Archive for the ‘Rocky Flats’ Category

DOE wants Los Alamos to do what once was done at Rocky Flats

In Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Plutonium, Rocky Flats on January 16, 2016 at 9:14 am

The following article, dated December 15, 2016, is written by Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch, New Mexico
National Nuclear Security Administration Gives Green Light
For Expanded Plutonium Pit Production at Los Alamos

Santa Fe, NM – Today the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent agency commissioned by Congress, posted a weekly report that makes explicit a decision by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to expand plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Plutonium pits are the fissile cores or “triggers” of modern two-stage thermonuclear weapons, but they are also atomic weapons in their own right (a plutonium bomb incinerated Nagasaki in August 1945). Plutonium pit production has always been the choke point preventing industrial-scale U.S. nuclear weapons production ever since a FBI raid investigating environmental crimes shut down the notorious Rocky Flats Plant near Denver in 1989.

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “Expanded plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab is really all about future new-design nuclear weapons with new military capabilities produced through so-called Life Extension Programs for existing nuclear weapons.” The relevant case-in-point is that LANL is now tooling up to produce pits for one type of warhead (the W87) to use in an “Interoperable Warhead” that will combine two other warheads (the W78, a land-based ICBM warhead, and the W88, a sub-launched warhead), clearly a radically new design even if as claimed only existing nuclear weapons components are used.

Coghlan further commented, “The real irony is that this Interoperable Warhead has been delayed for at least five years, if not forever, because of its enormous estimated expense and Navy skepticism. Yet this doesn’t keep LANL and the NNSA from spending billions of taxpayer dollars to upgrade existing and build new production facilities for unnecessary and provocative expanded plutonium pit production.”

Specifically, NNSA and LANL seek to raise the administrative limit on plutonium in the existing Radiological Lab (“RLUOB” in the Safety Board report below) from an original 8.4 grams to 400 grams, and proceed with the “Plutonium Modular Approach project.” In 2012, in the face of exploding costs and rising citizen opposition, NNSA dropped its proposal to build a $6.5 billion Walmart-sized “Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project-Nuclear Facility” for expanded plutonium pit production of up to 80 pits per year. There was no technical justification for this expanded production, other than unspecified “Department of Defense requirements.”

These new moves by NNSA and LANL, which will cost around $4 billion before the usual cost overruns, are just another way to achieve their goal of raising plutonium pit production to up to 80 plutonium pits per year. Raising the amount of plutonium in the Radiological Lab will enable LANL to conduct all needed analytical chemistry quality control samples of new pits, as the Safety Board memo says to “primarily support the increased capacity required for larger pit manufacturing rates.” The Plutonium Modular Approach project will be newly constructed underground facilities for hot operations such as a plutonium foundry, likely beginning with two modules at a billion dollars each. It should be noted that proposed major federal actions require the opportunity for public review and comment under the National Environmental Policy Act, which has not been done for what NNSA calls this alternative plutonium strategy. Nevertheless, increased funding for LANL’s plutonium infrastructure will be likely included in the pending federal budget for FY 2017, scheduled to be released Monday February 9.

There is no need for expanded plutonium pit production to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear weapons stockpile, but it is vital for future new-designs that the nuclear weaponeers want. In fact, the U.S. government is planning to spend a trillion dollars over the next 30 years to “modernize” and completely rebuild its nuclear forces, despite its pledge in the 1970 NonProliferation Treaty to enter into serious negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament.


In 1996 the plutonium pit production mission was formally relocated to LANL, with an approved upper limit of 20 pits per year. NNSA has tried four times since then to expand plutonium pit production. This started with a proposed “Modern Pit Facility” capable of producing up to 450 pits per year, with no justification of why that Cold War-like level of production was needed. In all four cases, in response to successful citizen activism, Congress either rejected or NNSA dropped efforts to expand production, in large part because of a pit life study that New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman required at Nuclear Watch’s request. That 2006 study by independent experts found that plutonium pits last at least 100 years (with no proscribed end date), more than double NNSA’s previous estimates of 45 years.

