Archive for the ‘Plutonium’ Category

Wrongheaded complaints

In Democracy, Environment, Justice, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on September 24, 2015 at 8:58 am

On September 2, 2015, the Boulder Daily Camera published an article of mine entitled “Prohibit Public Access to Rocky Flats.” It is available on this blog at https://leroymoore.wordpress.com/category/nuclear-guardianship/ My article said public access to Rocky Flats should be prohibited because visiting the site (now the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge) could expose one to plutonium remaining in the environment at the site, possibly wrecking one’s health. Plutonium is highly toxic for roughly 500,000 years. Tiny particles can be inhaled. Keeping the site closed will help protect wholly innocent people.

Here I will comment on two responses to my article that the Camera published. The first, by Dean Rundle, former Manager of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, challenged my analysis of public comments on the Environmental Impact Statement prepared for the Refuge in 2004. It shows that 81% of those commenting opposed public access at the Wildlife Refuge. Rundle dismisses this number because many of these people signed a petition and their identity is unknown. He says if one counts only local identifiable people, the division was about half for and half against public access. This is wishful thinking. Had he actually analyzed the comments of only identifiable individuals, he would have found that 64% opposed public access and 32% — or exactly half – favored it. My analysis is on line at http://media.wix.com/ugd/cff93e_a9cff9a4c30b4ac5bbfa27e93b91a9bf.pdf

The second response was written Reed Bailey, a former Rocky Flats worker. He says I have never “written a peer reviewed research paper on the physical effects of radiation on the human body, or any other scientific subject.” In fact, I published two peer reviewed articles in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, on in 2002 on setting standards for permissible exposure to radiation, the other in 2005 on the Rocky Flats Superfund cleanup. I was co-author with two colleagues of a paper on radiation exposure standards published in 2004 in Health Physics. A further peer-reviewed article by me, “Democracy and Public Health at Rocky Flats,” appeared in Tortured Science (2012). I also was the principal author of the Citizens Guide to Rocky Flats (1992). Most of these writings can be found on line at http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org  In addition to actual publications, for four years I was a member of two committees of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, the principal U.S. organization that studies radiation health effects and makes recommendations regarding standards for permissible exposure to radiation.

Bailey also in effect accused me of lying when I mentioned a Columbia University study showing that taking a single plutonium particle into a lung could result in physical harm. In fact, there were two studies done by a team headed by Tom K. Hei of Columbia, both published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in 1997 and 2001. Both refer to possible harm, one from direct exposure to a single plutonium particle, the other from indirect exposure. Were Mr. Bailey more careful, he would have found what could be found. Instead he spoke from ignorance.

Plutonium at Rocky Flats: Who is protected?

In Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on September 24, 2015 at 12:45 am

(Talk given at Naropa University, July 30, 2015)

The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge came into existence in 2006 after completion of the Superfund cleanup at the nuclear weapons plant site. The Department of Energy transferred almost three-quarters of the roughly 10-square-mile Rocky Flats site to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the agency that would manage the Refuge. Recent additions to the Refuge bring its size to 9.75 square miles. The Refuge surrounds the former industrial area of slightly more than 2 square miles which has been retained by the DOE (Figure 1).

Today I will address one question about Rocky Flats: Who is protected by the Superfund cleanup completed in 2005? Stated differently, who did the government agencies responsible for the cleanup decide to protect? Did they pick the right person?

I invite you to consider ten truths regarding the cleanup done at Rocky Flats:

  1. Of all the contaminants released into the environment from the Rocky Flats plant when it was operating, plutonium-239 is of greatest concern, because it is highly toxic, endangers human health and was repeatedly dusted across the whole site.[1]
  2. Those responsible for the cleanup knowingly left some plutonium-239 in the environment when the cleanup was finished.[2]
  3. The plutonium left behind is in the form of particles too small to see.[3]
  4. Though plutonium particles may be too small to see they are not too small to do harm, especially if blown about by the winds common at Rocky Flats.
  5. The worst way to be exposed to plutonium – and also the easiest way – is to inhale one or more of these tiny particles.
  6. If you inhale plutonium or take it into your body through an open wound it is likely to lodge within your body; onthis happens, the plutonium will constantly irradiate surrounding cells in a very small area for the rest of your life,
  7. This constant irradiation may in time lead to cancer, a compromised immune system or genetic harm to future generations.[4]
  8. Taking only one particle of plutonium into your body may produce the bad health-effects just mentioned.[5]
  9. Plutonium in soil does not stay in place; it migrates. From time to time tiny particles will be brought to the surface where they can be picked up by the wind.[6]
  10. Plutonium-239 in the environment is not a temporary problem, because it remains radioactive for a quarter-million years, or roughly 20 times the 12,000 years of recorded human history. Rocky Flats, thus, is a local hazard forever.

If you have lived in the area for several years and have been paying attention, you already know some or all of these truths. If so, you didn’t learn them not from federal and state agencies responsible for Rocky Flats. You learned from people who, like yourself, were paying attention. If, on the other hand, these truths are new to you, it’s not too late to join those paying attention.

As for personnel at the government agencies responsible for Rocky Flats, most of them say and do what others in the government strata say and do. If they want to keep their jobs, they have to go with the flow. They can’t go against the current. Collectively, they’re out of touch with reality.

A crucial example of their lack of realism is how they handled the Superfund cleanup. Superfund is a federal program to ensure that contaminated industrial sites are not simply abandoned when a plant is shut down but are cleaned up. When production ended at Rocky Flats, the site was regarded as one of the most contaminated in the country. Superfund requires that the cleanup of a given site protect future people from exposure to toxins that remain in the environment.

To do this, those responsible for a cleanup must identify the “reasonably maximally exposed individual.” The idea is that if you know who can reasonably be expected to be the most exposed individual at a site and the cleanup protects this person, others who would receive less exposure will be protected. At Rocky Flats, those responsible for the cleanup – DOE, EPA and CDPHE – together decided that the “maximally exposed individual” would be a wildlife refuge worker, a person who works outdoors at the site for 20 hours a week for 30 years.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which manages the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, intends eventually to open the Refuge for public recreation. Allowing public access would very likely mean radiation exposure to wholly innocent people. The agencies responsible for the cleanup regard this as an acceptable risk, since the occasional visitor to the Refuge would be at the site only a fraction of the time spent there by the wildlife refuge worker. In theory, if the refuge worker would be protected, anyone who simply visits the refuge would also be protected.

The refuge worker scenario also had an economic aspect. Cleaning the site to protect a wildlife refuge worker would cost far less than cleaning it to protect, for example, someone living on the site. Turning most of the site into a wildlife refuge and protecting a wildlife refuge worker, thus, became the operating rationale for a quicker and cheaper Rocky Flats cleanup.

