Radium Production and Price-Movement

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For every gram of radium obtained, 300 tons of uranium ore are processed. The picture shows the final concentration phase, in which   radium is obtained from carnotite by crystallisation.  The barium-radium mixture is dried in open pans (Canonsburg factory laboratory) [15]. 

Personnel in the radium industry were exposed to radioactive contamination.Through lack of knowledge and of suitable measuring equipment, this went unnoticed for a long time.  Many developed radiation sickness over the course of time.

The Standard Chemical Company factory in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, provided Marie Curie with radium.  Radium was produced in very small amounts from large quantities of uranium ore (pitchblende or carnotite).  Three hundred tons of carnotite were processed to produce 1 gram of radium. The price of radium, due to processing costs and high demand, varied from 60 to 180 US$ per mg.  Because of the half-life of 1625 years, it did not need to be renewed as long as the hermetic sealing of an applicator remained intact. Even a small quantity of radium has sufficient radiation intensity for a medical treatment.  For the irradiation of tumours, applicators containing 2½, 5, 10, or 20 mg of radium were used.

The table below shows the radium trade over the period around 1900 to 1930.  The total world production in that period was 575 grams.  Until 1921, the USA was the main supplier.  From 1921, the Belgian Congo takes over this position (region of Haut Katanga) with a rich uranium ore (pitchblende) which can be mined more cheaply. The Union Minière du Haut Katanga then becomes the radium supplier from Brussels in Belgium.

From the table, it appears that the price of radium was historically high when, in 1914, the Netherlands Cancer Institute placed an order for the hospital which was to open in January 1915.

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