FACT SHEET on Uranium Mining and
1. Uranium mining in South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota began in the middle of the 1960s. World War II, which ended with the nuclear bomb, introduced the use of nuclear energy for the production of electricity and caused the price of uranium to rise. As the economy of the Midwestern states depends primarily on agriculture, when uranium was discovered in the region, many get-rich-quick schemes were adopted. Not only were large mining companies chopping off the tops of bluffs and buttes, but small individual ranchers were also digging in their pastures for the radioactive metal. Mining occurred on both public and private land, although the Great Sioux Nation still maintains a claim to the area through the Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868.
2. In northwestern South Dakota, for example, the Cave Hills area is managed by the US Forest Service. The area currently contains 89 abandoned open-pit uranium mines. Studies show that one mine alone has 1400 mR/hr of exposed radiation, a level of radiation that is 120,000 times higher than normal background of 100 mR/yr. There are no warning signs posted for the general public anywhere near this site! It is estimated that more than 1,000 open-pit uranium mines and prospects can be found in the four state region from a map developed by the US Forest Service.
3. The following agencies are aware of these abandoned uranium mines and prospects: US Forest Service, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Bureau of Land Management, SD Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the US Indian Health Service. Only after public concern about these mines was raised did the USFS and the EPA pay for a study of one mine this year, 2006. No studies have been completed on the health effects to humans or the environment.
4. The water runoff from the Cave Hills abandoned uranium mines empties into the Grand River which flows through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Three villages are located on the Grand River and their residents have used the water for drinking and other domestic purposes for generations. One village still uses the water for drinking and domestic purposes. The water runoff from the Slim Buttes abandoned uranium mines empty into the Morreau River which flows through the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. Four villages are located on the Morreau River; however, no data is currently available about their use of the Morreau River water. Both of these rivers empty into the Missouri River which empties into the Mississippi River.
5. In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed a secret Executive Order declaring this four State region to be a “National Sacrifice Area for the mining and production of uranium and nuclear energy.”
6. In southwestern South Dakota, the southern Black Hills also contain many abandoned uranium mines. Nuclear radiation near Edgemont, SD, has already polluted the underground water of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation according to a study completed in 1980 by Women of All Red Nations. The US Air Force also used small nuclear power plants in their remote radar stations and intercontinental ballistic missile silos which also number in the hundreds in this four State region.
7. In Wyoming, hundreds of abandoned open-pit uranium mines and prospects can be found in or near the coal in the Powder River Basin. Yet plans are being made to ship more of that coal to power plants in the Eastern part of the United States. Radioactive dust and particles will be released into the air at the power plants. Federal tax dollars totaling more than $2.3 billion dollars as a loan are planned to be given to a private business, the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad, to increase the amount of coal hauled to the power plants.
8. More than 7,000 exploratory wells have been drilled in South Dakota and Wyoming surrounding the Black Hills which contain many sacred places and burial sites. In this process many of these sacred sites have been destroyed. The wells are 500-800 feet in depth and have already introduced uranium into the underground aquifers. Now, new mining companies are trying to avoid South Dakota's slow legislative process to monitor “In Situ Leach Mining” by seeking permits before the regulations are complete.