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Bowman County hosts informational meeting about uranium mining

Due to an increasing interest in uranium, southwest counties in North Dakota may once again face the possibility of uranium exploration and mining after an almost 30-year lull.

In an effort to educate and prepare county leaders about the impacts exploration and mining may have, Bowman County, along with the Bowman County Development Corp. and the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties, held a Uranium Summit at Hawks Landing in Bowman on Tuesday.

"Western North Dakota contains several areas of known radioactive mineral deposits, some of those being in Bowman, Slope, Stark, Billings and Golden Valley counties," North Dakota State Geologist Ed Murphy said Wednesday.

The summit included presentations by geologists about the mineral, how they find it, what it is used for, the history of uranium in North Dakota and how exploration and mining has impacted other communities in other states.

"The summit was very informative," said Rick Braaten, Bowman County commissioner. "We want to stay ahead of the eight ball, so I think it's great that we are talking about it now."

Pine Abrahamson, also a Bowman County commissioner, said he was excited about job opportunities and revenue exploration and mining may bring to the area.

"My only concerns are how the state will set up the tax structure and the chemicals and products they pull out of the ground associated with mining," Abrahamson said.

According to the North Dakota Geological Survey website, in recent years people have expressed concern for human or livestock consumption of uranium in groundwater and radon levels near the deposits in areas of southwestern North Dakota.

The Department of Energy has also conducted studies into the spread and potential health risks of radioactive dust that spread from the uraniferous lignite burn sites, both at the mines and the Belfield and Bowman kiln sites in the '60s.

Braaten and Abrahamson agree that they don't foresee the counties being impacted as much by the uranium as they were with oil.

"The area where they think there is uranium is more confined than the Bakken Formation," Braaten said. He added the presenters made it sound like uranium is transported more through pipeline rather than trucks.

"I could be wrong about the impact we will see," Braaten said. "But in my viewpoint, with all that we have seen with the oil, we know the drill and people will be ready if it does come."

Murphy said the majority of the uranium mining in North Dakota ended in 1967, due to a change in laws regarding proximity of mines to processing plants.

"A lot of companies moved closer to the processing plants because of the cost of transportation," Murphy said.