Thursday, September 12, 2013


Rocky Flats Plant - Aerial View 003
Rocky Flats Plant - Aerial View 003 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
, plutonium fabrication, central section of pl..., plutonium fabrication, central section of plant. Aerial view looking south at the plutonium buildings (700s). Building 776/777 is the large building in the center portion of the photograph. building 771 is in the lower right corner, and building 707 is to the south of building 776/777. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(Environmental Technology Site)
Bounded by Indiana St. & Rts. 93,128 & 72
Golden vicinity
Jefferson County
HAER No. CO-83
National Park Service
P.O. Box 25287
Denver, CO 80225-0287

(Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site)
Bounded by Highways 93,128, and 72 and Indiana Street,
Golden, Jefferson County, Colorado.
Present Owner:
1951-1953 (original plant).
Austin Company, Cleveland, Ohio.
United States Department of Energy (USDOE).
Environmental Restoration.
The Rocky Flats Plant (Plant), established in 1951, was a
top-secret weapons production plant. The Plant
manufactured triggers for use in nuclear weapons and
purified plutonium recovered from retired weapons (called
site returns). Activities at the Plant included production,
stockpile maintenance, and retirement and dismantlement.
Particular emphasis was placed on production. Rocky Flats
produced most of the plutonium triggers used in nuclear
weapons from 1953 to 1964, and all of the triggers
produced from 1964 until 1989, when production was
suspended. The Plant also manufactured components for
other portions ofthe weapons since itJiad the facilities,
equipment, and expertise required for handling the
materials involved.
In addition to production processes, the Plant specialized in
research concerning the properties ofmany materials that
were not widely used in other industries, including
plutonium, uranium, beryllium, and tritium. Conventional
methods for machining plutonium, uranium, beryllium, and
other metals were continually examined, modified, and
updated in support ofweapons production. Cutting edge
technologies developed at the Plant resulted in a number of
patents, doctoral degrees, and numerous scientific
discoveries. Early on, there were very few locations in the
United States that had the capabilities to work with
plutonium. Employees working at the Plant were leaders in
the field.
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The Plant is associated with the United States strategy of
nuclear military deterrence during the Cold War, a strategy
considered ofmajor importance in preventing Soviet
nuclear attack. The establishment of the Rocky Flats Plant
was the result of the post-war fear of the Soviet Union; this
fear drove the federal government to build a vastly
expanded nuclear weapons production system.
The nuclear arms race resulted in the development ofan
immense research, production, and testing network that
came to be known as the "Nuclear Weapons Complex."
From the Manhattan Project to 1995, the United States
spent over 300 billion dollars on nuclear weapons research,
production, and testing (in 1995 dollars; USDOE 1995).
During a half century of operations, the complex
manufactured tens of thousands of warheads and detonated
more than one thousand nuclear warheads.
At its peak, the "Nuclear Weapons Complex" consisted of
thirteen major facilities, which included laboratories,
production plants, testing facilities, and associated
infrastructure. All ofthe thirteen sites had interrelated
functions. The U.S. Department ofEnergy (USDOE)
complex contains four types offacilities: a) nuclear sites
(fabrication and assembly); b) non-nuclear sites
(manufacture of non-nuclear components); c) laboratories
and test sites (research and test support); and d) weapons
assembly and disassembly.
D. Jayne Aaron, Environmental Designer, engineeringenvironmental
Management, Inc. (e2M), 1998. Judy A.
Berryman, Ph.D., Archaeologist (e2M), 1998.
Project Information:
In 1995, an inventory and evaluation of facilities at the Rocky Flats Plant for their
potential eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places was conducted.
The primary goal ofthis investigation was to determine the significance of the Cold War
era facilities at Rocky Flats Plant in order to assess potential effects ofthe long-term
goals and objectives of the USDOE. These goals and objectives included waste cleanup
and demolition. Recommendations regarding National Register of Historic Places
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eligibility were developed to allow the USDOE to submit a formal determination of
significance to the Colorado State Historic Preservation Officer for review and
concurrence and to provide for management of historic properties at the Rocky Flats
From this determination and negotiations with the Colorado State Historic Preservation
Officer, the Advisory Council, and the National Park Service, a Historic American
Engineering Record (HAER) project began in 1997 to document the Rocky Flats Plant's
resources prior to their demolition. Also in 1997, the Rocky Flats Plant was officially
listed on the National Register ofHistoric Places. The archives for this HAER project are
located in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Information for this HAER project was gathered from declassified written materials and
personnel interviews. All aspects ofthis project (this report, individual building reports,
photographs, and drawings) have been reviewed by the Rocky Flats security organization
and released as not containing any classified information.
