Exchange with author of new Rocky Flats book

In Democracy, Environment, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats on January 7, 2011 at 9:02 am

A few months ago I met Farrel Hobbs, long-time employee at Rocky Flats. He just published a book on line that I described for the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum’s book list like this (the link to his book is http://www.rockyflatsfacts.com/page5.php ):

Farrel Hobbs, Rocky Flats Facts: An Insider’s View Of Rocky Flats: Urban Myths Debunked (2010). This book’s author worked at Rocky Flats from 1969 until plant closure in 2005, except for an interlude of about seven years. He held a variety of positions at the plant but made his largest contribution in environmental management. In fact, he was head of environmental management for Rockwell when the FBI raided the plant in 1989 to collect evidence of alleged environmental lawbreaking. His several chapters on the raid, the grand jury, the out-of-court settlement and the absence in his view of any real criminality directly counters claims made in The Ambushed Grand Jury by Wes McKinley and Caron Balkany, another book described in this list. While his narrative is very even tempered, he criticizes a wide range of parties, from outsiders who overstate plutonium’s danger to the media, the union of hourly plant workers, the DOE, Dow Chemical and EG&G. He praises Rockwell for protecting its employees by paying fines for crimes it did not commit. His engaging account will be of interest to any who care about the legacy of Rocky Flats, including peace and environmental critics. The book is available both on line and in hard copy.

I wrote a long response to Farrel’s book, he replied, and soon we had an extensive exchange. He asked me to post our exchange so he could link to it from his web site and others could read it. So here’s the exchange. Enjoy.

LeRoy to Farrel, Tue, Jan 4, 2011 7:15 pm


At last I’ve read your book. It’s a good read, both for my intrinsic interest in your subject matter and in the clarity and quality of the writing. I am glad you’ve made this available on line.

I learned a lot about you and your experiences at Rocky Flats. Yours is a rare insider account. I don’t know of any others. Of course there are points on which you and I differ. In what follows, I’ll comment on some of them.

First, I was sorry to learn about your workplace exposure to plutonium. I think, however, that you misrepresent what’s known about low-dose exposure when you say in effect that your failure to have adverse health effects from taking a small amount of Pu into your body demonstrates that a little Pu in the body isn’t harmful. The 1996 BEIR VII study concluded that any exposure to ionizing radiation is potentially harmful — potentially, not necessarily. Columbia U. researchers found that a single Pu particle could induce cancer or genetic damage; such harm could occur not only in cells directly hit by alpha radiation but also in standby cells not directly hit. Replication of damaged cells is how cancer starts. A UK study concluded that potential damage from Pu exposure to the human gene pool is incalculable, another that standards for permissible exposure to Pu are at least ten times too non-protective.

I find your account of the Steelworkers’ strike against Dow and Dow’s response very interesting, since I heard at considerable length Jim Kelly’s view of the strike when I interviewed him a couple of years before his death (my interview is part of the RF Oral History collection). I wonder if you know that he was invited to testify before a congressional committee about Dow when there was a great deal of concern in Congress about safety at RF after the revelations that emerged in the wake of the 1969 fire.

You refer to returning to RF after several years away and moving into a house in an area directly downwind of the RF plant. I don’t know where you lived but assume that in the position you held you must have known about the map produced in 1970 by P. W. Krey and E. P. Hardy of AEC’s Health and Safety Lab in NYC. This map, based on soil sampling done by Krey and Hardy, showed an area of about 30 square miles east and southeast of RF that had been contaminated with Pu released from the plant. This map was used to define the class action area in the lawsuit brought on behalf of property owners alleging harm to their property as a result of Pu released from the site, a case that went to trial in late 2004 and in Feb 2005 was decided against Dow and Rockwell. This verdict, reversed by the Appeals Court in early 2010, may go to the Supreme Court. And you must also have known about another map done by Krey of off-site contamination with Pu released from RF and published in Health Physics in 1976. This map showed the results of Krey’s sampling for Pu released from RF over a very large part of the metro area and beyond; the isopleths on the map showed that Pu released from RF had been deposited essentially across the whole of the City of Denver as well as to suburban areas east of RF and north of Denver and of course everything in between. So the AEC itself showed areas downwind of RF that were contaminated with Pu released from the plant. This suggests at least a potential danger for people in the contaminated area. Such a conclusion can be dismissed only if one thinks low-dose exposure is no problem, or that it’s OK as long as it doesn’t exceed official standards for permissible exposure. There’s plenty of data to the contrary.

