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 Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2006 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter


Virtual Museum Recounts Rocky Flats Disaster
By Vanessa Lozano, senior, School of Journalism and Mass Communication

The Center for Environmental Journalism at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication is sponsoring an interactive online museum that narrates the events and aftermath of a 1969 fire at the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant.

"There is an effort to normalize Rocky Flats and hide its history," said Len Ackland, associate professor and co-director of the center. "If the story isn't told, the place where Rocky Flats existed is going to vanish and merge with the rest of the Front Range."

The Mother's Day 1969 fire could have exposed the Denver area to toxic-radiation, had the fire burned through the roof of the burning building. The former location of the factory lies just 16 miles northwest of Denver and eight miles south of Boulder.

"Of course the major risk of nuclear weaponry is a global nuclear war," said Ackland. "It is also risky for the communities where nuclear weapons are being built and that's what we are trying to show here."

Rocky Flats opened in 1952 and produced plutonium bombs used to detonate thermonuclear weapons. The tendency of plutonium to spontaneously ignite—combined with careless use of oily rags—led to the fire that gave 41 firefighters radiation doses and cost taxpayers $70.7 million to clean up.

After the 1969 fire, production at the factory continued for 20 years until an FBI raid shut it down. The site has since been cleaned up, with all remaining weapons-grade plutonium shipped out of state in 2003. There are plans for the land to be developed into a wildlife sanctuary.

In addition to educating the public about the events at Rocky Flats, the Web site is an example of new media trends taught at the School of Journalism. It combines the use of audio, pictures, video, text, timelines and maps to give worldwide visitors an interactive experience.

In 1992 Ackland became founding director of the Center for Environmental Journalism, which was created to enhance journalists' knowledge of environmental issues and ultimately keep the general public better informed.

Visit the Rocky Flats Virtual Museum. For more information visit the Center for Environmental Journalism.

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