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/
Archive for the ‘Wildlife Refuge’ Category
Last fall when I learned that US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) planned a “prescribed burn” of 701 acres at the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge I posted a MoveOn petition calling for them to cancel the burn. Opposition to the planned burn grew rapidly. 2,870 people signed the petition. On January 29, 2015, FWS canceled the burn. BUT, they said, this was only a postponement. They intend to do more burns at the Refuge in the future.
On learning this I posted a second petition. All who sign it are telling FWS: “No ‘prescribed burns’ at Rocky Flats ever.” To sign, go to http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/no-prescribed-burns-at
Thanks for signing. Please urge others to sign also. This petition is even more important than the last one.
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
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)
One of the current controversies regarding Rocky Flats is the development of a very large residential-commercial community called Candelas across the whole length of the southern edge of the Rocky Flats site. See the following for an excellent well documented article on Candelas: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candelas_%28Master_Planned_Community%29,_Arvada,_CO
Published in the Boulder Daily Camera, 1-26-14
A December 28 Camera article suggests that the proposed Jefferson Parkway is moving ahead. This toll road would add about ten miles to C-470, almost completing the loop around Denver. Some call it the “plutonium parkway,” because it would be built on the contaminated edge of the Rocky Flats site, where for four decades the explosive plutonium pits for nuclear warheads were made.
Plutonium released from Rocky Flats is present in soil on and off the plant site in the form of particles too small to see but not too small to do harm. Plutonium emits a type of radiation that cannot penetrate skin but that may wreck one’s health if it is inhaled or otherwise taken into the body. Lodged in the body, it continually irradiates surrounding cells, probably for the rest of one’s life. The result may be cancer or other ailments, including harm to offspring. Because it remains dangerously radioactive for a quarter of a million years, it poses an essentially permanent danger.
In 1970 P. W. Krey and E. P. Hardy, scientists with the Atomic Energy Commission (predecessor to the Department of Energy), sampled soil on and off the Rocky Flats site to a depth of 8 inches and analyzed it for its plutonium content. The heaviest concentrations were in soil along the eastern edge of the site in the area now intended for construction of the highway. In September 2011 Marco Kaltofen of the Boston Chemical Data Corp. collected soil samples along Indiana St. precisely where the proposed road would be built. He found plutonium concentrations roughly equivalent to what Krey and Hardy found in 1970.
Sampling done as part of the Rocky Flats cleanup on what is now the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge showed only a scant presence of plutonium near where the highway would be built. But these samples were collected in shallow surface soil, not at the deeper levels analyzed by Krey and Hardy.
Building the road would affect the environment. In 2004 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service performed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to create the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. But this EIS did not analyze the effect of construction of a highway in an area known to be contaminated with plutonium. Fish and Wildlife nevertheless provided land for the road.
The Camera article says proponents of the highway “cite a letter written by officials with the EPA and the Colorado health department in late 2011 stating that the risk of excessive cancer incidence for people who work at the refuge is below standards set by the state” and the federal government. This letter is meaningless, because there’s a latency period of 20 to 30 years before plutonium taken into the body produces cancer. Not until refuge workers have been at the site without interruption for at least this long will we have a better sense of the incidence of cancer among them.
People who live or work near the Rocky Flats site or who visit there may be unwittingly exposed to plutonium left in soil by those responsible for the ten-year Superfund cleanup completed in 2005. They made no effort to clean the site to the maximum extent possible with existing technology. Assuming incorrectly that plutonium left behind would remain in place, they willingly allowed an unknown quantity of plutonium to remain in the soil, with no limit on the amount allowed below six feet.
Plutonium particles brought to the surface by burrowing animals will be carried hither and yon by wind. They can be readily inhaled. The result decades later may be cancer or some other illness. Children are without question the most vulnerable. There is no certainty that any of us will be exposed or will become ill. But it is a definite risk. The inadequate cleanup done at Rocky Flats gambles with peoples’ lives. Constructing the Jefferson Parkway would up the ante on the gamble. The wise move is to avoid the site and to abandon the highway.
LeRoy Moore, PhD, is a consultant with the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center. For more on Rocky Flats, see www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org
From a message sent 0n Sunday Jan. 5, 2014, by Michelle Gabrioloff-Parish, a member of Candelas Glows..
Outrageous New Icon for Rocky Flats
A local artist has decided to match the outrageous, radioactive history of Rocky Flats with a large, surprising work of art. Looking at Colorado’s newest historical horse sculpture conjures up images of the well know conversation-starting Bronco icon at Denver International Airport. It’s just as bright and confusing with a touch of disturbing, but it seems to have a much sweeter soul—which speaks to the “Wildlife Refuge” designation of Rocky Flats. It’s sure to leave viewers with more questions than answers. The life-size horse is wearing a magenta hazmatmsuit with black booties. A respirator partially covers a beautiful realistic face with thoughtful eyes.
