The Atomic Show #039 – Polonium uses plus coal mining hazards
Rod Adams and Shane Brown discuss the properties of polonium. They move on to the hazards of mining and transporting coal.
Polonium talk is all over the news media because of the recent poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent living in the UK. The tale is one suitable for a John Le Carre novel with allegations of a state sponsored assassination, a suggestion of self-administered death for the purpose of discrediting a former employer and stories about a mysterious meeting at a sushi bar.
Shane and I, however, focused on the unique properties of polonium-210, the rare, dangerous, but useful isotope used as the murder weapon. For example, did you know that there was a substance whose energy density (milliwatts/milligram) is nearly 200,000 times larger than lithium-ion in a chemical battery?
After chatting about a single isotope for about 20 minutes, we moved on to a discussion about the hazards of coal mining and transportation with an emphasis on the way that the industry avoids even seemingly simple safety and environmental precautions.
As an industry (US numbers only) that extracts and moves more than a billion tons of useful material every year (and causes the movement of several times that of less useful material) with a total annual revenue of only about 50 billion dollars, the available margins in the industry are pretty tight. It is difficult for the industry to make a profit, so the industry operators do things like refuse to cover their fuel storage areas and transport rail cars and resist requirements to install pollution control measures.
They also use explosives to blast off the entire top of a mountain and shove the residues off into local valleys and streams because it is cheaper than a more careful extraction method. Some smaller, non-union operators even skirt dust control measures designed to reduce the risk of black lung disease, a condition that is leading to increases in that disease’s death rate after years of decline.
Here are some links providing more details about the topics covered:
Nuclide Safety Data Sheet; Polonium-210
Learn a bit more about mountain top removal (MTR)
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