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Rocky Flats – Radioactive Polluted Former Weapons Manufacturing Facility To Open As A Wildlife Refuge

September 14, 2018

Despite the fact that six local school boards, including Denver’s,  will prohibit their students from taking field trips to it, this weekend the grounds of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons’ Plant will open as a national wildlife preserve, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. On the same day (Saturday, September 15, 2018 at 1 pm)  number of peace and citizens groups, opposed to the opening, will be demonstrating at the downtown offices of the Environmental Protection Agency (1595 Wynkoop, Denver, 80202)

Rocky Flats will be the second radioactive contaminated nuclear site to be made into a wildlife preserve. A similar project has been developed – and for similar reasons (to attract tourism) in Chernobyl, Ukraine, site of the April 1986 nuclear reactor meltdown and worst radioactive accident until the Fukushima, Japan meltdown. As with Rocky Flats, the Chernobyl area levels of radioactive pollution were deemed safe for humans, wildlife and plants.

But the studies done by Dr. Timothy Mousseau suggest a darker more troublesome patterns. Mousseau’s work deserves more serious attention than what are, in essence, the shallower, more anecdotal claims that all is well with post accident Cherobyl nature. He’s studied the animal life in the exclusion zone for more than a decade. He speaks of the exclusion zone as being a kind of “silent summer,” – a summer where death still outpaces life as a result of radiation poisoning.

In an eery parallel to Chernobyl, federal and state authorities claim that the proposed Rocky Flats wildlife area is free from nuclear waste contamination but independent investigations, plus the federal government’s own documents tell another story, one of elevated levels of contamination, “hotspots” of plutonium and an underground plume of contaminated materials “ten blocks wide,”a radioactive soup” slowly seeping southwest from the plant towards Whisper Creek and the Candelas housing development project.

There has been much fanfare in local media about it. Two articles suffice by way of example. Bruce Finley’s “Rocky Flats Nature Preserve Opens This Weekend” appeared on September 12, 2018 Denver Post. Little more than a whitewash of the pollution issues, it was one of the worst pieces by one of The Post’s better investigative journalists. Westword ran a better piece, “Rocky Flats Wild Life Refuge Trails Open Saturday”  giving a more detailed account of the plant’s more disturbing history, but still fell short (in my opinion) of probing the downside to the refuge’s opening.

Frankly it is a place that never should be opened to the public. Period. So close to what remains, even after a $7.5 billion clean up (that should have been three times to cost based on earlier estimates), the whole of the Rocky Flats “campus” remains a great danger to public health. That both federal and state authorities have side-stepped the glaring dangers, makes one wonder what hidden pressures pushed through this project despite both common sense and documented radioactive pollution dangers. 

Although the inner perimeter of the site, a Superfund site, was cleaned up by federal authorities, the outer perimeter where the preserve is being prepared has enjoyed no such scrutiny. As a leaflet from the group “Candelas Glows” notes

“The superfund site is still leaking and continues to have above the “allowable limit” exceedances of plutonium (PU), americium, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), etc., which pass onto the refuge site in the surface water….Both the government and independent tests confirm elevated levels and ‘hotspots’ of Pu (half-life 24,000 years) on the refuge grounds and there is no such thing as a “safe dose” of plutonium….no amount of exposure should be allowed.”

  • During the summer of 2013  floods breached the containment cap – the seal – on the superfund sight resulting in leakage to areas surrounding the Rocky Flats plant.
  • As the website Candelas Glows notes that since that time there has been no new soil testing on the Wildlife Refuge lands to see what may have transferred from the radioactive superfund site to the surrounding refuge.
  • Even in the area – off limits – where the clean up took place – it was limited to a certain depth (if I recall – no more than six feet underground). Pollutants that seeped below that level were not cleaned up.
  • Anyone who has lived in Colorado’s Front Range near Rocky Flats knows how hard the winds blow down from the natural tunnel carved out from Coal Creak from the mountain tops to the plains. These winds have already blown radioactive materials for decades throughout the Denver metropolitan area
  • Although the area making up the wildlife preserve tested under dangerous levels of radioactive materials, the most comprehensive tests last took place in 2004. While a clean up took place at the facilities where plutonium nuclear triggers were manufactured, no clean up took place within the facility’s outer perimeter, the wildlife preserve’s area.

This is just scratching the surface of the potential dangers “to over 239 species of wildlife and over 630 species of plants” mentioned in Calhoun’s Westword article. And then there is the danger to the 240th (increasingly “wildlife”) species that will be romping through the trails on mountain bikes and hiking in mountain boots and tennis sneakers.

Keep in mind the toxicity of plutonium, the most dangerous, but by no means the only source of radioactive pollution at Rocky Flats:

The fact that it can’t be seen, still fools many people into believing that it doesn’t exist. While “seeing is believing” is most of the time not a bad notion to live by, in the case of radioactive contaminants, it is a deadly maxim. Plutonium’s half life (that of Pu-239) – the time it takes for half of its radioactivity to be neutralized is 24,100. But even then half of that plutonium remains toxic remains toxic for more time than our species, Homo sapiens sapiens has been on the planet. As researcher LeRoy Moore pointed out in a letter to the editor in the August 4, 2018  Boulder Daily Camera:

… Physicist Fritjof Capra of the University of California, Berkeley, in “The Turning Point” (1982) called plutonium “the most dangerous of the radioactive byproducts. … (it) remains poisonous for at least 500,000 years. … One pound, if uniformly distributed, could potentially induce lung cancer in every person on earth.”

All this – and more – is well known to both state and federal authorities who continue push through the project in spite of law suits to halt the wildlife preserve’s opening until further testing can be done to insure the area is safe, which is doubtful.


Photo Image – members of Candelas Glows painting signs for September 15, 2018 demonstration in front of the EPA office in downtown Denver, to protest the opening of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Preserve.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Bill conklin permalink
    September 14, 2018 9:39 am

    Hi Rob I think it would be interesting to purchase a Geiger counter and go hiking at Rocky Flats and then take our data to the media what do you think

    • September 14, 2018 12:28 pm

      let’s do it! can talk about it over dinner when we get together

  2. September 14, 2018 8:04 pm

    This book written in part by an FBI Agent whistleblower is a must read and provides background:

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