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Radioactive contamination from the Rocky Flats Plant

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The Rocky Flats Plant was a former U.S. nuclear weapons production facility about 15 miles northwest of Denver, Colorado, which caused radioactive contamination, primarily plutonium, americium, and uranium, within and outside its boundaries.[1][2] The facility was dismantled and removed, and the central industrial area of the property became a Superfund site, surrounded by the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge.[3]

Contamination primarily resulted from two major plutonium fires in 1957 and 1969 (plutonium is pyrophoric and shavings can spontaneously combust) and from wind-blown plutonium that leaked from barrels of radioactive waste. Much lower concentrations of radioactive isotopes were released throughout the operational life of the plant from 1952 to 1992, from smaller accidents and from normal operational releases of plutonium particles too small to be filtered. Prevailing winds from the plant swept airborne contamination south and east, into populated areas northwest of Denver.

The contamination of the Denver area by plutonium from the fires and other sources was not publicly reported until the 1970s. According to a 1972 study coauthored by Edward Martell, "In the more densely populated areas of Denver, the Pu contamination level in surface soils is several times fallout", and the plutonium contamination "just east of the Rocky Flats plant ranges up to hundreds of times that from nuclear tests."[4] As noted by Carl Johnson in Ambio, "Exposures of a large population in the Denver area to plutonium and other radionuclides in the exhaust plumes from the plant date back to 1953."[5]

In the 1990s, a series of Historical Public Exposure Studies were conducted to assess past releases and public exposures,[6] for example, the figure at right illustrates the calculated lifetime cancer risk to a laborer from the 1957 Rocky Flats fire. The key shows the cancer risk due to exposure during the 1957 event per million persons, this figure means that an outdoor laborer in the reddest part of Arvada would have roughly a two-in-a-million risk of contracting cancer (0.000002) from being outside during the 1957 fire. The original, complete figure - as well as many others showing the risks of past exposures - can be viewed in the Summary of Findings from the Historical Public Exposure Studies.[7]

Weapons production at the plant was halted after a combined FBI and EPA raid in 1989. Due to the end of the Cold War, changes in nuclear weapons policy, and years of protests, the Rocky Flats Plant was shut down, with its buildings demolished and completely removed from the site, the site's mission then changed to cleanup. The Rocky Flats Plant was declared a CERCLASuperfund site in 1989 and began its transformation to a cleanup site in February 1992. Removal of the plant and surface contamination was largely completed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with federal and state agency support and stakeholder input, the cleanup effort decommissioned and demolished over 800 structures; removed over 21 tons of weapons-grade material; removed over 1.3 million cubic meters of waste; and, treated more than 16 million gallons of water.[8] Four groundwater treatment systems were also constructed, the site achieved regulatory closure in 2006.

Today, the site consists of two areas, the "Central Operable Unit" encompasses the former industrial/plant area of the site. This area is still a CERCLA "Superfund" site, retained and managed by the U.S. Department of Energy.[9] Environmental monitoring and sampling are conducted by the Department of Energy here on a regular basis. Remediation efforts are also ongoing in the Central Operable Unit. Four groundwater treatment systems are currently installed and operating in the Central Operable Unit, every five years, the DOE, EPA, and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment review environmental data to assess whether the remedy is functioning as intended.[10] The latest five-year review, released in August 2017, concluded the site remedy is effective and is protective of human health and the environment. However, this area remains off-limits to the public due to residual contamination, and to protect site treatment systems and the integrity of remedial efforts.

The outer "Peripheral Operable Unit" is now the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. This area was the site's former security buffer zone and did not require remediation; in 2001, the U.S. Congress passed the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Act, dedicating this buffer zone to conservation. Accordingly, the DOE transferred land ownership of this area to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which currently exercises jurisdiction over the Refuge, it is anticipated the Refuge will open to the public in 2018.

