2023 Excellence in Visual Digital Storytelling, Medium Newsroom finalist

A Uranium Ghost Town in the Making

About the Project

America’s uranium industry collapsed four decades ago, but has not stopped damaging health and the environment.

When ProPublica learned federal agencies tasked with regulating the industry had never fully audited its successes and failures in cleaning up the nation’s 50-plus former uranium mills, we decided to do it ourselves. Our first-of-its-kind analysis, which involved reviewing thousands of pages of government and corporate documents, identified more than 250 million tons of uranium mill waste that has yet to be cleaned up or has been improperly handled. Some of the radioactive tailings have scattered into nearby communities, spilled into streams and leaked into aquifers.

Nowhere was harm more evident than the Homestake site in northwest New Mexico, where our reporting exposed a company buying out hundreds of property owners, requesting residents sign nondisparagement agreements and liability waivers, and tearing down a once-vibrant community in the name of cleanup.

The powerful multimedia experience we created features compelling videos, drone cinematography, animated graphics, illustration, collage, and photography. It also includes a public service illustrated explainer on how to protect oneself from radon gas.

These visuals help viewers understand the dimension of the contamination problem, and empathize with the human drama of the neighbors who have lived there for decades, exposed to pollution that severely affects their health. The documentary-style cinematography used in the short videos and cinema graphs creates an intimate atmosphere where the neighbors share their problems and concerns about living with the imminent fear of death and illness.

The cinematography and use of drones in the video production allow the audience to fully immerse themselves in the environment and understand the frustration and sadness that the neighbors feel living in this place they love but can no longer call home.