Documentation for this HAER project includes a Plant-overview component (this written
report followed by drawings and photographs), as well as reports and photographs of
individual buildings considered contributing resources of the Rocky Flats Plant historic
This Plant-overview report is organized into the following topics, which can be found on
the indicated page numbers:
Abstract 6
• Cold War and the Nuclear Weapons Complex...... 11
• Political Climate 11
• Development ofthe Atomic Bomb 13
• Nuclear Weapons Development- Manhattan Project 14
• The Cold War (1946-90) 22
• Societal Impacts ofthe Cold War 28
• Cold War Advances in Nuclear Weapons Design 29
• The Atomic Energy Commission Weapons Program 32
• The United States Nuclear Energy Program 33
• The USDOE Nuclear Weapons Complex 34
• Rocky Flats Plant 35
• Site Location 35
• Mission of the Plant 36
• Significance 39
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• Plant Site Overview 40
• The Rocky Flats Plant Site 40
• Plant Organization 41
• The Original Plant Construction 1951 -1953 42
• History of Operations (1953*55,1956-63,1964-89, and 1989-92) 43
• Public Perception ofRocky Flats Plant 49
• Manufacturing History 52
• Plutonium Operations (Recovery and Fabrication) 52
• Depleted Uranium Operations 56
• Enriched Uranium Operations (Fabrication and Recovery) 57
• Beryllium Operations 59
• Stainless Steel Operations... 60
• Assembly Operations 61
• Major Material Processing Buildings 61
• Depleted Uranium and Beryllium (Building 444) 61
• Enriched Uranium and Non-plutonium Metals/Alloys (Buildings 881, 883,
865, and 460) 62
• Plutonium (Buildings 771,776/777,707, and 371) 64
• Shipping/Receiving and Assembly (Building 991) 68
• Security 69
• Communications 73
• Fire Safety 74
• Health and Safety 75
• Background 75
• Safety Programs 77
• Health Facilities 79
• Nuclear Safety Department (Critical Mass Laboratory- Building 886) 79
• Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (Contaminant Zones/
Filtration and High Efficiency Particulate Air Filters Testing
Laboratory - Building 442) 81
• Breathing Air System 83
• Inert Oases .....84
• Health and Safety Practices 84
• Plutonium 85
• Beryllium 86
• Uranium 86
• Non-radioactive Materials 86
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• Research and Development 87
• Research Efforts - Production Processes 87
• Areas of Research (Material Handling, Chemical Research,
Waste Treatment, Explosive Bonding Pit, Special Orders,
Natural Sciences, Cleanup and Remediation Studies) 88
• Support Facilities 93
• Office Administration 93
• Waste Management (Liquid Waste Treatment, Solid Waste Treatment,
Sanitary Wastewater Treatment, and Waste Storage) 94
• Utilities Systems (Water, Steam Distribution, Plant Power, 98
and Maintenance) 99
• Employees 103
• Future of the Rocky Flats Plant and the USDOE Nuclear Weapons Complex 106
A set of seventeen drawings and a series of current and historic photographs illustrate the
Plant-overview report The drawings delineate the geographic location of the Rocky
Flats Plant; the Nuclear Weapons Complex; nuclear weapons production flow diagrams;
the Cold War time line; the Rocky Flats Plant historic district; various production flow
diagrams and building relationships; and health and safety, laboratory, and security
aspects ofthe Plant. The photographs depict the original construction, growth ofthe
Plant, the relationship of the buildings, and the setting. The individual building reports
and photographs follow the Plant photographs.
For specific information regarding processes, construction, and history of each structure
considered contributing resources of the Rocky Flats Plant historic district see the
following documents.