While the U.S. Department of Energy continues to monitor and collect samples from the Central Operable Unit, a some groups and citizens remain concerned about the extent and long-term public health consequences of the contamination.[11][12][13][14] Estimates of the public health risk caused by the contamination vary. Activist groups are concerned about the potential risks posed by residual contamination, which exists on-Site.[15] However, the Comprehensive Risk Assessment for the site found the post-cleanup risks posed by the site to be very low and within EPA guidelines. A 1998 independent study by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on cancer rates in communities surrounding Rocky Flats also found no pattern of increased cancers tied to Rocky Flats;[16] in 2016, this study was updated with 25 years of additional cancer data; the data supported the same conclusion.

In September 2017, CDPHE's Cancer Registry released a supplement to this study in response to public interest. [17] The supplement looked at the incidence of thyroid and all rare cancers in communities around Rocky Flats. Data showed no evidence of higher than expected rates of thryoid cancer; in addition, the overall incidence of all rare cancers was not higher than expected. However, the supplement identified a statistically higher rate of pancreatic cancer in men in Wheat Ridge; the supplement noted that pancreatic cancer has many risk factors associated with it: being overweight or obese, diabetes, a family history of the disease, smoking, and heavy alcohol use. Over 2/3 of these pancreatic cancer cases had a history of smoking and/or alcohol use.

Background[edit]

A map bearing the title "Rocky Flats Historic District." An overall map of the main production site and the relatively large surrounding buffer zones is shown in the inset, with most of the image showing a more detailed map of the facility's buildings (about 65 total).
A map of the Rocky Flats Plant prior to its decommissioning. All buildings have since been demolished from the site.

The Rocky Flats Plant was located south of Boulder, Colorado and northwest of Denver. Originally under management of the Dow Chemical Company, management was transferred to Rockwell in 1975.[18]:13 Initially having an area of 4 sq mi (10 km2), the site was expanded with a 4,600 acres (19 km2) buffer zone in 1972.[18]:12

Construction of the first buildings was started on the site on July 10, 1951. Production of parts for nuclear weapons began in 1953, at the time, the precise nature of the work at Rocky Flats was a closely guarded secret. The plant produced fission cores for nuclear weapons, used to "ignite" fusion and fissionable fuel in all modern nuclear weapons.[19] Fission cores resemble miniaturized versions of the Fat Man nuclear bomb detonated above Nagasaki, they are often referred to as "triggers" in official and news documents to obfuscate their function.[20][21]:190 For much of its operational lifetime, Rocky Flats was the sole mass-producer of plutonium components for America's nuclear stockpile.[22]

Management of the site passed to EG&G in 1990, which did not reapply for the contract in 1994.[23] Management of the site then passed to the Kaiser-Hill Company as of July 1, 1995,[24] the Department of Energy now manages the central portion of the site, where production buildings were once located, while the Fish and Wildlife Service has taken over management of the Peripheral Outer Unit.[25]

Sources of contamination[edit]

Most of the radioactive contamination from Rocky Flats came from three sources: a catastrophic fire in 1957,[11] leaking barrels in an outdoor storage area in 1964-1968, and another less severe fire in 1969.[26] Plutonium, used to construct the weapons' fissile components, can spontaneously combust at room temperatures in air. Additional sources of actinide contamination include inadequate pondcrete vitrification attempts and routine releases during the decades of plant operations.

1957 fire[edit]

A person in an exposure suit and respirator points to a burnt-out glove box.
The glove box where the 1957 fire started.
A large, burnt-out filter plenum.
HEPA filter banks meant to remove microscopic particles of plutonium from the glove box exhaust streams were destroyed by the fire, allowing radioactive smoke to escape the building.