But cleaning the site to protect a wildlife refuge worker was unrealistic. It failed to take into account the toxicity and long half-life of the plutonium-239 left in the environment. When the Refuge is gone, when fences fall and memories fade and people move onto the site, who will be protected? Steve Gunderson of CDPHE said in a public meeting that the Rocky Flats cleanup was meant to take care of things for 200 years. But deciding to use the wildlife-refuge-worker scenario to establish the site’s legally binding cleanup standards in effect consigns some people to a slow and untimely death. This is a crime against humanity for which there is no statute of limitation. If Superfund law literally requires protection of the “maximally exposed individual,” shouldn’t the legality of the Rocky Flats decision be challenged in court?

An alternative was proposed. In 2001 the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research proposed a cleanup that would protect a farming family that lives on what is now the Rocky Flats site from birth to death, generation after generation, eats only food grown there and drinks local water. This proposal was realistic about the future, but it was rejected by the powers that be. They favored the cheaper, quicker, shortsighted cleanup that left us with a permanent danger.

What should be done? The Rocky Flats Nuclear Guardianship came into being to deal with questions like this. Some day perhaps the cleanup can be redone. But for now, the most straightforward move is to keep the Rocky Flats site closed to the public. We plan soon to ask Congress to enact legislation that will keep all DOE nuclear weapons production sites that undergo Superfund cleanup closed to the public for at least 250 years after completion of the cleanup. This would save some from being exposed to radiation. And it would provide time for all of us to find better solutions to the problem of plutonium in the environment. In the words of Terry Tempest Williams, “The eyes of the future are looking back at us, and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time.”

[1] Harvey Nichols, a specialist on airborne pollen, was hired by the federal government in 1974 to study airborne particles at Rocky Flats. He found that routine operations at the plant deposited “tens of billions of plutonium particles per acre” across the site and that the air monitors around the site were deficient and did not measure what was being released. Nichols, Assessment of the Official Air Sampling Equipment at Rocky Flats during 1974 to 1976, 2-18-12.

[2] Final revisions of the Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement allowed the following amounts of plutonium to remain in soil after the cleanup (plutonium is measured in picocuries per gram of soil, abbreviated as pCi/g. A picocurie is a measure of radiation.

  • Top 3 feet of soil: up to 50 pCi/g allowed to remain in soil.
  • Soil 3 to 6 feet below the surface: 1,000 to 7,000 pCi/g allowed to remain, the amount dependent on the size of the contaminated area.
  • Soil 6 or more feet below the surface: no limit on amount of plutonium that may remain in soil.

Cleanup of plutonium elsewhere was more protective, ranging from a low of 8 pCi/g at Fort Dix, NJ, to 40 pCi/g at Enewetak Atoll bomb test site, with 200 pCi/g at a small portion of Nevada Test Site, all without respect to depth. For another comparison, average background deposit of plutonium from global fallout locally is 0.04 pCi/g. The 50 pCi/g allowed in top 3 feet is 1,250 times 0.04 pCi/g; 1,000 to 7,000 pCi/g is 25,000 to 175,000 times 0.04 pCi/g. Plutonium is not a part of natural background radiation. Natural background has been altered globally by the addition of fallout of plutonium and other radionuclides from the human activity of detonation of nuclear bombs.

[3] Meteorologist W. Gale Biggs found that the average size of plutonium particles released in routine operations at Rocky Flats was 0.045 microns. The average size of a human hair is 50 microns. Biggs, , Airborne Emissions and Monitoring of Plutonium from Rocky Flats (March 17, 2011).

[4] Herman J. Muller received the Nobel Prize in 1946 for showing that radiation produced genetic mutations. He later revealed that exposure to a very low level of radiation will eventually harm and prove lethal to future generations. This could result in extinction of the human species. See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1254569/?page=9

[5] Tom K. Hei and colleagues at Columbia University demonstrated that a single plutonium alpha 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, and more such harm per unit dose occurs at very low doses than would occur with higher dose exposures. “These data provide direct evidence that a single alpha particle traversing a nucleus will have a high probability of resulting in a mutation and highlight the need for radiation protection at low doses.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 94, April 1997, pp. 3765-3770.

[6] In 1995 environmental engineer Iggy Litaor discovered rapid migration of plutonium in subsurface soil at Rocky Flats. In 1996 ecologist Shawn Smallwood identified 18 species of burrowing animals on the Rocky Flats site that dig down to as much as 16 feet and can bring soil and their contents, including plutonium, to the surface. For full discussion, see Moore, “Science compromised in the cleanup of Rocky Flats.” On line at http://media.wix.com/ugd/cff93e_1ae76276c5814bf8aa21dc530da95857.pdf

Prohibit Public Access to Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear Guardianship, Peace, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on September 4, 2015 at 5:27 am

Prohibit public access to Rocky Flats

By LeRoy Moore

Boulder Daily Camera, September 2, 2025


U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) did a “soft opening” to the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. One can now join a group of 10 or fewer for a three-mile hike to see plants, wildlife and birds. To the aware public, the “soft opening” is an insult. It catches us unawares and preempts public input before the full opening mentioned in official documents. It flies in the face of broad opposition to public access expressed in 2004 when FWS sought public comments on its Environmental Impact Statement for the future refuge. Eighty-one percent of commenting parties opposed public access.

Refuge visitors could be exposed to radioactive plutonium-239 in the environment at the refuge and the Department of Energy (DOE) land that surrounds it. The two-square-mile DOE plot is the former industrial area of the Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant, which for 37 years produced the explosive plutonium core of nuclear warheads. Fires, accidents and routine operations released billions of tiny, highly toxic particles of plutonium-239 into the environment.

For reasons known to the concerned public, FWS should not allow public access to the refuge — reasons also known to officials at DOE and the agencies that regulated the Rocky Flats Superfund cleanup: the EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE). DOE has routinely denied the scientific and medical reality at Rocky Flats. EPA and CDPHE went along, perhaps because they are paid by DOE to regulate DOE, a little noticed conflict of interest.