Nevertheless, NNSA now seeks for the fifth time to expand plutonium pit production beyond the currently approved level of 20 pits per year at LANL. After having produced 30 pits for the W88 sub-launched warhead (which was in production when the Rocky Flats Plant was shut down), there are no current requirements for plutonium pit production to maintain stockpile safety and reliability.

In the meanwhile, funding for cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab is being cut, while nuclear weapons programs that caused the mess to begin with are thriving. As a final irony, these plans to expand plutonium pit production are now being implemented, despite the fact that 1) major operations at LANL’s main plutonium facility have been suspended since June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety concerns; and 2) the Los Alamos Lab has no place to send its radioactive plutonium pit production wastes ever since it sent a drum that ruptured and closed down the multi-billion dollar Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico is confident that this latest attempt to expand plutonium pit production will fall apart as well, but only as a result of continuing strong citizen activism.

# # #

• Relevant excerpt from Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Weekly LANL Report:

Los Alamos Report for Week Ending December 18, 2015

MEMORANDUM FOR: S.A. Stokes, Technical Director FROM: R.K. Verhaagen and J.W. Plaue

DNFSB Staff Activity: R. L. Jackson was onsite to plan oversight activities associated with Plutonium Infrastructure Strategy. Accordingly, he met with key project staff and walked down the Plutonium Facility, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR) building, and the Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building (RLUOB).

Plutonium Infrastructure Strategy: Late last month, the Deputy Secretary of Energy approved a restructuring of the subprojects covered under the CMR Replacement project. There are now four subprojects: (1) RLUOB Equipment Installation, Phase 2; (2) Plutonium Facility Equipment Installation, Phase 1; (3) Plutonium Facility Equipment Installation, Phase 2; and (4) Re- categorizing the RLUOB to Hazard Category 3 with a material-at-risk limit of 400 g plutonium- 239 equivalent. The first two subprojects enable LANL to cease programmatic activities in the CMR by 2019, while the latter two subprojects primarily support the increased capacity required for larger pit manufacturing rates. The memo requests an updated project execution plan within 90 days and indicates approval authority will remain with the DOE Deputy Secretary for subprojects 2–4 and with the NNSA Administrator for subproject 1.

In a separate action, the DOE Deputy Secretary also approved the mission need Critical Decision (CD)-0 for the Plutonium Modular Approach project. This project addresses life extension needs for the existing Plutonium Facility in support of Department of Defense requirements and Congressional Direction. The CD-0 schedule range for project completion is December 2025 to December 2027.

• For an extensive history of successful citizen activism against plutonium pit production see

Irradiated – The hidden legacy of 70 years of atomic weaponry

In Democracy, Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Rocky Flats on December 12, 2015 at 1:17 am

“Irradiated – The hidden legacy of 70 years of atomic weaponry: At least 33,480 Americans dead
Will the nation’s new nuclear age yield more unwanted fallout?”

December 11, 2015 – McClatchy Washington Bureau

The hidden legacy of 70 years of atomic weaponry: At least 33,480 Americans dead
Will the nation’s new nuclear age yield more unwanted fallout?

December 11, 2015

By Rob Hotakainen, Lindsay Wise, Frank Matt and Samantha Ehlinger

McClatchy Washington Bureau

Byron Vaigneur watched as a brownish sludge containing plutonium broke through the wall of his office on Oct. 3, 1975, and began puddling four feet from his desk at the Savannah River nuclear weapons plant in South Carolina.

The radiation from the plutonium likely started attacking his body instantly. He’d later develop breast cancer and, as a result of his other work as a health inspector at the plant, he’d also contract chronic beryllium disease, a debilitating respiratory condition that can be fatal.

“I knew we were in one helluva damn mess,” said Vaigneur
, now 84, who had a mastectomy to cut out the cancer from his left breast and now is on oxygen, unable to walk more than 100 feet on many days. He says he’s ready to die and has already decided to donate his body to science, hoping it will help others who’ve been exposed to radiation.

Vaigneur is one of 107,394 Americans who have been diagnosed with cancers and other diseases after building the nation’s nuclear stockpile over the last seven decades. For his troubles, he got $350,000 from the federal government in 2009.
107,394 sick workers

Throughout this story, you will find references to data points like this: . Each of these, and all of the icons you see in the background, represents a worker who has filed for federal compensation.
Show me.

