Former Colorado Nuclear Weapons Plant Just As Contaminated 40 Years Later

16 miles northwest of Denver, CO sits the Rocky Flats site, formerly home to a plant that produced nuclear weapons from 1952-1989. These operations were shut down for repeated safety violations, which whistleblowers started bringing to the attention of the EPA and FBI in 1987. The extent of the contamination of the site was never revealed publically.

In 1992, Rocky Flats was closed for good following the fall of the Soviet Union. It was added to the EPAís National Priorities List, and cleanup efforts began. In 2000, Congress proposed that the site be transformed into a wildlife refuge. The cleanup was declared complete in 2005, although the levels of present contamination were not shown to the public.

The site has come under scrutiny again, as efforts are being made to build a new highway along the eastern edge of the refuge. The EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment insist that the site is safe, and that construction wonít pose a health risk to workers or surrounding communities. Those living in the area arenít so sure, especially because no new testing was planned in advance of the construction.

The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center hired independent contractors to test the soil and find out what the level of present plutonium contamination really looks like Ė but they were barred from actually entering the refuge. Instead, they tested the soil along the outside of the fence, and found that the level of contamination hasnít changed since the 1970s. The results showed plutonium levels ranging from 0.019-1.579 picoCuries per gram of soil. The typical level of background plutonium contamination in the Western US is usually no more than 0.01 Ė so these are troubling findings.

In the blog post Plutonium Is Forever, the center notes the dangers of exposure even in small amounts:

Plutonium particles in the soil at Rocky Flats will one way or another, sooner or later, come into people’s lungs and lives, since, with a half-life of 24,000 years, it poses a radiation hazard essentially forever. Minute particles much smaller than germs get brought to the surface by burrowing animals, incautious humans, turbulent geology and extreme weather. Such particles can be carried near and far by the wind and inhaled by unsuspecting people, including children, the most vulnerable. Once inside the body, plutonium does its damage.

The late Edward Martell, NCAR radiochemist, pointed out as early as 1970 that the radioactivity from plutonium dust particles at Rocky Flats is “millions of times more intense than that from naturally occurring radioactive dust particles (uranium) of the same size. Minute amounts are sufficient to cause cancer.”

The US Fish and Wildlife Service, which runs the refuge, insists that the soil contamination is not at unsafe levels. Nonetheless, the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center has filed a lawsuit to attempt to block any construction. Other environmental groups, along with the neighboring cities of Golden and Superior, have followed suit.


Related Stories:

Post-Fukushima, Nuclear Policies in Flux Around the World

Any Radiation Can Be Harmful

What’s in Your Water? Nuclear Waste, Coal Slurries and Industrial Estrogen

Photo Credit: WikiMedia Commons


Michael C.
Michael C5 years ago

As a former member of the Rocky Flats Truth Force, we came upon many stories of past misdeeds on behalf of Dow and Rockwell, along with your Government.

At one time, nearby Denver was experiencing minor earthquakes, no one could explain why, until it was disclosed that the plant operators were pumping nuclear wastes deep underground.

Jay Williamson
Jay w5 years ago

i think if i lived nearby i would be moving to much health risks for my liking

Grace Adams
Grace Adams5 years ago

Wild life move into areas set aside around power plants and other sources of radioactivity to keep people away so the people won't be exposed to the radiation. To wild life a site with no people is more attractive in spite of radioactivity than a site with people even without radioactivity. Wild life also like demilitarized zones in spite of left over land mines lurking for much the same reason. People really repel wild life.

Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth M5 years ago

Yes scientists in the nuclear field know how to develope it, but have never found a safe way to dispose of it. Not so smart!
Now this beautiful land of the Rocky Flats cannot be inhabited for thousands of years.
It is so sickening that facts are hidden from the people!!

Lynnette Bower
Lynnette Bower5 years ago

Nuclear anything is bad for the environment and kills lifeforms.

Rossy Osborne
Rossy Osborne5 years ago

We all seem to agree on this horror, but why are they using it for an animal refuge?

Mara C.
Past Member 5 years ago

My sister raised her kids in Erie, CO. The oldest boy developed MS while is High School. They found that there is a higer incidence of MS in the area downwind of Rocky Flats. The younger boy moved to the Nashville area. He said, at the time, he wasn't going to wait & see if he developed it, too! Sadly, these toxins will remain in the soil for a long, long time.

Debbie Brady
Debbie Brady5 years ago

Unfortunately this mess cannot be cleaned up no matter what the Government says. It is just North of where I live and it scares me to death. It is a dead zone and will be unsafe for all living things for thousands of lifetimes. The migration of these poisons from the dead zone is what scares me.

This is just one example of our fatal dance with the devil (Atomic energy and weapons) The are thousands of other dead zones all over the World.

Man thinks he is the master of the universe. We are finding out just how powerless we are when it comes to putting the lid back on Pandora's Box.

Jane Barton
Jane Barton5 years ago

Plutonium has a half life of 10,000 years. Why would the plant be any less contaminated now?
On the first page of my radiology handbook, it says, "There is no safe lower dose of radiation."
That means even the smallest dose kills living cells. In Washington state they disposed of
radioactive waste into their rivers after they made the A-bomb during World War II. To this day all the wildlife in that state has 10 times more radiation in them than the normal standard.

Vicky Pitchford
Vicky P5 years ago

thanks :/