Arin Billings worked with us for several months before returning to North Carolina. When she left here she was working on a film about Rocky Flats workers made ill from workplace exposure to toxins. Her excellent 3 minute film is available on line.
Archive for 2014|Yearly archive page
The Denver Post produced a very unusual video of ailing former Rocky Flats workers after recent meetings in Denver about their efforts to get government compensation for ailments from workplace exposures to which they feel they are entitled. Go to http://photos.denverpost.com/2014/03/17/video-stories-from-colorados-rocky-flats-workers/
One of the current controversies regarding Rocky Flats is the development of a very large residential-commercial community called Candelas across the whole length of the southern edge of the Rocky Flats site. See the following for an excellent well documented article on Candelas: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candelas_%28Master_Planned_Community%29,_Arvada,_CO
Biggest environmental scandal in Colorado history? The little known dumping of plutonium from Rocky Flats at Lowry LandillIn Environment, Plutonium, Rocky Flats on February 11, 2014 at 4:14 am
In 1994 then-Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary revealed that 1.2 metric tons (2,460 pounds) of plutonium, enough to make more than 400 bombs, was missing from Rocky Flats. Studies by various parties say some of it is in the environment on and off the site. A recent DOE report claims that the missing plutonium is buried at DOE’s Idaho National Engineering Lab. But this claim isn’t credible unless confirmed by an independent scientist with access to all pertinent data, because DOE earlier insisted that shoddy records made it impossible to estimate the quantity of plutonium in Rocky Flats waste buried in Idaho.
DOE’s claim to have found the plutonium O’Leary said was lost is countered by a series of three articles published in Westword in April 2001, by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Eileen Welsome. Working closely with environmentalist Adrienne Anderson, Welsome showed that a large quantity of plutonium waste from Rocky Flats was illegally dumped at the Lowry Landfill southeast of Denver (http://www.westword.com/authors/eileen-welsome/). She is quite familiar with plutonium, having received the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for reporting in The Albuquerque Tribune on an Atomic Energy Commission program to determine the health effects of plutonium by injecting it into the bodies of unwilling and unknowing people, most of them “poor, powerless and sick.” Her later The Plutonium Files: America’s Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War (1999) provided more information on this secret program.
Rocky Flats plutonium was dumped at the Lowry Landfill from the early 1950s until about 1980. During this period, according to Welsome, most of the large corporations in the Denver area and many smaller ones, disposed of many kinds of waste there. After Lowry Landfill became a Superfund site in 1994, the major polluters formed the Lowry Coalition and worked together to avoid high costs for the Superfund “cleanup.” Much of their activity was purposely off the record to avoid publicity. Lowry Coalition was ready to make Rocky Flats operators pay a high fee to clean up the radioactive materials. But, with the complicity of the EPA and the City of Denver (which for years owned the site), they reversed themselves, paid fees to get immunity from future charges related to the radionuclides, and worked out a “cleanup” scheme to reduce the quantity of plutonium and other toxins buried at the site by moving the toxins in liquid form through city sewer lines more than a dozen miles to the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District plant on the banks of the South Platte River in north Denver.
At Wastewater this sewage is treated, the cleaner water is released into the South Platte, the heavier plutonium-bearing sludge (“biosolids”) is trucked 50 miles east and spread as fertilizer on farmland, and mildly contaminated water is piped to irrigate city parks, parkways and school yards. Among the large polluters of the Lowry Coalition are the two major newspapers, the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, neither of which ever carried any story critical about the contamination at Lowry Landfill. .
In the summer of 2000 the plutonium-contaminated waste began flowing from the Lowry Superfund site at a rate of 20 to 25 gallons a minute. It will continue for 50 years or longer. Rocky Flats authorities denied that radionuclides from the plant were ever dumped at Lowry. But several drivers of tank trucks testified that they delivered liquid waste from Rocky Flats to Lowry Landfill, police officers said they saw some of the deliveries, and trucking company records confirm that the transport happened. A letter addressed by the Lowry Coalition to EPA shows alarmingly high levels of plutonium and americium at numerous wells drilled at the site and concludes that this material could only have come from Rocky Flats. The level of denial about what’s present at Lowry Landfill is high, well nigh universal among the polluters. But when denial meets documentation, documentation prevails. Welsome and Anderson provided the documentation. The extent of the denial makes this perhaps the greatest single environmental scandal in Colorado history.
