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A dozen reasons why the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge should remain closed to the public

In Democracy, Environment, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on June 15, 2010 at 8:15 am

A dozen reasons why the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge

should remain closed to the public

Prepared by LeRoy Moore, PhD, Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center, June 2010

After completion of the “cleanup” of the 6,500-acre site of the defunct Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant, about three-fourths of the site (roughly 7 square miles) was transferred from the Department of Energy to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to operate as a wildlife refuge. DOE retained 1,300 more contaminated acres (about 2 square miles) surrounded by the FWS land.

1. Long-term danger of plutonium, the contaminant of concern

Plutonium 239, the contaminant of principal concern at Rocky Flats, has a half-life of 24,110 years. It remains dangerously radioactive for more than a quarter-million years. Any quantity left in the environment poses an essentially permanent danger.

2. Plutonium’s lethal quality

The alpha radiation emitted by plutonium cannot penetrate skin. But tiny particles inhaled, ingested, or taken into the body through an open wound may lodge in the lungs or migrate to bone. For as long as it resides in the body it bombards surrounding tissue with radiation. The result may be cancer, harm to the immune system or genetic abnormalities.

3. Hazardous in very small amounts

Plutonium particles of 10 microns or smaller can be inhaled. One micron is 1/millionth of a meter, a meter being 39.37 inches or slightly longer than a yard. For further comparison, the average diameter of a human hair is about 50 microns. Meteorologist W. Gale Biggs found that airborne particles at Rocky Flats “are probably smaller than 0.01 microns.” Researchers at Columbia University demonstrated that a single plutonium particle induces mutations in mammal cells. Cells receiving very low doses were more likely to be damaged than destroyed. Replication of these damaged cells constitutes genetic harm that can become cancer, and more such harm per unit dose occurs at very low doses than would occur with higher doses.

4. Extent of contamination at Rocky Flats unknown

Fires, accidents, routine operations, and random dumping during production years released plutonium particles to the environment. The prevailing wind heads east and southeast, but it blows in all directions some of the time. Hence, plutonium was scattered across the whole of the nearly 10 square-mile site. No one knows the full extent of the contamination because this was not determined. The methods used to locate plutonium could have missed hot spots.

5. The difference between the cleanup the public sought and what it got

In 1995 the single most widely supported cleanup recommendation from the public called for eventual cleanup to average background radiation levels, with initial cleanup to go as far in this direction as current technology allows while making the site a lab for development of technology to do better. Neither happened. Instead, the cleanup finally agreed to by DOE, EPA and CDPHE in 2003 allowed in the top 3 feet of soil a quantity of plutonium up to 1,250 times average background levels, with much more allowed at 3 to 6 feet below the surface and no limit on the quantity of plutonium allowed at a depth of 6 feet or more.

6. Dollars and date, not public health, drove the cleanup

DOE and its contractor, Kaiser-Hill, made a secret deal with Congress to close Rocky Flats by a fixed date for a fixed sum. Tailoring the cleanup to fit these limits, they rejected appeals from some in the public that they seek more funds to do a better job. Of the $7 billion allotted to close the site by December 2006, no more than $473 million (about 7%) could be spent on actual remediation of the environment. Kaiser-Hill received $560 million for its work.

7. Local people rejected both the cleanup and recreation at the wildlife refuge

Of the individuals and organizations that commented on the final Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement adopted in June 2003, 85.6% rejected the plan as inadequate, due mainly to the plutonium being left behind. 81% of those who commented on FWS plans to open the wildlife refuge to public recreation opposed the idea. These comments are part of the public record.

8. Plutonium not stable in the environment

EPA and CDPHE claim that there is no pathway by which plutonium left in soil at Rocky Flats can reach human subjects. This is refuted by a 1996 study in which ecologist Shawn Smallwood shows that 18 species of burrowing animals present at Rocky Flats that dig down to as much as 16 feet constantly redistribute soil and its contents. In a wholly random way they will bring buried plutonium to the surface where tiny particles can be transported near and far by wind and made available to be internalized by unwitting humans. In any given year burrowing animals disturb as much as 10 to 12% of surface soil on the site. Though this study was done in 1996 EPA and CDPHE ignored it when in 2003 they approved the final cleanup plan for Rocky Flats.

9. The cleanup does not protect the most vulnerable, especially children

The “risk-based cleanup” at Rocky Flats was calculated to protect a wildlife refuge worker, that is, a physically active adult in good health. The cleanup was not designed to protect the very young, the very old, the infirm. FWS expects children to visit the wildlife refuge. The human child, without question, is the most vulnerable to plutonium exposure of all creatures, because a child is likely to stir up dust, to eat dirt, to breathe in gasps, or to scrape a knee or elbow, all ways of taking plutonium into the body. Once internalized, the material integrates with the child’s tissue development and wreaks havoc within the child’s body for the duration of her or his life. Playing with plutonium is a dangerous proposition.