On the evening of September 11, 1957, plutonium shavings in a glove box located in building 771 (the Plutonium Recovery and Fabrication Facility) spontaneously ignited, the fire spread to the flammable glove box materials, including plexiglas windows and rubber gloves. The fire rapidly spread through the interconnected glove boxes and ignited the large bank of High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters located in a plenum downstream. Within minutes the first filters had burned out, allowing plutonium particles to escape from the building exhaust stacks, the building exhaust fans stopped operating due to fire damage at 10:40 PM, which ended the majority of the plutonium release. Fire fighters initially used carbon dioxide fire extinguishers because water can act as a moderator and cause plutonium to go critical. They resorted to water hoses when the dry fire extinguishers proved ineffective.[27]:27

The 1957 fire released 11-36 Ci (160–510 grams or 0.35–1.12 pounds) of plutonium, much of which contaminated off-site areas as microscopic particles entrained in smoke from the fire.[28]:22–29 Isopleth diagrams from studies show portions of the city of Denver included in the area where surface sampling detected plutonium.[2]:87–89 The fact that the fire had resulted in significant plutonium contamination of surrounding populated areas remained secret. News reports at the time reported, per the Atomic Energy Commission's briefing, that there was slight risk of light contamination and that no fire fighters had been contaminated.[29][30] No abnormal radioactivity was reported by the Colorado Public Health Service.[31]

Pad 903 leakage[edit]

A corroded 55-gallon drum, tipped on its side so the bottom is showing. Grass is growing through holes in the bottom of the barrel.
Corroded waste storage barrel at Pad 903.

Plutonium milling operations produced large quantities of toxic cutting fluid contaminated with particles of plutonium and uranium. Thousands of 55-gallon drums of the waste were stored outside in an unprotected earthen area called the 903 pad storage area,[27]:28 where they corroded and leaked radionuclides over years into the soil and water.[32][33] An estimated 5,000 gallons of plutonium-contaminated oil leached into the soil between 1964 and 1967.[34] Portions of this waste, mixed with dust that composed Pad 903, became airborne in the heavy winds of the Front Range and contaminated offsite areas to the south and east.[26][35][36][37][38]

Leaking storage barrels at Pad 903 released 1.4-15 Ci (19–208 grams or 0.042–0.459 pounds) of plutonium as airborne dust during the storage and subsequent attempts at cleanup.[28]:29 Much more remains interred under the Pad 903 area, which has been paved over with asphalt.[33]

1969 fire[edit]

A narrow, tall room with smoke damage and melted plastic.
A room in building 776 damaged by the 1969 fire.

Another major fire occurred on May 11, 1969 in building 776/777 (the Plutonium Processing Facility), again starting due to spontaneous combustion of plutonium shavings in a glove box. Fire fighters again resorted to fighting the fire with water after dry extinguishers proved ineffective, despite recommendations after the 1957 fire, suppression systems were not built into the glove boxes.[39]

While the fire bore marked similarities to the 1957 fire,[39] the level of contamination was less severe because the HEPA filters in the exhaust system did not burn through[28]:25 (After the 1957 fire, the filter material was changed from cellulose to nonflammable fiberglass).[39] Had the filters failed or the roof (which sustained heavy fire damage) been breached, the release could have been more severe than the 1957 fire. About 1,400 kilograms (3,100 lb) of plutonium was in the storage area where the fire occurred, and about 3,400 kilograms (7,500 lb) total plutonium was in building 776/777.[39]

The 1969 fire released 13-62 mCi (140–900 milligrams or 0.00031–0.00198 pounds) of plutonium,[28]:25 about 1000th as much as was released in the 1957 fire. The 1969 fire, however, led local health officials to perform independent tests of the area surrounding Rocky Flats to determine the extent of the contamination, this resulted in the first releases of information to the public that populated areas southeast of Rocky Flats had been contaminated.[2]:3[26]

Other sources[edit]

Rockwell workers mixed hazardous and other wastes with concrete to create one-ton solid blocks called pondcrete, these were stored in the open under tarps on asphalt pads. The pondcrete turned out to be weak storage, an outcome that had been predicted by Rockwell's own engineers.[40] Relatively unprotected from the elements, the blocks began to leak and sag.[41] Nitrates, cadmium and low-level radioactive waste began to leach into the ground and run downhill toward Walnut Creek and Woman Creek.[34]

