Underground and Radioactive

Adventures of a Uranium Miner in 1970s New Mexico

Non-Fiction - Memoir
220 Pages
Reviewed on 06/22/2017
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Author Biography

Former uranium miner who went on to become and economist. I had quite a few interesting incidents during my time underground. There's not much technical detail in my book rather, it's meant to be entertaining. It's more about the people and stories. It was a serious business but so many amusing things went on that I wanted to share the experiences.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Arya Fomonyuy for Readers' Favorite

Underground and Radioactive: Adventures of a Uranium Miner in 1970s New Mexico by R.D. Saunders is a memoir that is so aptly and succinctly described in the sub-title. The author recreates, in excellent prose and with vivid clarity, the joys and perils, the almost forgotten memories of those associated with the “Uranium Capital of the World” as they ventured underground in 1970s New Mexico. Beginning with a mining accident that almost convinced him his underground adventures would be over, the author leads readers into what it felt like, smelled like, and looked like to work as a uranium miner.

The writing is beautiful and it opens an entire world and experience to readers; the prose leaps off the pages of the book with unusual elegance, and it is sprinkled with vivid descriptions of tools, machinery, and processes, allowing the reader to have a complete picture of what mining looked like in the ‘70s. From the preface, the reader already feels how intimate the author is with the experience when he writes: “There is no other fragrance or resonance I know equal to that produced by the Jackleg rock drill operating at full bore; no other sight that matches that of walking up to a miner sitting atop a couple of hundred pounds of dynamite and casually finishing up his cigarette; and no more colorful characters than miners who spent the majority of their working lives underground.” R.D. Saunders offers exciting stories, builds memorable characters, and makes history come alive in Underground and Radioactive: Adventures of a Uranium Miner in 1970s New Mexico.

Geree McDermott

Entertaining, amazing, informative, and sometimes quite scary, R.D. Saunders’s memoir Underground and Radioactive is a collection of experiences the author encountered while he mined uranium ore during the 1970s. R.D. Saunders is a fluid storyteller with a great sense of humor and grabs our attention with his captivating narrative. We get to know him while he is in college, finishes a degree, and has no real prospects for the future. A friend tells him about a job in a uranium mine at Ambrosia Lake near Grants, New Mexico, which he gladly accepts. He soon finds himself going underground, first as a laborer, then as a miner’s helper, and finally as a miner. Although he has insecurities, R.D. Saunders finds mining exciting and loves it. He teaches us about drilling, blasting, and mucking. For those of us who are not familiar with mining jargon, the glossary helps the reader understand mining terminology. We learn the methods used to keep mines from collapsing, the safety regulations (many of which were often ignored), and how dangerous working in a mine can be.

I particularly appreciated the many photos included of not only the mine, but also of the surrounding area of Ambrosia Lake and Grants, New Mexico. I once lived in central New Mexico and although I saw mine shafts scattered about, I had no knowledge of mining. But now after reading R.D. Saunders's Underground and Radioactive: Adventures of a Uranium Miner in 1970s New Mexico, I have a better understanding of the inner workings of a mine and hold miners in greater awe. I give Underground and Radioactive a five-star rating.

Jack Magnus

Underground and Radioactive: Adventures of a Uranium Miner in 1970s New Mexico is a nonfiction memoir written by R.D. Saunders. While Saunders was a student at Illinois Wesleyan University, he had no idea if he would even be able to complete his studies. He didn’t have enough credits to be eligible for a draft deferment based on his attendance at college, and his number, while not that low, was by no means a guarantee that he wouldn’t be called up and sent to Vietnam. Saunders wasn’t called up after all, and he did graduate, but, like so many others, there was no work available after graduation, and he joined the ranks of the recently graduated and homeless. For a while, he worked as a security supervisor, but after that ended, he found himself in a waiting pattern. Then, his friend, Greg Hornaday, told him about the boom town he had discovered in Grants, New Mexico. Section 35 was a large uranium mining operation located in the Ambrosia Lake area. Kermac’s mine superintendent was looking for workers, and, Greg assured him, Saunders would have no problem being hired. Considering it would be a big improvement over minimum wage jobs, and still harboring a fascination with New Mexico after his years sharing his college dorm room with Cowboy, a New Mexican, Saunders took the trip with Greg to New Mexico. He was, indeed, hired on, given instructions on what he’d need to purchase, and scheduled for training. Saunders loved working the mines, even the mind-numbingly boring tasks assigned to new laborers, and he relished the time spent with the miners and other mentors who taught him the skills necessary to survive a challenging and often dangerous environment.

R.D. Saunders’s nonfiction memoir, Underground and Radioactive: Adventures of a Uranium Miner in 1970s New Mexico, is the author’s love song to the art and challenge of mining and his affinity with working underground. Before I began reading, I wondered how dry a book on this subject might be, but soon found that the author’s story was engaging and addictive. Saunders is a natural-born storyteller, and even being somewhat claustrophobic didn’t stop me from vicariously relishing his adventures while working as a laborer and eventually as a miner in Section 35. His accounts of the experienced men he worked with, and later those newer workers who became his helpers, are fascinating, especially his association and friendship with long-timer miner Cal Cargill. I found myself looking forward to the photographs that are interspersed throughout the narrative and avidly studying the machinery displayed in many of them. Yes, I’ve always been opposed to nuclear energy and fought the proliferation of nuclear power plants, but this book is not about those subjects. Yes, they mined for uranium, but the story of those miners, the life they led in that small boom town and the skills they used in making their working environment a safe one takes precedence here. Underground and Radioactive: Adventures of a Uranium Miner in 1970s New Mexico is most highly recommended.