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EMERALDS, GARNETS AND THE BOMB

Blog July 29, 2015

I realised the information on the city of my childhood. Sillamäe – a global miniature with a poetry of Konstantin Balmont’s fairies.*

It is known that Estonia is rich with slate (in the layers of rocks). Reserves prolong from St. Petersburg until Toompea (Tallinn). By the way, the clay which is on the top layer is 500 million years old.

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In 1946, when Hiroshima and Nagasaki received a nuclear bomb attack, the Soviet Union oughtn’t to fall behind in the arms race. Therefore, Estonian town Sillamäe was chosen for the creation of a nuclear bomb, because there was a lot of so-called “black” slate, which is rich with uranium dioxide (through the process of enriching, Uranium-238 was received – the main component for a nuclear bomb). For the bomb creation plenty geologists were sent (up to now the street is called “Geological”). In that time Sillamäe was a secret town and was called on the map “Moscow 400”

2 mines were constructed and 5000 prisoners were delivered. According to archive of the Sillamäe Museum, the working camp was considered “elite” because of the salary opportunity, secondly there was a good food, and thirdly the imprisonment term was 1/3 i.e. if you worked for 150%,  with a term of imprisonment of, lets say, 10 years, then, you would come out from the camp after 3,5 years with money.

As a result in 1949, the Soviet Union tested a nuclear bomb, and Sillamäe factory was almost closed until another appliance was found.  That is processing of rare-earth metals.

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From the Kola Peninsula loparite ore was delivered (which contained almost all the table of Mendeleyev). From it you could receive, for example, polirite – powder for polishing optical lenses, or titanic powder which is used as a pigment for producing the whitest paints.

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In addition, when processing loparite ore, such collateral effect as pure aluminum and yttrium was formed. They began to be used for cultivation of garnets in special machines. The crystals grew in a type of oblong lodges with four sides. By means of such method, it was possible to achieve a wide range of colours (pink, blue, green e.t.c)

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The group of gem cutters worked at the factory, who faceted crystals in the most different forms of facets. These garnets were delivered to Tallinn to company “Vasar”.

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Besides granates they grew such mineral as niobate of lithium which was used for defining impurity of gases at the vacuum soldering. For example, it was important in space equipment while welding two plates of metal together, – the seam has to be smooth and without bubbles in order to avoid bursting in a case of at big pressure in space.

Soon, employees of experimental group tried to grow up emerald (process of cultivation took the place in platinum bowls!). Emeralds turned out of so high quality that they couldn’t be distinguished from the Brazilian ones. Unfortunately, the emerald didn’t get into jewellery market (because of its competition) therefore emerald plates were used in laser equipment.

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* in 1905, Konstantin Balmont, one of the most visible representatives of the Russian poetry of the Silver age, wrote while being in Sillamäe, one of the best books, the collection of poems “In the Starry Fairy Tale”.

 

All the information and images are taken from Sillamäe Museum’s database.