Several Great Plains states have been home to uranium production since 1945. Beginning in 1947, the Atomic Energy Commission offered government subsidies, including guaranteed prices and discovery bonuses, to stimulate uranium production for America's cold war defense. A uranium rush ensued, and claims were staked throughout the region. Successful mines and processing mills near Edgemont and Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and the Wyoming towns of Shirley Basin, Jeffrey City, and Douglas produced and sold uranium concentrate, or yellowcake, to the federal government. The program was so successful, however, that supply exceeded government demand, and the industry collapsed in the late 1960s.
Following the close of the government program, the energy crisis of the 1970s fueled the expansion of nuclear power plants and created another uranium boom. This time, the mills at Edgemont, Jeffrey City, and Shirley Basin produced yellowcake for commercial power companies. But after environmental fears following the Three Mile Island accident in March 1979 stopped further nuclear generator construction, the industry again collapsed, and most mines and mills were closed by 1985. Since then, the new and comparably inexpensive extraction technique of in situ mining, during which solvents are pumped directly into the underground ore body, allowed to dissolve and leach out the uranium, and then pumped back to the surface, has made Nebraska one of the leading uranium-producing states in the country. Uranium mining is still active in Saskatchewan, but the mines are located to the north of the Plains portion of that province.
Although comparatively little uranium is currently produced in the Great Plains, former uranium mines and mill sites face costly environmental remediation and continuing maintenance and radiation checks.
Michael A. Amundson Northern Arizona University
Albrethsen, Holger, and Frank E. McGinley. Summary History of Domestic Uranium Procurement under U.S. Atomic Energy Commission Contracts: Final Report. Grand Junction CO: U.S. Department of Energy, 1982.