leroymoore

Rocky Flats was just a “fancy machine shop”. Oh, really??

In Environment, Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats on November 22, 2014 at 6:01 am

This article was written by Terrie Barrie, whose husband is a former Rocky Flats worker and who herself is one of the leading advocates for workers in the nuclear weapons industry who find it difficult or impossible to get promised government compensation for ailments likely brought on by exposure to radioactive and toxic materials in the workplace.  I copy it because I too think the statement that Rocky Flats was just a “fancy machine shop” is both false and ludicrous.  Read on to see more of what I’m talking about

Rocky Flats was just a “fancy machine shop”. Oh, really??

Terrie Barrie, June 1, 2014

June 6 will be the 25th anniversary of the FBI raiding Rocky Flats for alleged environmental crimes.  The Arvada Center for the Arts is holding a free, three day event commemorating this event.  http://arvadacenter.org/on-stage/rocky-flats-then-and-now-2014

In anticipation of this event, the Denver Post published an article on Sunday http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_25874064/feds-raided-rocky-flats-25-years-ago-signaling

I am honored to participate in one panel discussion regarding the worker health issue.  So, I was kind of excited about the publicity.  That is until I read this paragraph

 “Rocky Flats was nothing but a fancy machine shop … in what was then the middle of nowhere. But we had machining capabilities that nobody else had,” said Scott Surovchak, Rocky Flats legacy site manager for the Department of Energy.”

Really, Mr. Surovchak?    Just a fancy machine shop?  Do you know what Rocky Flats did for 50 years?

I stewed over this statement all day.  I was furious.  Then the former workers from Rocky Flats and other nuclear weapons sites started emailing me their thoughts on this statement and I decided to write this blog.

Yes, Rocky Flats machined components for a nuclear weapon.  In fact, for those of you who are not familiar with nuclear weapons, they machined the actual plutonium pit.  But the activities at Rocky Flats didn’t stop at machining parts.  There were chemical processes to retrieve the valuable radioactive materials from waste products.  For instance there was a molten salt extraction process to recover americium from Plutonium 241, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/bk-1980-0117.ch032.  In the early years there was also a foundry in Building 881. This foundry “cast enriched uranium into spherical shapes that were sent directly to machining.” http://www.lm.doe.gov/land/sites/co/rocky_flats/HAER/base/Buildings/881.htm.

If the statement that Rocky Flats was just a fancy machine shop, I have to ask, what respectable machine shop would not have a Criticality Lab?  Yup, the Rocky Flats fancy machine shop had one.  http://oralhistory.boulderlibrary.org/interview/oh1179/

This statement does a great disservice to the thousands of women and men who worked not only at Rocky Flats but at all of the nuclear weapons facilities.  It trivializes the serious and dangerous work performed by the dedicated employees during the Cold War.

I was a bit hesitant in writing this blog.  Am I sure I want to stir things up right before the Arvada Center’s event?  Will this jeopardize the Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups (ANWAG) and DEEOIC Interim Advisory Board (DIAB) working relationship with DOE?  Was it possible that the reporter misstated Mr. Surovchak’s  statement or took it out of context?

As I said, earlier, I received a number of replies from the former workers.  The one that convinced me that this blog needed to be written came from Mr. Maurice Copeland.  Mr. Copeland is a former worker from the Kansas City Plant and DIAB Board member.  He is also the petitioner to have that site included in the Special Exposure Cohort.  He emailed me and stated that the Deputy Site Manager referred to the Kansas City Plant “as just another manufacturing plant.”  Did a memo go out directing the site managers to minimize to the public the type of work performed at these sites and the possible impact?

In 1999, then Secretary Bill Richardson acknowledged and apologized for the harm done to the workers at these facilities.  Is DOE reverting to denying – or at least play down – the serious issues surrounding this program?

I’m a sick nuclear weapons worker advocate and obviously I take this responsibility as seriously as a mother bear protecting her cubs.  There is also the environmental issue involving these sites.  There are plenty of dedicated advocates for those problems.  If we are going to face the problems the sick workers and the communities face in order to resolve them the federal government needs to be honest and open.  It’s that simple.

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