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Rocky Flats

DOE Openness - Human Radiation Experiments

Administrative History

When the Rocky Flats Plant began operations in 1952, it was organized according to a pattern established by the Manhattan Engineer District (MED) and inherited by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).

During the Second World War, the MED contracted with private firms for the construction, management, and operation of government-owned research and production facilities at Hanford, Oak Ridge, and Los Alamos. Contractor budgets and expenditures, plant operations, and performance were closely monitored by MED personnel.

In 1947, the civilian AEC replaced the military as the agency responsible for the nation's nuclear research, development, and production complex. The first commissioners, reluctant to significantly alter existing administrative structures and viewing “decentralization and contractor operation as good practices in public administration,” decided to retain the government-owned, contractor-operated policy for new and operating facilities.(1)

In keeping with this philosophy, the AEC chose Dow Chemical Company as the prime operating contractor at Rocky Flats. Dow remained onsite for twenty-three years, overseeing a threefold growth in facilities and employment. Rockwell International Corporation replaced Dow as the prime contractor in 1975.

In response to Cold War policies, facility and work force expansion reached record levels in the 1980s. The plant ceased production in November 1989, partly as a result of safety concerns. EG&G; Corporation then assumed responsibility for overseeing decommissioning and environmental restoration activities.(2)

Unlike the research and development missions of the national laboratories at Oak Ridge and Los Alamos, Rocky Flats was primarily a production facility for weapon components, forming fissile materials into triggers, or pits. Savannah River Plant, and materials recycled from other components removed from the weapons inventory and dismantled at Rocky Flats. Although the plant primarily formed and machined pits, it also produced related weapon components.(3)

The Epidemiologic Records Inventory Project

The Epidemiologic Records Inventory Project is indicative of DOE Secretary Hazel R. O'Leary's efforts to support openness initiatives in the areas of environment, safety, and health. In view of the importance of various administrative, organizational, and operational records to epidemiologic and health-related studies, a moratorium on the destruction of such records has been in effect since 1989.

In May 1992, the DOE Office of Epidemiology and Health Surveillance (EH-42), responsible for the coordination of health-related activities throughout the DOE complex, directed each DOE and DOE contractor site to prepare an inventory of all records useful for worker or community health-related studies. EH-42 prepared and furnished each site with guidelines that defined epidemiologic records, provided instructions for describing record series, outlined the sites' role in inventorying epidemiologic records, and discussed the relationship of the epidemiologic inventory to DOE's comprehensive records inventory. The epidemiologic inventories should be completed in 1995.

Pass The Buck Corporate Clean Up Profiteers

Administrative Organizations

Dow Chemical Company (1952-1975)

Under Dow, the management structure remained stable while expanding slightly to accommodate the growing size of the facility. A general manager had responsibility for the overall operation of the facility. Senior managers at the plant served on the Rocky Flats Division Management Board.

Rockwell International Corporation (1975-1989)

Rockwell took over as the prime contractor at Rocky Flats in 1975. The new contractor changed the management structure to include a larger number of organizations reporting directly to the general manager. Under the company's management, the work force grew to almost 6,000 in an effort to meet the demands of the Reagan Administration's defense policies.(4)

In 1989, Rockwell became the focus of allegations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of mismanagement, negligence, and criminal practices. On June 6, 1989, FBI agents raided Rocky Flats, seizing an unknown quantity of official DOE records. After the initial raid, records management officials made photocopies of some of the records being seized by the agents. The original records are still in government custody.

EG&G Corporation (1990-1995)

EG&G's management and operations contract became effective on January 1, 1990. Prior to the start of the contract, DOE ordered the cessation of operations at the plant until all safety requirements were met. After initially focusing on resuming operations, EG&G; shifted emphasis to decommissioning, decontamination, and environmental restoration.

DOE submitted deactivation and cleanup plans to Congress in 1992. In 1994, the site's name was changed to the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site to reflect the new priorities.(5)

The changing priorities resulted in at least eight reorganizations of the management structure, including five during 1990 alone. Most of the changes involved the addition, combination, or elimination of organizations. When EG&G; assumed the operation of the facility, management responsibilities were essentially separated into production and waste management functions.

