Uranium Frenzy: Saga of the Nuclear West

Uranium Frenzy: Saga of the Nuclear West

Uranium Frenzy: Saga of the Nuclear West

Uranium Frenzy: Saga of the Nuclear West

Excerpt

In 1952, a currently unemployed geologist from Texas, Charlie Steen, succeeded in locating the largest deposit of high-grade uranium ore in the United States. His Mi Vida Mine, struck in an area thought to be unpromising, started a stampede of prospecting that was like the westward movement and the great gold rush rolled into one.

It was the first and only mineral rush triggered by the U.S. government. America, on the threshold of the nuclear age, was desperate for a domestic source of uranium. The Atomic Energy Commission was the only buyer of the ore. But it was ordinary citizens who engaged in a massive treasure hunt to satisfy the nation’s needs.

Real estate salesmen, schoolteachers, hash-slingers and lawyers competed with trained mining engineers on a near insane quest to discover uranium in the redrock deserts of the Colorado Plateau, where Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico conjoin. Hard on the heels of the ore-seekers, promoters snapped up the claims—with or without any indication of ore—and went after venture capital to get the mines operating. Some of these “wheeler dealers” were financial wizards who contributed to the buildup of domestic uranium reserves. Others were rogues, with flimsy get-rich-quick schemes. Overnight, most of them became millionaires, and many lost it all because they couldn’t resist the next deal.

Self-proclaimed securities brokers created an over-the-counter frenzy. Staid Salt Lake City became “The Wall Street of Uranium Stocks.” Market “experts,” most of them fresh out of college, were like Super Bowl rookies who had never played the big game. Motivated by quick money and the lure of action, they were the forerunners of the risk-takers we have often seen on Wall Street.

But there was a dark side to the uranium dream. An invisible, odorless and intangible menace lurked underground, where radon daughters—the decay products of uranium—were destroying the lungs of American miners. As early as 1950,industrial hygienists like Duncan Holaday warned of tragedy . . .

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