Most of the plutonium from Rocky Flats was oxidized plutonium, which does not readily dissolve in water. A large portion of the plutonium released into the creeks sank to the bottom and is now found in the streambeds of Walnut and Woman Creeks, and on the bottom of local public reservoirs just outside Rocky Flats: Great Western Reservoir, (no longer used for city of Broomfield drinking water consumption as of 1997 but still used for irrigation),[42] and Standley Lake, a drinking water supply for the cities of Westminster, Thornton, Northglenn and some residents of Federal Heights.[43] As one of several forms of remediation and once the extent of the lapses at Rocky Flats became public knowledge, several streams that were formed by drainage through the contaminated areas of the Rocky Flats Plant were diverted such that they would no longer flow directly into some of the local reservoirs, such as Mower Reservoir and Standley Lake.[44] Also, a surface water control system was built to allow runoff from contaminated creeks to collect in holding ponds and thus reduce or prevent direct runoff into Standley Lake.[45] Proposals to remove or breach some of these dams to reduce the cost of maintenance have been protested by the cities downstream.[46]

Reporting of contamination[edit]

No radioactivity warning, advisement or cleanup was provided to the public in the 1957 fire, the worse of the two major fires, at the time of the 1957 fire, AEC officials told the Denver Post that the fire "resulted in no spread of radioactive contamination of any consequence."[47] The public was not informed of substantial contamination from the 1957 plutonium fire until after the highly visible 1969 fire,[2]:3 when civilian monitoring teams confronted government officials with measurements made outside the plant of radioactive contamination suspected to be from the 1969 fire, which consumed hundreds of pounds of plutonium (850 kg).[39]

The 1969 fire raised public awareness of potential hazards posed by the plant and led to years of increasing citizen protests and demands for plant closure. Releases from previous years had not been reported publicly prior to the fire;[48] airborne-become-groundborne radioactive contamination extending well beyond the Rocky Flats plant was not publicly reported until the 1970s.[2][5]:page 177 and table 3

In 2002, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service surveyed tissues harvested from deer that lived at Rocky Flats for plutonium and other actinides. Isotopes of plutonium, americium, and uranium were detected, with the highest measured activity being 0.0125 pCi/g (2360 seconds per disintegration) for uranium-233 or uranium-234. The increased cancer risk, as reported by the study, to an individual who ate 28 kilograms (62 lb) of Rocky Flats deer meat per year over a 70-year lifetime was estimated to be as high as 1 in 210,000. This is near the conservative end of the EPA's acceptable risk range.[49]

Contamination and health studies[edit]

Plutonium-239 and 240 emit ionizing radiation in the form of alpha particles. Inhalation is the primary pathway by which plutonium enters the body, though plutonium can also enter the body through a wound.[50] Once inhaled, plutonium increases the risk of lung cancer, liver cancer, bone cancer, and leukemia.[28] Once absorbed into the body, the biological half life of plutonium is about 200 years.[51]

Following the public 1969 fire, surveys were taken of the land outside the boundaries of Rocky Flats to quantify the amount of plutonium contamination. Researchers noted that plutonium contamination from the plant was present, but did not match the wind conditions of the 1969 fire, the 1957 fire and leaking barrels on Pad 903 have since been confirmed to be the main sources of plutonium contamination. Authors Krey and Hardy estimated the total quantity of plutonium contamination outside of Rocky Flats's boundaries to be 2.6 Ci (36 grams or 0.079 pounds),[52] while Poet and Martell estimated the value to be 6.6 Ci (92 grams or 0.203 pounds). The study also noted that plutonium levels just outside the boundaries of the plant were hundreds of times higher than the background level caused by global fallout from nuclear testing, and that contamination to the north of the plant was probably caused by normal operations rather than accidental releases.[4]