Published in the Boulder Daily Camera, 1-26-14
A December 28 Camera article suggests that the proposed Jefferson Parkway is moving ahead. This toll road would add about ten miles to C-470, almost completing the loop around Denver. Some call it the “plutonium parkway,” because it would be built on the contaminated edge of the Rocky Flats site, where for four decades the explosive plutonium pits for nuclear warheads were made.
Plutonium released from Rocky Flats is present in soil on and off the plant site in the form of particles too small to see but not too small to do harm. Plutonium emits a type of radiation that cannot penetrate skin but that may wreck one’s health if it is inhaled or otherwise taken into the body. Lodged in the body, it continually irradiates surrounding cells, probably for the rest of one’s life. The result may be cancer or other ailments, including harm to offspring. Because it remains dangerously radioactive for a quarter of a million years, it poses an essentially permanent danger.
In 1970 P. W. Krey and E. P. Hardy, scientists with the Atomic Energy Commission (predecessor to the Department of Energy), sampled soil on and off the Rocky Flats site to a depth of 8 inches and analyzed it for its plutonium content. The heaviest concentrations were in soil along the eastern edge of the site in the area now intended for construction of the highway. In September 2011 Marco Kaltofen of the Boston Chemical Data Corp. collected soil samples along Indiana St. precisely where the proposed road would be built. He found plutonium concentrations roughly equivalent to what Krey and Hardy found in 1970.
Sampling done as part of the Rocky Flats cleanup on what is now the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge showed only a scant presence of plutonium near where the highway would be built. But these samples were collected in shallow surface soil, not at the deeper levels analyzed by Krey and Hardy.
Building the road would affect the environment. In 2004 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service performed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to create the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. But this EIS did not analyze the effect of construction of a highway in an area known to be contaminated with plutonium. Fish and Wildlife nevertheless provided land for the road.
The Camera article says proponents of the highway “cite a letter written by officials with the EPA and the Colorado health department in late 2011 stating that the risk of excessive cancer incidence for people who work at the refuge is below standards set by the state” and the federal government. This letter is meaningless, because there’s a latency period of 20 to 30 years before plutonium taken into the body produces cancer. Not until refuge workers have been at the site without interruption for at least this long will we have a better sense of the incidence of cancer among them.
People who live or work near the Rocky Flats site or who visit there may be unwittingly exposed to plutonium left in soil by those responsible for the ten-year Superfund cleanup completed in 2005. They made no effort to clean the site to the maximum extent possible with existing technology. Assuming incorrectly that plutonium left behind would remain in place, they willingly allowed an unknown quantity of plutonium to remain in the soil, with no limit on the amount allowed below six feet.
Plutonium particles brought to the surface by burrowing animals will be carried hither and yon by wind. They can be readily inhaled. The result decades later may be cancer or some other illness. Children are without question the most vulnerable. There is no certainty that any of us will be exposed or will become ill. But it is a definite risk. The inadequate cleanup done at Rocky Flats gambles with peoples’ lives. Constructing the Jefferson Parkway would up the ante on the gamble. The wise move is to avoid the site and to abandon the highway.
LeRoy Moore, PhD, is a consultant with the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center. For more on Rocky Flats, see www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org
Government effort to silence critics of nuclear policy continues; Sentencing of Transform Now Plowshares resisters set for January 28, 2014, in Knoxville, TNIn Democracy, Human rights, Nonviolence, Nuclear Policy, Peace on January 24, 2014 at 11:16 pm
Megan Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli will appear before Judge Amul Thapar in federal court in Knoxville, Tennessee on January 28, 2014, to be sentenced for the Transform Now Plowshares action on July 28, 2012. The three were convicted in May 2013 on charges of depredation of property and sabotage; they have been jailed since the guilty verdict because the sabotage charge, by definition, is a “crime of violence.” The sentencing will commence at 9:00am with a consolidated hearing which will likely be followed by separate sentencing hearings for each defendant.