(Similar structures
included in report)
CO-83-A Critical Mass Laboratory 886
CO-83-B Analytical Health Physics Laboratory 123
CO-83-C Plutonium Laboratory 779
CO-83-D Guardhouse 888(446,461,557,773,
864, 992)
CO-83-E Storage Vault 996 (997,998,999)
CO-83-F Bus Stop Shelter 114
CO-83-G Guard Facility 120(100,113,133,900,
CO-83-H Guard Post 762 (372, 792, 764)
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(Similar structures
included in report)
Access Control Building 792A(372A,762A)
Guard Tower 901 (375,550, 761)
Plutonium Recovery Facility 371
Non-Nuclear Production Facility 444
Plutonium Manufacturing Facility 707
Plutonium Recovery and Fabrication Facility 771
Plutonium Processing Facility 776/777
Design Laboratory 701
Manufacturing and General Support 881
Uranium Rolling and Forming Operations 883
Emergency Medical Services Facility 122
Stainless Steel and Non-Nuclear 460
Components Manufacturing
Final Assembly and Shipping Facility 991
Offices, Print Shop, and Photography Lab 111
General Cafeteria 112
Plant Security and Armory 121
Vehicle Maintenance Garage and Fire 331
Transportation Modification Center 440
Metal Research and Development 865
Laundry Building 778
Water Treatment Plant 124
Standards Laboratory 125
Source Calibration Laboratory 126
Water Tower 215A
Filter Test Laboratory and Warehouse 442
Chemical Analytical Laboratory 559
Waste Treatment Facility 774
The Rocky Flats Plant is one of thirteen major USDOE facilities that constitutes the
Nuclear Weapons Complex which designed, manufactured, tested, and maintained
weapons for the United States arsenal. A tense political atmosphere both at home and
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abroad during the Cold War years drove United States weapons research and
development. By the 1970s, both the United States and the Soviet Union maintained
thousands ofnuclear weapons aimed at each other, based on submarines, bombers, and
intercontinental ballistic missiles. Both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and
Warsaw Pact countries in Europe had small nuclear warheads called "theater weapons"
available to be used as part ofthe what was referred to as the Mutually Assured
Destruction policy.
The doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction was developed by then U.S. Secretary of
Defense Robert McNamara, who argued that there would be effective stability between
the United States and Soviet Union when each had a secure second strike capability in
response to a surprise attack. He defined this condition as the ability to deter "by
maintaining at all times a clear and unmistakable ability to inflict an unacceptable degree
ofdamage upon any aggressor, or combination of aggressors - even after absorbing a
surprise first strike." For the United States, this was defined as the ability to destroy 20
to 33 percent ofthe Soviet population, and 50 to 75 percent of Soviet industrial capacity
(Colliers Encyclopedia CD-ROM, 1996).
The Rocky Flats Plant was a top-secret weapons production plant. The Plant
manufactured triggers for use in nuclear weapons and purified plutonium recovered from
retired weapons (called site returns). Activities at the Plant included production,
stockpile maintenance, and retirement and dismantlement Particular emphasis was
placed on production. The Plant produced most of the plutonium triggers used in nuclear
weapons from 1953 to 1964, and all of the triggers produced from 1964 until 1989, when
production was suspended. The Plant also manufactured components for other portions
of the weapons since it had the facilities, equipment, and expertise required for handling
the materials involved.
The Austin Company began construction at the Plant in 1951. A temporary guard shack
on the property was constructed in 1951 along Highway 93. Building 91 (later changed
to 991) was the first permanent building, followed by a temporary administration
building. Building 71 (771), 44 (444), and 81 (881) followed. In 1952, Buildings 11
(111), 12 (112), 21 (121), 22 (122), 23 (123), and 42 (442) were constructed. At the end
of the year Buildings 111, 112,122,331,334,344,551,661, and 771 were occupied.
The total cost by 1952 for construction was $2,500,000. By September 1953, the Austin
Company's construction was finished, for a total cost of approximately $43 million. At
completion, the Plant was composed of four widely separated areas, each one performing
a different type of work. Plant A (444) fabricated parts from depleted uranium. Plant B
(881) recovered enriched uranium and fabricated parts from it. Plant C (771) contained
the plutonium operations, and Plant D (991) was the assembly and shipping point. Each
ofthe four production buildings had guardhouses and a number of support buildings.
