RED SHIRT | Drive over the bridge spanning the Cheyenne River and you'll see the classic three-pronged radiation signs on a sign reading "Warning! Radioactive River."

The signs marked a gathering Tuesday for about 20 people who called for the federal government to begin cleaning up the thousands of abandoned uranium mines scattered across the country.

In a baseball field near the bridge at the Red Shirt school, which is about 40 miles southeast of Rapid City, the rally-goers called for Congress to appropriate money to get the process started.

"We can't do this ourselves, we're going to need more help," said Charmaine White Face of Defenders of the Black Hills, the group that organized the rally.

White Face, 67, played master of ceremonies as a roster of speakers — a physician, a war veteran, a Buddhist activist, a former presidential candidate — rose to stump for a clean-up plan.

Jill Stein, who ran for president in 2012 on the Green Party ticket, said the savings in health costs would more than offset the cost of cleaning up the mines.

"It's time to clean them up," she said. 

Other speakers talked about their opposition to nuclear weapons and nuclear energy and advocated for making a switch to renewable energy sources.

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South Dakota is home to 272 abandoned uranium mines or prospects, according to a Defenders of the Black Hills fact sheet. They are but a small slice of the thousands of uranium mines now abandoned across more than a dozen western states.Three quarters of those mines are found on tribal or federal lands.

Inhaling uranium over a long period of time has been linked with chronic lung disease, according to an Environmental Protection Agency fact sheet.

Exposure to radium has "resulted in acute leukopenia, anemia, necrosis of the jaw, and other effects," according to the EPA. "Cancer is the major effect of concern from the radionuclides."

Contact Joe O'Sullivan at 394-8414 or joe.osullivan@rapidcityjournal.com

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