, should the mining operation come to fruition.

    Barring any unusual pre-existing source of radiation, it appears that Uranium mining in Pittsylvania represents a relatively low risk to the neighboring population.

    It would be reasonable for the citizens to insist that any site remediation plan be fully funded before the mining starts, so that if the company fails, there will be resources to restore the site for future, useful applications.

  4. “The first couple of months is just a mess—there’s just no forecasting when HE will be awake and when HE will be asleep.”

    An infant is a person, not an “it.”

  5. I Pub.
    Having gone through this experience twice, about 20 year apart (yes, I’m good at planning), I’ll tell you that during those first eight months when the sleep pattern is unpredictable, you often think of the baby as an “it” ;-)

  6. Heh heh. Point taken. I went through it four times in 5 years (less good at the planning)… I understand that sentiment completely.

  7. An infant is a person, not an “it.”

    It is entirely within grammatical norms, when referring to a baby as a concept (as opposed to an individual specimen), to use the pronoun of “it,” as opposed to “he” or “she,” in order to deemphasize the specific human and emphasize the concept of baby-ness. (For example: It’s a boy!) See this 2008 Boston Globe article on the topic for more.

  8. Just to follow-up on the questions regarding the article in SA. The faculty advisor for the student-run publication called to say that Diep, had worked at a UCLA lab that did some genetics research, just not the UCLA Genomics Lab (which is part of the UCLA Medical School).

    He insisted that he saw nothing wrong with the writer’s self proclaimed “qualifications” and said that there was no need to differentiate between the lab where she supposedly worked, and the UCLA Genomics lab.

    Hopefully, other readers and researchers will not be led astray, should they try to fact check the story, or the writer’s credentials.

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