His cash came from a special fund created in 2001 to compensate those sickened in the construction of America’s nuclear arsenal. The program was touted as a way of repaying those who helped end the fight with the Japanese and persevere in the Cold War that followed.

Most Americans regard their work as a heroic, patriotic endeavor. But the government has never fully disclosed the enormous human cost.

Now with the country embarking on an ambitious $1 trillion plan to modernize its nuclear weapons, current workers fear that the government and its contractors have not learned the lessons of the past.

For the last year, McClatchy journalists conducted more than 100 interviews across the country and analyzed more than 70 million records in a federal database obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Among the findings:

McClatchy can report for the first time that the great push to win the Cold War has left a legacy of death on American soil: At least 33,480 former nuclear workers who received compensation are dead. The death toll is more than four times the number of American casualties in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Federal officials greatly underestimated how sick the U.S. nuclear workforce would become. At first, the government predicted the program would serve only 3,000 people at an annual cost of $120 million. Fourteen years later, taxpayers have spent sevenfold that estimate, $12 billion, on payouts and medical expenses for more than 53,000 workers.
Even with the ballooning costs, fewer than half of those who’ve applied have received any money. Workers complain that they’re often left in bureaucratic limbo, flummoxed by who gets payments, frustrated by long wait times and overwhelmed by paperwork.
Despite the cancers and other illnesses among nuclear workers, the government wants to save money by slashing current employees’ health plans, retirement benefits and sick leave.
Stronger safety standards have not stopped accidents or day-to-day radiation exposure. More than 186,000 workers have been exposed since 2001, all but ensuring a new generation of claimants. And to date, the government has paid $11 million to 118 workers who began working at nuclear weapons facilities after 2001.

The data that underpin these findings, and which is presented with this special report, took McClatchy’s journalists around the country to current and former weapons plants and the towns that surround them.

Set in 10 states, this investigation puts readers in living rooms of sick workers in South Carolina, on a picket line in Texas and at a cemetery in Tennessee. The accounts of workers, experts, activists and government officials reveal an unprecedented glimpse of the costs of war and the risks of a strong defense.

Here, then, are the lessons from the past and warnings for the future.

Read more here: http://media.mcclatchydc.com/static/features/irradiated/?brand=nao#storylink=cpy

The foregoing link includes accounts of health problems of individual nuclear workers.  For more on this series, see the following: 

Sparring for nuclear weapons workers takes South Carolina lawyer down little-used path
By Sammy Fretwell

America’s modernized nuclear arms roil diplomatic waters
By Lindsay Wise

For many workers, the nuke plant is the only game in town
By Samantha Ehlinger

Ailing, angry nuclear-weapons workers fight for compensation
‘Too often, workers die waiting’ for help, senator says
By Jim Morris and Jamie Smith Hopkins
Center for Public Integrity

Three examples of data ignored in the Rocky Flats Superfund “cleanup”

In Democracy, Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on December 10, 2015 at 11:23 pm

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 .

Jefferson Parkway not dead yet, but dealt a blow that may prove fatal

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on October 30, 2015 at 6:45 am

In my October 20, 2015, entry I at first stated that the Jefferson Parkway had been canceled. This not true. A key highway transport group, the WestConnect Coalition,  has withdrawn its support from the parkway. What follows is the latest article from the Golden Newsletter, explaining in detail the current situation with the proposed parkway.