Your chap. 11 begins with a reference to the end of the Cold War, but then discusses many things that happened before the end of the Cold War, which is usually dated from the breaching of the Berlin Wall on Nov 9, 1989. You might consider rewriting the opening of this chapter, since material within it covers a big period, both before and after the end of the Cold War. Your first references to increased bureaucracy in this chapter I thought must be about EG&G, but then I realized you were referring to Rockwell and DOE itself, while Rockwell was still on the scene, a period that preceded the Cold War end.

You write a great deal about the FBI raid, Grand Jury, out-of-court settlement, etc., and it’s clear these things affected you deeply because of the position you held at RF. I’ll make a few comments about what you say in these several chapters.

One crucial fact that you do not report is that in the fall of 1989, a few weeks after the FBI raid, Rockwell issued a public statement that it was not possible for them to do what DOE required of them without breaking the law. The very next day Energy Secty. Admiral Watkins announced that he was terminating Rockwell’s contract effective Dec 31.

Re. the Grand Jury, Judge Finesilver violated the charge he gave to the Grand Jury when it was convened, namely, that it was their responsibility, based on evidence they would review, to issue a report recommending for or against indictments and prosecution. In the end, he angered them by trying to dismiss them before they produced their report. This point is made very strongly in The Ambushed Grand Jury.

An article entitled “Rocky Flats: A Plea Bargain in Public View,” by Brian Lipsett, focuses on issues raised by the out-of-court settlement of the case against Rockwell. It shows that the Justice Dept. did not indict individuals for their illegal activities because what they had done was part of a “DOE culture” of lawbreaking. DOE and DOJ agreed that individuals shouldn’t be punished for doing what had been condoned, even if this allowed some DOE and Rockwell officials to act above the law. The article says Watkins was in the process of trying to change this culture. The author commends the grand jury for daring to make public their disagreement with the settlement. This article appears as a case study in Mary Clifford (editor), Environmental Crime: Enforcement, Policy, and Social Responsibility (Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publishers, 1998), the first major work on environmental crime in the US written especially for lawyers and for use in law schools.

I put more credence with the Wolpe Committee’s conclusion that crime should have been prosecuted than in the self-serving words of DOJ attorneys that they had done the right thing in rejecting the Grand Jury recommendations and reaching the out-of-court settlement with Rockwell. These guys were covering their rears.

Your speculation that the Grand Jury conclusions were based on viewing only selected evidence may be true. But the very DOJ personnel responsible for presenting that evidence to the jurors later did their best to get the jurors not to write a report calling for indictments and prosecution based on the evidence they had seen. By this time, both the judge and the DOJ attorneys, having crafted the out-of-court settlement, wanted the grand jury members to forget what they’d seen and go home.

By the way, the link you post to the FBI’s infrared film from the overflights of RF is invalid. At least it fails to connect for me. I saw this film in court during the class action trial against Dow and Rockwell.

Some people involved with the Sierra Club continue to believe that the FBI raid and its sequel were intended all along to undercut a planned Sierra Club lawsuit having to do with illegal handling of waste at RF. The FBI raid rendered such a case impossible.

At the beginning of your chap 25 you quote someone as having said that “a tiny spec of plutonium will kill you.” I’m as bothered by these misleading remarks as you and try always to be more cautious, indicating the potentiality for harm, not the certainty of it. On the other extreme, of course, is the statement you quote from a Fish & Wildlife Service person calling RF “safe.” Usually FWS personnel don’t make such assertions but instead fall back on the fact that EPA and CDPHE personnel tell them the site is “safe” for public recreation. Whoever says this is misrepresenting reality and undercutting their credibility. When pressed, an individual from one of these agencies may describe the risk in the terms of 2 in a million potential cancers for a refuge worker, much less risk therefore for the visitor to the refuge who will spend much less time there than the refuge worker. What they never say is that the ways of establishing standards for permissible exposure are stacked in a dozen ways against the most vulnerable members of the population. To mention but one example, calculations made to set standards are based on the likely effects on a “representative man,” a 154-pound Caucasian male in his twenties. They don’t admit that we’re gambling with human (and non-human) life. Because Pu in the form of minuscule particles was knowingly left in the RF environment, the possibility of exposure exists and therefore also the possibility of harm exists. Why treat all this as insignificant? Why call it “safe”? In my view this is the height of irresponsibility. Why take unnecessary chances with the lives of the vulnerable, especially children, the human child being without question the most vulnerable creature who might visit the refuge. Why play with human life like this when it’s not necessary?

