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We Had a Secret Nuclear Weapons Plant Near a Major American City? Yeah, One of the Most Contaminated Sites in America

A new book reveals the truth about a plutonium factory that hardly anyone knew existed.

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KI: It's been kind of an interesting process over the years. And of course the jurors have to be very careful because everything is supposed to be kept secret in a grand jury investigation. They can't really talk about it without putting themselves at risk. They would end up in jail. But parts of it were leaked to the press. Some of them appeared in interviews on television and on the radio. Westword [a Denver alternative newspaper] published part of that report and then some of other magazines around the country picked up parts of it. [ Harper's published excerpts in the December 1992 issue.]

In, I believe it was 1993, Judge [Sherman G.] Finesilver released a highly edited version of the report, with commentary by the Department of Justice. So you could get that, but there are large portions of it blacked out. The full report is still completely sealed by the court and unavailable to the public, as well as all of the documentation that goes along with it. And when they did the cleanup at Rocky Flats, they did not have access to that information either.

There was a press conference out at Rocky Flats a few years ago, with all this controversy about whether or not it should be opened up to the public [as a wildlife refuge]. Jon Lipsky, who was the FBI agent who led the raid on Rocky Flats, was on his way from California to make a statement at that press conference. He felt so strongly that the wildlife refuge should never be opened to the public, any part of it, based on his knowledge and investigation. When he was on his way to the press conference, he was contacted by his superiors and told that he couldn't say anything. So he showed up at the press conference and basically said, "I can't really say anything except there's a lot of devastating information here and this should never open to the public. As an FBI agent, as a father and as a resident, please do not open this refuge."

BJ: What do you think was behind the decision to open a public wildlife refuge on this site?

KI: Well, what concerns me most about Rocky Flats is that there's a lot of effort – and I want to emphasize again, as I touched on earlier, that we are all complicit in some way with this – there's a lot of effort to try to forget Rocky Flats, to erase it and pretend like it never happened.

We don't know how much plutonium and other contaminants are onsite. Even though the Department of Energy will say, yes, we have a pretty good idea, there's so much unknown information onsite and offsite. And the levels of allowed contamination at the site are very, very controversial.

Originally, the Department of Energy and the Colorado Department of Health and the Environment wanted to allow 651 picocuries per gram of soil out there, which is incredibly high. And yet, they were saying that there's no way…what local residents wanted, what people wanted, was the site to be cleaned up to background levels so that people could live and work out there and it would be safe. They said, "Well, we can't afford to do that. We don't have the money to do that and we're not sure we even have the technology to do that. It's impossible."

So they came up with a compromised cleanup standard. The top three feet of soil has up to 50 picocuries per gram of soil. The next three below that, down to six feet, is 1,000 to 7,000 picocuries of plutonium per gram of soil. And there is no limit below six feet. So a lot of stuff out there was covered up with three feet of topsoil. What's below six feet is potentially devastating to the local community.

 
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