From: Dan Hartman, 10/20/15
As I mentioned at [Golden City] council on the 8th we had some concerns with the information in Dick [Sugg]’s article posted in your news letter about the WestConnect process and the Jefferson Parkway. I met with Dick and discussed it and he is updating information. I will continue to work with Dick regarding his concerns about the Jefferson Parkway, and specifically using public money to build it.
This Q and A sheet will give your readers the best information on the WestConnect process and Golden’s participation.
DRAFT 10/07/15 City of Golden
Questions and Answers Regarding the WestConnect Coalition Process
Members of the community have recently asked about the WestConnect Coalition, a regional transportation forum working to improve transportation through Golden and the entire northwest region of the Denver metropolitan area. Specifically, a resident asked whether the Coalition has eliminated the possibility of constructing the proposed Jefferson Parkway between SH 128 in Broomfield to SH93 in Arvada. The answer is no. A decision whether to build or not build the Jefferson Parkway will be made outside of the WestConnect process. Nothing the WestConnect Coalition is doing is designed to make the Jefferson Parkway more or less likely.
What is the West Connect Coalition?
The WestConnect Coalition is a cooperative effort of cities, counties, and agencies like the Colorado Department of Transportation to analyze mobility, environmental, and economic issues and solutions from C-470 and Kipling north to Boulder. Members of the Coalition include the City of Golden, Jefferson County, the City of Arvada, CDOT, the City of Boulder, the City of Lakewood, Douglas County, the City of Boulder, the Town of Morrison and the Town of Superior. Under the Coalition’s Charter, decisions will be made by consensus.
Is the Golden Plan part of the WestConnect study?
Yes, the Golden Plan will be considered as improvements to SH93 and U.S. 6. The City of Golden has also indicated that it is willing to consider implementing the Golden Plan in phases to secure its benefits as soon as possible. For example, the U.S. 6 and 19th Streetinterchange is proceeding now.
Has the WestConnect Steering Committee eliminated the Jefferson Parkway as a segment of the proposed “Western Beltway”?
No. The WestConnect Steering Committee concluded that the decision of whether to build the Jefferson Parkway should be made outside of the WestConnect process. Thus, WestConnect is neither eliminating nor promoting the Jefferson Parkway.
Will any analysis of the Jefferson Parkway be done in the WestConnect Planning and Environmental Linkages Study?
Yes, it is important to understand the effects of the proposed Jefferson Parkway on other highways in the region, such as U.S. 6 and SH 93, and the environment. Similarly, it is important to understand how different options for roads in the WestConnect study area (like U.S. 6 or SH 93) would have on the Jefferson Parkway concept. As a result, the WestConnect Study will consider two scenarios for the Jefferson Parkway: (1) that it will be built as proposed by the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority; and (2) that it will not be built.
Will the WestConnect Planning and Environmental Linkages Study consider alternatives or modifications to the Jefferson Parkway?
No. The Study will only look at scenarios with and without the proposed Jefferson Parkway. Any consideration of alternatives to the Jefferson Parkway (such as different numbers of lanes, alignments, or interchange locations) will be done outside of the WestConnectCoalition process.
Who will make the decision about whether to proceed with the Jefferson Parkway and how will it be made?
The Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority will make the primary decision whether to proceed with that highway. However, to connect to SH 93, SH 72 and SH 128, the Authority will need permission from CDOT, which it will make only after analysis of the environmental impacts of the connections. The Authority has applied for this permission through the CDOT “1601” process. CDOT has assured that the public will have an opportunity to comment on the Authority application and the CDOT environmental analysis. In addition, the Authority will need approvals from sources of funds, such as private investors or public entities.
Has the WestConnect Coalition made any determinations regarding funding for the Jefferson Parkway?
No. Financing the Jefferson Parkway is outside of the scope of the WestConnect process. The Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority is still seeking private and public funds to construct the Jefferson Parkway. The WestConnect Coalition will not make any decisions regarding whether and how the Jefferson Parkway could be financed.
How can I find out more about the WestConnect Coalition?
Soon, the Coalition will have a stand-alone website. For now, some information on the Coalition can be found on the Jefferson County website, at http://jeffco.us/transportation-and-engineering/westconnect

A major but little known plutonium fire (in 2003) at Rocky Flats

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats on October 21, 2015 at 2:15 am

On a beautiful morning in May 2003, at the height of the cleanup at Rocky Flats, Randy Sullivan, head of firefighters at the plant, received a message: “A “pyrophoric incident” in Building 371. The newest, largest and most expensive of the plutonium buildings at the plant, 371 was where all the plutonium that remained at the plant after the end of production was taken to to be stabilized and prepared for removal from Rocky Flats to DOE’s Savannah River site in South Carolina. DOE and cleanup contractor Kaisere-Hill didn’t refer to a fire but to a “pyrophoric event.” Misleading as this is, it was technically accurate. “Pyrophoric” means that a given material — in this case plutonium — ignites spontaneously and bursts into flames when it is exposed to oxygen, which is why all work with plutonium at Rocky Flats was done in an oxygen-free atmosphere inside glove boxes.  Now one of the glove boxes three floors below ground in Building 371 was on fire.

