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Uranium Drive In
The film follows a proposed uranium mill in southwestern Colorado—the first to be built in the U.S. in 30 years—and the emotional debate pitting a population desperate for jobs and financial stability against an environmental group based in nearby a resort town. Without judgement, both sides of the issue are brought to life in heart-wrenching detail as the film follows conflicting opinions and visions for the future. The film offers no easy answers but aims instead to capture personal stories and paint a portrait of the lives behind this nuanced and complex issue.
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Uranium Drive In

Filmmaker info pending
Running Time
70 minutes

Uranium Drive In

Uranium Drive-In, a feature-length documentary film, is a story about an economically devastated rural mining community in southwestern Colorado that finds itself hopeful for the first time in decades. Their potential salvation? A return to the “glory” days of the past: uranium mining and milling.
Over 60 miles from the nearest traffic light sits the town of Naturita, Colorado —population 519. Until the mid-1980s, it was booming from decades’ of uranium mining and milling. Today, many of its businesses are boarded up, unemployment is high and even the elementary school is for sale—its residents are desperate.
Enter Energy Fuels, Inc. and their proposal for the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill. Many townsfolk couldn’t be happier about what would be the first mill of its kind built in the U.S. in 30 years. A mill that would mean nothing less than reconnection to their proud and powerful history with uranium—the uranium used to build the first atomic bomb, the same uranium that ushered in the Nuclear Age. Naturita’s old-timer “Cold War Patriots,” once considered protectors of our country during wartime, now see another opportunity for patriotism: finding a greener energy source that would help free us from our dependence on foreign oil.
Not everyone shares these feelings. Sheep Mountain Alliance (SMA), an environmental group from a nearby wealthy resort town, is determined to bring the project to a standstill. Still struggling with severe health and environmental consequences of the last uranium boom and the superfund cleanups it necessitated, the majority of the Naturita community believes that today’s methods will be safer and cleaner.
The film follows three main characters—Tami Lowrance, Mayor of Naturita and strong proponent of the mill; Ayngel Overson, struggling mother of four who longs for the survival of her town but has mixed feelings about the uranium industry and having her husband working as an underground miner; and Jennifer Thurston, an activist with SMA fighting to stop the mill. She lost her father to what she believes was exposure to radiation.
With this film, we introduce audiences to an America West they are unfamiliar with. Visually, we are presenting both the beauty of the landscape and the immense destruction to that landscape that is the consequence of our national energy policy decisions. Uranium Drive-In avoids the predictability of making environmentalists heroes and pro-mill advocates the villains. The film offers a different perspective that we hope will spark dialogue about where our energy comes from, who the people are who work in this industry, and how their lives are impacted.

Filmmaker Notes:

I live in the resort town that is home to the environmental organization opposing the uranium mill in the film. The resort town of Telluride is about sixty miles from the communities featured in the film. Early on in the process, I began to follow the issue of the proposed mill as meetings and debates began, outlining the pros and cons. I went into the project assuming that this mill was a bad idea—after all I consider myself an environmentalist and was concerned about the impacts of the new mill on our watershed. As well, I was wary of nuclear energy.
After spending two years in this community really getting to know people and why they so desperately wanted the mill, I grew to understand that the issue wasn’t nearly as black and white as I had originally assumed. Many factors need to be weighed when we, as a nation, decide on a sustainable energy future.
While I am still not a nuclear energy convert, especially in regards to the front end and back end of the nuclear fuel cycle, I am aware that it may need to be part of our energy future if we expect to dramatically reduce our planet’s carbon emissions. Several world-renowned scientists, who were formerly anti-nuclear, have revealed to me that they see no way for our species’ survival without nuclear energy. They were adamant in their stance that renewable energy could never fulfill all of our energy needs. That does give one pause.

Film details
Year(s) screened
  • 2013
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