Commemorating the Rocky Flats 1969 Fire

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Commemorating the Rocky Flats 1969 Fire (2009)
by Jared Schutz Polis
1236214Commemorating the Rocky Flats 1969 Fire — E11232009Jared Schutz Polis

Commemorating the Rocky Flats 1969 Fire



Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mr. POLIS. Madam Speaker, I rise today to commemorate one of the most fateful days in the history of the State of Colorado, the day the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant outside of Boulder nearly became America's own Chernobyl, some 30 years before that terrible accident in the Ukraine.

On Mother's Day of that year, a fire broke out amid the glove boxes in Building 776, where plutonium spheres were being manufactured for use as cores for some of the most powerful weapons in human history. The fire quickly spread throughout the facility, as many of the fire alarms had been removed to make room for more production. It is estimated that between 0.14 and 0.9 grams of plutonium 239 and 240 were released before a heroic band of perhaps 40 firefighters were able to control and eventually douse the fire. Those firefighters faced the immense decision of whether to battle the blaze with water, which could have set off a chain reaction with the resulting explosion literally contaminating the entire Denver metropolitan area. Luckily for us all, they chose correctly.

Still, plutonium was released into the environment from that accident, through the air vents in the roof of the building and via firefighters exiting it. Thousands of Coloradans were exposed, although how many we'll never know. The firefighters, of course, were exposed most severely, and everyone nearby faced greatly increased risks of serious disease. Indeed, many of those involved have since contracted and died from cancers and other conditions tied to radiation exposure.

I bring up the 1969 accident not only because today, May 11, is its 40th anniversary. I bring it up because the Americans who worked at Rocky Flats and other nuclear facilities around the Nation deserve our thanks, and our support, now that the nuclear arms race is a matter for the history books. They faced enormous risks. They worked with materials that are among the most toxic known to mankind, with half- lives of hundreds of thousands of years, all so that under the prevailing ideology of the time we were able to live our lives safely. They are American heroes every bit as much as our wartime soldiers. In a sense, they were wartime soldiers: Soldiers of the nuclear cold war, and many gave their lives.

Several weeks ago, I along with my Colorado colleagues, Representatives Perlmutter, DeGette, Salazar, and Coffman, and Senators Udall and Bennet, introduced H.R. 1828, the Charlie Wolf Nuclear Workers Compensation Act. The act would finally cut through the red tape that has prevented America's nuclear workers from gaining the compensation they were promised in exchange for their dangerous service. I urge my colleagues to take a moment to remember the risks and sacrifices made by heroic men and women in our nation's nuclear production facilities, which were located in virtually every State in the country, and to pass this historic piece of legislation.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).

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