Reopening of Rocky Flats


The reopening of the Rocky Flats Plant has sparked a discussion over our nuclear past. Historic American Engineering Record, Drawing of Environmental Technology Site.

Lara Spijkerman, News Editor

Boulder High’s 2019 Haunted House theme is Nuclear Apocalypse, but are BHS students aware that Colorado almost had its own nuclear disaster? The Rocky Flats National Munitions Plant, located about 12 miles southeast of Boulder, was subject to a fire in 1957. Among the damage that this caused, barrels of radioactive waste was leaking into an open field by 1959, but the public was not notified until 1970. Rocky Flats was one of 13 nuclear weapon production plants during the Cold War. In 1989, the area was renamed the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site and ceased production of nuclear weapons.

As a result of the 1957 fire, thousands of our fellow Coloradans were exposed to plutonium, and the land the plant was located on was contaminated for an indeterminable amount of time. Plutonium emits alpha radiation, which can’t penetrate the skin, but can cause organ irritation if ingested or inhaled. Even small amounts of plutonium can cause lung cancer. 

Today, Rocky Flats sits as a “Wildlife Refuge.” However, activists, including Jared Polis, have been advocating for further testing of air, water, and soil of the refuge, before it opened to the public. This didn’t happen. The site was opened in September of 2018, while the debate of whether or not it is safe continues. 

The Department of Energy (DOE) is currently maintaining 1,300 acres of land within the Rocky Flats reserve, where they monitor and manage the cleanup efforts. This area is not part of the wildlife refuge.

The site and its structures no longer exist in their former condition, as demolition was done in the area. US Department of Energy, Demolition Activity Building 779.

In January of 2019, Rocky Flats had two lawsuits pending against it, one of which was trying to block the opening of hiking and biking trails within Rocky Flats. Pat Mellen, an environmental attorney in Denver, added a third. The goal of this third suit is to gain access to the sealed documents which would present, “evidence of unreported and unaddressed residual plutonium contamination.” The protestors believe that we have the right to know what is happening on this mysterious plot of land, especially if it is to be advertised as a healthy hiking location for locals.