The Rock that Shaped the World

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Uranium may just look like yellow dirt, but it's altered the course of human history and shaped the modern world. In his new book Uranium: War, Evergy and the Rock that Shaped the World reporter Tom Zoellner examines the paradox of this powerful element: that the stability of our world rests in a substance that is unstable at it's core.

Event: Tom Zoellner will be reading and signing books
Thursday, March 5, at 7:00 pm
McNally Jackson Bookstore
50 Prince Street


Tom Zoellner

Comments [14]

Robert Hargraves

Thorium can produce power cheaper than from coal, dissuading all nations from burning coal and emitting CO2. It produces < 1% of the waste of a standard uranium-fueled water cooled nuclear power plant. It can even consume the existing spent fuel stored at power plants. There is a tutorial presentation and links to more detailed information at

Mar. 05 2009 10:14 AM
Chuck Merten from South Salem, NY

I second what Lars said, but I would add that I am saddened that you missed a grand opportunity to educate your audience about our use of DU. I believe we are the only country using it.
What Lars left out is that we will be seeing DU's effects on many of our citizens who are spending time "over there". DU is incendiary, and as it burns it gives off "smoke" which is actually uranium oxide powder. It's every where "over there".
Even nice reporters are breathing it. Once ingested, it doesn't leave. Just like the dust in the mines, but thousands of times more concentrated.

Mar. 04 2009 02:46 PM
Lars Jensen from Manhattan

The use of depleted uranium (DU) in munitions by the US Military in operations in Gulf War 1, 2, and the Afghanistan War was neglected to be mentioned. With little knowledge to the public at large, this is the most effective way the military industrial complex has found to "dispose" of dangerous nuclear waste material . The environmental effects of this use is devastating and has immediately caused human suffering in the bombarded regions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Causing cancers, birth defects of new born children, and other maladies in these regions. The long term environmental effects of regular DU exposure has yet to be seen considering DU has a half-life of 4.5 billion years.

Mar. 04 2009 02:18 PM
Steve from Greenwich Village


Let your guest know that I spent time at the US Navy "Keyport (WA) Nuclear Testing Station" on the Puget Sound in the early '60s. Those of us from that period have had a high rate of medical maladies. If we had just not played in those unguarded bunkers, it might have been better....

Mar. 04 2009 01:58 PM
Sterling from Manhattan

A few million years back a natural light water rector occurred in the ground in Gabon. Amazingly none of its radiation leaked out. French nuclear workers figured this out when fuel from Gabon was sold to them in the 70's.

Mar. 04 2009 01:54 PM
Lennie from Manhattan

The "dirty" part of a hydrogen bomb is the atomic bomb that is used to provide the heat and compression to initiate the fusion reaction (what powers the Sun). If you could figure out how to do that without the A-bomb, a hydrogen bomb would not create radioactivity.

Controlled fusion (if it is ever done) as a means of producing energy would be completely clean. The only significant by-product is water. The problem there, too, is getting the heat and compression without an A-bomb. It has been done at great expense of energy (far more than we get out of the trivial fusion we have produced) but never in any practically viable way.

Mar. 04 2009 01:54 PM


According to Dr. Bill Wattenberg who is a nuclear scientists thorium requires extra processes to get to U238 or u235 which is what you need to harness the energy.

Mar. 04 2009 01:53 PM

Isn't thorium a cleaner nuclear fuel that produces less waste?

Mar. 04 2009 01:50 PM

What do the French and Swedes do? If we recycle the fuel rods we can cut the amount of waste. What choice do we have? We either allow toxic coal emmisions into the atmosphere or have a non CO2 producing source of large scale power.

Mar. 04 2009 01:50 PM
Daniel Einbund from Long Island

Enough of bomb related stuff. How about the benefits of U? How about when Eisenhower suggested using it instead of gold as the ultimate mineral to back up currency? How about the massive green benefits of nuke power?

Mar. 04 2009 01:49 PM
the truth from Atlanta/New York

Uhhhhmmm I am sure I DO NOT know how to build a bomb. But I am sure you are going to tell me and all the other wackos out there who want to give it a go!

Mar. 04 2009 01:45 PM
Steve from Milford

Edward Abbey writes colorfully about the Uraniuum prospectors around Moab back in the 50s. Is this covered in your guest's book?

Mar. 04 2009 01:43 PM
Liam Comerford

The unique property of Uranium is that it permits a self initiating and self sustaining reaction. It's shortcomings as a fuel is that it can be used in weapons and it produces long lived reaction products.

It is important for people to become aware that Thorium is more abundant than Uranium, can be used as a fuel for power generation, but offers no path weaponization and much shorter lived byproducts.

To my mind, this is the technology we should invest in and aggressively export to help avoid future atomic terrorism and pollution.

Mar. 04 2009 01:40 PM
tom from nyc

Wow! Isn't it appropriate that this constantly deteriorating rock is central to 20th Century history, along with Cubism and all the breakdowns of tradition that characterize that century. As Gertrude Stein said, "the @0th Century...when nothing continues...things destroyed as things have never been destroyed." from "Picasso" 1936

Mar. 04 2009 01:31 PM

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