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Operations at the Plant revolved around plutonium, depleted uranium, enriched uranium,
beryllium, and stainless steel operations and can be divided into four general time
periods: 1953-55,1956-63,1964-89, and 1989-92. The original two trigger designs at
the Plant were modeled on the designs of the bombs that were dropped on Japan and
made use of enriched uranium, depleted uranium, some plutonium, and beryllium.
Triggers were fabricated and assembled in the 1950s in the original four plants - A, B, C,
and D. Plant C (771) housed all ofthe plutonium processes; casting, machining,
inspection, assembly, and recovery. The original plutonium recovery process was
adapted from Los Alamos National Laboratory processes. The process was put into
operation in 1953, with the first shipment of plutonium nitrate solution from the Hanford
Plant Later, the Rocky Flats Plant also received plutonium nitrate feed from the Oak
Ridge Reservation. By 1959, all shipments of plutonium nitrate were discontinued.
After that time, internally generated plutonium residues from Plant operations were the
primary feed for the recovery/metal production.
Enriched uranium was one of the materials used to create the first-stage fission reaction
in nuclear weapons. The trigger design of the early 1950s required large amounts of
enriched uranium. Both fabrication and recovery of enriched uranium took place at
Rocky Flats. Enriched uranium recovery operations were initiated shortly after
fabrications operations began. Processes used at the Plant were based on those developed
at the Los Alamos and Oak Ridge laboratories. The process was refined at the Oak Ridge
Y-12 Plant preceding the construction ofRocky Flats. Enriched uranium was cast,
shaped and formed, machined, inspected, and assembled into component parts for the
triggers at Plant B (881).
Depleted uranium was used as a non-fissile component in the trigger design. Depleted
uranium was cast in the foundry (Plant A, Building 444) into near-net shapes (close to the
final product form), machined into finished parts, and inspected. Depleted uranium was
shipped to the Plant from the Feed Materials Production Center in Fernald, Ohio. Some
beryllium was also processed in Building 444, but as part of research and development
for production engineering and weapons development, rather than as part of the regular
manufacturing process.
Trigger components manufactured in Plants A, B, and C, as well as those manufactured
at Oak Ridge, were sent to Plant D for assembly and storage. They were then shipped to
the Pantex Plant in Texas for final assembly into the atomic weapon.
During the 1956-63 period of operations, the trigger was redesigned replacing the
enriched uranium core with a plutonium core. This design change required a great deal
more machining than the previous designs, resulting in the construction of a number of
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new buildings and a change in the uses of existing buildings. An estimated $21 million
was spent on expansion. During this expansion, the Plant nearly doubled in size. New
buildings included 701,776/777,883,999,114, and 778. Additions and modifications
were added to Buildings 444,881, and 771. The design change also meant that beryllium
would be used to a greater extent than in the past. In 1958, beryllium operations became
a standard part of the Plant operations.
Production scale operations of beryllium began in 1958, with a new trigger design.
Beryllium was used as a neutron reflector. Production operations initially involved only
the machining; off-site vendors conducted final inspection and assembly processes. By
the mid-1960s Rocky Flats beryllium operations included the casting and shaping of
beryllium parts. By 1975, foundry casting of beryllium on the Plant site ceased, with
beryllium supplied in the form of blanks from off-site vendors. Machining of beryllium
parts continued in Building 444 until production shut down in the late 1980s. Other than
the recycling ofparts from site returns (retired weapons), beryllium recovery operations
were not conducted on the Plant site.
The next large scale change to the Plant came in the 1960s, when the Atomic Energy
Commission chose to make Rocky Flats the sole producer of triggers under the "single
mission'* concept. During this time period, the manufacturing facilities and production
processes did not change much, although the assembly lines were shifted from building to
building. The majority ofthe Plant expansion during this time was driven by new
weapons programs, higher safety standards, and expansion of production.
Plutonium fabrication continued at an expanded level with production continuing in
Building 776/777. By 1967, construction had begun on a new plutonium facility
(Building 707) to augment operations at Building 776/777. Also by 1968, new
technologies had been developed for plutonium recovery from solid and liquid waste. A
major fire in Building 776/777 in 1969 necessitated the relocation of some of its foundry,
fabrication, and final assembly operations into the new Building 707.
