AiS Challenge Team Interim


Team Number: 064

School Name: Shiprock High School

Area of Science: Physics

Project Title: Radiation



Uranium and How It Affects Us All

The purpose of our project is to know whether or not that the San Juan River is contaminated with radiation relating to uranium. The hypothesis is that the San Juan River is contaminated with radioactive debris. As for the materials, we used to construct this study were a Geiger counter, books, pencils, resources, water samples, cups, beakers, a rope, a one gallon jug. While we gathered our water samples, one of the safety concerns was to avoid overexposure to the radiation.

The San Juan River study crew joined up and headed to the river located under the bridge of Shiprock, N.M. We had ropes, life jackets, all of our materials and tools for the study of radiation and contamination. We had to learn (investigate) the history of the area where the landscape was formed. Next, our group expressed what our environmental concerns would be, that was where our scientific problem occurred. The abandon uranium mill tailing that is located beside the river was where the main problem was established. What we think is that when an environmental runoff such as rain, snow, and wind probably carry radioactive materials into the river. We tested the water in a minor area about of 200 feet in radius along the river which is located on the north side of the bridge. First, we collected water samples along the river bank, and then we began collecting water from the middle of our tiny area of the river. The one gallon jug came into use to tie the jug to a long piece of rope. By doing this, we accumulated our water samples by throwing the jug into the river. After that we poured the water sample into a beaker, got the Geiger counter and measured the amount of radiation exposure. Our first test concluded about 100 feet from the river demonstrated 0.12, which indicates radiation occurred near and within the river. Our second test, water that's in the beaker was about 0.05. Furthermore, additional recordings are as follows:

Third test           .06
Fourth test          .06
Fifth test           .05
Sixth test           .02
Seventh test         .06
Eighth test          .045
Ninth test           .08
Tenth test           .045
Eleventh test        .075
Twelfth test         .07
Thirteenth test      .07
Fourteenth test      .05
Fifteenth test       .06
Sixteenth test       .09
Seventeenth test     .09
Eighteenth test      .01
Nineteenth test      .02

The average total was approximately 1.175.

Our hypothesis is accurate due to uranium seeping through seepages in the disposal site and flowing into the San Juan River. Not only uranium but other radioactive materials were a runoff from the site. The Geiger counter is the only radiation sensor or indicator but does not completely designate what the radioactive source is since the sensor is not calibrated to identify the main source.

Topic: Radiation Effect

  1. Uranium- It's a silvery radioactive metal. It has an Atomic weight of 238.0 and a half life of 4.5 million years, so in that time it only loses half of its radiation and becomes other radioactive metals.
    This is what happens:

    All these materials are still radioactive except LEAD206 because after LEAD206 it becomes stable. Uranium gives off three types of radiation; Alpha particles, Beta particles and Gamma rays. Alpha particles are one of the most dangerous, but it is a short distance radiation that could not penetrate a sheet of paper or the skin of your hand. Beta particles are the weakest that could not penetrate a thin sheet of 0.5 cm. of aluminum block. Gamma rays are the strongest in penetrating the skin and long term exposure could result in radiation poisoning. This could be stopped by a thick 0.5 cm, of lead. Gamma rays are almost the same as x-rays. Here is an Example:

    1. The way Alpha particles could be dangerous is that if a small amount of Alpha particles connect with dust particles; this is where you inhale it. So if it becomes trapped in your lungs, this could settle for years and later develop into cancerous cells. Also long term exposure with gamma rays could do the same. When you're around radioactive materials at a young age, the radiation may affect your genetic genes.
      That's when mitosis takes effect. Gamma radiation causes the cells in the body to become super active, causing them to split into 2 cells, dividing or adding on to your genetic structure. For example, your children might grow an extra finger or toe. But when the cells become cancerous cells, the mitosis takes a bigger effect such as instead of becoming into 2 cells it would begin to multiply. So it deepens, generating more cells until it becomes uncontrollable after dangerous levels of radiation exposure. That's when cancer is spreading at an increasing speed.
    2. Uranium can be used to do myriad of things. Besides nuclear power, that generates about 30% of the world's electricity, a small amount can also generate enough power for maneuvering a submarine. Uranium is then dissolved into uranium pellets, mixed with a many other radioactive materials. Everyone is exposed to uranium, through ground sources, to the drinking water we consume. No matter what, all parts of the earth have particles of uranium, it is not pure in nature, but pure uranium will be totally devastating.
      Uranium was used to make the Atomic Bomb, since Einstein successfully spilt the atom. It is known as the nuclear fusion. Fusion is when atoms are brought together and releases energy. One source of radioactive decay is also useful today, after a half life of Uranium238, a substance like iridium is used for its gamma radiation to be used in x-rays.
  2. When radiation was detected in our experiment survey, it could not have been just uranium, because it was a mill tailing site behind the present day NECA office of Shiprock. The huge mound that is present now is a huge cover up, leaving all the radioactive materials beneath it. To this day there are seepages that are slowly releasing radiation into the San Juan River. It is also contaminating other water source like ground water. The radiation has reached a thick slab of clay about 75' below the tailings called the Mancos Shale. Since it couldn't penetrate, the radioactive deposits are slowly being washed away and contaminating other water sources. Uranium is not the only harmful poison out there, but there have also been traces of ammonia, cesium, nitrate, and thorium. Most of these elements are formed by the half lives (radioactive decay) of uranium.
  3. The amount of radiation was tested through water samples that are taken from wells, which are monitored every three months. There are water meters that are located throughout the south side community of Shiprock, NM. Not only does radiation float through the air to expose the citizens, but it is also in the groundwater. Since uranium has an atomic weight of 238. 036, it is the heaviest metal in nature that just flows through seepages in the mound and into the San Juan River. Other radioactive materials are light elements that they flow northwest towards Shiprock High School.
  4. There are ways of cleaning up these contaminations by using a simple method called Bio-decontamination. This includes using plants to suck up the radiation, where you'll only destroy the plants itself.

Resources: Center for Radioactive Waste Management

  1. The University of New Mexico c.1996 Department of Energy UMTRA
  2. Department of Energy- Long Term Stewardship of Waste Disposal Site
  3. Mansel Nelson (NAU-ITEP-EEOP)
  4. Perry Charley (Dine College)
  5. Jerry Begay, Arlene Luther (N.N.E.P.A.)
  6. Larry Martinez ( Office Of Navajo Uranium Workers)
  7. UMTRA Ground Water Project ( October 1999) U.S. Doe

Team Members

Team Mail

Sponsoring Teacher(s)

Project Mentor(s)