A brief history of Rocky Flats 


  • Department of Energy, U.S. Library of Congress
Between 1952 and 1989, the nuclear weapons plant at Rocky Flats processed plutonium and created plutonium triggers, or “pits,” for nuclear weapons. The facility was owned in turn by three government agencies over the course of its operation and eventual cleanup: first the Atomic Energy Commission, then the Federal Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA), and finally the Department of Energy (DOE), which still controls the 600-acre former plant site at the center of a 5,237-acre wildlife refuge. The day-to-day operations of the plant were managed by four separate contractors, starting with Dow Chemical, the company that brought us Scrubbing Bubbles — but also napalm and Agent Orange — from 1952-1975.

Rockwell International took over operations until 1990. Rockwell handed over plant operations after the plant was raided by the FBI in 1989 for environmental crimes (the company admitted wrongdoing and settled through a plea agreement in 1992). The historic raid was the first time one federal agency had ever targeted another. Afterward, EG&G began the massive cleanup, which was finished by Kaiser-Hill, which took over operations in 1995.

Because of its status as a Superfund site, a national designation that marks the site for long-term hazardous waste cleanup, thousands of documents relating to Rocky Flats have been made available through the DOE’s Office of Legacy Management (tinyurl.com/RockyFlatsDOE). The documents provide insight into the operations of the plant, and verify many of the claims that have long been made by some of the loudest critics of the Rocky Flats plant and the 2016 decision to turn the site into a publicly accessible wildlife refuge


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