As you point out in chap. 25, Pu contamination is now worldwide, due to fallout from atmospheric nuclear detonations. What we don’t really know is the health effects from this. Both radiochemist Ed Martell, who spent a lifetime studying radiation health effects, and Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov insisted that the results of such fallout globally would be an incalculable numbers of fatalities. Linus Pauling estimated in 1962 that due to fallout from nuclear bomb tests about 2 million people then living would die 10 to 15 years earlier than if those tests had not occurred. John Gofman estimated in the mid-1980s that the eventual total number of deaths from exposure to Pu alone from fallout would reach about 930,000. In short, global fallout produced and continues to produce premature deaths. The AEC, in a 1959 report entitled The Biological Peril to Man of Carbon 14 from Nuclear Weapons, estimated that nuclear bomb testing in the month of September 1958 alone would result in 100,000 major birth defects, 380,000 stillbirths or infant deaths, and 900,000 fetal deaths in the thousands of years to come because of long-lived radioactive chemicals.

In your discussion of the ductwork controversy, I like your description of the bureaucratic situation that made workers sometimes decide to bypass paper work by puncturing holes in their “roughing filters,” so they could get on with their work. You imply that this paperwork problem happened late in the plant’s history and therefore that the practice of puncturing the “roughing filters” was a late development. My impression is that it had been going on for some time, but it’s admittedly only an impression. Jim Stone, whom you may have known, blew the whistle on the ductwork issue because he thought there might be enough Pu lodged in the pipes to create a criticality. He went to the FBI on this only after repeated efforts to get either DOE or Rockwell to take the problem seriously. He’s one of the people I interviewed as part of my contribution to the oral history project.

In chap. 26 you make reference to the Soviet nuclear program, mentioning Khystem (Khystym is the usual spelling). FYI, in 1992 I was one of a group of about 25 people from the US who went to Chelyabinsk on the eastern side of the Ural Mountains for a conference on Environmental Effects of Nuclear Weapons Production. Natalya Mironova, who had been recently elected in the first post-Soviet elections to the regional soviet (parliament) organized the conference because of what she was learning about the nearby Chelyabinsk 60 and 40 nuclear weapons production facilities (now called Mayak). Our US group and a few others from Europe were the first foreigners to visit the formerly closed city of Chelyabinsk. As my part on the conference program, I gave a brief talk on “1957: A Fateful Year for the Nuclear Weapons Industry.” My talk focused on the fact that in a period of less than one month in 1957 there was a disastrous accident at a major nuclear weapons production facility in each of the only three countries then manufacturing nuclear bombs — in the US at Rocky Flats, in Russia at Chelyabinsk 60 (the Khystym explosion of an underground waste storage tank, similar to the ones at Hanford), and in Britain at Windscale (a reactor meltdown, at what is now called Sellafield). In all three cases the governments acted more or less the same way, at first not reporting what happened, then providing misleading or false information. The text of this talk will soon be posted on our Rocky Flats Nuclear Guardianship web site. Mayak, as you may know, is enormous, rather like Hanford in size. In different parts of this facility they produced Pu in reactors then processed the Pu to make pits. It’s probably the most contaminated nuclear facility anywhere.

In chap. 27 you refer to Gregg Wilkinson’s study of cancer incidence among RF workers exposed in the workplace to Pu, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 1987. Wilkinson was surprised to find no excess of lung cancers among the workers studied, since lung cancer is generally regarded as the most likely outcome from inhaled Pu. He didn’t expect to find the excess brain cancers which he did find, excess not by comparison with the general public but by comparison with the control group of fellow RF workers who were not exposed to Pu. The study is important for showing that some workers exposed to as little as 5% of DOE’s standard for permissible lifetime exposure got various cancers. His instruments could not detect Pu in workers’ bodies at levels below the 5% of permissible exposure level, so conceivably some workers exposed to Pu at levels lower than he could verify had cancers due to Pu exposure; any such workers were counted with the unexposed control group in his study. In my conversations with former RF workers, to my surprise those with whom I have spoken were not aware of Wilkinson’s study. His study is a scandal in itself. He revealed to a committee set up by Secty. Watkins to review health studies that his supervisor at LANL, where he was on the staff when he did the study, told him that before publishing the study he should modify his results to please the customer (that is, DOE). Also a physician at LANL told him his study would shut the industry down. All this was reported in the NY Times in Feb. 1990. After Wilkinson published his study, he was forced out of his job at LANL and replaced by George Voelz, who had been a member of Wilkinson’s research team and was listed as a co-author of the AJE article. Voelz later wrote an article in Los Alamos Science asserting that there’s no evidence of harm to workers exposed to Pu on the job.; in this article he actually cited Wilkinson’s study to say that it showed no incidence of lung cancer, which is correct, but he did not mention that the study showed excess brain and other cancers. This is the kind of science on health effects from Pu exposure that emanates from Los Alamos. Voelz being promoted and lionized while Wilkinson gets cast aside doesn’t exactly inspire trust.

