Rocky Flats to Open for Recreational Use

* The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released a plan that would open the Rocky Flats nuclear facility for recreational use after cleanup has been completed in 2006. The Fish and Wildlife Service proposes opening the more than 6,000 acres of Rocky Flats to anything from guided tours to unlimited access by the public.

Rocky Flats is located 16 miles northwest of Denver, Colorado. It was opened in 1959 by the Department of Energy in order to produce plutonium pits for nuclear weapons. The pit is a sphere of plutonium surrounded by conventional explosives that constitutes the core of nuclear weapons. Production at Rocky Flats ended in 1992 following a raid by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that uncovered widespread environmental and safety concerns..

Rocky Flats was left heavily contaminated by plutonium and its cleanup has been controversial since it began in 1993. For example, much of the contaminated waste buried at Rocky Flats will remain in place rather than being removed and disposed elsewhere. Remaining contamination has lead many critics to argue that opening Rocky Flats for recreational use may compromise the health and safety of its visitors. LeRoy Moore, of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, said, "It's really unwise to allow public recreation on a site that's still contaminated with some levels of plutonium and toxic materials."

Steve Gunderson, of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which oversees the cleanup of Rocky Flats, responded, saying, "The cleanup will be protective to any sort of access to the land, either by the public or by the Fish and Wildlife Service." He claims that radiation levels at Rocky Flats are approximately the same as those in the rest of Colorado.

Gunderson also argues that any wild game killed at Rocky Flats will be safe for consumption, despite a recent study that shows that deer at Rocky Flats are contaminated with radioactivity. The study tested 26 deer killed at Rocky Flats and found that, of those, 13 contained detectable levels of radioactivity in their tissues.

However, because only two of those deer contained levels of radioactivity high enough to pose a risk to human health and safety if ingested, the Fish and Wildlife Service is using the findings to support a proposal to allow hunting at Rocky Flats. Victor Holm, of the Rocky Flats Citizens' Advisory Board, said, "This is a case where the best science we can apply to the facts indicates there isnŐt a risk."

Nevertheless, Len Ackland, an environmental journalism professor at the University of Colorado who produced a book about Rocky Flats, pointed out that as many as 1,000 acres of Rocky Flats will remain too contaminated to transfer to public use. Ackland said, "If one-sixth of the site is too contaminated for the Fish and Wildlife Service to take ownership, then why is the agency continuing with their plans to open [Rocky Flats] to public use?"

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