From September 1947 to April 1969 there were 5 or more accidental surface water releases of tritium. Tritium, a radioactive element which was found in scrap material from Rocky Flats, was therefore directed in to the Great Western Reservoir, this was uncovered in 1973 and following this, urine samples were taken from people living or working near Broomfield who could have drank water from the reservoir. The findings of the samples showed that those who were exposed to contaminated water had tritium concentrations near seven times higher than normal (4,300 picocuries per liter versus 600 picocuries per liter). However, when the same group underwent urine sampling three years later, their tritium concentrations had returned to the standard.[53]

In a 1981 study by Dr. Carl Johnson, health director for Jefferson County, showed a 45 percent increase in congenital birth defects in Denver suburbs downwind of Rocky Flats compared to the rest of Colorado. Moreover, he found a 16% increase in cancer rates for those living closest to the plant as compared to those on the outer perimeter of the area, and he estimated 491 excess cancer cases whereas the DOE estimated one. A 1987 study by Crump and others did not find the cancer rates in the northwestern portion of Denver to be significantly higher than other parts of the city and attributed variance in cancer rates to the population density of urban areas.[54] Crump's conclusions were contested by Johnson in a letter to the journal editor;[55] in a 1992 survey of radiation risk analysis, the authors concluded, "Johnson failed to describe an effective and complete model for the cause of the cancers and its relationship to other knowledge as Crump et al. have done. Therefore, Crump et al.'s explanation must be preferred."[56]:137

In 1983, Colorado University Medical School professor John C. Cobb and the EPA reported plutonium concentrations from about 500 persons who had died in Colorado. A comparison study was done of those who lived near Rocky Flats with those who lived far from this nuclear weapons production site, the ratio of Pu-240 to Pu-239 was "minutely lower" for persons who lived within 50 km of Rocky Flats, but was more strongly correlated to age, gender, and smoking habits than proximity to the plant.[57]

In 1991, the Department of Energy's public affairs group published a pamphlet stating that the inhalation of sediments that become resuspended in the air is considered the most significant pathway that could expose human beings to plutonium from the contaminated local reservoirs, but also stated that the airborne plutonium concentrations as measured by downwind air monitors remained below the DOE standard;[45] in a 1999 analysis, it was found that "the major event contributing the highest individual risk from plutonium released from Rocky Flats was the 1957 fire," with wind distribution of plutonium from the 903 Pad Storage Area being the next greatest source of health risk. In this analysis, health risk estimates for off-site humans had a variance of four orders of magnitude, from "between 2.0 × 10−4 (95th percentile) and 2.2 × 10−8 (5th percentile), with a median risk estimate of 2.3 × 10−6."[28] The DOE maintains a list of Rocky Flats epidemiological studies.[58]

In 1995, a report over 8,000 pages long was released by the Plutonium Working Group Report on Environmental, Safety and Health Vulnerabilities Associated with the Department's Plutonium Storage, this report listed Rocky Flats as having 5 of the 14 most vulnerable facilities based on plutonium environmental, safety, and health vulnerability at all Department Of Energy facilities.[59]

During the early 1990s, an independent Health Advisory Panel - appointed by then-Governor Roy Romer - oversaw a series of reports, called the Historical Public Exposure Studies, the 12-member Health Advisory Panel included multiple medical doctors, scientists, PhDs, and local officials. The Rocky Flats Historical Public Exposure Studies involved nine years of research, the Studies had three main objectives: (1) create a public record of plant operations and accidents that contributed to contaminant releases from the Rocky Flats Plant between 1952 and 1989; (2) assess public exposures to contaminants and potential risks from past releases; and, (3) determine the need for future studies. The Studies' research included identification and assessment of chemicals and radioactive materials from past releases; estimates of risk to residents living or working in surrounding communities during the Plant's operation from 1952 to 1989; an evaluation of possible exposure pathways; and, dose assessments for historical releases.[60]

In 2003, Dr. James Ruttenber led a study on the health effects of plutonium. Conducted by the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the study concluded that lung cancer is linked to plutonium inhalation. "We have supporting evidence from other studies that, along with our findings, support the hypothesis that plutonium exposure causes lung cancer," Ruttenber said. His group's findings were part of a broader study that tracked 16,303 people who worked at the Rocky Flats plant between 1952 and 1989, their research also found that these workers were 2.5 times more likely to develop brain tumors than other people.[61]

