More than sixty years ago, when the federal government decided to build a nuclear weapons plant, it picked an eleven-acre spot on the Front Range northwest of Denver, a landscape studded with farms and ranches — and just sixteen miles upwind of a major city. When it opened in 1952, the Rocky Flats plant was touted as a big win for Denver — but what the area really won was a longterm legacy of environmental dangers resulting from the use of plutonium and more than 8,000 chemicals for the creation of nuclear triggers.
In June 1989, the FBI launched a spectacular dawn raid of Rocky Flats, looking for evidence of environmental crimes.The plant never produced another trigger, and the EPA put Rocky Flats on the National Priorities List. In 1995 a massive cleanup began to turn the area from the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant into the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. "Nearly 40 years of nuclear weapons production at Rocky Flats had left facilities, groundwater, soil, and surface waters contaminated with chemical and radioactive substances that posed potential health and safety risks to the public and workers," the EPA reported.
Twenty years later, the $10 billion cleanup is complete — the site is considered "remediated" — but the refuge has yet to open, a victim of the federal budget crunch and lingering concerns over just how cleaned up the area really is.
And a plan to hold a "prescribed burn" this spring to control invasive weeds growing on 700 acres of the property raised new concerns over what that environmental hazards that action might unleash — especially with development now bumping up against the once-isolated site.
Last year 2,870 people signed a petition calling on U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which has taken over management of Rocky Flats, to cancel the burn — and on January 29, FWS agreed to do so, citing public concerns over the burn rather than actual hazards. "We have heard concerns from the public and we want to take time to engage in further dialogue on these issues," Noreen Walsh, regional director of the agency, said in a prepared statement. "As good neighbors, we want to assure the public that safety is our absolute priority. While we believe all of our proposed management actions at Rocky Flats are safe both for our own employees and the public, we understand the public's concerns about the risks of burning and are committed to finding the right management balance for the refuge."
But when it cancelled the burn, Fish & Wildlife officials said that they were simply postponing the action, and might still do burns at Rocky Flats in the future. "FWS seemed unconcerned about plutonium in the soil at Rocky Flats and that a burn there could release breathable particles, but the public was not unconcerned," longtime activist Leroy Moore points out.
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Now Moore has posted a second petition at MoveOn.org, asking for no burns at Rocky Flats — ever. "We need far more opposition than before," he says. "FWS should cancel plans for more burns and should meet with informed people to discuss alternatives." Here's the wording of the new petition:
No "prescribed burns" at Rocky Flats ever
In response to public opposition (including a MoveOn petition), U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service canceled a “prescribed burn” planned for Spring 2015 at the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. But it expects to do burns at the Refuge in the future. This must not happen, because any burn at the site can endanger public health by releasing plutonium particles.
You can sign the petition here.