In the very same paragraph where you refer to Wilkinson you mention the “healthy worker theory,” which you seem not to understand. The term, “healthy worker effect,” was coined by Alice Stewart when she was analyzing Hanford workers. There are two parts to the concept. First, people employed in any industry belong to the more robust portion of the population, since those with a record of poor health would not be hired in the first place; this ordinary employment factor is enhanced if the worker is employed in an industry where his or her health is routinely monitored, such as happens with radiation workers in the nuclear industry. In addition, Stewart recognized a second factor that operates internally within the nuclear industry, namely, that it’s often the best educated and healthiest who get selected for the highest risk activity, because such people better understand the technology and science of complex situations as well as the necessity for safety. Stewart’s invention of the concept of the “health worker effect” is described very well in Gayle Greene’s biography of Alice Stewart, The Woman Who Knew Too Much, pp. 120-121. By the way, I note that you provide a link to Arin Billing’s RockyFlatsNuclear web site; Erin was a volunteer with me for about a year while she was putting this program together and before she moved away. She now lives in Alabama and I correspond with her fairly often.

I’ll insert here a brief comment on berylliosis to which you somewhere make reference. You say it’s the most serious ailment among RF workers, and this is true in that it can become like living death or longing for the relief of death and not getting it for those who happen to be susceptible to the damage that beryllium can do. Those without this susceptibility may be unaffected by exposure. The reality of berylliosis within the US nuclear weapons industry emerged at Rocky Flats, thanks very much to the work of Dr. Lee Newman of National Jewish Medical Center in Denver. One of the sad facts in the history of Rocky Flats is that, while special precautions were taken to protect workers from plutonium exposure, such measures were not taken with those who worked with beryllium, even though it had been known as early as the 1940s that beryllium was exceedingly toxic for some individuals. Those who get berylliosis, as noted above, can go on living for a long while with a disease that debilitates their being. Cancer from plutonium exposure, by contrast, is either more susceptible to treatment or is more likely to claim one’s life more quickly by comparison to berylliosis.

Your chap. 28 is very interesting because in some respects it agrees with the article I mentioned above that says the out-of-court settlement with Rockwell was based on not prosecuting individuals who were part of a DOE culture of lawbreaking. But, in my view, it doesn’t really resolve things. Why not call for release of the 65 cartons from the case against Rockwell that remain sealed in the Federal Courthouse in Denver? Do those documents contain any evidence about environmental conditions at RF that should have been reviewed by those who designed and implemented the Rocky Flats cleanup? As a matter of fact, neither the DOE nor the agencies that regulated the cleanup ever insisted on reviewing those documents, so of course they were not reviewed. These documents should be released to the public, so we, the affected people, can see for ourselves the record that has so far remained unexamined. We need evidence, not assertions.

I had thought, down till your statement to the contrary in your Epilogue, that you must have thought you were one of the people threatened with an indictment. I’m glad after reading so much that you don’t think you were in this group. I was prepared to say to you, “Don’t you think that in an enterprise as complex and as internally conflicted as Rocky Flats that someone or ones could without your knowledge have run the 771 incinerator when it was not supposed to be run? You make the case that people at Rocky Flats didn’t want to do this sort of thing. But with wastes accumulating and no place to take it, I can imagine some people looking for ways, even illegal ways, for reducing the quantity of wastes. This at least would provide a motivation for clandestine operation of the incinerator. If there was an institutional culture of lawbreaking, is what I suggest a farfetched notion?