The artist, Jeff Gipe has been interested in issues surrounding Rocky Flats for quite some time and was relieved when a local group, Candelas Glows, began raising alarms about new housing developments being built adjacent to the former nuclear weapons plant. But Jeff has a much more personal reason that he’s spent thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours, and lots of sweat and tears making his horse creation come to life. Jeff’s father worked at the plant for 20 years and like many of his co-workers, now suffers devastating physical effects of working at one of the world’s most notoriously polluted plutonium processing sites. In talking with members of Candelas Glows, Jeff became intrigued with the idea of memorializing the site.
Along with Candelas Glows and many community members, Gipe is concerned that Rocky Flats’ history is being ignored and that because of it, more people will be harmed. Located in a pristine-looking and beautiful part of the Front Range, the contaminated history of Rocky Flats is invisible: the radioactive accidents, the midnight plutonium incinerations, the corroded storage tanks, the sealed court documents, the historical FBI raid and the 28,400 lbs of plutonium waste buried there. “It’s up to people who know the history of the site, and artists,” says Gipe, “to make the invisible visible. To keep memory and even respect for the history of a critical Cold War site alive.” The horse may be shocking, but nothing compared to the controversial and sometimes shocking history it is trying to invoke. And its timing is perfect.
After the September floods, activists and scientists are concerned that some of the waste buried at Rocky Flats may have risen to the surface and/or further contaminated groundwater. And in the last week of 2013, a land swap was completed which is considered to be a critical ingredient of the toll road proposed on the infamous site. The 400-600 lb horse is lining up a couple of appearances, but is looking for a more permanent home. Gipe’s hope is that it be placed on Rocky Flats or land facing it to begin to memorialize the site and bring attention to its tumultuous and sure to be long-lasting history. For more, check out the Candelas Glows website or Facebook page for more or email at email@example.com .
To see photos, of the horse, leave a message for me and I’ll send them to you.
A friend recently suggested planting mushrooms at Rocky Flats. She said they will absorb and neutralize the radiation in the environment at that site.
This claim has been around for years. It has resurfaced recently in part due to an article entitled “How Mushrooms Can Save the Planet,” published in the July-August DISCOVER magazine. The article is about Paul Stamets who says “fungi can clean up everything from oil spills to nuclear meltdowns.”
Stamets statement is partially correct but unfortunately not absolutely so.
I asked members of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability about mushrooms and radiation. Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear, located in the DC area, replied: “The mushrooms can absorb certain radioactive isotopes at a high rate. But then the mushrooms’ flesh becomes highly radioactive. The mushrooms are not able to eradicate the radioactivity.”
He adds: “This has become tragic in the Chernobyl region, as the surrounding Slavic cultures treasure edible mushrooms as a delicacy.”
What Kevin didn’t say is that the mushrooms themselves become radioactive waste. That is, they become part of the problem. It’s an old story with radioactivity. It can’t be seen, tasted, smelled, heard or felt. But some of it, especially the plutonium at Rocky Flats, will be around for a very long time, and everything it touches becomes radioactive.
See the previous entry in this blog for a Boulder Weekly article about plutonium and the recent flood. This brief letter to the author of that article responds to a quoted erroneous statement made by the current manager of the DOE portion of the Rocky Flats site.
Your recent Boulder Weekly article, “Flood Raises Questions at Rocky Flats,” says Scott Surovchak, the Manager of the DOE portion of the Rocky Flats site, disputes claims Marco Kaltofen of the Boston Chemical Data Corp. made in a report in early 2012 giving results of soil sampling he had done for the Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center on the eastern edge of the Rocky Flats site along Indiana St. Kaltofen reported that according to his work the plutonium levels in this area were just as high in 2012 as they were 40 years earlier before any cleanup activity had happened at Rocky Flats. He suggested that water leaving the site as a result of the September flood was quite possibly contaminated with small quantities of plutonium. Surovchak disputed this claim, saying (according to your article) that Kaltofen’s sampling “was done with an optical rather than radiological analysis and was therefore inappropriate for determining the true levels of plutonium in surface soil.” Kaltofen responded: “The plutonium was determined by both electron backscatter and gamma spectroscopy. Both are standard methods. Neither is an optical method.”
Clearly, DOE Manager Surovchak either doesn’t know what he is talking about, or he is deliberately demeaning an experienced soil sampler. Neither enables the public to trust what a DOE official says.
Boulder Weekly, Thursday, October 10,2013
FLOOD RAISES QUESTIONS AT ROCKY FLATS
Like the rest of the region, the rain started soaking into the ground at Rocky Flats on Monday, Sept. 9. By the following Wednesday night, the ground was fully saturated and the flooding began in earnest, with runoff from the hills, gullies and holding ponds at the site, filling North and South Walnut Creeks as well as Woman Creek beyond their capacities.
