Historic Structures

National Radium Institute, Denver Colorado

Date added: January 25, 2010 Categories: Colorado Industrial

The National Radium Institute was incorporated in September 1913 to extract radium from domestic ores for use in cancer treatment and other technical studies, and in the process, to develop cost-effective methods of radium extraction. The National Radium Institute signed a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Mines in October 1913 under which the Bureau provided technical expertise and the Institute provided funding to purchase ores and to construct and operate a radium processing plant in Denver. The Denver plant was closed in 1917 after producing 8.5 grams of radium.

The discovery of the x-ray-emitting properties of uranium compounds by Henri Becquerel in the late 1800s and the subsequent discovery in 1898 and isolation in 1902 of radium by Pierre and Marie Curie led to a demand for radium salts among medical researchers experimenting with the use of radium to treat cancer. Carnotite and pitchblende ores from Colorado were shipped to Europe for extraction of radium salts. By 1912, Charles L. Parsons, U.S. Bureau of Mines, brought attention to the rising concern among scientists in the United States that radium-bearing ores from the U.S. were being sold at relatively low prices to European radium processors who, in turn, sold the refined radium salts back to researchers in the U.S. at a premium. With the threat of war in Europe, U.S. scientists became even more concerned with the need for the development of domestic radium processing operations.

The National Radium Institute (NRI) was formed as a result of these concerns. The NRI was Incorporated In the states of Delaware and Colorado In September 1913, with a total authorized capital stock of $150,000. The key directors of the NRI were James A. Douglas, Phelps Dodge and Company, New York, and Howard A. Kelley, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. Drs. Douglas and Kelley had approached the U.S. Bureau of Mines with a proposal to form an organization devoted to to the mining, concentration, and manufacture of radium, uranium, and vanadium from carnotite, pitchblende, and other radium ores. The NRI signed a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Mines In October 1913. The terms of this agreement Included the provision of technical support for the study of ore treatments and the supervision of the actual mining and processing operations by the Bureau of Mines, while the NRI provided capital for such operations. The first seven grams of radium produced were to be divided between the two hospitals represented by Drs. Douglas and Kelley for use in cancer treatment studies. Any radium produced by the NRI in excess of seven grams was to be donated to the Bureau of Mines for experimental purposes.

The National Radium Institute experimental plant was constructed In Denver in 1914. The old or "first" plant was completed in March of that year and experimental work began immediately. After the operational success of this plant had been demonstrated, the NRI began construction of the new or "second" plant. This second plant, which was completed in February 1915, permitted more rapid processing of radium. A boiler and compressor plant was built at the same time as the new or "second" plant in order to service both processing plants.

A separate building referred to as the sulphate building was constructed sometime prior to September 1915, probably contemporaneously with the old or "first" plant. This building was used for the refining of radium concentrate from the two plants. A nitric acid plant was constructed in December 1914 and January 1915 for the production of nitric acid from recovered sodium nitrate. A small concrete building was erected sometime prior to September 1915, which provided storage space for the recovered sodium nitrate.

The National Radium Institute plant in Denver was closed down by April 1, 1917. The NRI was officially dissolved in Delaware in late 1919 and in Colorado on January 20, 1920.

The plant was purchased by the Minerals Recovery Company in 1919. The company signed a contract for the production of 10 grams of radium in 1919. The Minerals Recovery Company sold the plant and equipment under contract in 1924 and went out of business in March 1925.

The site changed hands several times between 1925 and 1941, when the Robinson Brick and Tile Company started operations there. By 1956, a grinding plant had been erected over ground formerly occupied by the National Radium Institute's new or "second" plant. Only the sulphate or "lab" and office buildings remained standing from the days of radium processing on the site.