Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats

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Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats
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Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats
Fell, Jay
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Denver, CO
Center for Colorado and the West
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Auraria Library
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Auraria Library
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Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/7/2015 3:51:23 PM] Home Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky FlatsFull Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky FlatsSubmitted by nwharton on 10-18-2013 12:02 PMAuthor: Kristen Iversen Publishing: New York: Crown Publishers, 2012. Reviewer: Jay Fell Reviewer Affiliation: University of Colorado Denver If the news is bad, shoot the messenger, goes an old saw. And the saying might be well applied to the history of the Rocky Flats nuclear plant which flourished, if thats the right word, for nearly four decades making most of the plutonium triggers for American nuclear bombs atop a windswept ridge just south of Boulder, Colorado, followed by a fifth decade that saw it slowly dismantled in what was and is a controversial environmental cleanupall the subject of this disturbing book, Full Body Burden Whatever the brouhaha, whoop-de-do, and buncombe about the role of capitalism and free markets in propelling Colorados economic growth, what in fact drove the war and postwar economy here more than anything else was government spending. Independent federal agencies, new administrative offices, and a plethora of military bases, in tandem with innumerable government contracts with private enterprises, gave Colorado a growth rate that exceeded the nations as a whole from World War II into the mid-1980s. Spending of every sort to sustain the American effort in the Cold War formed a key part of this federal largesseall of which brings us to Rocky Flats. As the arms race with the Soviet Union mounted in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the United States needed a facility to make the plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs. As a result of secret meetings and flawed data, the Atomic Energy Commission selected Rocky Flats as the best site for what it called Project Apple. The locale was near a large population centerArvada, Boulder, and Denverwith plenty of people and housing, a good airport across town, and the site seemed to be on cheap, useless land. The agency selected the first of several private contractors to build and operate the super-secret facility, at one time guarded by tanks. Employment gradually increased to some 3,500 people at its peak in 1969, and the plant made about 80 percent of the plutonium triggers for nations nuclear arsenal, many of them still in use here in the early twenty-first century. But plutonium in even microscopic amounts is one of the worlds deadliest substances. Experiments elsewhere in these years dramatically reduced the full body burden, the amount of radiation deemed safe, to at least one one-hundredth of what it was at the time of the plants construction. Only a few years passed before people living downwind and downstream began to experience the effects of radiation poisoning in the sudden rise of cancer incidence and the discovery of deformed rabbits. Among the first signals that something was wrong was the death of a childGods will, said the family; Rocky Flats, EXPLORE BY MEDIABook Reviews Photographs Video Biographies New Publications Resource Guides County Newspaper HistoriesEXPLORE BY TOPICLand & Natural Resources Government & Law Agriculture Mining Commerce & Industry Transportation People & Places Communication Healthcare & Medicine Education & Libraries Cultural Communities Recreation & Entertainment Tourism ReligionEXPLORE BY CULTUREHispanic Native AmericanThe Ute people have lived in Colorado longer than anyone else.


Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/7/2015 3:51:23 PM] Auraria Library 1100 Lawrence Street In the News intoned many others when researchers discovered high radiation levels in the remains. And so began several decades of ever more intense controversycritics who developed data suggesting enormous levels of radiation flowing into the environment, and defenders who proclaimed that nothing was wrong at all (though their own researchers and data indicated otherwise). Some people got fired for revealing the truth the old saw about the messenger proved to be true. Two disastrous fires, one in 1957, the other in 1969, nearly released massive amounts of radiation into the atmosphereso much so that the entire Denver area might have had to be evacuated had the fires not been almost miraculously contained, but these near catastrophes were largely covered up in a stream of platitudes assuring the public that nothing was wrong. Gradually, the operators of the plant changed, but public protest grew, backed in some measure by state government. Ultimately in 1989, in an irony of ironies, the federal government got involved when the FBI used night aircraft that braved the surface-to-air missiles at the plant to fly secret surveillance missions over the facility to take infrared pictures of the radiation streaming over the landscape. Some six months later, on June 6, 1989, in another super-secret mission like the invasion of Normandy forty-five years before, the FBI stormed the plant to seize data on what was going on. After a still-secret grand jury investigation, Rocky Flats closed some five years later and the controversial environmental cleanup began, though some contended that the technology to clean up the landscape did not exist. Full Body Burden is a stimulating combination of both history and memoir, and altogether a chilling story. Some may object to such a work written mostly in the present tense, but one gets accustomed to the style. Weaving through the study of the plant itself is a secondary, but also interesting narrativeIversens personal account of growing up a baby boomer in a dysfunctional family in suburban Colorado. That aspect of the book offers much to social historians. The two thrusts of this book unite at the Rocky Flats plant where the author worked for a time, got radiated herself, and ultimately developed cancer, Hodgkins Disease, perhaps as a result. That aside, it is the relentless assault on truth, the denials and obfuscations in the face of hard evidence of radioactive poisoning, and ultimately, the disgraceful barrage of unethical prevarications of individuals in knowledgeable and responsible positions who denied reality, that lie at the center of this disturbing analysis of commitments to profits and warfarethe arrogant public-be-damned attitude of so many individuals responsible for the public interest. But the story also reflects the overarching commitment to the Cold War, the culture of fear in that era, and the refusal to accept the reality that well-paying jobs cost many livesthat of both workers and others living in nearby communities. Where was honesty and integrity? Where was the proper concern for public safety? Full Body Burden is ultimately a condemnation of everything that went on. And what lies ahead? Full Body Burden concludes with an analysis and discussion of the controversial cleanupa light layer of new earth over the site and a cover of mud over the radioactive sediment at the bottom of Standley Lake in Jefferson County. Little trace of the plant remains visible from any well-traveled roadway, though the site is now the (radioactive) Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Want to take your family there for a stroll? Out of sight, out of mind, goes another old saying. But as new subdivisions mushroom ever closer to Rocky Flats, does a second phase of this disaster lie in the offing? Reviewer Info: James E. Fell Jr. teaches American history at the University of Colorado Denver. He is the author of Ores to Metals: The Rocky Mountain Smelting Industry and the author or coauthor of other books and articles