NEW ROADS TO URANIUM RICHES (Jan, 1954)
NEW ROADS TO URANIUM RICHES
Uncle Sam is paying fortunes these days for uranium ore, and it’s easy to find, too. What are you waiting for?
By Lester David
ABOUT a year ago, a tall chap from Minneapolis l knocked at the door of the Atomic Energy Commission headquarters in Grand Junction, Col., and asked to see one of the staff scientists. Ushered into the office of Dr. Al Rasor, he said he’d heard a lot about uranium prospecting and would like to try his hand.
“I’m nothing but a greenhorn,” he drawled. “How do you go about looking for this stuff?”
Dr. Rasor told him. He produced aerial surveys, geological studies and other pertinent data. Then he directed the “greenhorn” to a lonely, unhabited spot smack in the middle of Utah. ..The young man began prospecting, as per instructions.
For nine months he looked and trudged and dug.
And one day he discovered it, an enormous outcropping of rock, the color and formation exactly as the A.E.C. scientist had described it. He staked out a claim and began mining.
The result? To date he has taken out more than $400,000 worth of high grade ore and his mine is valued as one of the richest in the entire region, with reserve deposits estimated at many millions of dollars.
There are two morals to the story and mark them well: The first—This chap, whose name is Vernon Pick, was no miner. A rank amateur in the field, he had run an electrical supply store in Minneapolis which burned down and left him with just enough insurance money to buy a truck and trailer. He was wandering around the Colorado plateau country when he heard about uranium and decided to investigate.
The second—The U.S. Government needs and wants uranium, the stuff from which atomic bombs are made and radioisotopes for industrial and medical research created. Because of this, the A.E.C. is offering all-out help to searchers, posting unheard-of bonus payments as incentives and giving specific, detailed information on how and even where to look.
Add the two together and what answer do you get?
Many thousands of pioneering souls who don’t know a mine from a gopher hole found that it added up to a glittering opportunity for riches, and as a result they are swarming all over the hills and plateaus. They’re all hunting for radioactive treasure, and the government admits it is far and away the most intensive prospective venture going on today.
The fact that shoestring operators have as good a chance at the Big Strike as the major companies has the atomic age sourdoughs scrambling over the countryside from Arizona to Florida.
Vernon Pick was a shoestringer. He was broke and out of a job when he started out. Then there was young Charlie Steen. . . .
Charlie’s story is as perfect an example as you could get. He was living with his wife and four children in a decrepit shanty in Utah, with no plumbing or electricity. He owed hundreds of dollars to grocers, his wife came down with pneumonia, and there was only weak, sugared tea to feed a two-months-old infant.
But Charles Austin Steen was young and he had a dream. Somewhere in that Utah plateau was clicking gold—uranium. One day, when the Steen family was down to its last can of beans and sack of oatmeal, Charlie’s persistently bad luck took an upward swerve. He got a $1,700 stake from friends and it went for a second-hand drilling rig with which he set to work on a claim he had established.
He got down to a depth of 73 feet and his luck ran out. There was an ominous creak, then a loud crash and a clanking. The rig had broken and most of the gear was lost. Dejected, Steen picked up a few samples of grayish-black rock which the drill had spewed up and headed for town to see if he could scrape up enough money to recover the lost tools.
On the way he stopped at a settlement and borrowed a Geiger counter from a friend to test his samples. He put the ore close to the counter tube, adjusted the earphones, and then his eyes bugged and his mouth gaped open.
The counter was clicking away like crazy!
To a uranium hunter, the tick of a Geiger instrument that detects radioactivity is like the rustle of greenbacks. That happened a little over a year ago. Today Charlie knows what the rustling of banknotes sounds like too.
Because the Atomic Energy Commission has recently classified his find as probably “one of the major uranium strikes” in the entire country, with an estimated 1,350,000 tons of uraninite ore reserves valued at— easy does it, now—a whopping $60,000,000!* Charlie Steen was a shoestringer and proud of it. In fact, he journeyed to Washington last Spring and so informed an august House sub-committee at a hearing on mining claim legislation. “We shipped $300,000 worth of ore in the last four months,” he told the lawmakers. “And we did it, not with $1,000,000, but with $1,700.”