As the water finally began to recede, the debris caught in the fences above the usual creek banks bore witness to the unprecedented water levels that had swept through the area between Wednesday night and Saturday morning.
The water washing across the four square miles of land at Rocky Flats had raced down the creeks and dry washes and off the property towards the lakes and housing additions to the east, closing Indiana Avenue and raising concerns and more than a few questions.
Was there contamination in the floodwater and, if so, what kind and at what levels? And is the threat of contamination spreading due to the rains now over?
At least some of the answers to these questions will likely come sometime around Oct. 11, when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) estimates that it will get back test results from two labs that examined samples from the 10 surface-water monitoring stations at the Flats, most of which are located along the Walnut and Woman creeks. But will these test results answer all the questions being raised? Considering the long history of Rocky Flats and the ongoing, 30-plus years of controversy surrounding its contamination and cleanup, it seems unlikely.
Rocky Flats is a former nuclear weapons production facility just south of Boulder that operated from 1952 to 1992.
At one time, prior to its closure and remediation, the former plant and the lands surrounding it were considered one of the most contaminated places in the world. The area’s ground and surface waters are still being monitored today for radiation, and there are measurable levels of plutonium, Americium and uranium in some locations at the site that exceed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.
Other contaminants at the Flats include PCBs and carcinogenic BTEX contaminants, named for benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.
In addition, groundwater recovery systems designed to capture uranium and nitrate contamination that has leaked into groundwater are in place to strip out the contamination before allowing the groundwater to be released into the area’s creeks and lakes.
And finally, critics of the government’s remediation of Rocky Flats, including the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, claim that plutonium contamination well above normal background levels can still be found in the surface soils at Rocky Flats in widespread locations across the area, including, according to tests commissioned by RMPJ in 2012, outside the site’s eastern boundary along Indiana Avenue, where a privately funded toll road, the Jefferson Parkway, has been proposed for construction.
The following is an overview of what is known to have occurred at Rocky Flats due to the flooding, concerns about what may have occurred, and possible future problems that could arise as a result of the September floods.
* * * *
Shortly after the flood, several news outlets, including Denver television station Fox 31, reported that a cap covering a landfill at Rocky Flats had cracked due to the flooding and that emergency repairs were under way even as the rain was falling. No further details were offered.
Rocky Flats in 2007, after cleanup. | Photo courtesy of the EPA
The station, aided by Dr. Jeffrey King of the Colorado School of Mines, later tested for radiation along the creeks where the water coming from the Flats had passed and reported that nothing alarming was found.
As for the cracked landfill cap, there are two former landfills at Rocky Flats. One is known as the original landfill (OLF) and the other is referred to as the present landfill (PLF).
According to Carl Spreng, Rocky Flats coordinator for the CDPHE, both of the landfills are capped, but with differing types of caps for different purposes.
The PLF cap is a combination of clay and waterproofing materials designed to prevent rainwater from infiltrating the landfill beneath the cap, an outcome that would likely cause groundwater contamination that could spread from the PLF, eventually making its way into area surface waters.
The primary contaminant of concern in the PLF, according to Spreng, is benzene, one of the BTEX compounds. As a result, a waterproof cap is needed because BTEX contaminants are easily transported long distances in groundwater. Spreng says that no plutonium or other radioactive contaminants are in the PLF, and that the cap on the PLF was not the one breached during the flood.
The top of the OLF is what actually cracked. Although news reports referred to a “cap on a landfill,” what actually cracked was not a cap but the cover over the OLF, which is made of earth. According to the Department of Energy’s Rocky Flats Site Manager Scott Surouchak, “cap” is a term describing a federally required waterproof covering under the RCRA laws such as the one over the PLF. He says that the dirt top over the OLF predates the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and can only be referred to as a “cover.”
Spreng says the OLF cover is made of dirt and was not designed to be waterproof. The primary contaminants of concern in the OLF are polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs are not easily soluble in water and tend to cling to soil. They can migrate, however, in water along with soil that is being swept away. They are also easily re-emitted to the air and can travel long distances before settling or being driven down by rain, according to the EPA and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
This explains the need to quickly repair the OLF cover following the flood. Spreng says that the OLF cover will likely be re-engineered in coming weeks because it was already sagging in some spots.
Surouchak says that the Department of Energy has no plans to test for potential PCB releases because the levels in the OLF years ago were already very low and looking for PCBs would be pointless.
Another potential, but by no means substantiated at this time, source of contamination resulting from the floods could be the release of sediments from the three remaining holding ponds at the Flats, which are located on North Walnut, South Walnut and Woman Creeks.
