Green River Star -

By Amanda Benson
Sweetwater County Historical Museum 

Device reveals county's nuclear past


This month’s featured artifact is a Geiger counter donated to the Sweetwater County Historical Museum by Arnold M. Hannum. Geiger counters are used to detect ionizing radiation, and similar objects have been used in the uranium mining business in Wyoming. This particular Geiger counter was produced by the Eberline Instrument Corporation of Santa Fe, N.M., and was copyrighted July 29, 1966 as the PRM-4 model. The Eberline Instrument Corporation was established in 1958 by Howard Clayton Eberline, a former employee of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory.

The technology behind this counter was developed by Hans Geiger and Walther Müller in 1928. Together, they developed the aptly named Geiger-Müller tube. Not only could the tube detect alpha and beta radiation, but it could also detect gamma radiation. The invention was easy and cheap to produce, eventually becoming the Geiger- Müller counter and later shortened to the Geiger counter.

Around the 1930s, Geiger counters were useful for uranium prospecting and exploration because the instrument was portable. Geiger counters are still used today but scintillation counters are used more often, especially by scientists.

While Wyoming is known for its uranium mining, Sweetwater County has been home predominately to coal and trona mining. There are a few known uranium mines scattered across the southern part of the county, but a large cluster of mines can be found between Bairoil and Wamsutter in the Red Desert area.

The first discovery of uranium in Sweetwater County was in 1937 at Lost Creek, north of Wamsutter. However, the first uranium claims in the county were not made until March 1954. The first claims were made by three different groups and made their claims all within the same week. A year later, an average of 205 claims were made weekly, with more than 8,200 claims in that year alone.

According to an article in the Rock Springs Rocket-Miner on Feb. 21, 1956, prospectors were allowed to stake a claim that was 600 feet wide and 1,500 feet long in the direction they thought the uranium deposit would run. Then they had 60 days after their discovery to file the claim at the county clerk’s office.

Today, uranium mining is an environmental issue in Wyoming due to concerns of the effects of mining on water tables, wildlife, and local populations such as Native American tribes and ranchers. The few uranium mines still in operation are located in the Powder River Basin.

The Geiger counter will be on display at the Sweetwater County Historical Museum during the month of October. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.


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