Somewhere along the way you refer to the economic benefits RF brought to the community, including, you say, to those who were the paid critics. FYI, in my years of knowing hundreds of peace and environmental activists focused on Rocky Flats and being in touch with several thousand more, I can count maybe half-a-dozen positions in local organizations where at any given moment people were actually modestly paid to plan and organize educational and resistance activities related to Rocky Flats. I myself, upon learning about RF in 1978, left the academic world (I was teaching at DU) for the activist world, simplifying my life so I could live on as little income as possible. In the 32 years of being intensely engaged in this vocation I have never drawn a salary but have earned a small income teaching courses on nonviolent social change as an adjunct prof at the U. of Colorado, first on the Denver campus, then in Boulder, until I retired from this work in 1996, when I was old enough to draw Social Security (at which time my income increased!). You refer to the morale problems of working at Rocky Flats and to the scorn sometimes vented on you and members of your family, especially in periods of negative media attention. Rocky Flats was always very close to the center of polarization in the country, not only over war and peace but also over other issues like poverty, health care, housing, education, pollution, infrastructure, etc, since the social and environmental costs of our bloated military were very great. From the 1960s on military-related costs took half or a bit more of every federal income tax dollar paid each year by each and every taxpayer. Activists engaged in these social struggles could not ignore the extent to which Rocky Flats and what it was about intensified insecurity by trying to guarantee security. Your account of the psychic costs in this milieu to Rocky Flats workers and their families is a chapter that needs to be known and that I’m glad you tell. I, because of what I was doing, often got called a pinko and a Commie and even worse names. This seemed to be part of the game.

I was quite a pinko, OK. Above I made reference to my journey to Russia in 1992 to participate in a conference on the environmental consequences of nuclear weapons production. I went to Russia on three other occasions, the first being in 1985. On this trip I visited the Moscow and Leningrad offices of the Soviet Peace Committee, the semi-official body that claimed that the USSR was peace-loving and had weapons and an army only because it had to defend itself from the Capitalist warmongers of the US and Western Europe. But on this trip I also met a few people from the real peace movement, members of what was called the Moscow Trust Group, very brave individuals who dared to raise questions about the policies of their own government and who paid dearly, some of them with long imprisonment, for their activities. I stayed in touch with these people in the ensuing months and when I had a chance to be back in Moscow in 1987, by which time Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika were having a marked effect, I was invited to speak on the nuclear weapons issue at a plenary session of the first-ever human rights conference organized in Moscow by non-government personnel, that is, by dissidents, many of whom were former political prisoners. Gorbachev ordered the KGB to let this conference happen. The conference did take place, though we were forced to meet in people’s rather small flats rather than the larger halls that had been reserved but at the last minute were closed for this reason or that. In my brief remarks as a US anti-nuclear weapons activist, I began by saying that Soviet Premier Gorbachev was the first superpower leader to propose a step-by-step plan for getting rid of all nuclear weapons. As soon as I said this in the intensely crowded too-hot room on a day that was bitterly cold outdoors there was a sudden rumble of unhappiness and discontent that got so loud even I couldn’t hear myself. My audience could not believe that anything positive could come from the leadership of their country and of the Communist Party. My host, Lev Timofeyev, principal organizer of the conference, had to quiet the crowd and ask them to let me have my say, to show me the respect they’d like for themselves. So I was able to finish my short speech, I, who had paid so little for my dissent in the USA felt very privileged to be in the presence of maybe 200 people who’d paid very dearly for their dissent. Even as I spoke with admiration of Gorbachev, a man they could not countenance, I knew that I stood with them, on the whole range of issues that they were there to address. What I heard from them was a whole litany of human rights abuses. My fourth trip to Russia was in 1994 when I went to a conference in Nizhny Novgorod, the former Gorky, the city nearest Arzamas 16, a weapons design lab roughly the Soviet equivalent of Los Alamos, where Sakharov had worked, Nizhny Novgorod being where he was placed under house arrest for years, finally to be released by Gorbachev. This conference was a hopeful one, heavily populated by people who were watchdogs at the bomb design labs in the US and Russia. We had the hope that the design labs, as the places where bombs were conceived, could be converted to something socially useful, as a sort of monument to the end of the Cold War. These hopes were quickly dashed, so that today, more than a decade after the end of the Cold War, the US is spending more on nuclear weapons than at any previous time in our history, with the hope within the nuclear establishment that what once was done at Rocky Flats can be done on a somewhat reduced scale at Los Alamos.

OK, Farrel, I know I’ve done much more than comment on your book. I very much appreciate reading what you’ve written. Obviously, I persist with disagreements based on what I’ve seen and known about the Rocky Flats issue. I respect the good-faith efforts of your narrative. even as I pursue my own rather different efforts. I wonder experientially what it would take for us to cohere in mutual understanding. Mutual understanding is not the same thing as agreement, but it’s a step in that direction, a reasonable step that’s probably attainable. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I very strongly disagree with your closing remarks that our national strength consists in having the best weapons in the world. I respond to this by attaching my solstice letter.