Key reasons for prohibiting public access to the refuge:

  • Plutonium-239, with a half-life of 24,110 years, is present in the environment at Rocky Flats in the form of particles too small to see.
  • The radiation from plutonium cannot penetrate skin, but if plutonium is inhaled or otherwise internalized it lodges in the body and constantly irradiates nearby tissue, endangering one’s health.
  • Columbia University researchers found that a single particle of plutonium taken into the body induces genetic mutations that may produce cancer or other ailments.
  • Those responsible for the cleanup assumed plutonium left in soil would remain in place, despite Dr. Iggy Litaor’s discovery in 1995 that plutonium migrates during rain events and Dr. Shawn Smallwood’s finding in 1996 that burrowing animals bring plutonium to the surface, where it can be redistributed by the wind common at Rocky Flats.
  • Plutonium on DOE land will migrate onto the refuge. This probably happened in the September 2013 flood, but DOE’s streambed monitors failed during the storm, leaving us in the dark about whether and how far the plutonium traveled. Sheet flooding, present in 2013, has never been monitored at Rocky Flats.
  • The Rocky Flats Superfund cleanup was designed to protect a wildlife refuge worker. But plutonium will far outlive the refuge. The greatest harm will be to future generations.
  • Genetic effects of plutonium on wildlife are poorly understood. There have been no genetic studies of wildlife at Rocky Flats.
  • The FBI raided Rocky Flats in 1989 to collect evidence of environmental law-breaking at the site. The documents were sealed. EPA and CDPHE were given the opportunity to review the evidence during the cleanup, but they declined. In the raid EPA took environmental samples that have never been revealed.
  • Although children are especially vulnerable to radiation, FWS expects them at the refuge.

Of the more than 600 national wildlife refuges, Rocky Flats is the only one on the radioactive site of a former nuclear weapons factory. To FWS, this doesn’t matter, as evidenced by the “soft opening.”

In the face of all this uncertainty, biology professor Harvey Nichols and former county commissioner Paul Danish generated a very sensible proposal. Congress should enact legislation requiring that all DOE nuclear weapons sites that undergo Superfund cleanup remain closed to the public for at least 250 years after completion of the cleanup.

Enactment of this proposal would protect the innocent and bring praise for supporting legislators. It would introduce into the nuclear realm the precautionary principle that where uncertainty regarding harm to public health and environmental integrity exists, as it does at Rocky Flats, caution should prevail over carelessness. People of future generations will be grateful. I strongly suggest that our current state and congressional delegations support this concept. By the time a site has been closed for two-and-a-half centuries, whether visiting it poses a danger or not should be known. Any questionable site could be kept closed permanently.


LeRoy Moore works with the Rocky Flats Nuclear Guardianship of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.

New Rocky Flats Nuclear Guardianship web site

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Jefferson Parkway, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on July 28, 2015 at 7:38 am

For the new web site, go to: http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org/

If you have questions or comments, contact Chris Allred at <christopher.allred@Colorado.EDU>

Major Fallout in Rocky Flats Case

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats on June 30, 2015 at 7:31 am

Tenth Circuit sides with plaintiffs in epic litigation over nuclear facility.

Scott Flaherty, The National Law Journal June 29, 2015

After 25 years of litigation over contamination from the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant in Colorado, a federal appeals court has ruled that Dow Chemical Co. and Rockwell International Corp. should be on the hook for nuisance claims by neighboring property owners that combined could total hundreds of millions of dollars.

In an unusual move, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit on June 23 ordered the lower court to reverse its ruling and enter judgment for the plaintiffs, instead of sending the case back for reconsideration. The court cited in part the extraordinary delay in resolving the case, noting the “titanic” amount of time and expense it has taken up, including a 2006 trial.

“We can imagine only injustice flowing from any effort to gin up the machinery of trial for a second pass over terrain it took 15 years for the first trial to mow through,” Judge Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority.

Merrill Davidoff (near left) of Berger & Montague argued the appeal for the plaintiffs, roughly 12,000 Colorado property owners. Kirkland & Ellis’ Christopher Landau (far left) argued for the two defendant companies.Davidoff welcomed the Tenth Circuit’s ruling, saying the defense had employed “scorched earth” tactics throughout the entire litigation and noting that his clients have stuck it out for decades. “I feel especially good for them,” he said of the clients. “The class representatives really deserve applause.”


A Dow spokeswoman said in a written statement that the company was disappointed and considering further appeal options. She also said Dow is entitled to be indemnified by the U.S. Department of Energy because it operated Rocky Flats under a government contract.

Dow operated the Rocky Flats plant from 1952 to 1975, when Rockwell took over. In 1989, the Federal Bureau of Investigation found evidence that plant workers had for years mishandled radioactive waste, allowing it to leach into soil and bodies of water. The plant was shut down and Rockwell later pleaded guilty to environmental crimes.

The value of nearby property plummeted and, in January 1990, local landowners lodged a putative class action against Dow and Rockwell under state nuisance law and the federal Price-Anderson Act, which applies to lawsuits that allege liability for nuclear incidents. Price-Anderson limits companies’ liability in certain cases, with the government paying a portion of any damages.

After years of pretrial wrangling, a jury in early 2006 sided with the plaintiffs and awarded $377 million in damages. On appeal, the companies argued that the district court’s jury instructions included an overly broad definition of what constitutes a nuclear incident under Price-Anderson. In 2010 the Tenth Circuit agreed that the jury instructions were too permissive.

When the case went back to the district court, Berger & Montague engaged in “a little judicial jiu-jitsu,” as Gorsuch put it in his ruling. Conceding that the plaintiffs couldn’t prove that a ­nuclear incident had taken place, they abandoned the Price-Anderson claim, but continued pursuing the nuisance claim. They maintained that the 2006 jury verdict should allow the district court to enter judgment in the plaintiffs’ favor on that state law claim, without the need for a new trial.


The district court sided with Dow and Rockwell, which had argued that the plaintiffs’ earlier pursuit of federal Price-Anderson claims pre-empted their state nuisance claims. The Tenth Circuit panel rejected that argument. (None of the three judges involved in the ruling was part of the first appellate panel.)

“Dow and Rockwell appear to have persuaded even the plaintiffs that this case does not involve a nuclear incident within the meaning of the Price-Anderson Act,” Gorsuch wrote. “But that does not mean the defendants are insulated from any liability — or that the jury’s verdict is a pointless piece of paper.”

In a concurring opinion, Judge Nancy Moritz agreed that the case deserved a remand, but wrote that she would have sent it back for a new trial on the nuisance claim.


