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Old-time prospecting for radioactive waste

For nations that have separated from Communist Russia
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A number of European countries that separated from Communist Russia have a rather serious problem: toxic, and radioactive heavy metals have been left in their once fertile topsoil.

As these nations cannot, on their own, maintain the level of heavy industrialization that produced this debris, some of them would prefer to go back to farming and livestock for their livelihoods, but the risk of the radioactive and toxic elements limits buyers... not to mention that it could endanger the health of future generations living in the area.

Normal decontamination processes simply will not suffice. Nobody has the money for the suits, or the traditional cleanup gear. Also, the international community has not stepped up to the challenge.

I propose a change from within. Most certainly not an ideal solution, but it may be a solution nonetheless: Old time prospectors.

Many of these countries also possess a large older population, with nowhere to put them, and nothing for them to do. I propose that these individuals be equipped with old-fashioned prospecting equipment, and sent out to pan, sluice, and dry-wash... not for gold, but rather for the other heavy elements in the soil... those which are putting the nation at risk in the first place.

Why the older generation? Simply because they will be reproducing less, and therefore any damages they sustain will not be passed on to the younger generation.

Some of these toxic substances (Uranium, Lead, Cadmium, Plutonium, Mercury, etc.) have a certain value in their own right, and can be sold to provide some assistance to the prospectors.

Others of course have no value in their own right, but farmers might be willing to support these individuals in their efforts to clean the land. Historical societies might pay for demonstrations of how these techniques can be used to serve humankind in the modern era.

Hopefully, if this plan is put into action, it will prompt people to make donations so that the decontamination can then be done with more safety, and any brave souls who risked themselves for the good of their communities might be well-cared for in their twilight years.

ye_river_xiv, Dec 22 2011

Tellurides http://www.lornet.c...cles/tellurides.htm
Gold is not always unreactive or easy to identify. However, due to it's density, it is still easy to separate via panning or sluicing. [ye_river_xiv, Dec 23 2011]

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       This is great, apart from the fact that it won't work.   

       Gold prospecting relies on the fact that it occurs as the native metal, since it's so unreactive. That makes it easy to identify and separate.   

       Uranium metal rapidly oxidises after machining. You can literally see it happen. The other heavy metals will also be, as often as not, bound up in compounds rather than in their free state.
8th of 7, Dec 22 2011
  

       [8th of 7], you forgot to mention that chemical compounds of heavy metals are always less heavy/dense than those pure heavy metals. So gold is easily separated from other stuff, because it is so dense AND tends to stay pure. Other substances will be less easy to separate by weight-processing --there are some exceptions; "tungsten" translates as 'heavy stone", indicating that its rocky chemical-compound ore is still pretty heavy.   

       And another problem that chemical compounds can have (not always) is that they are more likely to dissolve in water than pure heavy metals (I'll ignore actual chemical reactions with water, since you've already indicated that those metals will be already-reacted). You can't use water as a weight-separation medium if the substance you seek dissolves and washes away!
Vernon, Dec 22 2011
  

       If there were only a black market for semi-radioactive material... oh, wait...
RayfordSteele, Dec 22 2011
  

       What do you think the Russians were doing in Georgia a few years ago?   

       Seriously, pull up some old news reports and maps. Study the Russian Army's deployment pattern; it wasn't an invasion of occupation or retaliation, nor was it the 'police action' they described it as... they were looking for something. This theory is further supported by the speed with which they pulled out while their UN ambassadors were swamping the official act of censure in red tape. In the gorvernment sector, this practiced is fully, if very quietly baked. It's high time we brought it to the private sector, so [+]. I'll fetch my Geiger Counter.   

       Actually, I know exactly where to find some; I even remember the IID of the box car it's in. I just need to find out where it's parked.   

       // Uranium metal rapidly oxidises after machining. You can literally see it happen. //   

       Only if it's exposed to oxygen. Plus, there are plenty of other radioactive substances gone unaccounted-for since the Soviet Era. Cesium, Cobalt, thousands of tons of yellowcake, about a billion DU sabot rounds, and, if the legend is true, there's an entire Oak-Ridge-scale production facility somewhere in the Urals that was never on any map. The CIA used the postal-code trick to discover it, but never officially pinned down a location.   

       // "tungsten" translates as 'heavy stone", indicating that its rocky chemical-compound ore is still pretty heavy. //   

       Wolfram? Very heavy. I saw a couple of mining trucks in Portugal that looked like 500-ton tanks with the load- volume of a Ford Ranger.
Alterother, Dec 22 2011
  

       Gold also can be bound up in chemicals, such as tellurides, which have the same color as dirt.   

       This effort is not aimed so much at recovering anything in particular, and certainly is not about purifying stuff.   

       Our goal is to use geiger counters and chemical tests occasionally in order to spot areas that are likely to be most contaminated, and then to separate the denser stuff from the lighter stuff. Uranium oxide will still be denser than potassium oxide, so once we've separated out the denser stuff, we should be able to get rid of a large quantity of the contaminants.   

       Items that are water soluble may present some difficulty, but since dry washing does not involve the use of water, I suggest that it might still be effective.
ye_river_xiv, Dec 23 2011
  
      
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