Geologists have been aware for many years that Bolivia - one of the world's most impoverished countries - has enormous concentrations of mineral wealth beneath its soil.
Geologists have been aware for many years that Bolivia - one of the world's most impoverished countries - has enormous concentrations of mineral wealth beneath its soil. Most of that wealth still has to be exploited.
But recently the Bolivian Government has encouraged test excavations for uranium, one of the World's most valuable elements. The test excavations have been concentrated near Potosi in the Quijarro Province.
There are five mines already in the area which produce other minerals, including tin. But in all of them a high level of radioactivity has been detected.
The mining company which has been authorised to carry out the tests has started its preliminary excavations at the Cotaje mine. Trenches have been dug on the surface which are 100 mtrs. (328 ft.) long, 20 mtrs. (65 ft.) wide, and only one metre (yards) deep.
The experts have found two types of material - uranium one and secondary material which has high concentrations of radioactivity. The deposits lie in fields of volcanic lava, and the company intend to sink deeper mines in the near future. When they do however, they will have to use drills tipped with industrial diamond heads, in order to cut through the volcanic material.
It is only in the last year that the company has felt that the results are sufficiently encouraging to enable the introduction of mechanised mining equipment. But now it is hoped that in the near future it will be possible to mine the deposits of uranium and other radioactive material on a commercial basis.
If similar deposits are found in the other mines, it is envisaged that all five could be linked into a giant industrial complex.
The research work is being assisted by Bolivia's National Centre for Nuclear Medicine, which is situated in La Paz. Experts there are carrying out tests on the materials excavated, analysing its chemical constituents and its radioactive strength. There is also a training programme for mining company employees on techniques for working with radioactive materials.
SYNOPSIS: Bolivia is one of the poorest countries of the World, but at the Cotaje mine near Potesi, south of La Paz, test excavations are being carried out for uranium and other radioactive materials. There are five mines in the area producing conventional minerals such as tin. But in all of them, radioactive radiation has been detected.
The Bolivian Government has therefore authorised the mining company to carry out test excavations on the surface. The results indicate rich deposits and these trucks may soon be carrying a much more valuable cargo.
Assisting in the research work are experts at Bolivia's Centre for Nuclear Medicine, which is in La Paz. Here, tests are carried out on the material excavated. It has been found that two types of radioactive deposits lie in the fields of volcanic rock - pure uranium, and secondary material which is highly charged with radioactivity. The Centre also carries out tests on employees of the mining company to check for radiation effects, and there is a training programme on working with radioactive material.