U is for Uranium
Uranium is a radioactive element, which in its enriched form is used as the basis of most types of nuclear weapons and as fuel for nuclear power plants. As the world's fossile fuel reserves had almost completely been exhausted in the second half of the 21st century, the realization of economically viable nuclear fusion presented a promising solution to the energy crisis, which the underdeveloped renewable energy industry had failed to do. New power plants were erected, existing ones modified, and even the first weapons and vehicles were produced, taking advantage of sophisticated miniaturized fusion technology. In retrospect, with more time nuclear fusion could probably have averted what ensued; as it was in 2077 the world was still too dependent on oil. The switch to fusion energy only partially completed, and only in the most developed regions, global devastation and nuclear winter followed as the Great War settled the conflict over the last remaining oil reserves. Now more than ever, energy is an extremely valuable commodity, together with fresh water supplies deciding the fate of the various settlements in the wasteland that slowly rose from the ashes. Though the theoretical knowledge of nuclear fusion has been lost, some power plants, generators and equipment survived more or less intact and are now the wasteland's main source of energy. This has in turn created a new dependence, no longer on oil, but on the rare uranium ore. Many prospectors spend their days surveying the wastes in vain, hoping to strike one of the fabled "mother lodes" on their mining claims. Thus far there is only one known source of uranium, and its continuous flow is of vital importance to the major powers in the region. From the mining town of Broken Hills regular caravans leave for Vault City, Gecko and the NCR, trading uranium for medical supplies, cattle or money. The mining operation is often cited by proponents as an example of how the harmonious coexistence of humans and post-humans can benefit all those involved. The uranium ore is mined by teams of Super Mutants, who seem impervious to the harmful radiation. The town's refinery is operated by Ghouls, benefiting from the stores of technical know-how accumulated in their extended life spans. The business side and organization of caravans is handled by the regular humans. The uranium trade is so crucial that even those inimical to mutants see themselves forced to deal with Broken Hills. However, the risk of disrupting the uranium flow and Broken Hills' isolated location act as a strong deterrent to those who would consider taking over the town by force.