10. EPA and CDPHE mislead the public when they say Rocky Flats is “safe”

The National Academy of Sciences report on Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation (2006) affirms that exposure to any level of ionizing radiation is potentially harmful. In 2004 British researchers concluded that cancer risk from exposure to very low doses of plutonium may be ten or more times more dangerous than allowed by existing official standards for permissible exposure.

11. The same agencies oppose informed consent for visitors to the wildlife refuge

State Representative Wes McKinley was foreman of the grand jury that spent nearly 3 years reviewing evidence of alleged environmental lawbreaking at Rocky Flats collected by the FBI in its 1989 raid on the plant. 65 cartons of documents from this investigation remain sealed in the Denver federal courthouse; they were never examined by EPA and CDPHE, regulators of the Rocky Flats cleanup. McKinley is under court order not to reveal what he learned about conditions at Rocky Flats, but he objects to opening the wildlife refuge to the public. His efforts to get informed consent regarding risk at the refuge for potential refuge visitors have been opposed by the very agencies that made no effort to determine whether the 65 cartons in the federal courthouse contain data pertinent to the Rocky Flats cleanup.

12. Genetic effects of plutonium on wildlife are poorly understood

Genetic effects on a given species may be so subtle that they cannot be easily detected until generations later when harm is irreversible. Any harm to wildlife at Rocky Flats will not be confined to the bounds of the site. Deer from the site have been shown to have plutonium in their bodies.

For full documentation, see http://www.rmpjc.org/RF_PU_People_DontMix and  http://www.rmpjc.org/rf_critique

Nuclear Guardianship for Rocky Flats

In Democracy, Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats on June 8, 2010 at 10:48 am


A series of presentations and workshops

A work in progress  (May21, 2010 draft)

WHAT: We seek to implement Nuclear Guardianship at the plutonium-contaminated site of the former Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant. This innovative effort will simultaneously provide a model for long-term ecological caretaking of radioactively contaminated sites elsewhere while challenging the government plan to turn Rocky Flats into a wildlife refuge open for public recreation. The project provides a case study in shifting from the polluting risk-based culture we have inherited to a culture of ecological responsibility that is more democratic and healthier.

Nuclear Guardianship entails responsible care of nuclear materials utilized in the manufacture of nuclear weapons and in nuclear power technology. It is a community-based activity that works at the nexus of art, science and spirituality to protect people and the environment from further radioactive poisoning. It enables present and future generations to take responsibility for the nuclear legacy bequeathed to them. Nuclear Guardianship embraces the practice of ecological democracy in which humans ensure that in decisions about the site concern is given to the needs of all affected parties, human and non-human.

The Rocky Flats Guardianship project will bring together technical specialists and artists from varied backgrounds to offer presentations and interactive workshops that examine current environmental conditions at Rocky Flats within the context of the history of the site as well as the larger nuclear enterprise. We will explore the US Government’s plan to open the planned wildlife refuge for public recreation, create cultural markers that inform the public about risk at the site, and implement guardianship and ecological democracy for Rocky Flats.

WHY: After completion of the “cleanup” of the site of the defunct Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant near Denver, the Department of Energy (DOE) transferred 4,465 acres (roughly seven square miles) of the site to US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to operate as a wildlife refuge. FWS had already decided that the future refuge would be open for public recreation. But both the refuge and the 1,309-acre parcel at its center retained by the DOE for ongoing maintenance are still contaminated with plutonium in the form of very small particles. The “cleanup” was inadequate both because site cleanup standards were insufficiently protective of the public health and because crucial data about site conditions were not considered in the “cleanup.” The toxicity of plutonium and its 24,000-year half-life make any quantity of this material in the environment an essentially permanent danger.

The Rocky Flats Guardianship project will foster a broad consideration of what should be done. Participants will be encouraged to develop concrete steps that they can take with others to help care for the contaminated landscape at Rocky Flats. The emphasis is on caring and creativity.

WHEN:  We anticipate a series of interactive presentations and workshops over an extended period from January to June 2011 culminating in a weekend workshop on implementing nuclear guardianship. We will enable those engaged to digest demanding content, some conventionally denied in our society, in order to make their own creative and constructive responses. 

