Rocky Flats has made it back into the news because of a proposed controlled burn near where the plant produced plutonium and other parts for nuclear weapons. An article by Bruce Finley states that west Metro leaders oppose the burn “…where plutonium contamination created an environmental disaster.” My book, “An Insider’s View of Rocky Flats: Urban Myths Debunked,” puts the plutonium releases from Rocky Flats into context compared to the amount of plutonium added to the environment by atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. A 1974 State of Colorado report estimated total world releases of plutonium from testing of nuclear weapons to be between 9,000 and 15,000 pounds of plutonium that contaminated the entire world everything that lives on it. The total released from all routine operations and accidents from Rocky Flats was estimated to be between 2 and 25 ounces. I can’t be certain of Mr. Finley’s definition of what would constitute an “environmental disaster,” but I’d choose atmospheric testing to have been worse than Rocky Flats.
One critic who has a lengthy career of providing inflammatory comments about of Rocky Flats was quoted in Finley’s article as saying, “If plutonium is released, it would be in the form of tiny particles suspended in the air. These could be inhaled. Even a single particle could destroy someone’s health.” I’ll respond with quotes from my book. “Is it true that a tiny particle of plutonium will kill people? Sadly, it’s too late to avoid that outcome it that is true.” “All humans have billions or trillions of atoms of plutonium in their bodies.” Is it surprising that people are living longer despite the plutonium we’ve all inhaled?
I have no idea what decision will be made on the burn, and I frankly don’t care much. Perhaps there will be decision to turn a thousand or more goats loose, which was suggested as an alternative. One cynic has asked me, “Couldn’t pyrophoric metals in the soil column cause the goats to burst into flame?” To interpret for those who haven’t previously been exposed to this person’s reasoning, I’m guessing that is his way of asking, “If you are going to ridiculously exaggerate the risk from plutonium from a controlled burn, shouldn’t you ridiculously exaggerate all other risks equally?”
I suggest everyone interested in this subject read a Denver Post editorial titled, “Perception versus reality at Rocky Flats.” I am in complete agreement with the content and conclusion of that editorial. One fact mentioned is that “…the risk of spreading contamination from burning in that portion of the refuge is essentially no different from burning anywhere else along the Front Range.”