The fire was serious, large, hard to control. Workers were exposed. So were the firefighters. I learned about this fire not from anybody at the DOE, EPA or Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, though as a participant in the Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement Focus Group I was meeting people from these agencies twice each month in meetings that lasted two-and-a-half to three hours. Neither I nor any of the thirty or so others in the Focus Group learned about this fire shortly after it happened. I learned about it from Kristen Iversen when she was writing Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats, published in 2012. Anyone who wants a graphic description of this fire, should read pages 289-298 of her book.

The point of this blog entry is to say that a serious plutonium fire — a fire similar to the ones at Rocky Flats in 1957 and 1969 (there were numerous smaller fires) — happened when the cleanup was nearing completion and concerned people were routinely meeting with government personnel who never said a word about the fire. They were repeating an old pattern, since no one from these agencies told the public about the 1957 and 1969 fires. The story of serious plutonium fires at Rocky Flats was first revealed to the public in 1970 by radiochemist Ed Martell of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.

Why weren’t citizens paying close attention to Rocky Flats told about the May 2003 fire immediately after it happened? I don’t know the answer to this question. But I suspect government personnel didn’t want to reveal a serious plutonium exposure problem at Rocky Flats when they were so close to finishing the cleanup and shutting things down. The public might think the place was still dangerous and that they didn’t have things under control.

One lesson from this is that One should remain skeptical about what government personnel say about anything related to Rocky Flats. Verify first, then trust.


Horse Sense about Jeff Gipe’s Cold War Horse

In Art, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on October 20, 2015 at 9:45 am

Sunday, October 18, 2015, was a ceremony commemorating artist Jeff Gipe’s “Cold War Horse.” He prepared the horse for the 25th anniversary of the FBI raid on Rocky Flats event at the Arvada Center in June 2014. The large horse sculpture wears a red hazmat suit, goggles and a gas mask — to protect it from plutonium blowing on the breeze at Rocky Flats. He wanted to place the horse on a permanent location near the Rocky Flats site. Earlier this year he finally found a very good location on a high point along Highway 72, a short distance west of Indiana St., not far south of the Rocky Flats site, just across the road from the Candelas development. In the summer someone vandalized the horse, pulled it down and hammered on it, badly damaging it. Jeff Gipe rebuilt it, remounted it, put a fence around it with motion-sensitive cameras and lights. And Sunday, October 18, he held a commemoration ceremony. Speakers were author Kristen Iversen, Jon Lipsky who  led the FBI raid in 1989, Wes McKinley who was foreman of the Rocky Flats Grand Jury, Randy Sullivan a former fireman at Rocky Flats and myself. Presiding was Eric Fretz of Regis University.  Here is a copy of the poem I read.

Horse Sense about Jeff Gipe’s Horse

Jeff Gipe’s Cold War Horse

signifies a problem,

the problem of Rocky Flats,

more specifically the problem

of plutonium at Rocky Flats.

This problem is denied

by government personnel who favor

opening the Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge

to the public, with some on horseback.

These government personnel do not honor

the truth about plutonium,

though they know that some quantity

remains in the environment

after the purported cleanup of the site.

They know too that the incomplete cleanup was done

against the will and wisdom of concerned people.

Of course it was impossible to remove

all the plutonium buried in soil on the site,

but the responsible parties made no effort to remove

as much as possible with existing technology.

Instead, they chose a quicker, cheaper cleanup.

One more point about the so-called cleanup.

When the EPA and the Colorado Department

of Public Health and the Environment

regulated the cleanup, the U.S. attorney

gave them the opportunity to examine

63 cartons of evidence of environmental crime

committed at Rocky Flats, documents collected

by the FBI, reviewed by a special grand jury

and sealed by the federal court.

Instead of reviewing this data the agencies declined,

preferring a cover-up to a real cleanup.

And now they expect us to forget

and to let the site be opened to the public.

No one can say

what beings will be harmed

by plutonium particles left behind –

particles too small to see

but available to be inhaled.

It is well known that once taken into the body

plutonium lodges in a specific location,

such as lung, liver, bone, brain, the gonads.