WHERE:  Various locations in the Denver/Boulder area

PRODUCTS (a preliminary list)

  • A web site to serve as a one-stop resource regarding nuclear guardianship and conditions at Rocky Flats (being developed)
  • A guidebook explaining lessons learned and what has been put in place; intended as an aid to people wanting to do similar work in other locations
  • A program of perennial testing of respirable dust at Rocky Flats for its plutonium content
  • Recruiting of guardians and creation of organizational structures that establish nuclear guardianship at Rocky Flats
  • Exhibitions


  • Joanna Macy, PhD, author, systems theorist, scholar of Buddhism, visionary thinker who conceived of nuclear guardianship: will offer final workshop on implementing guardianship
  • Lucy Lippard, internationally known author, art critic and curator; focuses on art, politics & place
  • Robert Del Tredici, foremost photographer of the nuclear enterprise and specialist on processes of nuclear weapons production
  • Kathleen Sullivan, PhD, disarmament activist and education consultant to the UN on nuclear issues; produced a film on survivors of Nagasaki
  • Marguerite Kahrl, MFA, sculptor whose work draws connections between aesthetic expressions and living systems; her prototypes address radioactively contaminated sites
  • Barbara Donachy, MSPH, Denver artist whose works in the 1980s revealed the magnitude of the nuclear weapons enterprise; wrote “Poison Fire,” a play on nuclear guardianship
  • Anne Waldman, poet and head of summer writing program at Naropa U., long active in Rocky Flats issues
  • LeRoy Moore, PhD, Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center; author of many works on Rocky Flats; lay specialist on radiation health effects
  • Jack Collom, poet & essayist who teaches at Naropa; will do poetry workshop with children
  • *Steve Berendzen, Manager of RF National Wildlife Refuge or his designee to explain how official policy provides adequate care for the environment and public health
  • Harvey Nichols, PhD, biology professor emeritus, U. of Colo.; did early studies of migration of radioactive particles in the environment at Rocky Flats
  • W. Gale Biggs, PhD, meteorologist; researched plutonium released from Rocky Flats and assessed the adequacy of air monitoring done at the site
  • Marco Kaltofen, PE, of Boston Chemical Data Corp., specialist in sampling respirable dust and testing it for plutonium content
  • Steve Wing, PhD, School of Public Health, U. of North Carolina; epidemiologist and specialist on plutonium health effects
  • Niels Schonbeck, PhD, professor of chemistry, Metro State, Denver; has long taught courses on nuclear issues and on Rocky Flats
  • *Mona Estrada, public school teacher on whether students should visit the wildlife refuge
  • Jacque Brever, former Rocky Flats worker, whistleblower, critic of plans to open the wildlife refuge to the public
  • Wes McKinley, foreman of grand jury that examined evidence of environmental lawbreaking at Rocky Flats collected by the FBI in its 1989 raid on the plant; now in Colo. Legislature
  • Jon Lipsky, former FBI agent who directed the 1989 FBI raid on Rocky Flats
  • Shawn Smallwood, examined effect of burrowing animals on plutonium in Rocky Flats soil
  • *Terry Tempest Williams, writer, naturalist, environmental activist


CONTACTS: Send email messages to <RFNuclearGuardianship@gmail.com> or call LeRoy Moore at 303-477-2779 or Jane Dalrymple-Hollo at 303-449-0691.

Visit the Rocky Flats Nuclear Guardianship website: http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org/

Plutonium and People Don’t Mix (4-26-10)

In Democracy, Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on June 8, 2010 at 10:28 am

This paper provides an overview of environmental conditions at Rocky Flats. It details the history of plutonium contamination at the site, shows why “cleanup” standards are inadequate and explains that key data pertinent to the cleanup were ignored by the government agencies responsible for the cleanup. Because of the ongoing dangers at the site the RF wildlife refuge should stay closed to the public and Nuclear Guardianship should be implemented there. For the full text, go to http://www.rmpjc.org/RF_PU_People_DontMix

Plutonium in dust at Rocky Flats

In Environment, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats on June 8, 2010 at 10:23 am

On January 10, 2010, I published an op-ed calling on the Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment to take discrete samples of dust in surface soil at Rocky Flats and to analyze each sample for plutonium content. This kind of sampling has never been done on the Rocky Flats site, and it should be because burrowing animals could bring plutonium buried in the soil at Rocky Flats to the surface where particles of breathable size, its most dangerous form from a public health standpoint, could be picked up by the wind distributed to unsuspecting parties near and far. Opening the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refufge for public recreation could expose visitors, especially children, to this danger. This op-ed stirred quite an exchange, beginning with a very dismissive memo addressed not to me but to Colorado Congressional staff and followed by a newspaper response from an official of CDPHE. I responded to both these pieces. The overall exchange is very revealing. To see the correspondence, go to http://www.rmpjc.org/about+Pu+in+dust+at+Rocky+Flats+

Confirmation: Data from FBI Raid not reviewed for Rocky Flats cleanup

In Environment, Plutonium, Rocky Flats on June 8, 2010 at 5:58 am

To:                  Doug Young, Office of Senator Mark Udall

From:             LeRoy Moore, Ph.D.

