Voices from the Field

Risk and Reward: The Western Uranium Boom, 1948–1970
Nate Housley


Not far from the sophisticated labs of Los Alamos, New Mexico where the Manhattan Project developed atomic weapons, the United States government sponsored a search for uranium on the Colorado Plateau. The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) embraced the principle of free enterprise: those who accepted the risk of the search could reap a reward. The AEC set a price for uranium and a bonus for new discoveries, encouraging prospectors to scour the desert. Some made fortunes, while others lost their lives. 

This exhibit showcases oral histories recorded in 1970 (Uranium Oral Histories collection)*, the same year that the AEC stopped buying uranium. In the decades that followed, the dangers of radiation involved in mining and milling uranium ore became clearer. As you read the excerpts, consider: what were the risks for those involved? What were the rewards?

*except where noted




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