INHM: Uranium Fever
One night in 1955, with help from a black light, Spokane tribal members, Leo Bruce and the LeBrett twins, discovered uranium on their reservation. In the early 1950s, the U.S. government was paying premium prices for uranium, a key ingredient in nuclear weapons, sparking a nationwide fever of exploration. Tribal members partnered with Dawn Mining Company to operate this Midnite Mine; Dawn wasone of only two domestic companies that mined ore in crystalline host rock. Dawn also constructed a yellowcake processing mill in nearby Ford, Washington– close to transportation and easily accessible for private ore deliveries.
Nearby, they incorporated a town patterned after Colorado’s Uranium City, with a gas station, beauty shop, community well and modular homes for potential new workers. But local residents supplied adequate labor, and Uranium City closed in less than a decade. For more than 25 years, the demand for uranium fluctuated with government policies and stockpiles – and by 1982 Midnite Mine and Dawn Mill had closed. The mill’s contaminated structures, soil and tailings are now buried into deep evaporation
ponds, while Midnite Mine remains a Superfund cleanup site. The mill’s Geiger counter and 12 other tools and instruments are preserved in the museum’s permanent collection, reflecting one aspect of the region’s long mining heritage. And in the Smithsonian’s Gem and Mineral Collection, Mount Spokane’s “Daybreak” uranium crystals represent the Inland Northwest’s many uranium deposits.
The Inland Northwest History Moment is a collaboration of Spokane Public Radio and the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture (MAC), in celebration of 100 Stories, the museum’s centennial exhibition. www.northwestmuseum.org
More Resources: Spokesman-ReviewJune, 5, 2011 “Spokane Tribe members worked gladly in uranium mines” http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2011/jun/05/i-watch-them-die-young-and-old/ Spokesman-Review Nov.21, 2013 “Cleanup…” http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2013/nov/21/cleanup-of-midnite-mine-on-reservation-to-begin/