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Unique Hazards at Rocky Flats

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge, Workplace exposure on June 5, 2015 at 8:04 am

Social ecology students, working with Professor John Whiteley at the University of Colorado in Irvine, have produced a web site with much information about Rocky Flats and the nuclear enterprise. See http://uniquehazardsrockyflats.weebly.com/

Stopping a “prescribed burn” at Rocky Flats

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Nonviolence, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on March 21, 2015 at 11:05 pm

Last fall I saw a comment on the web site of the Rocky Flats Stewardship Council that U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) planned to do a “prescribed burn” on 701 acres in the southwestern portion of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Convinced that this would release plutonium particles into the air I posted a petition on MoveOn calling for people who opposed the burn to sign their names. This would provide immediate communication to FWS personnel that their plan was opposed. Next I wrote an op-ed informing people of FWS plans and urging them to sign the petition. We quickly assembled a “technical group” consisting of Harvey Nichols, Jon Lipsky, Mary (Mickey) Harlow, Anne Fenerty, Art Burmeister, Gale Biggs and myself. This group met several times in the fall developing our own plans and communicating our views to FWS, agencies of the state government that had to issue a burn permit and others, including members of Congress. We got David Lucas of FWS and colleagues to agree to meet with us on Thursday, January 28, so they could hear from us and we from them. But when Lucas learned that media and an attorney might be present at our meeting, he backed out and refused to attend. The very next day FWS announced cancellation of the burn. By this time 2,780 people had signed the petition. I shut the petition down and wrote a second op-ed explaining that FWS was not dropping the idea of a burn but was postponing it. My op-ed referred to the necessity for ongoing opposition and spelled out alternatives to the burn. No issue had so quickly gained public attention and opposition to government plans. For a well-done summary of what has happened on this so far, go to the TruthOut story at http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/29537-prescribed-burn-at-former-nuclear-weapons-plant-stirs-public-  I highly recommend it.

People who would like to work on this for the future, please contact the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center at 303-444-6981, attend our regular Nuclear Guardians meeting noon till 2 PM every Tuesday at China Gourmet in the Lucky’s Market shopping area at Broadway at Quince in north Boulder, or contact me at <leeroymoore@earthlink.net>.

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.

Rocky Flats Books, Articles & Films

In Art, Democracy, Environment, Jefferson Parkway, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Poetry, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge, Workplace exposure on October 21, 2014 at 6:35 am

Non-fiction books on Rocky Flats

Len Ackland, Making a Real Killing: Rocky Flats and the Nuclear West (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999). This well-documented history of the Rocky Flats plant during production years and the beginning of cleanup activities was written by the former editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, who recently retired from teaching journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Robert Adams, Our Lives and Our Children: Photographs Taken Near the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant (Millerton, NY: Aperture, a Division of Silver Mountain Foundation, 1983). This volume consists of images from daily life of people who lived near Rocky Flats at the height of the production years; in a brief concluding essay the photographer says each of the many individuals depicted “refutes the idea of acceptable losses.”

Patricia Buffer, Rocky Flats History (DOE Rocky Flats Field Office, July 2003). This invaluable reference work provides a timeline of more than 50 years of Rocky Flats history, written from an inside-the-plant perspective. PDF version is available on line.

Kim S. Cameron and Marc Lavine, Making the Impossible Possible: Leading Extraordinary Performance: The Rocky Flats Story (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2006). A business management specialist who teaches at the University of Michigan and a graduate student from Boston College celebrate the “abundance approach,” which, according to them, was successfully employed by Kaiser-Hill in the cleanup of Rocky Flats.

Joseph Daniel (photographs) and Keith Pope (text), Year of Disobedience (Boulder, CO: Daniel Productions, 1979), with preface by Daniel Ellsberg and poetry by Allen Ginsberg. This book is a photo-documentary on the 1978-79 demonstrations and civil disobedience blockade of the railroad tracks leading in to the Rocky Flats Plant.

Joseph Daniel, A Year of Disobedience and a Criticality of Conscience (Boulder: Story Arts Media, 2013), is an updated 35th-anniversary edition of Year of Disobedience, the 1979 photo-documentary on the 1978-79 demonstrations and civil disobedience blockade of the railroad tracks leading in to the Rocky Flats plant. This edition includes all of the original photographs by Daniel (enlarged, with some new ones) and the earlier text and trial transcriptions by Daniel Ellsberg and Keith Pope and poetry by Allen Ginsberg. New in this edition is “Local Hazard, Global Threat,” a historical update and reflection by LeRoy Moore; an Afterword in which Daniel Ellsberg explores the current worldwide nuclear weapons threat, the role of patriotic whistleblowers, and the conflict between national security and government surveillance; and August Freirich’s Activist Appendix, his recent interviews with some who participated in the 1978-79 occupation of the railroad tracks at Rocky Flats.

Allen Ginsberg (editor), Clean Energy Verse: Poetry from the Tracks at Rocky Flats (Woodstock, NY: Safe Earth Press, 1979). Illustrated with photos by Robert Godfrey, this booklet, produced to support the Rocky Flats Truth Force, contains poems by Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman and others.

Jennifer Haines, Bread and Water: A Spiritual Journey (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997). A devout Christian pacifist provides an intensely personal account of how she fulfilled her mission of bearing witness at Rocky Flats by means of daily vigils at the facility’s west gate and repeated acts of civil disobedience trespass for which she spent extended periods in federal penitentiaries.

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 says he made his largest contribution in environmental management. He told me he was head of environmental management for Rockwell when the FBI raided the plant to collect evidence of alleged environmental law-breaking – but in fact he never held this high-ranking post, instead worked for an engineering firm that had a sub-contract at the plant. 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 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 paying fines in the out-of-court settlement for crimes it did not commit. The book is available both on line and in hard copy.

Kristen Iversen, Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats (NY: Crown Publishers, 2012). Iversen entwines tales of growing up in what her family regarded as a suburban paradise with her own gradually dawning awareness of what it means that they lived immediately downwind of the Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant. Her superbly written narrative includes stories of both workers inside the facility and people in her neighborhood who wonder if their cancers and other ailments are due to contaminants released from the plant. The government which holds the trump card in secrecy as well as in defining “permissible exposure,” says this is only conjecture. Iversen shows why the questions won’t go away. Among books written to provide a convincing account of life in the nuclear era from the perspective of affected people, Full Body Burden sets a very high standard for thoroughness of investigation, clarity of explanation and humane understanding.

Kaiser-Hill Co., LLC, Rocky Flats: A proud legacy, a new beginning: The story of the world’s largest and most complex environmental cleanup project (2005). This booklet, produced by the company that did the Rocky Flats cleanup, tells their story from their point of view.

John J. Kennedy, Jr., “Annihilation Beckons: A Brief History of Colorado’s Nuclear Bomb-Trigger Factory,” Colorado Heritage (Spring 1994). This special issue of the official journal of the Colorado Historical Society is devoted primarily to Kennedy’s informative, very well illustrated article on the history of the Rocky Flats Plant. Attention is paid both to the work done at the plant and to the activities of those who resisted what was done there.

