Regulatory Process for Uranium Mining,
Processing, and Reclamation in Colorado
Colorado has a long history of metal mining, including uranium mining. Uranium mining in Colorado first began after the discovery of radium around the turn of the 20th century, and it continued until the discovery of a rich vein of uranium ore in the Congo in the 1920s. The uranium produced by this mine supplanted uranium from other sources, including from Colorado, and it was not until the 1930s and 1940s that uranium mining recommenced in earnest in the state.
Uranium mining in Colorado accelerated in the 1940s with the expansion of the atomic weapons project as part of the war effort (Figure 7.1). The Manhattan Engineer District established an office in Grand Junction, Colorado, for uranium mining, extraction, and recovery; much of this early uranium processing occurred at abandoned metal mines. Considerable uranium ores coexist with vanadium in an area of Colorado known as the Uravan Mineral Belt, and mines in this area usually produce both uranium and vanadium. Today, the Uravan Belt contains over 1,200 historic mines that produced 63 million tons of uranium and 330 million pounds of vanadium from the late 1940s to the late 1970s (CO DRMS, 2011).
Mining techniques used in the middle 20th century were very crude by today’s standards, and little attention was paid to waste disposal and reclamation. Mine
FIGURE 7.1 Uranium mining by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in Colorado, 1958. Uranium mining expanded dramatically in the United States after World War II, from 38,000 tons in 1948 to 5.2 million tons in 1958—nearly all of it for nuclear weapons production. SOURCE: USDOE Office of Environmental Management.