Yes, there’s uranium in them thar hills and ’54ers, scouring the desolate landscapes with hope in their hearts and Geigers slung over their shoulders, are finding it.
Got an itch to try? Then here’s precise, specific dope on the how, what, and where, gathered from official A.E.C. sources: Where is the best place to hunt? The Colorado plateau is now the world’s second largest source of the rare stuff and many geologists believe that so much more will be discovered soon that the region will knock the Belgian Congo out of the top spot. In Colorado alone, declares State mining commissioner Walter E. Scott, Jr., uranium output this very year should be “equal to, or greater than, the production of any single metal heretofore produced in Colorado in a single year.”
The plateau embraces about 130,000 square miles of eastern Utah, northwestern New Mexico, northeastern Arizona and the portion of Colorado west of the Rocky Mountains. The major ore bodies, according to Dr. Phillip L. Merritt, of the A.E.C. Division of Raw Materials, occur in a northeast belt extending from northern Arizona and New Mexico, through Uravan. Col., to Gateway, Col.
Within the last year, uranium deposits have been discovered in the southern part of the South Dakota Black Hills. Listen to Dr. Merritt: “The number of new dis- coveries in this district is increasing steadily and the extent of the known mineralized area is being pushed to the north and northwest from the vicinity of Hot Springs and Edgemont.” And who has been responsible for these finds? Dr. Merritt’s reply: “Most of them have been turned up by individual prospectors and claim staking has been, and continues to be, very active.”
Uranium concentrations have been found in marine sediments in Florida and in rock formations of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Lignite deposits bearing uranium have been discovered in southern Wyoming and northwestern South Dakota. Vein-type deposits of the ore occur in northern Idaho, Montana, southern Arizona and New Mexico.
How will the government help you?
In lots of ways. First, it will steer you as accurately as possible to the sites of potential deposits. A.E.C. and Department of Interior men go out in low-flying airplanes equipped with devices called scintillation detectors, which are actually super-sensitive Geiger counters. They fly over measured strips of land and any reaction by the detector is marked on a paper tape, which is synchronized with a 35 mm camera mounted on the plane’s tail that simultaneously maps the area surveyed. One DC3, which flies at 500 ft., can map 600 square miles in a day.
These maps, clearly showing areas where radiation has been detected, are published monthly and are available to prospectors. They are posted in A.E.C. and Interior Department offices located in key sections. To find out where these offices are, drop a query to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, P.O. Box 270, Grand Junction, Col.
Second, the government will answer all your questions on the occurrence, identification, and sale of uranium-bearing ores.
Much valuable information has been embodied in a compact, pocket-size 128-page book called “Prospecting for Uranium,” which you can get for 25 cents from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington 25, D. C. It gives you all the ABC’s, briefly, simply, accurately.
Third, if you do hit a rich strike, chances are it will be in some wild, forlorn area without even a cowpath. How will you get the ore out to the processing plant? If the mine is really top-notch, you won’t have to worry. The U.S. will build you a road. In fact, it has already constructed about 715 miles of roadway at a cost of $4,500,000.
Fourth, you don’t have to worry about customers, once you find the stuff. The government guarantees to buy all the ore you mine at stated prices which range from $1.50 per lb. for ore containing 1/10 of 1 per cent uranium oxide to $3.50 per lb. for ore with 2/10 of 1 per cent strength. More, the U.S. pays you a haulage allowance of six cents per ton-mile from your mine to the processing mill.
There’s a hefty bonus setup, too. Uncle Sam will pay you double price for the first 10,000 lbs. of acceptable ore delivered from any one property. And there is a standing offer of a $10,000 bonus for the “discovery of a new deposit and the production therefrom of the first 20 short tons of uranium ore or mechanical concentrate assaying 20 per cent or more uranium oxide.” This bonus is paid on the delivery of the stuff to the A.E.C., but you can only get it once for a particular mine. Nothing can stop you, however, from finding lots of mines and collecting the $10,000 for each one that yields enough ore.
How do you recognize the valuable stuff?