Thus lodged it will steadily bombard

with radiation the cells of nearby tissue,

typically for the rest of one’s life.

Tom K. Hei and colleagues at Columbia University

reported 18 years ago (in 1997) in the Proceedings

of the National Academy of Sciences

that inhaling a single particle of plutonium

can damage a cluster of cells

and that replication of these cells

constitutes genetic damage

that may not only wreck the individual’s health

but also harm future generations.

Instead of serving a harmful industry

and fostering an economy of urban sprawl,

why don’t government officials

act on the basis of such studies?

They are not ignorant,

but they do ignore the reality of such studies

and gamble with the health and well-being

of all creatures near Rocky Flats.

This is not a temporary problem,

since the plutonium-239 in the environment

remains radioactive for more than

a quarter-million years.

It will still be radioactive long after

the Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge

ceases to exist.

According to some random schedule

animals, plants and water will bring

buried plutonium to the surface

where the wind common at Rocky Flats

can distribute it near and far,

ready to be inhaled

by some unsuspecting person

who decades later may have cancer

or some other ailment.

The government’s gambles

with the permanent problem of plutonium

at Rocky Flats are careless.

Jeff Gipe’s horse reminds us

of the necessity of being careful.

This is the essence of Nuclear Guardianship.

Thanks be to Jeff Gipe.

Major Victory: Jefferson Parkway canceled (However, read my introductory note to this entry)

In Cost, Democracy, Environment, Jefferson Parkway, Rocky Flats on October 20, 2015 at 8:57 am

The following expresses what I thought to be true, but the actual story is more complicated. The 10-4-15 Golden Newsletter reported that the West Connect Coalition was dropping the Jefferson Parkway. Others, however, continue to support it. So the highway is not dead yet, though it has suffered a defeat. See my October 29, 2015, blog entry for more details and update.

From the Golden Newsletter 10/04/15
From: Dick Sugg, Friday, October 02, 2015
A major decision was made in August that will prevent money from other organizations going to support the Jefferson Parkway toll road. Here is a draft article on the subject. Jim Smith is going to reword it for his Real Estate column and offer it to newspapers for publication.
Headline. WestConnect Coalition drops Jefferson Parkway
At the August meeting of the WestConnect Corridor Coalition the Steering Committee eliminated the Jefferson Parkway (JP) toll roadand an extension of the NW Parkway as segments of the proposed Western Beltway. Analysis and recommendations using the FHWA Planning and Environment Linkages (PEL) process will not be done for those two proposed segments. “These projects will be considered as future improvements to be implemented by others.” The US-6 and SH-93 segments through Golden remain as part of the PEL study.
The WestConnect Corridor Coalition was created with $750,000 of Jeffco taxpayers’ money to plan for completing a Western Beltway from C-470 to the NW Parkway that would include the JP toll road and the extension to the NW Parkway. The Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority (JPPHA) proposed building the JP toll road and for over seven years has spent millions of taxpayers’ dollars from Authority members; Jeffco, Arvada, and Broomfield; trying to implement the project modeled after the E-470 toll road. The reason that the proposed Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) has been unable to get an investor, foreign or domestic, is that toll revenue for the new four-lane highway will not come close to paying for designing, building, operating, and maintaining the highway. The shortfall is so great that, even with a grant from CDOT, additional money will be required to complete the project. Jeffco authorities have admitted that the project cannot be completed without raising taxes on residents and businesses in North Jeffco.
Jeffco formed the WestConnect Corridor Coalition to tie the JP toll road in with the lane additions being done by the C-470 Corridor Coalition in the hopes of getting some funding help for the JP from that relationship. The Steering Committee decision, however, has eliminated that possibility.
(Golden is one of six members of the Steering Committee. Although there are seven Affiliate Member communities and officials from CDOT, the FHWA, the Regional Transportation District (RTD), and DRCOG, the six Member communities are the sole decision makers. Now is the time for Jeffco taxpayers and responsible State authorities to convince the County Commissioners and the JPPHA to stop spending our money on an unneeded, unwanted, and too costly project that will not be built so long as there is such a shortage of funds for building new lanes in the state.)

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; once this 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.


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