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Yellowcake Towns

Uranium Mining Communities in the American West

By Michael A. Amundson

Publication Year: 2004

"[Yellowcake Towns] provides us with not only an in-depth picture of the fluctuations of the demands for uranium over the previous half century but also a personal look at the health and economic implications on people and communities who supported such ventures at the behest of the government." —Utah Historical Quarterly

"A fascinating story, well researched and written." —Moab Times Independent

Michael Amundson presents a detailed analysis of the four mining communities at the hub of the twentieth-century uranium booms: Moab, Utah; Grants, New Mexico; Uravan, Colorado; and Jeffrey City, Wyoming. He follows the ups and downs of these "Yellowcake Towns" from uranium's origins as the crucial element in atomic bombs and the 1950s boom to its use in nuclear power plants, the Three Mile Island accident, and the 1980s bust. Yellowcake Towns provides a look at the supply side of the Atomic Age and serves as an important contribution to the growing bibliography of atomic history.

Published by: University Press of Colorado

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

MY INTEREST IN URANIUM MINING TOWNS began in the summer of 1990 while finishing my master’s thesis and working as an intern at South Pass City, Wyoming. I had to make several trips between the University of Wyoming in Laramie and South Pass City. Along the way I passed through the small town of Jeffrey City, which had been little more than a gas station called Home on the Range until the early 1950s when uranium ...

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pp. xv-xxiv

SINCE THE END OF THE COLD WAR in 1989, Americans have begun to consider seriously the social costs exacted by the development of the atom. Recent disclosures have revealed radiation tests conducted on unknowing children. Similar studies have probed cancer rates in the intermontane West presumably caused by nuclear testing. Still others have examined ...

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1 From Weed to Weapon: U.S. Uranium, 1898–1945

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pp. 1-15

IN THE EARLY DAYS OF WORLD WAR II , Cliff Hiett, a young vanadium mill worker from the small Western Slope town of Uravan, Colorado, was drafted into service. He left his family and joined thousands of other men, moving across five states in fifteen months during his training. Then an odd thing happened. Instead of being shipped overseas, Hiett ...

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2 To Stimulate Production and in Interest of Security: The First Cold War Uranium Boom, 1946–1958

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pp. 17-35

IN THE MID - 1950s Gardner Games company marketed an electronic board game called Uranium Rush. The board was colored to look like a variety of western landscapes including “purple mountains,” “green hill country,” and “sandy desert.” Each player was grubstaked with $15,000, and play proceeded by chance: each player spun an arrow that directed ...

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3 Uranium Company Towns in the American West

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pp. 37-52

WHEN THE GOVERNMENT - SPONSORED uranium boom began in 1948, the company town of Uravan was ready. Constructed in the 1930s on the site of a former radium camp, the town owed its existence not only to the mineral market but also to its parent company, Union Carbide. As in company towns throughout the nation, Uravan’s population had waxed and ...

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4 The Uranium Capital of the World I: Moab

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pp. 53-76

IN ADDITION TO THE COMPANY TOWNS of Uravan and Jeffrey City, the 1950s’ government-sponsored uranium boom brought sweeping changes to several independent small towns in the Rocky Mountain West. These communities, lacking corporate paternalism and control, were overrun by individuals responding to the government’s buying program, production bonuses, and ...

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5 The Uranium Capital of the World II: Grants

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pp. 77-103

UNLIKE MOAB, the small village of Grants, New Mexico, had neither a history of uranium mining nor a part in making atomic bombs. But after two major discoveries, it became the center of the largest uranium rush of the 1950s and home to five yellowcake-processing mills. Grants is located in the western part of the state about halfway between Albuquerque and Gallup. ...

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6 Allocation, Protectionism, and Subsistence: Changing Federal Policies to Preserve Domestic Producers, 1958–1970

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pp. 105-114

BY 1958 THE ATOMIC ENERGY COMMISSION ’ S (AEC) uranium procurement program was a tremendous success. Thanks to the price schedules and incentives offered through the AEC Circulars, uranium companies had been extremely successful with prospecting for new ores, mining, and building processing mills. In 1948 two mills produced just over ...

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7 Creatures of Uncle Sam: Yellowcake Communities During the Allocation and Stretch-out Periods

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pp. 115-134

BY 1958 URANIUM HAD TRANSFORMED URAVAN, Moab, Grants, and Jeffrey City into yellowcake communities in terms of their economy, landscape, and image. Just as the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) maintained strict control over the domestic industry, the futures of these towns and their citizens were intricately tied to the federal government. Grants Daily Beacon editor James B. Barber could have been speaking ...

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8 The Commercial Boom and Bust: Federal Policies and the Free Market, 1970–1988

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pp. 135-148

WHEN THE GOVERNMENT - SPONSORED uranium procurement program ended in 1970, the domestic industry appeared bleak. Twenty-two years of federal incentives and guaranteed markets had created an industry too big for its own needs. Since the 1958 allocation announcement, the government had been trying to wean U.S. producers and milling companies from federal dependence, but nuclear power plants were not ...

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9 Yellowcake Towns During the Commercial Boom and Bust, 1970–1988

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pp. 149-172

IN THE EARLY 1980s, residents of America’s oldest uranium town, Uravan, Colorado, could look back on their town’s past and see the evolution of uranium in U.S. national security. After providing yellowcake for the Manhattan Project’s first atomic bombs during World War II, the town had mirrored the boom and bust of the postwar uranium industry. During the glory days of the government’s procurement program, the Union Carbide ...

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10 Conclusion

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pp. 173-179

IN HER IMPORTANT BOOK The Legacy of Conquest, Patricia Limerick noted that in the American West the past and present often appeared so different that it was impossible to see the many elements holding the two together. Although the notion of cowboys using computers seemed at odds with our traditional vision of the West, Limerick suggested in what she called the “persistence of continuity,” that many elements of the past “were ...


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pp. 181-196


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pp. 197-204

E-ISBN-13: 9780870817137
E-ISBN-10: 0870817132
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870817656
Print-ISBN-10: 0870817655

Page Count: 204
Publication Year: 2004