Date:               February 3, 2010

Documents from Investigation of Environmental Crimes

at Rocky Flats Sealed in Denver Federal Courthouse

Were Never Reviewed for the Rocky Flats Cleanup

Without your intending to do so, at the February 1 meeting of Rocky Flats Stewardship Council you made a major contribution to public knowledge by helping bring out into the open the fact that CDPHE and EPA did not examine the contents of 65 cartons sealed in the Denver federal courthouse to see if they contain information pertinent to the cleanup of Rocky Flats that was completed in 2005. The occasion of your unintended service to truth began with remarks you made in the midst of the Stewardship Council’s discussion about how the Council would respond to Rep. Wes McKinley’s re-introduction of a bill to require signs at entries to the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge informing potential visitors that visiting the refuge entails some risk.

You said in effect that Rep. McKinley’s bill is based in the bogus supposition that no one knows what information regarding environmental contamination at Rocky Flats is hidden in the 65 cartons of documents sealed by court order as part of the out-of-court settlement of the case against Rockwell that had been triggered by the 1989 FBI raid on the Rocky Flats Plant to collect evidence of environmental lawbreaking at the plant

You reported that some years back Mr. Udall had asked that the cartons in question be made available to the EPA and CDPHE, and in dismissing Rep. McKinley’s bill as you did you gave the impression that the cleanup at Rocky Flats was done with the full knowledge on the part of these agencies of the contents of the cartons that remain locked away in the federal courthouse. You will recall that a couple of people present, myself being one of them, challenged what you said.

Within a few minutes following your remarks I walked across the room and asked Carl Spreng of CDPHE, “Did CDPHE ever see the contents of those cartons?” His answer: “No.”

The truth that you thus helped bring out into the open is that the cleanup at Rocky Flats was completed without the regulators, CDPHE and EPA, reviewing the contents of the 65 cartons that remain sealed in the Denver federal courthouse. Do those cartons contain data regarding environmental conditions at Rocky Flats that should have been reviewed by those responsible for the cleanup? I do not know and neither do you. Until that material is available for review, there is no rational basis for criticizing people who question the cleanup on the grounds that data regarding environmental lawbreaking was never examined

Please tell Senator Udall that he can perform a real service if he insists that the 65 cartons of data locked away in the federal courthouse be made available for public review. Public review is necessitated by the fact that the regulators, in their failure to insist on reviewing this material as part of the cleanup, have discredited and dishonored themselves.

Let me say finally, Doug, that with your words at the February 1, 2010, Stewardship Council meeting you did a great disservice to yourself, to Senator Udall, to Rep. Wes McKinley and to all present who heard what you said. I trust there’ll be no repeat.

Cc:       Senator Mark Udall

Rep. Jared Polis

Rocky Flats Stewardship Council

Carl Spreng, CDPHE

Vera Moritz, EPA

Scott Surovchak, DOE

Steve Berendzen, FWS

Rep. Wes McKinley

Anne Fenerty

Harvey Nichols, Ph.D.

Judith Mohling

Mary Harlow

Hildegard Hix

W. Gale Biggs, Ph.D.

Niels Schonbeck, Ph.D.

Joel Selbin, Ph.D.

Sam Dixion

Legal questions about the Rocky Flats Stewardship Council

In Democracy, Rocky Flats on June 7, 2010 at 6:36 am

As the only government-funded local body with any sort of oversight role re. issues of concern to the public about conditions at the site of the now defunct Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant, the Rocky Flats Stewardship Council has a unique role. In questioning whether it conforms with the Federal Advisory Committee Act, I brought out into the open that it violates not this law but another one.

In April 2010 I asked the Department of Energy’s legal office whether the DOE-funded Rocky Flats Stewardship Council (RFSC) was in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). Since it came into existence in 2005 the RFSC has evidently been advising two federal agencies, the DOE ‘s Legacy Management (LM) office at Rocky Flats and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS). LM is responsible for ongoing maintenance on about 1300 acres at the center of the site of the now defiunct Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant, while FWS  manages the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge that sprawls over about seven square miles of land surrounding the LM portion. In advising these agencies RFSC fails to conform to the FACA requirement that its membership be “fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented,” because it was set up in a way that gives a permanent majority of its seats to one stakeholder group, namely, local governments.

