Rocky Flats and the Jefferson Parkway

First posted on The Blue Line.

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The June-July Arvada Report carried an unsigned article titled “Rocky Flats and the Jefferson Parkway ­ Is it safe?” The article says, yes, it’s “safe.” But “safe” for whom? Certainly not for the most vulnerable among us for at least three big reasons: 1) the danger of plutonium, 2) the inadequacy of official standards for permissible exposure, and 3) uncertainties about environmental conditions at Rocky Flats.

The danger of plutonium

The principal contaminant of concern at Rocky Flats is plutonium. An unknown quantity of plutonium in the form of minute particles remains in the environment at the site. The determining factor in whether to build the Jefferson Parkway along the edge of the Rocky Flats site should be the plutonium that is known to be there. Scientists from the Atomic Energy Commission (predecessor to the Department of Energy) produced the map below in 1970. It shows where plutonium released from Rocky Flats up to that time was deposited on and off the site. The proposed Jefferson Parkway, indicated as a dotted red line, would pass through the heart of the contaminated area.

In September 2011, independent scientist Marco Kaltofen of the Boston Chemical Data Corp. sampled soil along the route of the proposed highway. He found that the plutonium contamination in this area now is roughly equivalent to what it was in 1970. (See http://www.boulderblueline.org/2012/02/04/plutonium-the-jefferson-parkway-report-on-recent-soil-sampling-at-rocky-flats/ and http://www.boulderblueline.org/2011/12/23/plutonium-and-the-jefferson-parkway-another-look/ )

Plutonium’s half-life of 24,000 years means that after 24,000 years its radioactivity will have been reduced by half, each additional 24,000 years reducing it by yet another half. From a human perspective plutonium thus remains radioactive essentially forever. If a particle too small to see is inhaled or otherwise internalized, it can lodge in a lung or elsewhere in the organism. For as long as it resides in the body, very likely for the remainder of one’s life, it continually irradiates surrounding tissue. The star formation in the picture below is a magnified image of alpha rays emanating from a single particle of plutonium in the lung tissue of an ape over 48 hours. The alpha rays do not travel very far, but once inside the body they can penetrate more than 10,000 cells within their range. The eventual result of this constant irradiation could be cancer or some other ailment. (Photograph by Robert Del Tredici, At Work in the Fields of the Bomb, 1987)

Read the rest at The Blue Line.

  1 comment for “Rocky Flats and the Jefferson Parkway

  1. Gregory Iwan
    July 26, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    All that science is sound. I learned all about this while I was a health physicist (radiation protection officer) in the US Army and at Ft. St. Vrain. The power plant (when it was “nucular”), not the historic site. Yet.

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