Recovery and Red Stone Radiation, Part 3…

Wednesday. 10:27 am.

Less than a week away from, hopefully, the last surgery: the long-awaited colostomy reversal. As you can imagine, I am as excited as I am anxious. For those of you that have been following along with recent mountain-bike adventures to the Indian Peaks, our protagonist and champion, Rebecca, is excited and anxious for this last operation, too. In an effort to calm my pre-op restlessness through inspiration, she sent me the following quotation in a recent email:

May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.

As usual, with this little line of verse, she got my brains all riled-up. Ugh. But, kudos to her, great diversion. So, please bear with me as I try to un-rile with a little streamy consciousness…

…what does it mean? Well, first, the quotation, as a decontextualized reflection of the speaker’s movement, is beautiful and inspirational, both things that we have come to expect of Rilke’s verse. However, it’s but one sentence taken from a poem with a much larger message. After the author’s journey through an impoverished and declining imperial Russia, the poem was first published in 1905 – just in time to lend a voice to the revolutionary’s song. Sunday, bloody Sunday and all that. Moreover, leading to its contemporary relevance (at least to me), it speaks with what has become one of the quintessential European pre-modernist voices, whose rainer_maria_rilke_1900focus illustrates a comfortable entente with an indisputably subjective aesthetic, the poet’s ‘neighbor’ so to speak, the post-industrial incarnation of a stained God. As such, I would argue that the poem’s primary theme – it’s meaning – is the transcendent acceptance of the individual hermeneutic sensitivity. That is, God won’t (can’t?) interpret and explain the metaphors. There is no appeal to the traditional Western religious authority. It would be futile. Because, as the mustachioed Nietzsche had previously and emphatically pronounced, God is dead. The poem is, as its Bohemian author would surely demand, self-contained, true unto itself and – here is the important part – true to its speaker alone. Arrogance in the face of God notwithstanding, because, as the poet plainly explains, some things need to be said. The speaker is, as the philosopher would argue, in perspective. It is wholly Dionysian. I like it that way. For someone with cancer and heretofore little religious bent, this type of outlook – seen through the looking-glass of a poem where the first two words are I believe – has great appeal. It tends toward a carpe diem sentimentality cloaked in the ‘I have cancer but I ain’t dead yet’ idea of the existential freedom of will, without the dreary dead-end irony and meaninglessness of nihilism parts. Life matters! In the end, with Rilke’s help, there is freedom to be found in adventuring – amidst the swelling and ebbing, cancer or not, naked and afraid – down wilds that emerge into the immensity of the open sea…

Blah, blah, blah. Sorry, I’ve gone nuts again. Thanks Rebecca! But, I’m just trying to find some answers, not a particularly easy endeavor. Perhaps I should just shut-up, grab my camera, and go for a walk. Perhaps, I should just offer you a read of the whole poem (conveniently after I’ve blathered-on about it, sorry). Perhaps both. Wednesday is a good day for walks and poetry, after all. Here you go:

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.

I want to free what waits within me

So that what no one has dared to wish for

May for once spring clear

Without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,

But this is what I need to say.

May what I do flow from me like a river,

No forcing and no holding back,

The way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,

These deepening tides moving out, returning,

I will sing you as no one ever has,

Streaming through widening channels

Into the open sea.

Whew. Now, should you still have the energy, let us continue on with our bike ride and part 3…

On Boulder and Nuclear Physics

Part 3

“So, I hate that I’m asking this,” she said. “How does the whole nuclear bomb thing work?”

“Well, we have talked about the basics, just have to put them together to get to the scary stuff,” I replied. “Each nucleus is made up of protons and neutrons, right?”


“And those protons should repel each other but they don’t because they are held in place by the nuclear forces?” I asked.


“Right. You remember a guy named Albert Einstein? He had a crazy idea called the Special Theory of Relativity?”

“Of course, but I don’t know anything about the theory,” she said as we slowed to a gradual stop at the crest of a hill.mirror-lake-2

“Well, basically, he figured-out that mass and energy are just about the same thing when you get right down to it. That’s what the E-equals-M-C-squared thing is all about. But, it really isn’t important in everyday life,” I explained, pulling at the pedals to again start up the trail. The slow gain in elevation and light mountain air had begun to tear at my lungs. “That’s because the masses that are being moved around…don’t really change much…but when you start adding…then removing protons and neutrons…making nuclear reactions…the energy and mass changes get really large…really fast.”

