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Mission Bell/Uranium


On this date in 1908, a young group called the Literary Society held a basket social to raise money to buy a bell for their schoolhouse belfry near Lankin, North Dakota. The bell arrived from the foundry embossed with the initials R.G.L.S., for Ramsey Grove Literary Society, and its pealing became a popular sound throughout the valley.

In 1954, the school was destroyed, and the bell laid unclaimed among the weeds for years. Donald Flaten was the son of one of the Literary Society’s members and grew up two miles from the farm. As a missionary, he came up with a new idea for the bell – send it to Africa. Back in North Dakota, the local Luther League agreed and raised $1,500 for crating and shipping. The bell now rings from among palm trees in the village of Balkoosa in Cameroon.

On a different subject -- most of us know that coal is mined in North Dakota, and North Dakota’s oil production has been in the news lately, providing jobs and upping the states’ tax revenues. Both of these energy sources engender a fair amount of discussion and controversy. But neither is as controversial as another energy source that was once mined in North Dakota. 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.

Written by Merry Helm