As part ofthe single mission policy, enriched uranium operations were transferred to Oak
Ridge Y-12 Plant between 1964-66. Production of enriched uranium components ceased
at Rocky Flats in 1967. Building 881 operations were shut down and the building was
In 1966, stainless steel operations were transferred from New Mexico to Building 881.
Stainless steel processing was done in Buildings 881 and 444 until Building 460 was
completed in 1984. Stainless steel was used primarily to make the reservoirs that held
tritium gas within the bomb. Stainless steel casting, forging, or recovery operations were
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not conducted on a production scale at the Plant Production operations included
machining, assembling, inspection and testing, and support.
During a routine inventory shutdown, in December of 1988, the Federal Bureau of
investigations (FBI) raided the Plant for alleged environmental violations. The raid
resulted in an immediate suspension of plutonium weapons production at the Plant.
During 1989-92, the Plant focused its activities on resuming operations to bring the Plant
up to current safety and operational standards and to get back into weapons production.
Significant changes occurred at the site after the 1989 FBI investigation. By 1991, a
series ofworld events reduced the Cold War threat and the need for a plutonium trigger
manufacturing facility. The temporary suspension of nuclear weapons production, in
place Since 1989, was made permanent in 1992, the mission ofthe Plant shifted to
environmental restoration, waste management, and clean up and conversion of the Plant
for new uses.
From its groundbreaking, the Rocky Flats plant offered steady work and good wages.
Regardless ofthe mission or time period, the Rocky Flats Plant contractors offered jobs
to people with skills ranging from janitorial and support staffto highly skilled scientific
personnel. The opportunity to work with cutting edge technologies led to many patents
and advanced degrees. Employees working at Rocky Flats were leaders in the field,
knew the latest techniques, and what could and could not be done. In 1951, the Plant
employed about 133 people; in 1953 the number had risen to 1,059 employees. From
1957 to the end ofthe first expansion ofthe Plant in 1963, over 3,000 people were
employed at the Plant When the Atomic Energy Commission changed the Plant mission
in the 1960s, employee population rose to over 3,700 (1970s). Under Rockwell and
President Reagan's administration in the 1980s, the Plant population grew again to over
As a top-secret weapons production facility, the Plant was concerned with security
precautions from its inception. Indicative of the importance of security, the first structure
on site was a small guard shed built in mid-May 1951. In comparison, excavation for the
first permanent building on site, Building 91 (991), did not begin until July 10,1951.
In the early years, security was concerned with the Cold War, espionage, and the secrecy
associated with building nuclear weapons. It was important to safeguard design secrets,
and later, the numbers ofweapons being produced. Classified information was available
only on a need-to-know basis; employees received instruction only on their specific
duties. All employees were required to have a Q clearance, a top-secret level for atomic
workers requiring a 15-year background check. Employees were forbidden to talk about
their work with anyone. There were many instances of immediate family members
working at the Plant, with no knowledge ofwhat the other's job duties were. Very few
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employees knew what the final product was that was shipped to Pantex. What the
workers did know was that whatever they were doing was important to national security,
believing that their work was keeping communism from the United State's shores.
Through the 1950s and 1960s, employees were treated respectfully by most ofthe public.
The public knew little about the work at the Plant, other than it was for military purposes.
Public opinion began to change in 1969/70 with the fire in Building 776/777 and a strike
between Dow and its union. Activities associated with the strike, along with public
dissent regarding the Vietnam War, began to alter the public's perception of and opinions
regarding the Plant.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Rocky Flats Plant received the most attention from anti-war
and environmental protesters of all sites within the USDOE Nuclear Weapons Complex.
Plutonium was believed to be one of the most hazardous substances in existence; other
facilities did not have plutonium in the quantities that Rocky Flats had. Non-nuclear
production could have continued indefinitely at Rocky Flats; however, the local
government and public no longer supported the Plant after the late 1980s. The last
program, stainless steel operations, was transferred to Kansas City in 1995. Presently, all
buildings associated with weapons production or use of plutonium at Rocky Flats are to
be closed down and removed.