Shiloh R. Krupar, “Transnatural ethics: revisiting the nuclear cleanup of Rocky Flats, CO, through the queer ecology of Nuclia Waste,” Cultural Geographies, May 24, 2012. Krupar, a Georgetown University geographer, critiques the ethic that guided the Rocky Flats cleanup for “eliminating uncertainty” and assuming that nature is “static and separate from the human” and that nuclear waste left behind will stay put so that the resultant wildlife refuge can be viewed as pristine rather than as a contaminated zone. Since we no longer experience “pure nature” we must adopt a “transnatural ethic” that “directs attention toward the impurifications already in existence” and grounds responsibility in awareness of a broader human/nature kinship. She cites the antics of Denver drag queen Nuclia Waste as an example of the cognitive transformation required. Online: http://egj.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/05/24/147447011433756.abstract?patientinform-links=yes&legid=spcgi:147447011433756v1.

Shiloh R. Krupar, Hot Spotter’s Report: Military Fables of Toxic Waste (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013). In this erudite volume Georgetown University geography professor Krupar explores three examples of the U.S. permanent war economy: the Rocky Mountain Arsenal (nerve gas), Rocky Flats (plutonium pits) and the compensation program for ailing nuclear weapons workers. The chapter on Rocky Flats looks at the post-Cold War period when production ceased and what she calls “green war” (militarized green-washing) prevailed, accompanied by denial of the site’s contamination amidst its transition into the “romanticized” nature of the wildlife refuge which humans, especially children, are expected to enjoy as if it poses no danger. Her writing combines biting satire (including an account of the antics of Denver drag queen Nuclia Waste) with densely documented academic analysis. Hot spotting cultivates an ethic of seeing the unseen radiation effects in slow violence and death and rejects the myth of a pure nature reserve.

Clayton Lagerquist, The Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant I Remember: Its Rise and Fall (Morrisville, NC: Lulu.comm 2009). The author of this highly opinionated book was a health physicist at Rocky Flats from 1963 till 1988. Alongside his descriptions of individuals and the radiation detection world at the plant, he levels harsh criticisms at elected officials, the plant union, the media, the Federal Government (for supervising all activities at Rocky Flats, then suing Rockwell International for environmental misconduct), and, not least, “the anti-Rocky Flats movement that ultimately caused its closure” and who were “nothing but terrorists without guns.” “Safety of the employees,” he says, “was never a problem at Rocky Flats.” These are clearly not the words of an exposed production worker. When a colleague urged him “to reduce radiation exposure by a certain percent each quarter,” his reply was that he couldn’t because “any reduction would have to be accompanied by a reduction in production.”

Lamm-Wirth Task Force, Final Report (Denver: The Task Force, 1975). Convened by newly elected Governor Dick Lamm and Representative Tim Wirth, the Lamm-Wirth Task Force concluded that Rocky Flats should never have been located in a major metropolitan area and that it should be closed and its work moved to another location.

Brian Lipsett, “Rocky Flats: A Plea Bargain in Public View,” in Mary Clifford (editor), Environmental Crime: Enforcement, Policy, and Social Responsibility (Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publishers, 1998), pp. 397-412. Lipsett focuses on issues raised by the out-of-court settlement of the federal case against Rockwell precipitated by the FBI raid on Rocky Flats in 1989. The special grand jury convened to review evidence in the case wanted to indict several Rockwell and DOE officials. Lipsett shows that the Department of Justice settled the case without indicting these individuals because their illegal behavior was part of a “DOE culture” of law-breaking. The DOJ settlement allowed these individuals to act above the law. Lipsett praises the grand jury for daring to go public with their rejection of the settlement.

Local Hazard, Global Threat: Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant (Denver: Rocky Flats Action Group, 1977). This 20-page handbook, the first such guide published by activists, contained most of what was publicly known about Rocky Flats at the time of publication.

Wes McKinley and Caron Balkany, The Ambushed Grand Jury: How the Justice Department Covered Up Government Nuclear Crimes and How We Caught Them Red Handed (N.Y.: Apex Press, 2004). The foreman of the grand jury convened after the 1989 FBI raid of Rocky Flats to investigate environmental wrongdoing at the facility and attorney Balkany reconstruct the tale of high-level deceit and denial at Rocky Flats.

LeRoy Moore et al., Citizen’s Guide to Rocky Flats: Colorado’s Nuclear Bomb Factory (Boulder: Rocky Mountain Peace Center, 1992). A comprehensive account of what was publicly known about Rocky Flats at the time of publication, this work became an essential handbook for many people dealing with the Rocky Flats issue.

LeRoy Moore, “Democracy and Public Health at Rocky Flats: The Examples of Edward Martell and Carl J. Johnson,” in Diane Quigley, Amy Lowman and Steve Wing (editors), Tortured Science: Health Studies, Ethics, and Nuclear Weapons in the United States (Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing Company, Inc., 2012), pp. 60-97. More than any other scientists in the Denver area, Edward Martell, a radiochemist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and Carl Johnson, then Director of the Jefferson County Health Department, alerted the public to dangers posed by releases of plutonium from the Rocky Flats plant. This article assesses their work and shows that for their contribution to public awareness they were made to paid dearly. Available on line at http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org/leroy-moores-blog/papers-by-leroy-moore-phd-2/democracy-and-public-health-at-rocky-flats-11-6-12/

Theresa Satterfield and Joshua Levin, “From Cold War Complex to Nature Preserve: Diagnosing the Breakdown of a Multi-Stakeholder Decision Process and Its Consequences for Rocky Flats,” in Barbara Rose Johnson (editor), Half-lives & Half-Truths: Confronting the Radioactive Legacies of the Cold War (Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press, 2007), pp. 165-191. The authors are social scientists who spent several months closely observing public participation related to the cleanup at Rocky Flats. They praise the process for producing well-informed stakeholders at Rocky Flats, but say it ultimately failed because the evident intent of DOE and the regulators was less to involve the public in decision-making than to convince them that already made decisions were in their best interest.

Summary of Findings: Historical Public Exposure Studies on Rocky Flats (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, August 1999). This work summarizes the findings of the nine year dose reconstruction study for the Rocky Flats plant. The study estimated the quantities of radioactive and toxic substances released from the Rocky Flats plant to the off-site environment during the production years of 1952 to 1989, on the basis of which it also estimated increased cancer risk to residents living or working in surrounding areas during the period of the plant’s operation.The study concluded that the government need not do any further health study. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment administered the study. Oversight was provided by a 12-member Health Advisory Panel appointed in 1999 by former Governor Roy Romer.

Anne Waldman, “Rocky Flats: Warring God’s Charnel Ground,” in Waldman and Andres Schelling (editors), Disembodied Poetics: Annals of the Jack Kerouac School (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994). Poet Anne Waldman’s essay on Rocky Flats, like most of the contents of this volume, was presented as part of the 1993 summer writing program at Naropa Institute (now University) in Boulder. She also makes brief reference to Rocky Flats in a long interview with her conducted by Randy Roark, also included in this book. Director of the Poetics and Writing Program at Naropa, Waldman wrote poetry expressing her opposition to what was done at Rocky Flats when she sat on the railway tracks there in 1978.