Many findings linking workers and other cancer development are muddled due to the "strong healthy worker effect" (that workers tend to have lower overall death rates than general population because those that are ill or disabled are restricted from working).[62] Also the standard mortality rates for cancers of stomach and rectum were found to be much higher than other studies of nuclear workers which indicates the necessity for further study since inhalation of plutonium can distribute to these areas.[63]

In February 2006, the Rocky Flats Stewardship Council was formed to address post-closure management of Rocky Flats, the council includes elected officials from nine municipal governments neighboring Rocky Flats and four skilled/experienced organizations and/or individuals. Information about the council is available on their website.[64]

In 2016, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced its Cancer Registry was preparing a follow up cancer study to its original 1998 report on cancer incidence in the vicinity of the former Rocky Flats Plant,[65] the original report and 2016 report found no pattern of increased cancers in communities around Rocky Flats.

Legal actions[edit]

Subsequent to reports of environmental crimes being committed at Rocky Flats, the United States Department of Justice sponsored an FBI raid dubbed "Operation Desert Glow," which began at 9 a.m. on June 6, 1989.[34] The FBI entered the premises under the ruse of providing a terrorist threat briefing, and served its search warrant to Dominick Sanchini, Rockwell International's manager of Rocky Flats.[34]

The FBI raid led to the formation of Colorado's first special grand jury, the juried testimony of 110 witnesses, reviews of 2,000 exhibits and ultimately a 1992 plea agreement in which Rockwell admitted to 10 federal environmental crimes and agreed to pay $18.5 million in fines out of its own funds. This amount was less than the company had been paid in bonuses for running the plant as determined by the GAO, and yet was also by far the highest hazardous-waste fine ever; four times larger than the previous record.[66] Due to DOE indemnification of its contractors, without some form of settlement being arrived at between the U.S. Justice Department and Rockwell the cost of paying any civil penalties would ultimately have been borne by U.S. taxpayers. While any criminal penalties allotted to Rockwell would not have been covered by U.S. taxpayers, Rockwell claimed that the Department of Energy had specifically exempted them from most environmental laws, including hazardous waste.[34][66][67][68][69][70]

As forewarned by the prosecuting U.S. Attorney, Ken Fimberg (later Ken Scott),[71]:118 the Department of Justice's stated findings and plea agreement with Rockwell were heavily contested by its own, 23-member special grand jury. Press leaks by both members of the DOJ and the grand jury occurred in violation of secrecy Rule 6(e) regarding Grand Jury information, the public contest led to U.S. Congressional oversight committee hearings chaired by Congressman Howard Wolpe, which issued subpoenas to DOJ principals despite several instances of the DOJ's refusal to comply, the hearings, whose findings include that the Justice Department had "bargained away the truth,"[71]:98 ultimately still did not fully reveal the special grand jury's report to the public, which remains sealed by the DOJ courts.[66][71]:Ch 6, note 54

The special grand jury report was nonetheless leaked to Westword and excerpts published in its Sep. 29, 1992 issue.[72] According to its subsequent publications, the Rocky Flats special grand jury had compiled indictments charging three DOE officials and five Rockwell employees with environmental crimes, the grand jury also wrote a report, intended for the public's consumption per their charter, lambasting the conduct of DOE and Rocky Flats contractors for "engaging in a continuing campaign of distraction, deception and dishonesty" and noted that Rocky Flats, for many years, had discharged pollutants, hazardous materials and radioactive matter into nearby creeks and Broomfield's and Westminster's water supplies.[73]

The DOE itself, in a study released in December of the year prior to the FBI raid, called Rocky Flats' ground water the single greatest environmental hazard at any of its nuclear facilities,[66] from the grand jury's report: "The DOE reached this conclusion because the groundwater contamination was so extensive, toxic, and migrating toward the drinking water supplies for the Cities of Broomfield and Westminster, Colorado."[74]