May the new year be a good one for you and yours,


Farrel to LeRoy, Tue, 4 Jan 2011 23:40:03 (EST)

I’ve read through your comments on the tiny screen of my netbook, and am mostly worried about the errors you mention. I haven’t opened the Solstice letter yet.

I know we can reach mutual and polite understanding. You may already know this, but I respect your honest passion for your views.

More to come when I have time to read, reread, and think about what you’ve said. I interpret that you believe the book adds value, and that pleases me.

I just scrolled through the message with Sheryl, and her comment was that you certainly invested significant time in writing your response, and I agree.

The comment that bothers me the most is that I misspelled Khystym. I just posted a blog today asking whether anyone has an active link to the FBI flyover.


Farrel to LeRoy, Wed, 5 Jan 2011 11:47:26 (EST)

Hello LeRoy,

I just finished printing and reading your message again, and am fretting about some of the things you write. I’ll give some highlights:

I was fully aware of the contamination maps you mention on page 1. I wouldn’t have returned to work at Rocky Flats if I thought it would put my family in danger. Thankfully they and our grandchildren haven’t had any health issues.  This is a subject where I will listen to and consider your views.

I’m disappointed I have errors in chapter 11. I’ll be certain to look at that.

I was one of the people who advocated to Rockwell we were required we take action if we had indications there were environmental laws being violated.  My simplistic advice was something such as, “I take it as an ‘indication’ when there is a raid by 80-100 agents alleging laws are being broken, although I have no idea what they are looking for.” I find it interesting that DOE fired Rockwell for attempting to comply with the law, and it was Rockwell that was criticized.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m appealing to anyone who has a link the the FBI over flight video to provide it so I can post it to replace the one that is now inactive.

I continue to be disappointed that I misspelled Khystym.

I thought I had described the “healthy worker theory” much the way you mentioned. I apparently didn’t write that with sufficient clarity.

There was a ruling by the court that Colorado could have access to the boxes of documents. Colorado decided to not look at the boxes, and said something to the effect, “We’ve looked at the physical evidence, and don’t need to see the paperwork” (a very short and probably not accurate description).

I was interested in you descriptions of your visits to the Russia and experiences there.

I intend to research several things based on your comments. I think the first will be the fact that Rockwell recommended shutting the place down, DOE fired them, and Rockwell was criticized.

Would you object to me referencing your comments in blogs? I did not mention the names of others in the book, and plan to do the same with blog postings. I would give attribution to the Rocky Mountain Pease and Justice Center.


LeRoy to Farel, Wed, Jan 5, 2011 11:09 am (MST)


Thanks for your message. Your remark that there was a court ruling the Colorado could have access to the documents sealed in the federal court is new to me. My memory is that the US Attorney (now Atty General for the State) said he’d looked at the documents and found that there was nothing there that warranted anyone from the outside, including EPA and CDPHE, from examining the contents of those boxes. Doug Young of Mark Udall’s office, said Mark Udall had asked that the documents be made available to the regulators. But Carl Spreng of CDPHE said they never looked at the documents, didn’t ask to look at them. Various other things have been said at different times by different individuals. The crucial point is that we don’t know the contents of those cartons, and the people who may know, such as Jon Lipsky or Wes McKinley, cannot talk about what they know.

I’m not sure what you mean about Rockwell recommending that the plant be shut down. I didn’t mean to imply this. What I referred to was that Rockwell issued a public statement that they could not do the work DOE expected without violating the law, and for this Watkins immediately announced termination of their contract. Of course I don’t know in what way they were forced, as they suggested, to violate the law. I can speculate that they were taking illegal steps to reduce the backlog of Pu-contaminated waste, by reducing the volume of some of it to ash. You I’m sure are far more familiar than I with the fact that the plant had reached an agreement with the State as to the quantity of waste (TRU waste, as I recall) that could be stored at the plant. And with the refusal of the Idaho governor to allow more TRU waste to be brought to Idaho from RF the on-site inventory of such waste at RF was reaching the agreed upon limit. This situation could induce some people either in DOE or Rockwell to take clandestine measures to reduce waste volume in order to keep the plant in production.