Eric Wright and Judy Danielson, Songs to Convert Rocky Flats (Denver: Rocky Flats Action Group, 1979). This small booklet ofsongs was widely used for years by Rocky Flats activists.

Non-fiction works in which Rocky Flats receives significant attention

Len Ackland, “Open Wounds from a Tough Nuclear History: Forgetting How We Made Ourselves an Endangered Species,” in Remedies for the New West: Healing Landscapes, Histories, and Cultures, edited by Patricia Nelson Limerick, Andrew Cowell and Sharon K. Collings (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2009). In this article, Ackland, retired professor of journalism at the University of Colorado and author of Making a Real Killing: Rocky Flats and the Nuclear West, looks at the task of remembering our nuclear history being taken on by museums in various places, He cites the bad example of the Smithsonian being prevented from telling the full story of the Hiroshima bombing on the event’s 50th anniversary in 2005. Closer to home, he says the DOE “is discouraging the public from remembering and considering the broad historical legacies of Rocky Flats,” preferring instead a one-dimensional “Cold War Hero” narrative, as if there had been no global threat, no contamination, no ill workers. He advocates a shared storyline of “unacceptable risk.”

David Albright, Frans Berkhout, and William Walker, Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996: World Inventories, Capabilities and Policies (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1997). This volume, a project of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), provides details on the inventories of weapons-grade nuclear materials on hand or “unaccounted for” at Rocky Flats in 1996.

Tad Bartimus and Scott McCartney, Trinity’s Children: Living along America’s Nuclear Highway (NY: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1991). The authors interviewed dozens of people who live near or work at sites involved with the nuclear enterprise along the broad swath of Interstate 25 from the Trinity bomb site in southern New Mexico to the missile silos near Cheyenne, Wyoming. Included along the way is Rocky Flats.

Thomas Bullock’s Diary of a Cold War Patriot (Smashwords, Inc., 2011) narrates the career of a retired nuclear engineer. He reports on three activities in which he was involved at Rocky Flats while employed by Parsons Corp., an engineering firm located in Pasadena, CA. The first was development of “more stringent fire protections systems” after the 1969 fire at the plant. The second was the effort to correct design problems that plagued Bldg. 371, which he calls “a $250 million white elephant” (that’s 1980 dollars). Intended as “a state-of-the-art” replacement for the outmoded and quite dangerous Bldg. 771 plutonium processing facility, Bldg. 371 became contaminated throughout soon after startup. Bullock was brought in from the outside to lead a $60 million ultimately unsuccessful effort to get the building back into operation. Thus the newest, most robust, most expensive building in Rocky Flats history was never used for the work for which it was created. The third Rocky Flats activity mentioned by Bullock was the little-known highly secret “black budget” project to develop depleted uranium armor plating for U.S. Army tanks. Initially deployed in West Germany during the 1980s, tanks with this DU armor became notable for their use in the 1991 and 2002 U.S. wars in Iraq. On line at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/74199

Thomas C. Cochran, William M. Arkin, Robert S. Norris, and Milton M. Hoenig, Nuclear Weapons Databook, Vol. II: U.S. Nuclear Warhead Production (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Co., 1987). The multi-volume Nuclear Weapons Databook series, produced as a project of the Natural Resources Defense Council, is the most comprehensive description of all aspects of the nuclear weapons enterprise in the U.S., the former Soviet Union, France, Britain, and China, at the time the only declared nuclear weapons states. Rocky Flats is covered in the volume mentioned here.

Robert Del Tredici, At Work in the Fields of the Bomb (NY: Harper & Row, 1987). This book documents the U.S. nuclear weapons enterprise with photographs and interviews with key people. It includes a photograph of Rocky Flats as well as an interview with Kay Gable, widow of Don Gable, a Rocky Flats worker who at age 30 died of brain cancer due to on-the-job exposure to plutonium, according to a court decision. The interview explains how after his death his brain disappeared as did all records regarding his workplace conditions.

Jack Doyle, Dow Chemical and the Toxic Century (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 2004). This study of Dow Chemical as a major polluter includes a chapter on Rocky Flats.

Allen Ginsberg, Plutonian Ode and Other Poems, 1977-1980 (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1982). “Plutonian Ode,” the poem that gives this book its name, comes from the time when Ginsberg sat on the railway tracks leading in to the Rocky Flats Plant in 1978. Among other poems in this small book are several short verses written as part of his experience of civil disobedience, arrest and trial related to Rocky Flats.

Sam Kashner’s When I Was Cool: My Life at the Jack Kerouac School (NY: Harper Collins, 2005) narrates his experience as the first student of Allen Ginsberg and others at the Jack Karouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa College in Boulder. In one brief chapter he tells of going to Rocky Flats in 1978 when Ginsberg, Daniel Ellsberg and others were arrested for civil disobedience on the tracks leading in to the plant. Hopefully the bulk of Kashner’s narrative is more accurate than his report that someone occupying the tracks at Rocky Flats lost his legs when a train ran over him. Nothing like this ever happened at Rocky Flats. Kashner may be misremembering what happened with Brian Wilson, who in 1987 lost his legs blockading a train at a US Navy base in Concord, California, from which arms were being sent to Central America.

Judith A. Layzer, The Environmental Case: Translating Values into Policy (2nd edition, Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2002). CQ Press, a subsidiary of SAGE Publications, specializes in publishing analyses of actions and policies of the federal government. Chapter 4 of this book, “Government Secrets at Rocky Flats,” explores the government’s role in polluting the environment around Rocky Flats. The author demonstrates that scientific experts rarely can resolve environmental policy controversies: they may in fact make them worse.

Arjun Makhijani, Howard Hu, and Katherine Yih (editors), Nuclear Wastelands: A Global Guide to Nuclear Weapons Production and Its Health and Environmental Effects (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1995). Produced by a special commission of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, this volume is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the health and environmental effects of nuclear weapons production globally.

Peter Metzger, The Atomic Establishment (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1972). The author, a former Rocky Mountain News journalist, brings together a great mass of little known detail about the whole nuclear enterprise in the USA in the quarter century following the creation of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1946. In looking at problems like nuclear waste, contamination, and penalties for whistle blowers, Rocky Flats is one of his topics.

Charles Piller, The Fail-Safe Society: Community Defiance and the End of American Technological Optimism (NY: Basic Books 1991). An assessment of opposition by community groups to scientific and technological enterprises that present hazards to the communities where they are located, this book includes a chapter on Rocky Flats.

