Uranium Activities’ Impacts on Lakota Territory


  • Lilian Jones Jarding Oglala Lakota College


Uranium exploration, mining, and milling are the "front end" of the nuclear chain – the often-forgotten activities without which neither nuclear power nor nuclear weapons could exist. The history of these activities is virtually unknown to the general public outside mining areas, but most uranium mining in the United States has occurred on or near reservations. Both mining and milling were common on the northern Great Plains from the 1940s until the early 1980s.

This paper focuses on the history and impacts of those activities on Lakota Territory – the area now known as western South Dakota and North Dakota, eastern Montana and Wyoming, the panhandle of Nebraska, and northeastern Colorado. The general problems with past uranium activities, and current projects are covered.

In the last several years, a boom in uranium exploration and proposed new mining projects has brought new attention to the ongoing impacts of old mining and milling sites. This new uranium boom is a result of the belief that nuclear power will have a "renaissance" as a "clean" alternative to fossil fuels in an era of climate change -- and to a resulting spike in uranium prices. However, nuclear power is not clean, as this paper illustrates and as the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plants makes clear.