Contractor Declares Rocky Flats Nuclear Cleanup Complete
DENVER The contractor hired to clean up the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant declared the $7 billion, 10-year project completed Thursday, a major milestone in the conversion of the site to a wildlife refuge.
Kaiser-Hill Co. said it was proud of the effort to "complete the largest, most complex environmental cleanup project in United States history."
However, it could be months before the site on the rolling plains northwest of Denver is opened to the public, because federal regulators must certify it as safe.
The Energy Department has 90 days to accept the project and can ask Kaiser-Hill to address any concerns. After that, the Environmental Protection Agency and state officials must verify that the work meets various guidelines.
Rocky Flats made plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons until 1992, when it was shut down because of safety concerns and the end of the Cold War. The core plant, covering nearly 400 acres inside a 6,000-acre buffer zone, once contained 800 buildings.
More than 2,000 truckloads of waste from Rocky Flats were shipped to a repository near Carlsbad, N.M., and at least 1,900 containers of plutonium were sent to the Savannah River nuclear weapons installation in South Carolina.
In all, more than 21 tons of weapons-useable nuclear material were removed, Kaiser-Hill said.
Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., pronounced Rocky Flats "the best example of a nuclear cleanup success story ever."
Parts of the site will eventually be opened to the public as a federal wildlife refuge, but some areas where the contamination was worst will remain off-limits.
"As a result of everyone's hard work, Rocky Flats will now become a jewel of open space to be enjoyed in perpetuity," said Rep. Bob Beauprez, R-Colo.
Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., toured the site Wednesday and said nothing remained of the weapons plant. "We are, in sum, much safer than we were, and I say that as someone who lives just three miles from the site," the congressman said.
Niels Schonbeck, a biochemistry professor at Metropolitan State College in Denver who has researched Rocky Flats, praised the Energy Department and workers for using innovative approaches -- like encasing contaminated machinery in plastic -- to get the work done.
But Schonbeck, who was on a panel of experts and citizens that monitored Rocky Flats, said the area should never be opened to the public.
"The word 'cleanup' never should have been used. They remediated it; they didn't clean it up," Schonbeck said.
Other critics say Rocky Flats won't be safe because the cleanup did not include sites where radioactive waste was illegally dumped or buried, though "hot spots" will not be within the refuge boundaries.
Associated Press Writer Judith Kohler contributed to this report.
Source: Associated Press