Numbers and types of microorganisms in uranium mill tailings were determined using culturing techniques. Arthrobacter were found to be the predominant microorganism inhabiting the sandy tailings, whereas Bacillus and fungi predominated in the slime tailings. Sulfate-reducing bacteria, capable of leaching radium, were isolated in low numbers from tailings samples but were isolated in significantly high numbers from topsoil in contact with the tailings. The results are placed in the context of the magnitude of uranium mill tailings in the United States, the hazards posed by the tailings, and how such hazards could be enhanced or diminished by microbial activities. Patterns in the composition of the microbial population are evaluated with respect to the ecological variables that influence microbial growth. ?? 1987 Springer-Verlag New York Inc.