“The action of the government from the outset has had one aim: to silence these messengers of truth,” said Paul Magno, spokesperson for the Transform Now Plowshares support team. “They succeeded in banishing from the trial all testimony about the vast gulf between the United States’ legal obligation to disarm under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the ongoing activities at the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, where production of nuclear weapons components is ongoing, and plans for a new $19 billion bomb factory are being drawn up.”
The message of the Transform Now Plowshares action was delivered in the early morning hours of July 28, 2012, when Walli, Boertje-Obed and Rice entered the ultra-high security area of Y12 and read an indictment charging the United States with failure to comply with its legal obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty. The opening paragraphs read:
The indictment delivered that morning was validated by U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark who testified at a motions hearing in federal court in Knoxville that ongoing weapon production activities at Y12 in Oak Ridge are “unlawful.” Clark, Attorney General when the United States signed the Nonproliferation Treaty, testified the US has failed to meet its legal obligations under that treaty and cited the 1996 opinion of the International Court of Justice that nuclear weapons states have an obligation to achieve nuclear disarmament. “It’s the single most important treaty we have ever had,” Clark told the court, adding, “The life of the planet is at risk from the one plant here in Tennessee.”
Contrary to the US commitment in the NPT, Y12 currently manufactures thermonuclear cores (secondaries, or canned-subassemblies) for W76 nuclear warheads under the Stockpile Life Extension Program. The purpose of the SLEP is to extend the life of warheads for decades; the ongoing W76 LEP is introducing significant modifications to the warhead’s military capability resulting in what some experts have called a new nuclear weapon. In addition, Y12 is planning to build a new bomb production facility, the Uranium Processing Facility, which will have as its sole mission the production of thermonuclear weapons components. The estimated pricetag for the UPF, originally $1.5 billion, is now $19 billion.
In an attempt to throw a blanket of silence over the Plowshares resisters’ concerns, the government chose to charge them with sabotage and, despite testimony about the symbolic nature of their action and the hopeful intent demonstrated throughout by their nonviolent behavior, an East Tennessee jury took less than three hours to convict them of all charges including the sabotage charge which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years.
Following the conviction, Rice, Walli and Boertje-Obed were taken into custody and labeled violent offenders. They were incarcerated in remote Ocilla, Georgia, to await sentencing. The government prepared a pre-sentencing report that recommended lengthy sentences, from 6 – 12 years, for the defendants; the US District Attorney in Knoxville has asked the judge to reject considerations of the nonviolent nature of the action and calls for downward departure from the sentencing guidelines, disingenuously characterizing the defendants and seeking penalties of at least six years—a sentence that would jail 84 year-old Megan Rice until she was nearly 90 years old.
“In this country, we often point to other nations, like China, Russia or Iran, where dissidents are imprisoned in order to silence their criticisms of the policies and practices of their governments,” noted Magno. “We like to think we are more enlightened, that in a free land like ours such draconian measures are out-of-bounds. But this case shows otherwise. The United States is determined to carry out its nuclear agenda, to continue to violate its treaty obligations, to build new bombs and new bomb plants, and they will even put an 84 year old nun in jail for the rest of her life if that’s what it takes to bury the truth.
“There is no mystery behind this action—the government simply knows its nuclear policy and practices can not bear scrutiny. They are, on their face, violations of our treaty obligations. They present a stunning double-standard—we refuse to allow Iran even to enrich uranium while we ourselves continue with full-scale bomb production and are spending billions on a new bomb plant.”
Witnesses expected to testify at the sentencing hearing include John LaForge of Nukewatch in Luck, WI; Mary Evelyn Tucker, Director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University; Andy Anderson, Veterans for Peace in Duluth, MN; Kathy Boylan of the Washington, DC Catholic Worker community.
for more information: Paul Magno 202 321 6650
Ralph Hutchison 865 776 5050
From a message sent 0n Sunday Jan. 5, 2014, by Michelle Gabrioloff-Parish, a member of Candelas Glows..
