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In Our Backyard: Radioactivity in Utah

Jan. 4, 2007 — The Utah Science Center’s Science in Society free public dialogue series in conjunction with National Radon Action Month will present “Radon and Uranium” Thursday, Jan. 11, 2007 from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. in the auditorium of the main downtown Salt Lake City Public Library, 210 East 400 South.

Utah’s history with radioactive materials extends back to the native Navajo and Ute tribes, which once used carnotite to make body paint. Utah mines later supplied Marie and Pierre Curie with raw materials for their experiments. In the early 1950s, “uranium king” Charles Steen discovered rich uranium stores on the Colorado Plateau. By the late ’50s, Moab, Utah, was known as “the uranium capital of the world,” and Salt Lake City was “the Wall Street of uranium stocks.” The boom ended abruptly when the budding nuclear power industry fell into disfavor. Today, nuclear power has re-emerged as a potential solution to global warming. Once-abandoned Utah mines are working at full steam to meet demand. According to a September 2006 Associated Press story, “More than 50 nuclear plants are planned or under construction in a dozen countries.”

A natural byproduct of uranium decay is radon. And while uranium has its dangers, significant exposure is rare. Radon, on the other hand, has become perhaps the most pervasive – and thus relevant – radioactive element for the general public. The cancer-causing gas, emitted by most rock and soil, seeps through cracks in foundations, flows through building joints and contaminates groundwater, bringing with it deadly results. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, after cigarette smoking, and is responsible for 20,000 deaths a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency says radon in homes causes more deaths than fires, drownings and airplane crashes combined. January marks “National Radon Action Month,” during which the EPA and other public agencies seek to increase public awareness of the hazard.

This public dialogue will address questions and issues surrounding radioactivity in Utah.

Featured guest experts include:

Karen Langley, director/radiation safety officer, Radiological Health Department, University of Utah

Dane Finerfrock, director, Utah Division of Radiation Control

John Hultquist, manager, low-level radioactive waste section, Utah Division of Radiation Control

Harold Roberts, executive vice president, U.S. operations, Denison Mines Corp.

Tye Rogers, radiation safety engineer, EnergySolutions, LLC.

Joe Andrade, director, Utah Science Center, distinguished professor of bioengineering, University of Utah.


The “Science in Society” public dialogue series is sponsored bi-monthly by the Utah Science Center ( Science in Society brings timely and sometimes controversial topics to the public in an understandable and informative manner. The dialogues are presented in an interactive, non-lecture style with public dialogue as the major objective. Science in Society is co-sponsored by the Salt Lake City Public Library, KCPW Radio and The Leonardo. All Science in Society events are broadcast on KCPW-FM 88.3.

The Utah Science Center, along with YouthCity Artways (formerly Global Artways) (, and the Center for Documentary Arts ( are founding partner in The Leonardo, a one-of-a-kind art, culture and science center with a multidisciplinary approach. The mission of The Leonardo is to create opportunities for visitors to become participants by exploring “new ways of seeing” their world, themselves and each other.