A class action lawsuit, Cook v. Rockwell International Corp., was filed in January 1990 against Rockwell and Dow Chemical (due to the indemnity of nuclear contractors, the award would have been paid by the federal government). Sixteen years later, the plaintiffs were awarded $926 million in economic damages, punitive damages, and interest, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently threw out the verdict and ordered a retrial. A further appeal was rejected without comment by the United States Supreme Court in June 2012.[75]

In May 2016, U.S. District Judge John L. Kane gave preliminary approval for a $375 million settlement against the Rockwell International Corp. and Dow Chemical Co. Nearly 26 years later, approximately 13,000 to 15,000 eligible property owners could receive monetary payments for damages and decreased property values. Property and homeowners who owned property on June 7, 1989, the day the FBI raided the plant, are eligible to file a claim for property devaluation, the deadline to file a claim is June 1, 2017.[76]

Carl Johnson sued Jefferson County for unlawful termination, after he was forced to resign from his position as Director of the Jefferson County Health Department, he alleged that his termination was due to concerns by the board members that his reports of contamination would lower property values. The suit was settled out of court for $150,000.[2]:106–107[77]

Legacy[edit]

Denver's automotive beltway does not include a component in the northwest sector, partly due to concerns over unremediated plutonium contamination.[78][79][80]

According to the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Act of 2001, the land transferred from DOE to the US Fish and Wildlife Service was to be used as a wildlife refuge once Rocky Flats cleanup was complete;[81] in order to help guide the future of Rocky Flats care and management, the Rocky Flats Stewardship Council was formed in 2006 after the US Congress, DOE and previous organization created the new council. Cleanup of Rocky Flats was finished in 2005 and verified by the EPA and CDPHE in 2007 after ten years and almost $7 billion.[82]

In 2006, according to DOE, "The selected remedy/corrective action for the Peripheral OU is no action, the RI/FS report (RCRA Facility Investigation-Remedial Investigation/Corrective Measures Study- Feasibility Study) concludes that the Peripheral OU is already in a state protective of human health and the environment."[83]

In 2007, the "Peripheral Operable Unit" (Peripheral OU) land area of Rocky Flats was redesignated as the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge and fell under U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) stewardship in 2007 following the EPA's determination that final corrective actions had been completed. According to the USFWS, "the refuge has remained closed to the public due to a lack of appropriations for refuge management operations",[25] the U.S. Government's efforts to make the area surrounding the former plant into the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge have been controversial due to the contamination, much of which is underground and not remediated,[13][84] the substantially contaminated "Central Operable Unit" (COU) land area of Rocky Flats remains under DOE control, and is now surrounded by the refuge.

Plutonium 239, with a 24,000 year half life, will persist in the environment hundreds of thousands of years, the DOE's assessment of the Central Operating Unit indicates that the long-term risk to citizens living outside the boundaries of Rocky Flats is negligible,[83]:30 but citizen organizations state that the remediation of the site was inadequate.[12][13]

In March 2006, the Rocky Flats Stewardship Council was formed to address post-closure management of Rocky Flats and provide a forum for public discussion, this organization was the successor organization to the Rocky Flats Coalition of Local Governments, which advocated for stakeholders during the site cleanup. The Council includes elected officials from nine municipal governments neighboring Rocky Flats and four skilled/experienced organizations and/or individuals. Information and Council meetings minutes and reports are available on its website.[82] Members of the public are welcome to attend Council meetings.