According to a 1996 technical report titled Characterization of Releases to Surface Water From the Rocky Flats Plant, in 1972-73 the three holding ponds were drained and reconstructed. During this draining process, the levels of radioactivity found in the creeks increased 80-fold as a result of sediment-heavy waters containing plutonium being released from the ponds to the creeks.
Plutonium is heavy and not particularly water-soluble, so it tends to collect in sediment at the bottoms of ponds and creeks, or in the sediment of the lakes where the creeks eventually deposit their waters.
This explains why there are still low levels of plutonium in the top 12 inches of sediment in both Stanley Lake, which receives water from Woman Creek, and Great Western Reservoir, which gets its water from the two Walnut Creeks. Neither reservoir has been used as a city water supply since the 1990s due to the discovery of contamination originating from Rocky Flats.
During the September floods, the water levels in the three current holding ponds rose extremely fast and approached overtopping the spillways but did not do so, according to Spreng.
“It reached up to the overflow but then drained off quickly without ever going over. But it doesn’t really matter, the water all goes to the same place anyway. It was drained off into the channels to the creeks where it is monitored,” he says.
The question of whether or not the rapid rise and equally quick draining of the holding ponds could have caused the release of sediments from the ponds and whether there was any contamination in that sediment could be answered by the upcoming release of the CDPHE’s creek monitoring results.
Surouchak says that while it’s certainly possible that plutonium in the pond sediments could have been released by floodwaters, he doesn’t believe that it is of much concern because the levels of plutonium in the sediment have been tested and are near or even below background levels. But the ponds are not the most likely area to have released plutonium into the watershed.
The easiest pathway for plutonium to have left the Rocky Flats site during the flood was simply by way of surface soils being washed away by the incredible amounts of rain that fell over the five-day period. That’s because, according to a recent test, plutonium levels on top of and in some of the soils at the Flats are just as prevalent today as they were decades ago.
In 2012, the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, which has been monitoring the operation and cleanup at Rocky Flats for the past 30 years (see related story, page 15), commissioned a study to determine how much plutonium was still in the soil at the site.
Because they were not allowed to sample on the site itself, the samples were actually taken outside of the fence line on the east side of the Flats, along Indiana Avenue. According to RMPJ, the plutonium levels were just as high in 2012 as they were 40 years earlier, before Rocky Flats had ever been cleaned up.
If true, this would mean that nearly all of the water leaving Rocky Flats during the flood was quite possibly contaminated with small quantities of plutonium.
Surouchak disputes the claims of the 2012 RMPJ study, saying that it was done with an optical rather than radiological analysis and was therefore inapropriate for determining the true levels of plutonium in surface soil.
He does say that the rains left “two inches of sheet water just flowing across the prairie” during the floods.
But when it comes to measuring any contaminant in moving water, the more water that’s flowing, the more diluted the contamination becomes, and the less likely it is to be measured as it passes by a monitor. For that reason, it is quite likely that the CDPHE monitoring stations along the creeks, which saw unprecedented water flows, will find no increase in contamination at the time of the flood, even if the amount of contamination leaving the site had actually increased during the flood.
In fact, it’s quite possible that even the lone monitoring station that, for some still unexplained reason, frequently shows spikes in both plutonium and Americium levels in surface water may well show a decrease in contaminant levels during the flood event itself.
Because of the obvious, temporary dilution from flood waters, the time for accurate testing to determine if contamination was released is actually now, after the flood, under more normal conditions. If plutonium was being transported in floodwaters, the evidence of such movement could likely be found today in the area’s creek and lake sediments or even the drainage ditches along Indiana Avenue.
Surouchack says the DOE has no plans for any additional testing because the levels since the completion of the Cleanup have been so low.
Uranium is another issue at Rocky Flats. While plutonium is heavy and not likely to travel far in groundwater, uranium is the opposite. Uranium is quite soluble and is already contaminating groundwater at Rocky Flats, groundwater that has to be captured and cleaned by way of an expensive, ongoing remediation process.
There is no question that the long, lingering rains of September and the subsequent floods have caused a flushing of sorts in our groundwater aquifers. For that reason it is imperative that the groundwater uranium capture system at Rocky Flats should be rechecked to determine that groundwater pathways weren’t temporarily shifted during the rains and floods, allowing contaminants to bypass the system.
And finally, any massive infiltration of rain such as what occurred in September has the potential to drive old contamination to groundwater, whether it is by getting under caps/covers over pits and landfills or simply by leaching through long-ago-contaminated soil on its way to the underlying aquifer.
Considering that such groundwater normally only moves towards its eventual connection to surface water at a rate of a few feet per year at Rocky Flats, according to the CDPHE, some contamination resulting from September’s rains and floods may not show up in the groundwater and surface water monitoring systems at the site for quite some time.
What happened at Rocky Flats has been called a 1,000-year event. So it’s not likely that we will know or understand all of the implications of such an event for quite some time.