Rocky Flats raid, history topic of June 6 - 8 event

Friday, June 6, marks the 25th anniversary of the FBI and EPA raid on Rocky Flats, the former U.S. nuclear weapons facility in Arvada. In an effort to recognize a significant part of Colorado’s history, the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, in partnership with CU-Boulder's Center of the American West, will host a weekend-long event, "Rocky Flats Then and Now: 25 Years After the Raid," June 6 - 8.

CU-Boulder Professor Emeritus Len Ackland will give the event’s introduction talk, “Rocky Flats Then and Now” on Friday, June 6, at 7 p.m.

Author of the 1999 book, "Making a Real Killing: Rocky Flats and the Nuclear West," Ackland describes Rocky Flats as “a great case study of modern times.” In the book, he tracked the history of the plant’s beginnings until it was shut down, as well as the rise of nuclear technology and stories about people who lived nearby. 

“A story like Rocky Flats is an international story and it’s a local story,” said Ackland, who was co-director of CU-Boulder's Center for Environmental Journalism and spent 22 years teaching journalism at CU-Boulder before retiring in 2013. “So weaving those stories together in a coherent way was a really big challenge.”

Nuclear weapons were declared by the Atomic Energy Commission and President Truman as essential for U.S. security, because they were considered deterrents. The policy followed the "risky idea that you had to build weapons of mass destruction so that no other country would use its weapons of mass destruction against you," according to Ackland. From a more local standpoint, the workers at Rocky Flats encountered all the high risks that accompany plutonium exposure, an element that is dangerous at any quantity.

“With six pounds, you can have an explosion on the order of 20,000 tons of TNT. At microscopic levels, if plutonium is inhaled or gets into the blood stream through cuts, that can cause cancer,” noted Ackland.

After the 1989 raid, Rocky Flats was shut down, declared a Superfund site a few years later, and after 10 years and $7 billion, the site was cleaned by 2005. Most of the land was transferred to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is now a National Wildlife Refuge.

“The raid itself was in one way quite symbolic, because it said the federal government cares about environmental issues,” said Ackland. After the raid, the plant’s mission shifted from one of national security through producing weapons of mass destruction to one of environmental cleanup.

Panelists for the weekend event were chosen as credible representatives for various communities, covering topics that include workers’ health, the FBI raid, art and Rocky Flats, and the cleanup, according to Ackland, who along with CU-Boulder History Professor and Director of the Center of the American West Patty Limerick, helped plan the event. A full list of panelists can be found on the event's schedule.

“The idea is to promote respectful dialogue among people who may disagree with one another,” said Ackland. “If that doesn’t happen, if panels get disrupted, that will be a real disappointment to me.”

The weekend event, including Ackland's talk, is free and open to the public, and includes a diverse lineup of panelists to accompany a special exhibit of Rocky Flats pictures and artifacts that reflect a time when the plant was in operation (1953-1989). The Rocky Flats Institute and Museum is also hosting the event. The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities is located at 6901 Wadsworth Blvd. in Arvada.

Photo courtesy of United States Federal Government.

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