America's Secret Chernobyl
F A C T S H E E T
Uranium Mining and Nuclear Pollution in the Upper Midwest:
America's Secret Chernobyl
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 pushing 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 by the USFS 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 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.
4. 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 two years ago did the USFS and the EPA pay for a study of one mine this year, 2006.
5. 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 missile silos which number in the hundreds in this four State region. No data is available on the current status or disposal of these small nuclear power sources.
6. More than 7,000 exploration holes for uranium have been drilled in the southwestern and northwestern Black Hills. More are being planned in Wyoming. These holes go to depths of 800 feet. The exploratory process itself allows radioactive pollutants to contaminate underground water sources. South Dakota currently has no regulations for In Situ Leach mining of uranium.
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 as well as locally in the strip mining process. 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. Two other railroads currently haul coal out of this area.
8. 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. This is the same area of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty territory, the final home of the Great Sioux Nation.
This Fact Sheet regarding the past uranium mining and small underground nuclear power plants in the Upper Midwest region should give cause for alarm to all thinking people in the United States. This is the area that has been called “the Bread Basket of the World.” It is for this reason that we are bringing this issue to your attention. For more than forty years, the people of South Dakota and beyond have been subjected to radioactive polluted dust and water runoff from the hundreds of abandoned open pit uranium mines, processing sites, underground nuclear power stations, and waste dumps. Pollution does not stop at State boundaries so these places generating radioactive pollution to the air and water are also impacting the rest of the United States. Coal tainted with uranium and radiation that has gone and is going to Eastern power plants adds to the total amount of radioactive pollution. There needs to be a concerted effort to determine the extent of the radioactive pollution in the environment, and the health damage that has been and is currently being inflicted upon the people of the United States.
It is imperative that a federal bill be passed in Congress appropriating enough funds for the cleanup of ALL the abandoned uranium mines in this four State region. This harmful situation must not be placed on the end of the Superfund list of hazardous sites to be addressed in twenty years. The health of the nation is threatened. The cleanup of all of these mines and underground sites must occur now! Those responsible for this disaster must face the consequences, but the cleanup and health concerns of the nation need to be addressed first. We hope you will consider our request for concerted actions to be taken at the national level regarding these grave concerns. This problem of radiation pollution spreading throughout the United States has been allowed to quietly continue for much too long.
What you can do:
1. Contact your Congressional Representative and Senators by phone (202) 224-3121, through the mail, and email. Ask that they consider sponsoring a bill for the cleanup of all the abandoned uranium mines and prospects, and underground nuclear sites in the Upper Midwest Region of South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming.
2. Also ask your Congressional Representatives and Senators to support the Expansion of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) to include also those harmed by abandoned uranium mines and prospects in the Upper Midwest Region.
3. Include the fact that federal tax dollars should not be used to help a private railroad haul potentiallyradioactive coal to Central and Eastern power plants. Encourage your Senators and Representatives to tell the Federal Railroad Administration not to give aloan to the DM&E Railroad.
Charmaine White Face, Coordinator
Defenders of the Black Hills
PO Box 2003
Rapid City, SD 57709
Radiation Warning Signs Placed on Cheyenne River