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Uranium Mining

3/27/2004:

Geological research conducted between the late 1940s and late 1970s revealed more than 40 land deposits with increased radioactivity in Bowman, Slope, Stark, Billings, and Golden Valley counties, where uranium was found embedded in lignite coal. Nobody was allowed to possess uranium except the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

In 1956, mining began, but it proved difficult to extract the uranium. The problem was solved in 1962 by burning off the lignite in open-pit mines for 30-60 days to concentrate the uranium. The ash was collected and sent to refining plants to produce “yellow cake,” from which pellets were made for nuclear reactors or atomic devices.

Most North Dakota activity took place during the 1950s, but there was a second wave of interest in the 1970s. The 1979 disaster at Three Mile Island brought Uranium mining to a stop, but the old pits weren’t filled in until the ‘80s and early ‘90s.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm