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How Not to Do It

Ten Tons of Sodium And Just One Lake

Via on Twitter (and that via C&E News), I bring you the definitive what-are-we-going-to-do-with-all-this-sodium video. The end of World War II brought all kinds of material disposal problems – you may have seen footage of virtually new airplanes being dumped into the sea and the like. Some of those disposal problems are still with us, like the unexploded ordnance that keeps turning up. But these barrels of sodium, no one ever had to worry about them again. . .

23 comments on “Ten Tons of Sodium And Just One Lake”

  1. p says:

    So is that pro-OSHA or anti-OSHA? Can’t tell, ’cause I thought the disposal was cool.

  2. Chemist turned hedgey says:

    (sigh) it was sodium being dropped into water (albeit on a slightly smaller scale) in 1986 that got me into Chemistry in the first place. I suspect if all that legislation had been in place in the 1940s, WWII would never have happened. Somebody might have got hurt…

  3. petros says:

    Wonder who tried to swim in that lake too soon after?

  4. partial agonist says:

    The narrator mentioned the lake was already alkaline. Maybe they should have instead found an acidic lake, and helped neutralize it!
    (Not that even that much sodium would change the overall pH of a large body of water all that much).
    I am not exactly clear on why it needed to be destroyed at all- it would seem to have an indefinite shelf life, and would have some industrial use, eventually

  5. molecular architect says:

    Wish the video was in color. Spectacular but what a waste of resources.

  6. myma says:

    My goodness! I wonder what what molar that lake is now.

  7. milkshake says:

    Now you can catch lutefisk in that lake

  8. peej says:

    What was the industrial use for hundreds of thousands of pounds of metallic sodium? Just curious…

  9. pete says:

    @7 milk
    — and smoked salmon 🙂

  10. DavidQ says:

    @peej and @partial: If you listen to the narrator, the industrial use of the sodium was Blowin’ Stuff Up, and the reason it had to be disposed of is that no commercial carrier would move the stuff to a buyer.

  11. Anonymous says:

    @8 since the “sodium quench” was done in a remote parts of Washington State, my guess is that it was destined as a heat transfer liquid for fast breeder reactors for Pu production that did not get built in the end.

  12. Chris says:

    I’m sure I read somewhere that Geoff Wilkinson did much the same thing as a schoolboy (in a harbour in England rather than the States). And I’m fairly certain he then went on to repeat with Aqua Regia instead of water…… Maybe somebody can track down the reference?

  13. Chris says:

    I’ve found it… It wasn’t Geoff Wilkinson, but Joseph Chatt, here:

  14. Donough says:

    @ 8
    Not many. But sodium hydroxide would be very useful even back then. Used extensively in the pul industry.

  15. okemist says:

    @8,14 Liquid Sodium metal is used as a heat transfer fluid in nuclear reactors.

  16. You're Pfizered says:

    That was the most fantastic video this side of watching cells go into apoptosis.

  17. monoceros4 says:

    I’m gonna guess that the sodium was used to make lead tetraethyl.

  18. Dan says:

    And I thought those Theodore Gray videos of ~180 g of the stuff were impressive …

  19. Gene says:

    I never get tired of that video. And we all know we’d pay money to watch somebody dump 20,000 pounds of sodium into a lake!

  20. Anonymous says:

    “No commercial carrier would move the suff…”
    That figures. Lots of war materiel was made on a very short-term basis – containers good for a year or so – and a lot of accidents in handling unfamiliar materials *in bulk* were covered up.
    However, I’m still surprised that the problem was transport: my guess would’ve been that a quarter-ton barrel of military-grade sodium isn’t anywhere near the level of purity expected for industrial reagents.
    Good enough for dropping on burning cities, but not much else. And definitely not good enough for use as a molten-metal coolant: that’s very challenging mettalurgy and dissolved Mg and Ca might dissolve (or make deposits on) the cooling pipes.
    And it’s too late when you’ve got the hard-to-handle metallic product: all the easy (-ish) chemical and physical separations are done well before you apply an electrical current to the melted slug of salt… Which was probably raw sea-salt, or something out of a salt mine that used to be a dried-up lake bed.

  21. John David Galt says:

    Looked like a pretty good way to do it to me. I was disappointed they had the good sense to drop the stuff from a high cliff, so no one had to be within 2-3 times the blast radius.

  22. Dave says:

    Back in mid-80’s I was on vacation with my kids on northern Lake Michigan. Beautiful yellow sand beaches & dunes. Anyway. I had a couple of “what are we going to do with THIS?!” materials from the old Harshaw Chemical Company central R&D stock room.(Harshaw is mentioned a few times in Clark’s “Ignition!” [a fun read, Thanks Derek!] as rocket fuel tinkerers (F chemistry)) One of the things I had was 500g cylinder of Na. July 4th at dusk I took to a rubber life raft and paddled out a 50 m and threw said Na oh, about 20 ft. Strangely it sank.
    (density is supposedly 0.97) It wasn’t long before it came to the surface in a mass of bubbles and mini-flashes. Within seconds it ‘detonated’ and flinging chunks in a 360° circle. Whereupon the chunks hit the water and detonated again flinging still more (smaller) flaming chunks in all directions. At this point, I’m realizing that being in a rubber boat in the path of flaming metal (and NaOH) is a bad idea and have started to paddle furiously away from the event. I did manage to out run it, my kid’s (on shore) seemed most impressed. I’m not sure with what. Might have never seen dad move so energetically before…

  23. kyle says:

    I would hate to be down wind of that….
    Surprise, it’s not steam. say goodbye to your lungs and mucous membranes.

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