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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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The Department of Energy believes that the plutonium material on the site will stay put. But other studies show that that is not the case. There is a study by scientist Shawn Smallwood showing how all the groundhogs out there are digging around and bringing material up to the surface. There's plutonium uptake in the grass and animals come along -- the birds and the deer -- and eat the grass and flowers and live onsite. There's plutonium detected in the bodies of deer out there. It's an area of high erosion. There's a lot of rain and snow and wind, incredible wind out there. There's a lot of movement and plutonium does not stay put. So it's of real concern, not only for what's onsite but for the immediate surrounding area.

BJ: Can you describe what your brother recently experienced when he was walking his dog and it ran through Standley Lake?

KI: Yeah, that’s an amazing story. I still have family living out in Arvada. My brother doesn't live there anymore, but at the time that I was finishing this book he still lived down there with his wife. We grew up next to Standley Lake. We loved that lake. We swam in it, water-skied on it. We rode our horses. We took our dogs swimming in the lake. And it's a beautiful area. It's still open obviously to public recreation.

My brother Kurt was out there with his wife and they were walking along with their dog and they let their dog down into the water, like we always have done. But this time a patrol boat came around with a couple of guys and they had a megaphone. And one guy said, "Get your dog out of the water." And my brother said, "What? Why?" And he said, "Well, this provides water for the nearby city and we have to keep the water clean." And Kurt just laughed. He said, "What are you talking about? The dog hair? Dog hair is not going to affect the city water supply."

But the truth is there is plutonium in the sediment at Standley Lake. Plutonium is a heavy metal and it settles down into the sediment. And what they're banking on again is this idea that plutonium is supposed to follow the rules and not move anywhere. They're banking on the belief that plutonium will stay down into sediment, so they don't want people or animals getting down along the shores of the lake and stirring things up because then it brings the plutonium back up into the water.

BJ: You point out in the book that companies like Dow Chemical and Rockwell International -- any company that works hand-in-hand with the Department of Energy to run these nuclear weapons facilities and nuclear power facilities -- are indemnified against any liability if there's an accident. But if they're caught, say, falsifying safety documents, they could be charged by the Justice Department for that, right?

KI: Yes, but the crazy thing is that we as taxpayers would end up paying for that. And we did pay for Rockwell's legal fees [after the FBI raid].

The government knew very early on that private corporations wouldn't go into the business of building nuclear bombs unless there was some kind of indemnification because it's just too dangerous. And of course here we could talk further about potential ramifications for the nuclear power industry and the building of nuclear power plants. But if the government does not provide some kind of indemnification, does not largely indemnify companies, no one would go into this business because it's so incredibly risky and dangerous.

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