Max S. Power, America’s Nuclear Wastelands: Politics, Accountability, and Cleanup (Pullman, WA: Washington State University Press, 2008). From 1988 to 2004 Power was the Senior Policy Advisor to the Nuclear Waste Program in Washington State. This very informative book is a helpful guide to laws and regulations that apply to nuclear waste and cleanup of nuclear sites. The author draws on his extensive experience with these issues at Hanford to look at other DOE sites, including Rocky Flats. He regards the cleanup of Rocky Flats as a success due to DOE’s openness and the decision to turn most of the site into a wildlife refuge. Some involved in oversight of the cleanup would disagree. A positive feature at Rocky Flats, he says, is having damned holding ponds that prevent potentially contaminated water from being released off the site. But DOE has decided to breath all of these dams by 2020. Power seems prescient when he questions the viability of long-term stewardship at sites that have been cleaned up because there’s no guarantee that funding will continue. Might the breaching of the dams at Rocky Flats be a first step in the elimination of stewardship funding at this site?

Robert Rapoport, The Great American Bomb Machine (NY: Ballantine, 1971). This book looks at the whole US nuclear weapons complex as it existed at the time of publication. Chapter 3 deals with Rocky Flats.

Stephen I. Schwartz (editor), Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons since 1940 (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1998). This thoroughly documented and well-indexed volume is the most comprehensive study of the costs of the US nuclear weapons enterprise yet done.

Bryan C. Taylor, “Radioactive History: Rhetoric, Memory and Place in the Post-Cold War Nuclear Museum,” in Places of Public Memory: The Rhetoric of Museums and Memorials, edited by Greg Dickinson, Carole Blair and Brian L. Ott (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2010), pp. 57-86. In this demanding and dense article Taylor, who teaches at the University of Colorado and was formerly on the board of the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum, assesses the difficulty of creating viable nuclear museums, given the “entangled discourses of nuclear history, memory and heritage.” Most nuclear museums present “the dominant narrative of Cold War patriots” who celebrate the nuclear weapons enterprise rather than the “less-popular but also persistent” antinuclear narrative. In the post-Cold War era, however, three parallel trends appear: “new stakeholder identities, the ongoing struggle for control of the nuclear-historical narrative, and the growth of a nuclear heritage apparatus. How those responsible for museums handle these themes will determine whether museums serve a more inclusive vision.

Bryan C. Taylor, William J. Kinsella, Stephen P. Depoe and Maribeth S. Metzler (editors), Nuclear Legacies: Communication, Controversy, and the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2007). This book includes a brief discussion of the origins of the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum, including controversy over whether the federal government should fund the museum and others like it at other sites within the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. The volume’s lead editor, Professor Bryan Taylor of the University of Colorado, was formerly chair of the Board of Directors of the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum.

Anne Waldman, Vow to Poetry: Essays, Interviews & Manifestos (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2001). This collection of writings of poet Anne Waldman, director of the summer writing program at Naropa University in Boulder, CO, contains numerous well indexed references to Rocky Flats and plutonium. Waldman’s references to Rocky Flats show that over the years since the 1970s she has been both a person of words (in poetry and in testimony at public hearings) and a person of action (most notably her civil disobedience on the tracks at Rocky Flats in 1978). Her “Warring God Charnel Ground: Rocky Flats Chronicles” consists of a series of brief essays from different periods.

Harvey Wasserman and Norman Solomon, with Robert Alvarez and Eleanor Walters, Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experiment with Atomic Radiation (N.Y.: Delacorte, 1982). A critique of all aspects of the US nuclear enterprise, this book focuses on public health, environmental contamination, and workplace exposure. The authors devote a full chapter to Rocky Flats.

Paul Wehr, Conflict Regulation (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1979), This book by Paul Wehr, Emeritus Professor of Siocology at the University of Colorado in Boulder, examines nonviolent ways of regulating or containing conflict. One chapter is devoted to nonviolent direct action at Rocky Flats, with primary focus on the 1978-79 occupaton of the railroad tracks leading in to the Rocky Flats plant by the group that took the name, Rocky Flats Truth Force.

Jon Weiner, How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012). Professor of history at the University of California at Irvine, the author discusses U.S. museums and memoriasl that commemorate aspects of the Cold War. A brief chapter entitled “Rocky Flats: Uncovering the Secrets” is devoted to the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum. Unfortunately, it contains a few minor errors of fact. The museum story is “an inspiring one,” says Weiner. “Instead of an omniscient voice of authority instructing visitors about the one true history of this place, the museum will present a variety of voices. It’s almost like democracy at work.”

Fiction on Rocky Flats

Mario Acevedo, Nymphos of Rocky Flats: A novel (NY: Rayo, 2006). This debut comedy novel features an ex-soldier turned into a vampire while serving in Iraq who came to Rocky Flats at the invitation of a friend from DOE to look into an outbreak of nymphomania among female guards.

Ron Olson, Half Life (Wellington, CO: Bannack Publishing Co., 1984). This work of fiction is about Rocky Flats Its author, a deceased former Rocky Flats employee, says his purpose is “solely to provide an item of thoughtful entertainment.”

Films on Rocky Flats

Dark Circle (1983). Feature-length film produced by Judy Irving, Chris Beaver, and Ruth Landy. This documentary, premiered in Denver, focuses primarily on Rocky Flats, secondarily on the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant then under construction in California.

Secrets of a Bomb Factory (1993). Produced for Frontline by Oregon Public Broadcasting; WGBH Educational Foundation: 1993; produced and directed by Michael McLeod (Alexandria, Va.: PBS Video, 1993). This 55-minute documentary focuses on the grand jury investigation that followed the 1989 FBI raid on Rocky Flats.

(List compiled by LeRoy Moore, updated 11-26-14)

Rocky Flats plutonium in the gonads? Samples collected but never analyzed

In Environment, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats on August 22, 2014 at 12:16 am

Very soon after I learned about Rocky Flats in 1979, I attended a seminar on radiation health effects offered by John (Jock) Cobb, MD, of the faculty of the CU Medical School. It was an eye opener. He was a remarkable teacher who brought clarity to complex subjects. And, as the following account makes clear, he was also a very original researcher regarding present and long-term health effects of exposure to plutonium released from Rocky Flats. He first learned details about Rocky Flats in 1974-75 when he was named by newly-elected Governor Dick Lamm and Congressman Tim Wirth to the Lamm-Wirth Task Force, a public group that studied all aspects of the Rocky Flats plant and issued a very influential report that said the plant should never have been built near a major population center and should be shut down and its operations moved elsewhere.