After the transition, management evolved into an organization primarily focused on facility and project management, environmental and waste concerns, and quality assurance and auditing functions. Management units, headed by assistant and associate general managers, reported directly to the site general manager. EG&G; elected not to seek renewal of its contract, which was to expire in 1995.

A five-year contract for management of Rocky Flats was awarded to Kaiser-Hill which took over plant operations in July 1995. 1)

2014 Denver Post - 25 years after FBI Raid on Rocky Flats

ARVADA, CO – MAY 29- Rocky Flats was once the site of the a nuclear weapons production facility, May 29, 2014. This June will be 25 years since the FBI raided Rocky Flats. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post) By Electa Draper | May 31, 2014

Twenty-five years ago, on June 6, 1989, a convoy of about 30 vehicles carrying more than 70 armed agents of the FBI and the Environmental Protection Agency raided the U.S. Department of Energy’s plutonium-processing plant at Rocky Flats for suspected environmental crimes.

The Cold War site, which operated continuously from 1952 to 1989, was the Denver area’s largest industrial plant, with 4,000 men and women manufacturing plutonium fission cores used to detonate U.S nuclear bombs.

Many of the 40,000 who worked at Rocky Flats over the decades to create a nuclear deterrent became casualties of the Cold War — with diseases caused by exposure to radiation and toxic chemicals.

It wasn’t until January of this year that the government fully recognized their sacrifices with a special designation and new benefits. “Rocky Flats was nothing but a fancy machine shop … in what was then the middle of nowhere. But we had machining capabilities that nobody else had,” said Scott Surovchak, Rocky Flats legacy site manager for the Department of Energy.

Workers here, sprawling over 800 structures on a top-secret 6,500-acre federal reservation, could drill out the center of a length of stainless steel wire thinner than a human hair to create tubing, Surovchak said. To say precision was required in making nuclear components doesn’t capture it.

They worked in plutonium, uranium, beryllium, americium and other highly dangerous metals and chemicals.

But production would halt in December 1989 as the FBI executed its search warrant. Nuclear production would briefly resume the next year, then finally terminate in 1993, after President George HW Bush canceled the W-88 Trident Warhead Program in 1992.

A massive environmental cleanup would ensue as America’s nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union, dismantled in 1991, ground to a halt.

“The ‘raid’ didn’t end Rocky Flats,” Surovchak said.

“We ran out of a mission,” he said. “Our main bad guy fell apart. We broke the Soviets. And we essentially went into a mothball situation.”

The new mission was cleanup and closure.

Most of Rocky Flats today is a wildlife refuge. The DOE transferred more than 4,000 acres of its peripheral lands — its “buffer zone” — to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2007. DOE kept behind locked gates the site’s hot buried heart — 1,309 acres of largely cleared land called the Central Operable Unit — for testing and treatment of the remaining immovable contamination.

The raid 25 years ago was the first time two federal agencies had assailed a third, according to University of Colorado associate journalism professor emeritus Len Ackland.

For Rocky Flats workers and a substantial percentage of the 700,000 Americans nationwide who worked from 1942 until now to build, and maintain, a nuclear arsenal, the toll has been high.

Those who have become very ill believe, and Congress agreed in 2001, that their cancers, berylliosis and other respiratory ailments are likely a result of their exposure at work to radiation and toxic chemicals.

Since 2001, the federal government has been providing monetary compensation and medical benefits to former nuclear and uranium workers. But the burden of proving that those illnesses were occupational fell to the workers, who had to reconstruct personal histories of exposure to receive compensation. Records often were lost or scattered — some say intentionally destroyed.

On Jan. 1, Rocky Flats workers became members of a “special exposure cohort.” It is presumed, if they have one of 22 cancers and other specified diseases, their illnesses are work-related. 2)

Library of Congress Digital Photo Archive


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