What happened to the town of Uravan, Colorado?

· Dec. 4, 2023, 4:00 am
Uranium GambleUranium GambleRema Rahman/AP
This photo taken on June 22, 2012 from the site of the old uranium mill shows the view looking down the valley toward where the town of Uravan, Colo., once stood. A Canadian company’s plans for a new uranium and vanadium mill nearby are giving some residents hope that their area can once again be the uranium capital it used to be, but there are challenges, including opposition from environmentalists.

It's been almost 40 years since one Colorado community was wiped off the map. Uravan was a uranium company town established in Montrose County in 1935. Now, it’s a Superfund site because of its hazardous waste, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The small town piqued the curiosity of Kevin Pendergraft in Colorado Springs, who reached out to ask CPR’s Colorado Wonders: What happened to Uravan, and what was its connection to the Manhattan Project?

The town was connected to the Manhattan Project, the World War II effort to build an atomic bomb that saw some renewed interest this summer thanks to the blockbuster “Oppenheimer.” The movie chronicles physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer’s development of the atomic bomb and his regrets later in life about unleashing something so destructive.

As for Uravan, there was a uranium mine and mill, where quite a few people worked into the Cold War. But in the 1980s, the federal government declared Uravan unsafe because of radioactivity, and around 800 people had to move. The whole town was torn down, buried and now is just a patch of empty land that’s been remediated.

Jane Thompson grew up in Uravan. Her family’s life there started when her grandparents moved to town so that her grandfather could work in the uranium mine to support his farm. Thompson is now the president of the Rimrocker Historical Society in Nucla, Colorado. She also organizes gatherings with her former neighbors. She shared her perspective on the legacy of the town and its workers. You can listen to the full interview with Jane Thomspon on Colorado Matters.


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