Depleted Uranium Work at Rocky Flats: An example of the “Black Budget”

In Democracy, Environment, Public Health, Rocky Flats on October 30, 2012 at 12:55 am

Secrets abound at Rocky Flats, some more secret than others. One such was activity to develop depleted uranium armor plating for U.S. Army tanks. Initially deployed in West Germany during the 1980s, tanks with DU armor became notable for their use in the two U.S. wars in Iraq. This particular project was totally unknown to outsiders like myself who followed activities at Rocky Flats very closely. I learned of the existence of this program from Thomas Bullock’s Diary of a Cold War Patriot (Smashwords, Inc., 2011, available on line at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/74199). This book narrates the career of a retired nuclear engineer, who, when employed by Parsons Corp., an engineering firm located in Pasadena, CA, was involved in several projects at Rocky Flats, including the DU work. As mentioned above, this was a “black budget” item, that is, one not included in the regular publicly available DOE budget line, one for which even the existence of the budget was totally classified.

Bullock does not say whether the DU work at Rocky Flats also included coating bullets, shells and missiles with DU. Both forms of DU armor, coating for projectiles and coating for tanks, created radioactive contamination in Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq and later Afghanistan and other locations. U.S. soldiers in DU armored tanks that were targeted and hit often were exposed to radiation in easily internalized aerosol form. Of course, DU also contaminated populations where it was used, including totally innocent civilians. Some critics called DU the “agent orange” of Iraq. According to Physicians for Social Responsibility, “The fact that DU is aerosolized on impact with its target and is transformed into small dust particles capable of being carried by the wind may threaten air, ground and water resources, which all may become long-term repositories for DU. Long term impact is especially important considering the 4.5 billion year half life of DU.”

Bullock reports that once the DU tank armament developed at Rocky Flats was ready for application, the work was shifted to the Idaho National Engineering Lab, where it was housed in the enormous building originally built there for the failed effort to create a nuclear powered airplane. This facility was large enough that tanks could be delivered to a place where they could be out of sight while being coated with DU armor.  He doesn’t say whether the Idaho work was also “black budget.”

In 1993, after the change of mission at Rocky Flats from production to cleanup, for a brief period DOE pushed what was called the “Rocky Flats Conversion Project.” a name that they must have expected to resonate with anti-nuclear activists who for two decades had been calling for conversion of work at Rocky Flats from socially destructive to socially useful activity. The Rocky Flats Conversion Project was to be operated by a commercial company headquarter in Oak Ridge, TN. Their intent was to do DU work of an unspecified nature. They wanted to take over one building at Rocky Flats that happened to contain a very large, very heavy rolling metal press, capable of creating large sheets of DU at varying thicknesses. For a brief period, this Conversion Project received a good bit of attention. But within a matter of a few months, without much public notice, the project was suddenly de-funded. It disappeared like a bad dream, never to be mentioned again. I of course now wonder if the Rocky Flats Conversion Project was related to DU armaments.


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