- Published: 08 May 2008
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Betty Rockwell, age 10, of Edmestcn, N. Y:, For Her question:
What does uranium look like?
Pure uranium is a metal, soft and silvery white. By merely looking, you might find it hard to tell a lump of uranium from alump of magnesium. If the two metals were of equal size, you could tell them apart by weighing them. The uranium weighs almost ten times as much as the magnesium. It weighs over four times more than a piece of iron of the sane size and somewhat more than a piece of lead. The uranium, however, is softer than iron.
Uranium is the heaviest element found in nature. However, we never find it in pure, silvery white lumps. Uranium is scattered through many rocks in tiny traces. Many rocks contain perhaps one or two parts of uranium to a million parts of other material. The world contains more uranium than silver or mercury. But most of it is scattered in tiny traces through large areas.
A lump of pure uranium would be taken from one of the uranium ores. The richest uranium ore is pitch blende a glossy blue. black mineral. The most valuable deposit of pitchblende is in the Congo region where political trouble has flared in the past few months. Samples of this ore, the world’s richest, may yield 50% pure uranium. Canada too has large deposits of pitchblende, but this ore yields only ten per c.ent uranium.
Other uranium ores are uranite and carnotite. Uranite looks very much like pitchblende. Carnotite is a canary yellow rock or powder. The uranium ore of the United States is carnotite, much of it hidden in the rocks of the Colorado Plateau. Utah, New Mexico and Colorado are the chief uranium producing states. Arizona, Wyoming and South Dakota produce smaller amounts.
None of these deposits have the rich content of the Congo deposits, But it is worth while to mine uranium when only one tenth of one per cent can b e taken from the ore,
Uranium is the chief fuel for atomic energy. It is, of course, a radioactive substance. T his means that its big, heavy atoms are in the process of breaking up into smaller atoms. Atomic energy and high speed atomic particles are given off in the process, It is not safe to handle the silvery metal. Pure uranium and all its compounds, like all the radioactive substances, are dangerous,
The role of uranium will grow as more and more atomic energy is used to make electric power and for other everyday uses. Aside from this dramatic role, uranium and its compounds have other jobs in industry. It is used to manufacture certain steels. Its compounds are used to color glass and porcelain. When a speck is added at the right moment, it gives a beautiful amber color to a batch of glass. This uranium glass is used to shield workers from X rays and radioactive substances.