“All the indications are that it’s going to be more serious than we thought originally.”
In 1975, CU biologist Harvey Nichols began studying airborne matter at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons site outside of Boulder. He concluded that billions of plutonium particles were dusted on the ten square-mile Rocky Flats site.
The former nuclear weapons site is now a designated wildlife refuge but Nichols cautions that due to the nature of plutonium, the site remains a persistent danger to residents along the Front Range. Nichols says that the half-life of plutonium is about 24,000 years and by the time it is innocuous it is 1/4 million years – this represents 1000-10,000 generations in human terms.
“There is a multi-generational medical implication in exposing the metro population to this sort of hazard. We don’t quite know what the long-term low-level chronic radiation exposure will be but all the indications are that it’s going to be more serious than we thought originally.”
Nichols has been active in efforts to stop controlled burns from happening on the Rocky Flats site. The Fish and Wildlife Service which manages the area were proposing to burn more than a square mile to remove weeds. “What the burn would do of course would take the surface dust that there is out in the refuge area where they were going to do the burn, and loft that up into the atmosphere and that would inevitably contain lots of these plutonium particles.” Nichols said there needs to be a permanent ban in place to prevent such burns.
Professor Harvey Nichols will speak on the ongoing challenges of managing the Rocky Flats site on Tuesday June 23rd at noon at the City Club in Boulder as part of their series on Rocky Flats.