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Introduction to Radioactive Minerals

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Introduction to Radioactive Minerals
A Schiffer Book
By Robert Lauf, Ph.D.
Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. (2008)
ISBN: 978-0-7643-2912-8

Reviewed by Harry S. Chou - May 4, 2015

Collecting radioactive minerals is a specialized field that is often overlooked by many rock and minerals collectors due to the negative implications that often surrounding nuclear power and the handling of radioactive materials. For the educated and cautious collector, such concerns can be minimized . . .

I am an avid collector of fluorescent rocks and minerals, and this naturally spiked my interest in radioactive minerals as many of them are fluorescent. For those new to this fascinating field, you will find that Dr. Robert Lauf's book, Introduction to Radioactive Minerals offers an excellent introduction to this field. While it does not tell you everything you need to do to collect and house radioactive minerals safely, it does provide a solid foundation upon which to build your knowledge base, and it also gives you an excellent idea of what types of minerals you might be able to add to your collection. For those still leery of actually collecting radioactive minerals, this book provides a topnotch armchair tour of the field, and it comes complete with eye-popping illustrations.

Lauf has a Ph.D. in Metallurgical Engineering who worked at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee where he was a research scientist. In Introduction to Radioactive Minerals, Lauf has focuses his attention on uranium and thorium minerals. Most of these emit only low levels of radiation. Yet, as Lauf points out, this does not mean they are harmless. To this end he provides a brief overview on how to handle these minerals safely. Personally, I think he should have gone into more detail in this area. For example he states that radioactive minerals are reasonably safe when kept in a 'properly stored collection', but he does not clearly explain, to my liking, what he means by this other than they should not be stored near where people spend a lot of time! However, as most people reading this book will probably never go out collecting such minerals, this explanation is sufficient for the audience of the book. If you plan on hunting radioactive minerals, do at little more research on the safety-related issues surrounding this hobby.

Now, onto the meat of this book! Chapter one begins with an overview of the discovery of Uranium and Thorium, and some information about known reserves of these minerals that are to be found throughout the world. Chapter two details the typical "formation and characteristics of radioactive deposits" and chapter three provides detailed overviews of some of the key locations where radioactive minerals are found, ranging from locations in North & South America, Europe, Russia, Asia, Australia, and Africa. The fourth and final chapter of this book is devoted exclusively to the minerals themselves. Lauf covers both primary and secondary minerals as well as other minerals that contain uranium or thorium as a key element or as an impurity. The information in this book is rounded out by the inclusion of an excellent bibliography on the subject, as well as a 'checklist of radioactive minerals' that lists their names, chemical formula, color, and what they look like under UV light, if they fluoresce.

In total, there are almost 200 color photos found in this book, with some showing the specimens under ultraviolet light. Each photo is annotated with information about the specimen. Even if you never read the text, the pictures are phenomenal and they are sure to fascinate all rockhounds. For the most part the writing in this book is easy to follow, but Lauf does delve into the technical aspects related to the chemical composition of the minerals that might be off putting if you've never had any chemistry. You can, however, simply skip over these chemical notations if they are not of interest to you, without losing the main flow the text.

Introduction to Radioactive Minerals is essential reading for any collector interested in, or considering collecting, radioactive minerals. While not encyclopedic in scope, it does cover a broad range of topics and minerals, and will provide you with a solid foundation upon which to study this topic in more detail. While my focus in looking at this book was from the perspective of a rock & mineral collector / geologist, the book also mentions that this text will be of interest to nuclear scientists and engineers seeking to learn about radioactive deposits. I cannot say how valuable this book will be for that cohort, but for rock & mineral collectors and geologists looking to learn more about radioactive minerals, this book will be invaluable as an introductory text on the subject.

Related Reviews:

Collecting Fluorescent Minerals, by Stuart Schneider
This book offers an informative introduction to finding and collecting fluorescent minerals. The bulk of this book consists of around 870 color photos showing various rocks pictured in natural daylight, followed by one or more pictures showing the same rock under an ultraviolet light, highlighting the fluorescent minerals in the rock.

Geology for Dummies, by Alecia M. Spooner.
Spooner offers an outstanding introduction to the fundamentals of geology in her book Geology for Dummies. This book is ideal for use by independent learners, as well as a review text or study guide for students taking an introductory geology course.

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