“…How…much?” she asked, breathless, as we reached yet another plateau in the trail.

“Millions of times. Even billions,” I said. “If you were to split a large atom that has a bunch of protons and neutrons into two smaller atoms, Einstein’s equations will tell you that a massive amount of energy…relative to the mass of the tiny nucleus…would be released. That’s the real key. And, that’s just for one atom. A handful of say, uranium, has billions and billions of atoms.”

“So that’s how a nuclear bomb works?”

“Yep, basically,” I replied. “When you split an atom, it is called fission. The first nuclear bombs, like the ones used in Japan, were uranium fission bombs.”


*  *  *

Cap-in-Place. The cap-in-place alternative involves consolidating all contaminated soils and stabilizing the 130-arce tailings pile in place in an above-grade disposal cell at its current location on the Moab site. The edge of the existing tailings pile is approximately 750 ft west of the Colorado River.

*  *  *

“How do they split an atom in the first place?”

“They shoot a nucleus with a neutron.”mummy-sentinel

“Just one?” she asked. “That’s all it takes.”

“Yep, the nucleus is hit with a neutron and it splits into two or more smaller pieces, some more neutrons and all that energy that we’ve been talking about,” I said. “Then those free neutrons can go on to hit another big nucleus…and so on…until there are no more to split.”

“Wait,” she said. “That’s the chain reaction, right?”


“So that’s what the Rocky Flats trigger things are for?”

“That’s just what they do,” I said. “They shoot the nuclei of uranium atoms with neutrons.”

We continued on – up and down the lazy undulations, in and out of glade and meadow. For a time, we both, in unspoken agreement, allowed the wheels of our bicycles to turn. We flowed over the landscape as if carried on the cool alpine breeze ever so slightly above the rocky ground. The earthy scene flickered by, exposing itself to us in abstract streaks of awed splendor. Diaphanous sun-splashed splotches of green and blue and yellow seemingly replaced the rocks and trees and sky above in our own fanciful watercolor collage. Streaming past in a dreamlike haze, it was a painting that remained still and damp from the recent stroking of nature’s mohair. The sooty ground passed beneath – the heavy flavors of natural decay reached up to pull at my nose. The aromas of limp, dead pine needles and of prone, beetle-carved tree trunks were infinite and refreshing. As, too, were the acrid, metallic smells of the wet, mineral thick soils and the smoky preserves of Pine Destroyer and Artist’s Bracket mushrooms. This was the realm of near incomprehensible sensual gravity.

*  *  *

Solidification. This alternative involves adding a stabilizing agent to a soil or sediment. The reagent fills the interstitial spaces, blocking the flow of water and other fluids into these spaces and reducing contact and leaching of contaminants.

A study of seven solidification/stabilization reagents for treatment of contaminated sediments at the New Bedford Harbor Superfund site in Massachusetts did not give encouraging results. Concentrations of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure metals, particularly barium, copper, and zinc, actually increased in leachate generated from a number of post-treatment samples.mummy-pass

*  *  *

Rebecca pulled ahead of me and veered off onto a spur in the trail, coming to a slow stop. She dropped her bicycle to the side and ascended a small natural staircase of granite to an outcrop that projected slightly above the surrounding black and red of the short, stout alpine scrub. I followed. More than a pile of long deposited glacial debris, the top of the outcropping rewarded us with a magnificent view of the rutted mountains and gently curving plains to the southeast. Resting our now weary legs, we sagged, each to a flat granite-backed recline, and took comfort in our rocky perch. I plucked a frond from the small tuft of green that grew from the between the rocks at my side. I rolled its waxy body between my fingers and brought it to my nose. Spearmint.

*  *  *

Soil washing. Notwithstanding the name, most soil-washing processes do not actually wash soils. Rather, they use water, sometimes combined with chemical additives, to separate contaminated soils into its contaminated and clean constituents. Contaminants tend to bind silt and clay.

Technical feasibility may be even a more serious obstacle to the use of soil-washing at the Moab site. The soil-washing systems used to date have relatively low capacities. It would require 54 years to treat the Moab pile at 100 percent on-stream. Because residual contamination will remain after soil-washing, the resulting waste will still have to be managed and disposed of as radiological waste.

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