The condition of the Rocky Flats site after completion of the Superfund “cleanup” is crucial, because contamination remaining in the environment after the “cleanup” will affect the public health for eons. Especially is this true regarding plutonium particles, since the half-life of plutonium-239 (the primary contaminant present at Rocky Flats) is 24,110 years. It will remain radioactive for more than a quarter-million years.
Evidence of environmental crime at the site: In June 1989 the FBI and EPA raided the Rocky Flats plant to collect evidence of violation of federal environmental laws at the plant. To review this evidence of criminal behavior for a lawsuit brought against plant operator Rockwell International, a special grand jury was convened. However, in 1992, while the grand jury was in the midst of its review of the evidence, the Department of Justice reached an out-of-court settlement with Rockwell, in which major charges against the company were dropped. As part of the settlement, federal judge Sherman Finesilver sealed 65 cartons of evidence collected by the FBI and reviewed by the grand jury, documents containing data that should have been reviewed as part of the Rocky Flats “cleanup.” The federal government thus denied access by the public, the media or researchers to crucial information about alleged environmental crime at Rocky Flats. The judge ordered members of the grand jury not to reveal what they had learned in their review of evidence.
During the Superfund cleanup of the site the public repeatedly called for release of the sealed records. Finally, Senator Mark Udall asked U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado John Suthers to make the documents available to the two government agencies that were regulating the cleanup, the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Though these documents were made available to them, they were never reviewed by either agency. According to “Rocky Flats Brouhaha,” an article by Ann Imse in the Rocky Mountain News, August 20, 2004, no one from these two agencies even requested to see the documents. Thus the environment at the Rocky Flats site was cleaned up without any review of documents about environmental crime at the site. Wes McKinley, foreman of the grand jury, and attorney Caron Balkany, co-authors of The Ambushed Grand Jury; How the Jujstice Department Covered Up Environmental Crimes and How We Caught Them Red Handed (NY: Apex Press, 2004), concluded that the real purpose of the FBI raid at Rocky Flats was not to reveal environmental law-breaking but to cover it up by collecting and sealing the evidence.
Map showing where waste had been deeply buried on the site: Former Rocky Flats worker Jerry San Pietro was told by his uncle, an older worker at the plant, that he had seen Caterpillar D9 bulldozers digging trenches so deep at various locations on the Rocky Flats site that the enormous bulldozers dropped completely out of site. The purpose of the trenches was to bury radioactive waste and then to cover and forget it. San Pietro’s uncle said that a map showing the locations of these deep burials existed. San Pietro, who was a radiation monitor at the site, and a colleague repeatedly asked plant authorities to let them see this map. Their request was repeatedly denied. But they persisted. Finally, one day they were told to come to a particular location at a specific time. When they arrived, they were met by several plant officials who told them they would be allowed into a locked room to see the map for ten minutes, provided they did not go with pencil and paper and made no record of what they saw. Thus they saw a map showing various locations on the site where plutonium waste had been buried 20 to 30 feet below the surface.
During the Superfund “cleanup” San Pietro tried to bring attention to what he had seen on this map, because the “cleanup” focused only on what was in the top 6 feet of soil and didn’t deal with the deep burials. He was ignored by those doing the “cleanup” or regulating it, as well as by state officials and members of Congress. Convinced that a great deal of waste remains deeply buried at the site, he calls Rocky Flats “the largest unlicensed nuclear burial site in the United States.” (For San Pietro’s story, see Transcript OH1384v in the Rocky Flats Oral History Collection, Maria Rogers Oral History Program at the Carnegie Branch of the Boulder Public Library.) When San Pietro contacted me about this, I made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the map he had seen. In response, the Department of Energy sent not the map he described but one with which I was familiar showing well-known disposal sites, none of which were deep burials. San Pietro thinks the map showing the deep burials was probably destroyed.
Migration of plutonium in soil: Those who designed the “cleanup” for Rocky Flats relied on the conclusion of the multi-year Actinide Migration Evaluation (AME) that plutonium in the soil at Rocky Flats remains “relatively immobile.” (Kaiser-Hill Co., Actinide Migration Evaluation Pathway Analysis Summary Report, ER-108, April 2004, p. 28.) The AME results were based primarily on computer modeling rather than on empirical observation. By contrast, environmental engineer M. Iggy Litaor, with instruments he had set up on the Rocky Flats site to make measurements, in the unusually wet spring of 1995 detected significant horizontal migration of plutonium in shallow subsurface soil at Rocky Flats. His stunning real-time discovery attracted a great deal of attention because it countered the Rocky Flats orthodoxy that plutonium in soil remains in place. He produced a widely published preliminary summary of his findings – ‘The Hydrogeochemistry of Pu in Soils of Rocky Flats, Colorado: Summary,” Public Presentation, Denver, May 15, 1996. Despite his stunning, unexpected finding – or because of it – he was involuntarily terminated and replaced by the AME team. Back in his native Israel, he tried for about two years with my assistance to get the Department of Energy to provide him with computerized data he needed to complete a publishable report of his findings. They ignored his request. He thus never produced a report documenting what he had found. Absent such a report in a technical journal, it’s as if the movement of plutonium Litaor directly observed in the saturated conditions at Rocky Flats in the spring of 1995 never happened.
In the Superfund cleanup (1995-2005), the Rocky Flats orthodoxy triumphed truth. The government agencies responsible for the cleanup – the Department of Energy, the EPA, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment – made no reference to Litaor’s finding. Instead, they incorporated into the cleanup the AME assumption that plutonium in the soil at Rocky Flats remains “relatively immobile.”
Despite the Rocky Flats orthodoxy, studies showing migration of plutonium are abundant. For references on recent findings of plutonium migration in soil at various sites, see Alexander P. Novikov et al., “Colloid Transport of Plutonium in the Far-Field of the Mayak Production Association, Russia,” SCIENCE, vol. 314 (27 October 2006), notes 6 and 8. Research done by Annie Kersting of DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory confirms colloidal transport of plutonium; see her “Plutonium Hitches a Ride on Subsurface Particles,” Science & Technology Review, LLNL, Oct./Nov. 2001, pp. 16-18. The conflict between Litaor and the AME is dealt with at greater length in my “Science compromised in the Cleanup of Rocky Flats,” on line at http://media.wix.com/ugd/cff93e_1ae76276c5814bf8aa21dc530da95857.pdf .