Rocks that are too hot to handle!

The Geoscience Australia National Mineral collection contains over 1000 radioactive specimens which were recently photographed using a 15 mm thick piece of lead plated glass for protection. Due to the properties and emission of radioactive particles from these specimens, many are seldom ever seen or put on display.

Major uses for uranium and other radioisotopes include fuel in nuclear power reactors for electricity generation, medical applications such as diagnosis of patient illnesses or the treatment of diseased organs or tumours, and lastly, in nuclear science research using neutron fluxes.

Australia's vast resources of uranium amount to a staggering 40% of the world's total identified resources that are recoverable at low cost. Why so much? The large number of uranium deposits and prospects across Australia reflects the extensive placement of uranium-enriched rocks from multiple periods of igneous activity. While many uranium deposits appear to have formed during these widespread thermal events, most formed from uranium-enriched source rocks by subsequent low-temperature processes.

Can you spot the gold in the photographs of this highly radioactive pitchblende specimen?

It is estimated to contain two ounces of gold.

Did you know, if you were up close and personal with this specimen for two hours, you would have reached your maximum recommended yearly dosage of radiation.

Pitchblende is a variety of uraninite that is predominately brownish-black, massive, and often globular in shape. Its chemical formula is UO2.

Marie Curie, the first and only woman to win a Nobel Prize twice, used tonnes of torbernite such as this and pitchblende to isolate radium and polonium in 1898.

Did you know that Curie's daughter also won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935, making it the first mother-daughter pair to win.

Meta-torbernite is often a dehydrated form of torbernite. Torbernite attributes its emerald-green colour to the copper bearing uranium deposit. As a result of these crystalline colours, it is more sought after by mineral collectors than for its use as a uranium ore.

As torbernite emits radon gas which is responsible for lung cancer, it is important that adequate storage and ventilation precautions are taken.

Australian uranium deposits in relation to occurrences of felsic igneous rocks.

Uranium mining in Australia first began in 1954 at Rum Jungle in the Northern Territory and Radium Hill in South Australia.

The first mining of uranium for electricity generation in nuclear reactors began in 1976, at Mary Kathleen in Queensland.

This black-brownish uranium ore typically contains other elements due to radioactive decay such as polonium, thorium, radium, protactinium, traces of neptunium, technetium, curium, lead and helium.

Together with our collection manager, photographer and radiation safety officer, it took several weeks to complete the project which produced images and metadata for the Isotope Collection.

Carnotite is a secondary mineral resulting from the alteration of uraninite, montroseite, or davidite. Carnotite occurs in sandstone, especially in paleochannels, near fossil carbonaceous matter, in calcretes, and near playas hence the high calcium, magnesium and sodium content.

Geiger-Muller counters have become more sophisticated over the years since their creation in 1928, with most now detecting all four major types of radiation - gamma, x-ray, beta, and alpha particles.

The chemical formula of autunite is similar to that of torbernite in which a Cu2+ cation is replaced by Ca2+.

Autunite is typically yellow to greenish-yellow and exhibits fluorescence under UV light. It is a secondary mineral resulting from the oxidation of primary uranium minerals in hydrothermal veins and granite pegmatites.

Samarskite was first described in 1847 from an occurrence in the southern Ural Mountains of Russia. It was named after the mine official there Colonel Samarskii-Bykhovets (1803-1870), Chief of Staff of the Russian Corps of Mining Engineers.

The chemical element samarium was first isolated from a specimen of samarskite in 1879. It is an accessory mineral in rare earth element rich, granite pegmatites.

Credits: Story

The National Mineral and Commonwealth Paleontological Collection, Geoscience Australia and The National Museum of Australia Mineral Collections (specimens).

Chris Fitzgerald (photography).

Steven Petkovski (text).

Dave Champion (scientific review).

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