In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services proposed a controlled burn on 701 acres of the Wildlife Refuge; in 2015, they reported that they will postpone those burns until 2017. In 2015, there was a "soft opening" of the Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge where small groups of people could reserve space on a three-mile guided nature walk, the official opening of the Refuge in now planned for 2017.[85]

In 2015 Rocky Mountain Downwinders was founded to study health effects in people who lived east of the facility while it was operational, the group set up an online health survey conducted by Metropolitan State University of Denver.[86][87]

Public opposition[edit]

On the weekend of April 28, 1979, more than 15,000 people demonstrated against the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant. The protest was coordinated with other anti-nuclear demonstrations across the country. Daniel Ellsberg and Allen Ginsberg were among the 284 people who were arrested. The demonstration followed more than six months of continuous protests that included an attempted blockade of the railroad tracks leading to the site.[88][89][90] Large pro-nuclear counter demonstrations were also staged that year.[91]

In 1983 the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center was founded with a goal of closing the Rocky Flats plant,[92][93] the Center has since set goals of keeping the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge closed to the public, preventing construction of highways in or near the site of the former plant, and preventing new housing construction in the area.[94] The Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation an, as of 2014, has one full-time employee.

On October 15, 1983, about 10,000 demonstrators turned out for protest at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant (well short of the 21,000 hoped for by protest organizers). No arrests were made,[95][96] on August 10, 1987 (the 42nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki), 320 demonstrators were arrested after they tried to force a one-day shutdown of the plant.[97][98] A similar protest with a turnout of about 3,500 was staged on August 6, 1989 (the anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima).[99]

Though public demonstrations against plant operations ceased with the decommissioning of the plant,[100] activists continue to protest disposal of nuclear waste from the site[101] and the scale and scope of cleanup operations,[2] since 2013, opposition has focused on the Candelas development located along the southern border of the former Plant site.

With the establishment of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Act in 2001, a 300 ft strip on the eastern edge of the refuge was allocated to Jefferson County for construction of the Jefferson County Parkway. In May 2008, the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority was established to complete this last portion of the Denver metro beltway.[102] Opponents of the parkway are concerned about the disruption of plutonium laden soil from excavation of the area to build the parkway;[103] in April 2015, the WestConnect Corridor Coalition was formed with the hopes of bringing about the end of a decades long dispute to the completion of the Jefferson County Parkway.[104] However, by October 2015, the WestConnect Corridor had withdrawn its support from the parkway, determining that the decision to build the parkway should be made outside of the coalition's process, as of 2015, the Jefferson Parkway Public Authority was still searching for private and public funding to complete the beltway.

A group named Candelas Glows is opposed to a large housing and commercial development planned in the area, which the group calls a "plutonium dust bowl." The Department of Energy responded by saying that studies show more risk from naturally occurring radioactive elements than from very low-level amounts of plutonium remaining around the former plant.[105] Candelas Glows argued that a July 2015 radiation report from the Rocky Flats Stewardship Council shows plutonium levels at 1.02 pCi/L, compared to the regulatory standard of 0.15 pCi/L.[106]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ U.S. Department of Energy, Historical Release Report, http://www.lm.doe.gov/Rocky_Flats/Regulations.aspx
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Moore, LeRoy (2007). "Democracy and Public Health at Rocky Flats: The Examples of Edward Martell and Carl J. Johnson"; in Quigley, Dianne; Lowman, Amy; Wing, Steve. Ethics of Research on Health Impacts of Nuclear Weapons Activities in the United States (PDF). Collaborative Initiative for Research Ethics and Environmental Health (CIREEH) at Syracuse University. pp. 55–97. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 24, 2013. Retrieved September 17, 2011. 
  3. ^ Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), Rocky Flats - Site History
  4. ^ a b Poet, SE; Martell, EA (October 1972). "Plutonium-239 and americium-241 contamination in the Denver area.". Health Physics. 23 (4): 537–48. PMID 4634934. doi:10.1097/00004032-197210000-00012. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Johnson, CJ (October 1981). "Cancer Incidence in an area contaminated with radionuclides near a nuclear installation". Ambio. 10 (4): 176–182. JSTOR 4312671.  Reprinted in "Cancer Incidence in an area contaminated with radionuclides near a nuclear installation.". Colo Med. 78: 385–92. Oct 1981. PMID 7348208. 
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