As to your final question, I don’t mind you posting and referencing my comments. I noted that in your book you carefully avoided mentioning names, a practice that I thought judicious and generous, though it can also have the effect of generalizing criticisms rather than making them particular. Here I think of your quotation from some unnamed individual that a spec of plutonium will kill you. I know people make such careless statements, but try myself not to be one of them. But some readers are likely to think from what you say that all of us who criticized activities at RF from a public health perspective are equally guilty of overstating the danger of exposure to Pu. That being said, if you post and reference my comments, it’s OK to mention my name. If you refer to the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, people familiar at all with the players will know that I’m the author of the words to which you refer.

Have a good day.


Farel to LeRoy, Wed, Jan 5, 2011, 6:41 PM


In reference to the 65boxes , my source was the Rocky Mountain New Article published August 20, 2004, “Rocky Flats info brouhaha,” by Anne Imse. The lead paragraph is, “Three months after the the U.S. attorney said he would consider allowing Rocky Flats cleanup officials to see secret grand jury records on illegal dumping, no one has asked to review them.” Late in the article EPA Assistant Regional Manager Max Dodson “said he wants prosecutor’s help in narrowing the search through 65 boxes of grand jury files before it makes a request.” Steve Gunderson, the state health department’s regulator of Rocky Flats believes a judge reading grand jury secrecy rulel would deny a blanket request…It’s pretty hard to tell what, if anything, is valuable there, if we can’t get a list of the documents.” DOE makes some comments, such as z’DOE is confident that an extensive and thorough evaluation (has been completed)…There’s no evidence of gaps in the information.” I know this is an issue for Carol Balkany, because she is quoted in the article. Do you know why 65 boxes became important? There were hundreds or thousands of boxes of documents delivered to DOJ under subpoena. I made a copy for you whenever we cross paths again.

Rockwell threated to shut down because there was a dispute between DOE, EPA, and Colorado about radioactive and hazardous mixed waste. The country had no permitted method for treating such wastes, and all DOE sites all were out of compliance when the law was signed. The three federal agencies were arguning over an interagency agreement, and Rockwell said they had to shut down unless the disputes were resolved and an agreement signed. As early as the next day the agreement was signed. DOE fired Rockwell, the one organization that forced the rest to do the right thing, a week later.

On the Sierra Club, I have numerous references about their lawsuits being allowed to continue after the raid, and they won all that I know about. Some were filed after the raid, and they won those also.

I’ve wondered whether I can make you email into a link that I could post. I want to do something such as that, because I do believe in the value of what you wrote.


LeRoy to Farel, Wed, Jan 5, 2011 6:52 pm


Very interesting Ann Imse was the best reporter on the RF issues pretty much throughout the last decade. But I wasn’t a regular reader of the News so I’m sure I missed a lot.

I have no idea how they narrowed down to 65 cartons, have always assumed those boxes contained info that the judge and DOJ attorneys didn’t want made public. This is the view of Caron Balkany, I’m quite sure. Her efforts to get the boxes made public were rejected. Dodson’s remark seems foolish, not the sort of move that would ensure credibility and gain trust. And Gunderson, with whom I worked a lot, is not helpful at all. The only way to discover if the judge would deny responding to a blanket request is to make one. The failure of the regulators to ask to review the sealed documents casts a shadow over everything.

Your account about Rockwell and the dispute over hazardous mixed waste is interesting. It they reached the Agreement in Principle on this waste, why would Rockwell then say that they couldn’t do what DOE wanted — I assumed meeting production quotas — without breaking the law? I certainly had the impression in the late summer and fall of 1989 that relations between DOE and Rockwell must be quite bitter. Rockwell, it seemed to me at the time, was covering their rear by their statement, saying, in effect that if there’s any illegal activity going on at RF it’s not our fault.

It’s OK with me if you want to make a link to my comments on your book — and this ongoing exchange, which I find valuable. Maybe I could post what I’ve written to my own blog and you could link to it. I can’t promise how soon I could get to it, however.

You may know more than I about Sierra Club’s doings. But I do recall the one person I knew best in the organization expressing several times that he thought that the FBI raid had scuttled the possibility of the suit Sierra Club wanted to bring about waste, and he certainly implied that he thought this was the intent of the raid.

You may know that we’re about to launch six months of what we call “Rocky Flats: A Call to Nuclear Guardianship.” I’ll attach an op-ed about this that was published on New Years Day, so at least you know something about this activity. The web site mentioned in the op-ed is the most complete source of info about the project.

