New Uranium find at Bryson City, NC

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Carl Willis
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New Uranium find at Bryson City, NC

Post by Carl Willis » Thu Dec 29, 2005 7:27 am

Recently I drove back through the western part of my home state to investigate some apocryphal claims of uraninite sediments in Deep Creek, which drains out of the southern part of the Smoky Mountains into the Tuckasegee River near Bryson City. The uranium deposits that are well-known in NC are mainly near Spruce Pine, which is a long way from this site and geologically quite different.

I didn't relish the idea of panning for minute uraninite crystals in the frigid mountain stream itself. Before going, I tried to pinpoint outcrops that might have been responsible for the placer uraninite, including a bunch of granite pegmatites near Deep Creek that had been mined previously for kaolin and feldspar. I didn't find any reports of uranium or thorium from these, however, so I thought the chance of finding any radioactivity would be remote.

I picked up Q in "downtown" Bryson City (he lives nearby) and we went to work with scintillators on the sites I'd mapped out. One site, including the dump of the old Deep Creek No. 1 Feldspar Mine (35°27'12"N , 83°27'20"W), was amazingly, wickedly, radioactive--much to my surprise. Big lumps of a black, dense, very radioactive mineral line this dump in profusion. Much of this material will peg out a CDV-700 and some pieces will peg it with the probe CLOSED! Needless to say, the scintillators were going crazy, picking up chunks of stuff through more than a foot of overburden in some cases. I took home a duffel bag of various specimens.

To determine what elements comprised the radioactive mineral, a close relative helped analyze them via characteristic x-ray emissions using his lab's scanning electron microscope. While the technique is not quantitative, it does show what is there in large proportion. This mineral contains niobium, uranium, titanium, iron, yttrium, and oxygen. Probably minor constituents include tantalum, neodymium, calcium, thorium, and scandium. On this basis, I believe the black mineral is either yttrocolumbite, uranopolycrase, or samarskite. More effort will be needed to be specific. I also took sand samples from Deep Creek, both above and below the point where the drainage from the mine area intercepts it. Have yet to look at that dirt. Right now they are being settled out in jars to filter out the uninteresting light sediments.

The photos below document this interesting and surprisingly rewarding trip. First shows Q and I at the collecting site. Second shows Q hauling out a pegger from ~16" hole. Third, a sample with a black vein and what it does to a CDV-700 on the highest range (probe closed, mind you). Third is from the SEM x-ray analysis. Note that while the heaviest elements such as uranium, this low-voltage-beam (20 kV) analysis is pretty insensitive and the peaks are small even though concentrations may be high. The uranium M peaks are labelled.

(Finally...I should put in a word of caution for any avid collectors who want to jump on this spot: please don't go in this area without asking relevant property owners. Most of the land that contains these pegmatites is private. Some of the old feldspar mines are exceedingly dangerous, where the slopes of the pits exceed the "angle of repose" and cave-ins have killed people.)

-Carl
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Carl Willis
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Richard Hull
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Re: New Uranium find at Bryson City, NC

Post by Richard Hull » Thu Dec 29, 2005 4:21 pm

This is really cool! Bill Kolb and I might be down relatively soon. We may seek out Q as a "native" quide as you did Carl.

It is certainly important not to get shot at and obtain permission to search on the land of others. Some o' them mountain folks and backwoodsers might be more eager to practice up with their shootin' irons than to ask questions as to why you are on their land. If they are nice enough to just call the law, I wouldn't relish lanquishing in a cold jail cell until the county circuit court judge gets there next week.

U rock hunting is always a great thrill and adventure.

Richard Hull
Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.

Q
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Re: New Uranium find at Bryson City, NC

Post by Q » Thu Dec 29, 2005 8:54 pm

i have to add that yes indeed, some of the locals like their target practice more than they like to ask questions. in addition, the area is VERY unstable. do not try to go there alone, and make sure you have a cell phone in case of accidents.

that said, it is quite a find! there were some spots where the scintillator was just swamped and i had to resort to the geiger counter to locate the hot stuff.

if anyone is in the area and wants to stop by to exceed your recommended yearly exposure, drop me an email! i'll be glad to show you around.

Q

Jon Rosenstiel
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Re: New Uranium find at Bryson City, NC

Post by Jon Rosenstiel » Fri Dec 30, 2005 4:31 am

Carl,
Sounds like you and Q had a good time. Thanks for the report.

Jon Rosenstiel

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Brian McDermott
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Re: New Uranium find at Bryson City, NC

Post by Brian McDermott » Fri Dec 30, 2005 3:30 pm

Q sent me some samples of your find, and the first word I had to say upon cleaning them off was "wow!" One of them was the size of my hand and was almost completely comprised of pure black Uranium mineral!

I live only about an hour or so from Ruggles Mines in New Hampshire and two hours from Swamp Quarry #1 in Maine. Both are known for high quality Uraninite deposits. Once the snow melts, I'll have to go and do a prospecting trip of my own.

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Carl Willis
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Re: New Uranium find at Bryson City, NC

Post by Carl Willis » Wed Jan 04, 2006 6:13 am

Thanks to Q for sharing a piece of his haul. I'd have done the same, especially if I were going home with a new x-ray transformer!

And Brian, if you do get up the urge to go collecting in NH, maybe I'd join you for a weekend. Ruggles has produced some phenomenal specimens of that unique gummite-uraninite pegmatite, but it is well known and may be hard to collect at (although most people are probably handicapped because they don't show up there with giant scintillators). Nearby on I-89 is rumored to be a roadcut filled with the same stuff, so phenomenally hot that the blast debris had to be specially interred because of radiation exposure problems! I'd love to locate this spot since it would guarantee good finds and a lot of material with no property-access problems. Of course, you're right that it's better to wait out the winter weather.

-Carl
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Re: New Uranium find at Bryson City, NC

Post by Q » Wed Jan 04, 2006 12:27 pm

heh, well i never actually made it to pick up said transformer, i ran into some car problems along the way.

but next time i get a few days off, perhaps i can do that and check out these other mine locations.

Q

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