Rocky Flats Back in the News

It has been a while since there has been a significant news story about the legacy of the Rocky Flats Plant. The production of plutonium parts for nuclear weapons was the part of the mission that was the primary focus of those who concentrated on protesting the plant. I’ve attempted to convince people that much more was accomplished at the site, but plutonium manufacturing continues to dominate the conversation even all these many years since the site was torn down and the surrounding area converted into a wildlife refuge.

There haven’t been any mass media reports about the plant until a recent news story in the Denver Post titled “Neighboring Rocky Flats” by Electra Draper. There is a subtitle, “The more I learned…the more horrified I became.” I will give the article credit for resurrecting at least some of the words and phrases that were used frequently in new reports to criticize the place while the plant was still in operation. One example is the description about “…plutonium fires in 1957 and 1969 that wafted toxic smoke over the metro area”. Another is the concern that the proposed Jefferson Parkway and development of hiking and biking trails in the area now designated as a Wildlife Refuge will “…kick up plutonium-laced dust”. There was a new descriptor used to explain the concern that “…the site’s toxic legacy has faded…”and that people would move into the “plutonium dust bowl without understanding the potential risk.”

I give the article credit for presenting a balanced view if you bother to turn to page five of the section. There is a statement that, “Federal state and local governments say the public has nothing to worry about.” The various agencies that have participated in decades of study of the site and have published “…stacks of reports…” which conclude that “…the public’s exposure to the contaminants has not posed any significant risks.” Critics continue to disagree and say “…the truth about the health effects on workers and nearby residents that eventually come out is now hidden from newcomers behind Rocky Flats’ rebranding as a wildlife refuge.

I will quote a statement by Scott Surovchak, the Rocky Flats site manager with the Department of Energy Office of Legacy Management. He said, “There’s nothing we can say or do—no facts—to change some people’s minds…Professional protestors have an agenda. We’ve got loads of data.”

There are two pictures of a horse wearing safety goggles and a respirator that the creator wants to find a permanent site for display to represent “…the sacrifices of all the people who worked there.” I think the respirator-protected horse is quite creative, but I’m baffled by the final words of the article. The creator said the original thought was “…to put it out there. But it probably would have been destroyed within a day.” I hope the creator doesn’t think that Rocky Flats alumni, such as me, would condone harming his work of art.

I’m going to divert from the article to reiterate one fact of history that I consider to be the most ignored by critics of Rocky Flats. There was a constitutional amendment offered to Colorado voters in 1982. The amendment read in part, “Shall the constitution of the State of Colorado be amended in order to bring about the cessation of nuclear weapons component production in Colorado…”  The vote was taken after the 1957 and 1969 fires and the leaking drums at what was called the 903 pad had become public knowledge and widely reported by critics of Rocky Flats. As I described at the end of Chapter 11 of “An Insider’s View of Rocky Flats, Urban Myths Debunked,” the amendment was defeated 584,356 to 326,550. The people of Colorado had heard the worst of what its critics had to say and voted to keep the plant open. People were more interested in the well-paying jobs for thousands of employees and the many more thousands of people who experienced economic benefits from the huge sums of money that flowed from the government than about “potential risks.”  I believe the vote would have been different if Rocky Flats was a real risk to the neighbors.

I wish the wildlife refuge would open before I am too old to take my grandchildren on a hike or bike ride in the beautiful area. Yes, I would take them out to that area for an outing with absolutely no concern. I hope they will be able to see the horse with the safety goggles and respirator. That would give me the chance to tell the grandchildren there are those who disagree with me.

3 thoughts on “Rocky Flats Back in the News

  1. The reason for the Post’s latest RF iteration is actually quite clear; the decision by Congress to extend and expedite medical and other benefits to us Cold Warriors. By dragging out all the old pejoratives and scare words in what has turned into a series of articles, the Post gives cover to mark Udall and Jared Polis, to transfer millions of taxpayer bucks to ex workers and their families and come off, as usual, as defenders of the downtrodden. A self-serving op-ed by Udall and Polis accompanying Draper’ series alleges “thousands” of former Flats employees, heroes all, now suffer from various cancers directly resulting from workplace exposure.

    RF_Alum is much kinder than I am in assessing the balanced nature of Draper’s articles. I found them to be almost laughingly shallow, poorly researched and devoid of any statistical support. In other words, typical of the coverage usually afforded such complex issues. I’ll say this: The Post knows its audience.

    Rocky Flats may not exist anymore, but it will never be gone. Not as long as there is money to be made by emotional extortion of the taxpayer or the sale of newspapers.

    • Hello RF_Alum,
      I’m the artist of the Rocky Flats Sculpture. I happened to come across your post. The statement about the sculpture being destroyed was referring more towards developers and others with monetary investment in the surrounding area. As you can imagine they are most interested in burying the history of the site.
      The quote by Scott Surovchak is a bit over the top. Labeling concerned citizens as “professional protestors” with “an agenda” is kind of extreme. To dismiss any and all opposition he claims to have “loads of data” but that nothing will “change some peoples minds.”

      I appreciate Rocky Flats Nuclear Guardianship’s response to his statements:

      The Denver Post covered the ongoing Rocky Flats crisis. And we’re all in danger, if the government continues to dismiss public health as a trivial annoyance. “The bottom line is that anything outside the Central Operable Unit is now available for any and all uses,” said the site’s DOE manager. “Professional protesters have an agenda. We’ve got loads of data.” (Actually, we’ve got loads of data too — please see our website.) Thanks to Michelle Gabriellof-Parish and artist Jeff Gipe for speaking out about the dangerous government misinformation. And for following their subversive “agenda” of keeping people safe.

      (Please do see Rocky Flats Nuclear Guardianship’s website if you’re not already familiar. There is some great information on there.

      I am a little surprised that so many people are willing to take or ignore the risks involved with the site. There is so much misinformation (likely from both “sides”) that I understand it’s hard to know what is right. I just hope for the newcomers to the area that enough information is available for them to make an educated decision. At present newcomers wouldn’t know the plant existed. The absence of knowledge towards the site is one motivating factor of the sculpture. Most of all though the sculpture is in recognition of Rocky Flats Cold War Veterans; my Dad being one.
      I’m glad to hear you want to see the sculpture present at the site even though we may “disagree” on some points.



      • I disagree with much of what is said in this comment, but believe people should be allowed to read all opinions and make up their own minds.


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