Best, LeRoy

Farel to LeRoy, Wes, Jan. 5, 2011, 10:03 PM

Rockwell wasn’t given a chance to operate under the Compliance Agreement, because they had already been told by DOE they were going to be fired for filing the complaint that the reason there was no existing method of complying with the law, and there had been no method when Congress passed the law. There were no production schedules, since everything production operations had been shut down. The only things happening were related to health and safety such as maintaining the ventilation fans to keep filter plenums operating properly. I would expect that Rockwell would be bitter about DOE, since they were forced to pay fines for events caused by DOE decisions. I expect DOE was angry at Rockwell for not just taking the fall and disappearing quietly.

Articles I have about the Sierra Club:

* “”FBI opens investigation of Rocky Flats” June 8, 1989 (which says the U.S. Attorney asked the court to halt a Sierra Club suit, which was denied by the court. This is likely to be the source of the suspicion the raid was to block the Sierra Club’s actions.)
* Sierra Club worried Flats raid was a ruse,” June 9, 1989 (based on what DOJ requested in previous entry)
Criminal probe of Flats won’t stop Sierra Club suit” July 1, 1989 (court rules against the DOJ request)
* “Flats incinerator to be permitted,” August 17, 1989 (DOE agrees with a Sierra Club demand the incinerator must have a RCRA permit)
* “Rocky Flats loses suit over waste,” April 4, 1990 (Sierra Club wins a lawsuit declaring the material formerly burned in the incinerator was waste and not recyclable material)
* “Sierra Club sues Flats over waste,” June 1, 1991 (new suit to block the restart of operations based on the contention it would violate hazardous waste laws)
* “Lawsuit could keep Flats idle,” August 8, 1991 (Sierra Club “proceeding full speed ahead’ to preclude resumption of operations)
* “Court Orders Compliance at Rocky Flats in Sierra Club Suit,” April 1994 (Judge Babcock rules in favor of Sierra Club postion on hazardous waste management at Rocky Flats)
There may be more, but that’s all I found in my search this evening. I’ll observe that based on the results, if the raid was a ruse to keep Sierra Club out of DOE’s way, it was the least intelligent and most ineffective plan I’ve ever heard of. However, I don’t for a minute think I will convince anyone who thought the raid was a cover up.

I’ll check when I go back, but didn’t notice an attachment. You may know that I put some links on my blog site, and it sounds as if I should add yours. What is the address?


LeRoy to Farel, Wed, Jan 5, 2011 9:02 pm (MST)

Very interesting, all the detail you have about Sierra Club. Of course, you were the inside watching for such things, or so I assume.

This time I’m remembering the attachment.

Good night, LeRoy

Farel to LeRoy, Wed., Jan. 5, 2011, 11:58 PM

My attitude about the Sierra Clug was that I understood they didn’t like what we were doing, and they were intent on getting the courts to shut us down. I was then, and continue to be, a strong adovate of complying with the laws of the land, and was more than willing to do what the courts ruled.  I gathered the information I forwarded to you not as an insider while the plant was operating, but as a voluteer who has been searching files in the Rocky Flats Museum storage facility.

The attachment once again mentions the “65 boxes” as proof of something.  Do you know anyone who has knowledge of the basis of this. It must be important, and I would be willing to talk to anyone regardless of whether they disagree wih my views. I really want to know what it is they think is in those boxes, because I have no clue what activities at the Flats could have been associated with some sort of sinister plot.

I still think attaching the link to your blog would be the fair thing to do.


LeRoy to Farel, Thurs., Jan. 6, 2011, 6:29 AM


As I said, the only people who might know the contents of the cartons cannot talk about what they know. None of the rest of us know, including of course reps of the agencies that designed and implemented the cleanup.

I agree that posting my comments to you on my blog and you using the link is the way to do this. It’s a matter of this not-exactly-a-computer-wizard having the time to do it. Maybe I can get to it this weekend.

Best, LeRoy

  1. Farrell and LeRoy –
    I found this while researching RF. Wow! Your emails to each other are fascinating, as you both know many details re: RF that I have not read anywhere else.

    LeRoy, I have read your blogs, and Farrell, I am going to read your book.

    My experience with the land RF sits/sat on and the surrounding area comes from living in the area and using Hwy 93 for commuting back and forth between Boulder and Arvada and Wheat Ridge. I have always felt that the land there is special, even sacred. Unfortunately, because of the possible exposure to radioactive materials and other chemicals, I will not live as close to there as I would like to otherwise. I live close enough – about a mile south of Rocky Mtn. Airport. (Yes, it’s in the contaminated area.)

    Thank you both for putting your correspondences online!

    My Best,
    Susan Aiello

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