Outrageous New Icon for Rocky Flats
A local artist has decided to match the outrageous, radioactive history of Rocky Flats with a large, surprising work of art. Looking at Colorado’s newest historical horse sculpture conjures up images of the well know conversation-starting Bronco icon at Denver International Airport. It’s just as bright and confusing with a touch of disturbing, but it seems to have a much sweeter soul—which speaks to the “Wildlife Refuge” designation of Rocky Flats. It’s sure to leave viewers with more questions than answers. The life-size horse is wearing a magenta hazmatmsuit with black booties. A respirator partially covers a beautiful realistic face with thoughtful eyes.
The artist, Jeff Gipe has been interested in issues surrounding Rocky Flats for quite some time and was relieved when a local group, Candelas Glows, began raising alarms about new housing developments being built adjacent to the former nuclear weapons plant. But Jeff has a much more personal reason that he’s spent thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours, and lots of sweat and tears making his horse creation come to life. Jeff’s father worked at the plant for 20 years and like many of his co-workers, now suffers devastating physical effects of working at one of the world’s most notoriously polluted plutonium processing sites. In talking with members of Candelas Glows, Jeff became intrigued with the idea of memorializing the site.
Along with Candelas Glows and many community members, Gipe is concerned that Rocky Flats’ history is being ignored and that because of it, more people will be harmed. Located in a pristine-looking and beautiful part of the Front Range, the contaminated history of Rocky Flats is invisible: the radioactive accidents, the midnight plutonium incinerations, the corroded storage tanks, the sealed court documents, the historical FBI raid and the 28,400 lbs of plutonium waste buried there. “It’s up to people who know the history of the site, and artists,” says Gipe, “to make the invisible visible. To keep memory and even respect for the history of a critical Cold War site alive.” The horse may be shocking, but nothing compared to the controversial and sometimes shocking history it is trying to invoke. And its timing is perfect.
After the September floods, activists and scientists are concerned that some of the waste buried at Rocky Flats may have risen to the surface and/or further contaminated groundwater. And in the last week of 2013, a land swap was completed which is considered to be a critical ingredient of the toll road proposed on the infamous site. The 400-600 lb horse is lining up a couple of appearances, but is looking for a more permanent home. Gipe’s hope is that it be placed on Rocky Flats or land facing it to begin to memorialize the site and bring attention to its tumultuous and sure to be long-lasting history. For more, check out the Candelas Glows website or Facebook page for more or email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
To see photos, of the horse, leave a message for me and I’ll send them to you.
South Africa, the nation that gave up its nukes
Former President F.W. de Klerk explains why the rest of the world should follow his country’s lead.
On Sunday, December 28, former Colorado Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, a lawyer who was a Democrat, died at age 63 of an apparent heart attack. The last time I saw him was at a conference last year where I gave a presentation on Iran’s nuclear program.
I met Ken shortly after the civil disobedience arrests made at the East Gate of Rocky Flats on Sunday, August 9, 1987. It was the anniversary of the bombing on Nagasaki. Rocky Flats was at the height of production, working, as I recall, around the clock seven days a week to produce new bombs. There was a big crowd, with about 300 arrests, delayed because many of those opposing Rocky Flats had chained themselves to the fence. Rocky Flats officials had closed the West Gate main entrance to the facility, forcing resistors to go to the more contaminated East Gate area. Soon that day radio announcers were telling Rocky Flats workers not to come to work, to take the day off. It was the only time that activists actually succeeded in closing the plant for a day.
Another memory from this occasion has to do with Ken Gordon. He volunteered to be the lawyer in court for one of the affinity groups of people being arrested. In court he presented the novel idea that the people he was defending (who, like all the others, had been arrested for trespass) had not violated the law but were there charging the operators of the Rocky Flats plant with violating the law. Specifically, they violated Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, wherein the U.S., and other nuclear weapons powers, agreed to work in good faith for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Ken was so compelling in his presentation that the judge actually allowed this defense to be made before the jury. The jury, on hearing the case, found the defendants not guilty as charged. To my knowledge, this was the only time a group arrested for opposing Rocky Flats and put on trial was acquitted by a jury and neither paid a fine nor served time in prison.