Uranium mining in Utah boomed as the United States began their nuclear build up following World War II. Although Utah’s uranium boom was short lived, it had long lasting consequences.
Before World War II, uranium was considered an unlucrative resource to mine. However, the United States' dropping of the atomic bombs changed the worth of the element. Nuclear weapons, such as the atomic bomb, are made from uranium: a heavy element which, when split, causes extreme heat and pressure, and thus, astonishing damage. Shortly after World War II, the United States engaged in a cold, non-combatant conflict with their former ally, the Soviet Union. These superpowers engaged in competition on all fronts, including in sports, space, and nuclear build up. Four years after the United States dropped the atomic bombs, the Soviet Union successfully tested atomic bombs of their own, thus igniting an arms race.
During this time of nuclear build up, the value of uranium surged. The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission began offering huge sums of money for miners. In 1952, Charles Steen, an unemployed and unsuccessful geologist, moved his family into a trailer in the middle of the desert as he began the search for uranium near Moab. He discovered an ore bed worth more than $60 million dollars. His discovery drew many miners to Moab in search of uranium. Soon Utah was dubbed “The Uranium Capitol of the World.” Between the years of 1946 and 1959, there were 309,380 claims of uranium found in Utah, and by 1955, there were about 800 operating mines. The uranium boom brought other businesses to Moab and the city began to grow exponentially. Other uranium rich mining towns in Utah enjoyed similar growth. However, the uranium boom was short lived, peaking in 1958 and declining in the 1960s.
Today, Moab and other uranium mining towns are tourist destinations where people can hike, mountain bike, and rock climb. Nevertheless, Uranium mining has had long lasting implications for its communities. Many of these communities are affected by poverty, natural resource dependence for economic growth, and great social inequalities and divisions. Longtime residents have experienced serious illnesses such as cancer due to their exposure to Uranium. Despite these impacts, residents of the uranium regions continue to support the industry because of their tie to its history, their patriotism, and their ongoing hope for a booming economy.