I received a letter dated May 12, 2010, from DOE attorney Ms. Susan Beard saying that the RFSC was created not as an advisory body but as a “Local Stakeholder Organization,” and that it therefore was not subject to FACA. But this very interesting letter showed that the RFSC was not acting in accord with the LSO rules under which it was incorporated. Thus, in raising a question about violation of one law, I brought into the open the fact that the RFSC was violating another law. Below is my May 30, 2010, letter of response to Ms. Beard. It refers to the range of issues that surfaced in this situation:

Dear Ms. Beard:

I am in receipt of your letter dated May 12, 2010, responding to my April 1, 2010, memorandum to Mr. Sean Lev of DOE’s Office of General Counsel raising the question whether the Rocky Flats Stewardship Council (RFSC) violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).

Your letter says in sum that the RFSC is not subject to FACA requirements because it is not an advisory body but is a “Local Stakeholder Organization” (LSO). In 2004 DOE’s LM office, Senator Wayne Allard’s office, the staff and members of the Rocky Flats Coalition of Local Governments and perhaps others crafted a new kind of organization, the LSO. It would give each of these parties what they wanted without the impediment of the “fairly balanced” representation required by FACA. The LSO was codified in law by means of the all-too-common maneuver of inserting a few lines (Section 3118) into the text of a much larger bill, Public Law 108-375, the massive Defense Appropriations Act for FY 2005, hiding the fact that a new kind of entity was being created while making any questioning of the LSO tantamount to questioning the national defense budget. I had hoped that DOE’s Office of General Counsel would annul this legal sleight of hand and require that the RFSC conform to FACA. Instead your letter reinforces the anti-democratic bias that has hampered DOE’s relations with the concerned public at its weapons sites across the country.

It has seemed to me and to numerous others in the local community that the RFSC has functioned over the years largely as a vehicle for expression of the opinion of its staff and restricted membership not only to DOE, which foots the bill, and to the US Fish & Wildlife Service but also to the public and various other entities, including Congress. The opening paragraph of your letter specifies a very different, very modest role for the RFSC, one that excludes expression of opinion or giving of advice. This evidently is no small matter, for the DOE Office of General Counsel now reiterates (repeats again) to the Rocky Flats LM office that it must “ensure that its continued relationship with RFSC is in accordance with federal law.” Your letter does not say in exactly what ways federal law has been or may have been violated.

Your letter says your office has advised the RFSC on the necessity of handling information received from or intended for the public “without alteration or discretion” or “without edit or filter” (phraseology used three times in your very brief letter). A local individual who has followed the Rocky Flats issue closely for years urged me to bring to your attention a particularly egregious situation that involved myself in which the office of the RFSC went well beyond editing and filtering to policing information. On January 10, 2010, I had published an op-ed calling on a government agency to do a kind of sampling they had never done at Rocky Flats, namely, collect discrete samples of respirable dust from surface soil and analyze each sample for its plutonium content. Three days after publication of this piece the Executive Director of the RFSC sent a dismissive memo about my op-ed not to me but to Colorado Congressional staff with copies to the RFSC. I received the memo only after requesting it. Attached please find my op-ed, the memo and my eventual reply (first three entries on line at http://www.rmpjc.org/about+Pu+in+dust+at+Rocky+Flats+). You can judge for yourself how this befits the role of the RFSC.

I had not mentioned this situation in previous communications with your office because I was under the impression that if the RFSC had no FACA obligations its staff and members were free to express the views and biases of their self-restricted membership. Now I learn that DOE expects RFSC not to take positions and to handle public information “without edit or filter.”

I had thought that relations between the public and the RFSC could be improved if RFSC had to meet FACA’s requirement of “fairly balanced” representation. The response of your office is to seek improvement along two other lines, one, by having LM Rocky Flats “ensure that its continued relationship with RFSC is in accordance with federal law,” though precisely what this means is not clear. More specific, and undoubtedly related, is your directive that the RFSC follow a practice of communication with the public that is “without edit or filter.” Taking these steps, your letter concludes, will “ensure the open communication between stakeholders, DOE and the LSO.” These words are hopeful but not necessarily helpful. How far can they go in the direction of fostering trust between the full range of the affected public and either DOE or the RFSC?

My original query appealed to the democratic principles of FACA to improve the RFSC. Your office sidesteps democratic participation in favor of the less tried and clearly less democratic mode of the LSO. I believe your office fails to go to the heart of my concern. What recourse do I have? Is there any avenue of appeal?

Yours truly,

LeRoy Moore, Ph.D.