When I first met Jock Cobb he was deeply immersed in an unusual study in which his team of researchers collected samples of tissue from Colorado people who had died and been autopsied. He wanted to see how much Rocky Flats plutonium had been deposited in the bodies of these deceased people. It’s difficult to imagine this happening now, but in the 1970s EPA actually invited him to do a study that they would fund. This meant of course that the DOE could not control the study. Cobb was doing a study that would show definitively that people who lived downwind of Rocky Flats had taken various quantities of plutonium into their bodies, mainly by inhalation, the worst way to be exposed to plutonium. It is well known that internalized plutonium deposits in the tissue of lung, liver and bone where it will continue to irradiate surrounding tissue typically for the rest of one’s life. So Cobb was studying lung, liver and bone tissues. But he also wanted to study the presence of plutonium in the tissue of the gonads, for plutonium in the gonads would have a genetic effect that could be passed on to future generations. Such a study was far more complicated than analysis of lung, liver and bone. Moreover, it had never been done by anyone, and Cobb wanted to do it. He said he’d do the study only if he could add gonads research. EPA approved this. The study began in 1975.

This is where he came up against political reality. At just the time he was doing this study the EPA, a federal agency, underwent a major transformation. In its early years it was truly an environmental protection agency. But \when Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980 one of his goals was to abolish the EPA. He did not succeed in doing this, but Ann Gorsuch, whom he named head of the EPA, terminated the funding for Cobb’s study of plutonium in body tissue. Thus the crucial study of Rocky Flats plutonium in the gonads was never done. For more details of this little-known story, read the following.

Cobb’s team of researchers measured plutonium concentrations in samples collected from more than 500 persons who died and were autopsied in Colorado hospitals, 8 or 10 Denver-area hospitals, one in Pueblo. The researchers routinely sought permission from the closest of kin to take the samples. The study compared those who lived near Rocky Flats with those who lived far from the site. The bodies of all these people contained plutonium from bomb fallout, but those who lived nearer the plant had identifiably Rocky Flats plutonium in tissues of lung, liver and bone, with concentrations higher the closer the person lived to the plant. Cobb periodically shared study results with DOE and Rockwell officials. They found the results embarrassing, but they couldn’t stop the study because it was funded by the EPA. So they tried to get rid of Cobb, even sought to get him dismissed from the university. This failed because he had tenure.[1]

The study was well underway when Reagan became president in January 1981. Anyone old enough to recall will remember that his administration tried to destroy the EPA. Ann Gorsuch (later married and known as Ann Buford), was named head of the EPA by Reagan She terminated the funding for Cobb’s study, so it ended before it was completed. Cobb insisted that the data already gathered be made publicly available, but people at EPA resisted. When Cobb persisted, EPA personnel rewrote the report’s conclusion to say that Rocky Flats harmed no one. In response Cobb appealed to members of Congress to get the report’s original language restored. Finally, the report, more or less in its original language, was made available by the National Technical Information Service.[2] You could get a copy only if you contacted them and paid a fee. Very few people ever saw the report or knew of its existence. Rumors were that Cobb had found nothing worth reporting. But as it finally appeared the report stated clearly that plutonium from Rocky Flats was present in lungs and liver of people who lived near the plant. Results of the study, if not widely available, at least were formally recorded. The report can be read at the Norlin Library of the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Cobb’s plan to study plutonium in the gonads, with an eye on the effect on future generations, did not happen. In Cobb’s view the most important part of the study was not done. His research team had collected tissue from lung, liver and bone, but also from the gonads. In his Rocky Flats Oral History interview, he said, “It was my hypothesis that the plutonium was being deposited in the gonads, right where it would be affecting the sperm and causing mutations in the sperm, which would then show up . . . in future generations as . . . childhood cancers, deformities, and all that sort of thing.” He agreed to do the study EPA requested only when they agreed to let him analyze tissue from the gonads in addition to lung, liver and bone. He was familiar with studies of plutonium in gonads of rats. These studies showed that plutonium was “deposited in the basement membrane” of the gonads “right near where the sperm were being generated. . . . This would be the worst place to have plutonium in your body, and if it was there in significant amounts that would be not only endangering the present but all future generations, because it would be damaging the genes.”

The research Cobb was most eager to do had never been done with humans, and, so far as I know, has not yet been done “It takes a whole lot more finesse,” he said, “to find the amount of plutonium in the gonad, which weighs only 5 or 6 grams, maybe, than it does in a lung, which is maybe a thousand grams.” So the samples from the gonads “were left for last.” One of his colleagues in the study was a man named Wes Efurd, who undertook the task of developing a method for measuring the very tiny amounts of plutonium deposited in the gonads. His success in doing this was a major breakthrough for studying the gonads, but it happened just as funding for the study ended. Thus Cobb and Efurd never got to take advantage of Efurd’s innovation. With the end of the study, all the gonads samples, which remained unexamined, were “sent to Los Alamos by the EPA.” Sending the gonads samples to DOE’s Los Alamos Lab of course was done by Reagan’s EPA, greatly changed from the original agency that was actually an environmental protection agency.

At Los Alamos the gonads samples sat in a freezer for 20 years. When Shawki Ibrahim of Colorado State University’s nuclear research program learned about the samples, he asked Los Alamos to send them to CSU. He designed a study that would have government support. Cobb had intended to find out how much plutonium was in the gonads of individuals and to show on a map where each person lived and how much plutonium was present in that person’s gonads. This information would show where genetic problems might appear in later generations, a type of research that, as pointed out earlier, had not previously been done anywhere. Ibrahim’s plan, by contrast, “would have negated” what Cobb had hoped to find out. According to Cobb, Ibrahim “was going to take all the gonads [samples] and put them into one big pot and analyze the whole thing and then get a figure from that of how much [plutonium] was in each gonad on average.” Ibrahim sought Cobb’s blessing for this approach, but Cobb didn’t give it, because only separate analysis of individual samples would provide the important results he wanted. Ibrahim’s approach would totally destroy the very possibility of learning about the presence of plutonium in the gonads of specific persons. In August 2014 Ibrahim and I had a couple of email exchanges. I learned from him, first, that the gonads samples were sent from Los Alamos to CSU; second, that he never did a study with them; and third, that, though the samples were kept securely in a freezer at CSU, they were destroyed by a weekend power outage. Thus ended what could have been a pioneer study of plutonium from Rocky Flats in human gonads.

[1] Most of the information in these several paragraphs on Cobb is drawn from the interview with John Cobb, Rocky Flats Oral History project, Maria Rogers Oral History Program, OH1180V.

[2] Cobb et al., “Plutonium Burdens in People Living Around the Rocky Flats Plant,” March 1983, EPA-600/4-82-069, Springfield, VA: National Technical Information Service.


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