Uranium never occurs in its pure form. It’s always com- bined with other substances to form a mineral and there are about 100 known uranium-bearing ones. Geologists divide them in two classes, primary and secondary, and here’s how you can spot them: Primary uranium minerals, found usually in vein deposits, are generally dark brown or black, and often have a dull, pitch-like luster. Pitchblende and uraninite are the two most important minerals in this classification. Pitchblende, actually uranium oxide, occurs in rounded, irregular masses. It’s a grayish black and sometimes has a greenish cast. It breaks with a curved surface, as glass does, and becomes black, greenish black or grayish black when crushed into thin fragments. Uraninite has the same color and most of the other properties as pitchblende, but it comes in the form of small, cube-shaped crystals.
Secondary uranium minerals can be spotted by their bright yellow, orange and green colors. They can occur in almost any kind of rock and are usually found as earthy, powdery masses, as groups of small crystals or as flat plates. The important ones are carnotite, autunite and torbernite.
How do you stake out a claim?
When you make a discovery, act fast. If you’ve found minerals in lode or vein formation, you are permitted by law to stake out a claim running 1,500 ft. along the vein and 300 ft. on each side of it. All claims must be distinctly marked on the ground so that their boundaries may be readily traced. To do this, erect a substantial monument—piles of rocks are fine—on each corner, and in each place a notice containing your name and the names of other prospectors if you have partners, the date and an accurate description of the claim, referring to some natural object or permanent thing inside it by which it can be identified.
Your next step is to file your claim in the office of the local county recorder.
Remember, though, that a claim is not valid until after an actual discovery of mineral has been made within its limits. And there is no limit to the number of separate areas you can claim.
How do you test for uranium?
Uranium-bearing ores are radioactive and the Geiger counter is the most practicable instrument so far devised for detecting radiation. Battery-operated, portable models are carried by most prospectors. They range greatly in price—some sell for as low as $25. others cost up to $950.
If you have trouble finding one, the A.E.C. publishes a list of firms which make them. To get the list, which includes more than 40 companies in all parts of the U.S., write to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Division of Raw Materials, P.O. Box 30, Ansonia Station, New York 23, N.Y. Most manufacturers supply complete instructions for the efficient use of their instruments and, in addition, you can find valuable pointers in the A.E.C.’s book on uranium prospecting. .
If you don’t have a counter, there is a fairly simple way of testing for radioactivity. Wrap a strip of unexposed camera film or plate in black photographic paper so that no light can penetrate. Put a key or other metallic object on the wrapped film and place the rock sample to be tested on top of this. If the sample contains uranium or other radioactive elements, the rays given off will darken the film, producing an image of the key when the film is developed. The exposure time needed to produce the image gives you a rough idea of the amount of radioactive material in the sample.
Suppose you find something. What then?
You can get your samples assayed by a professional firm, but the government will do it for you free. Send a sample to the U.S. Geological Survey, Geochemistry and Petrology Branch, Building 213, Naval Gun Factory, Washington 25, D. C. The Bureau of Mines also does gratis assaying of uranium ore samples. Here are a few addresses: Chief, College Park Branch, Metallurgical Division. U.S. Bureau of Mines, College Park, Md.; Chief, Rolla Branch, Metallurgical Division, U.S. Bureau of Mines, Rolla, Mo.; Chief, Tuscaloosa Branch, Metallurgical Division, U.S. Bureau of Mines, Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Supervising Engineer, Metallurgical Division, U.S. Bureau of Mines, Reno, Nev.
Your sample should weigh at least one lb., be wrapped carefully and strongly, and be clearly marked with your return address. Write a note, telling about previous tests made on the sample, the estimated dimensions of the deposit as far as you can determine, and all other information that pertains to it.
Where can you sell it?
Your customers will be either the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission itself, or any other individual or firm in the country licensed by the commission. Once you get this far, you can get detailed instructions from the A.E.C. on the who, where, and how much.
Thousands of amateur prospectors are out trekking over rugged terrain and there are three big reasons why. First, there is pulse-quickening adventure in the hunt, the sort of pioneering drive that impelled the ’49ers of long ago. Second, there is the possibility of serving one’s country in an invaluable way at a time of unprecedented world tension.
And third, a guy can get awfully rich out there! •