17 October 2005

Rocky Flats Retrospective

Denver Post writer Penelope Purdy spent years covering the clean up of the Rocky Flats uranium processing plant, the site of a nine year effort to clean up a former nuclear weapon trigger production facility. She now offers an impressionistic then and now picture of the effort.

The situation was so bad that in 1989 the FBI raided the federal facility for violating U.S. environmental laws. Then-contractor Rockwell International pleaded guilty.

In 1997, it was the subject of a rare "runway jury" inquiry by a federal grand jury. Civil litigation concerning the impact of the site on the neighbors continues as I write here today.

But, clean ups can happen and this is a rare example of a finally completed major cleanup.

But the one place reporters were never allowed was the "infinity room" in Building 771, considered the most contaminated building in America, seething with so much radiation it couldn't be measured by early Geiger counters. Workers who ventured into the room (which was packed with barrels of plutonium) wore "moon suits" with helmets and oxygen hoses - the air was too dangerous to breathe. . . . A few weeks ago I stood on a rock surrounded by native flowers that the DOE planted at the behest of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which will run the site as a refuge. I was at the exact location of the "infinity room."

Now, the site will be a nature preserve, although the reasoning for this is not as benign as one might think.

Many formerly toxic sites become nature preserves and golf courses because few people spend a sustained amount of time in these locations. Those who spend a lot of time in these locations, moreover, tend to move around from place to place a great deal, so they spend little time at any one spot within it (no one, for example, sleeps overnight on a nature preserve or a golf course, or sets up a camp site there). Also, non-domesticated animals on a hunting free nature preserve or golf course are unlikely to enter the human food chain. People eat domesticated herbivores raised on farms or hunted herbivorous wild animals. Hence, even hunted wild animals are unlikely to eat contaminated wild animals that wander off the preserve. As a result, the risk of sustained exposure from any spot that is missed by the cleanup, either directly or through the food chain, is small.

In contrast, if an office building or home were built on the site, many peole would likely spend thousands of hours in exactly the same place within those buildings. If one of those locations turned out to be a hot spot, the lives of the people who spent a great deal of time near the hot spot could be at greater risk.

1 comment:

Sassifrats Sally said...

So this makes it "ok" to use severly contaminated land/soil/vegetation as a "golf course" or an "animal preserve?" I think use of either is completely insane--what is wrong with you people?????This land should be fenced off and left completely alone until any type of radiation has expended its total life or half-life to the level of total nonradiated.