Cold War and the Nuclear Weapons Complex
The Political Climate Leading to the Cold War (1928-1946)
Political instability in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s fueled a perceived need for a
nuclear weapon or atomic bomb. Just as the secrets of the atom were being discovered,
both Europe and Asia were experiencing political instability (revolutions and the rise of
dictatorships), along with concurrent policies of expansion and repression.
From 1928 to 1936, the Soviet Union was in the midst of Stalin's Great Purges. In the
Far East, Japan began expansionist activities with the invasion of Manchuria in 1931.
One year later, in Europe, Leo Szilard conceived the idea of an atomic-powered bomb.
In 1933, Hitler became the Dictator of Germany, and the concept of the atomic bomb was
patented one year after that. The same year that Germany began occupation ofthe
German Rhineland (1936), Leo Szilard transferred the atomic bomb patent to the British
government, so that it could be protected under British secrecy laws. Expansionist
activities in Asia continued with the Japanese invasion of China in 1938. The next year
the German Army occupied Austria and the Sudetenland portion of Czechoslovakia.
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In December 1938, German scientists demonstrated nuclear fission. As Germany
invaded Poland in 1939 and World War II began, nuclear weapons went from being
theoretically possible to being probable. Scientists were beginning to understand the
different fissionable properties ofuranium 235 and uranium 238, an understanding
necessary for the development of an atomic weapon. In 1939, Albert Einstein sent a
letter to President Theodore Roosevelt concerning atomic research activities and the
potential for making a bomb. In response to that letter, the United States formed a
committee to investigate potential military applications of nuclear fission. The
committee studied the issue, but did not immediately pursue military applications of
nuclear lenergy.
Plutonium, destined to become the primary fissionable material used in atom bombs, was
discovered in 1941. Later mat same year, the United States entered World War II after
the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Shortly thereafter, the United States initiated the
precursor to the Manhattan Project. This project was initiated in part because the United
States and its European Allies feared Hitler's pursuit of atomic weapons might be
successful, resulting in the fell ofEurope to Hitler's Army, and threatening the stability
of the United States.
Summary ofKey Political Events Leading to Cold War 1930 to 1945
Sep 1931 Japan invaded Manchuria.
Jan 1933 Hitler appointed Chancellor of Germany.
Mar 1933 Hitler became dictator ofGermany.
Sep 1935 Nuremberg Laws began persecution ofJews in Germany.
Mar 1936 Occupation of German Rhineland.
1928-36 Stalin's Great Purges.
Jul 1937 Japan invaded China.
Nov 1937 Axis Alliance was created between Germany, Japan, and Italy.
Mar 1938 Germany occupied Austria.
Sep 1938 Germany occupied the Sudetenland portion of Czechoslovakia.
Sep 1939 World War II began with German invasion of Poland / Nuclear weapons
development became probable.
Octl939 President Roosevelt appointed an Advisory Committee on Uranium
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(Briggs Uranium Committee).
Dec 1941 Japan bombed Pearl Harbor / United States entered the war.
Sep 1942 Manhattan Project began development of an atomic bomb
May 1945 May 8* - VE Day / Germany surrendered to Allies.
Jull945 United States exploded the first atomic bomb (gun type).
Augl945 United States dropped nuclear bomb on Hiroshima on the Aug 6th and
Nagasaki on Aug 9th. Japan surrendered on Aug 14th.
Development ofthe Atomic Bomb
The development of the atomic bomb was tied directly to World War II and the race
between Germany and the United States to develop such a crucial weapon. Many ofthe
physicists working on its development in the United States were emigres who had fled
Nazi Europe and were driven by the desire to create a bomb before the German scientists
did. In 1939, uranium fission was discovered, and the United States government was
apprised of its military importance through a letter written by physicists Albert Einstein
and Leo Szilard (Stein, 1984:5). The following year, President Roosevelt established the
National Defense Research Committee. This committee supervised a uranium
committee, which was working on the development of a nuclear chain reaction using
uranium - the first step toward the production of a bomb.
From 1940 to 1942, physicists at various American universities performed experiments
with lattice piles of graphite and uranium oxide to see what the "optimum lattice" would
be. They were also determining the appropriate amount, shape, and placement of
uranium within graphite needed to produce the desired fission. In 1942, these physicists
gathered at the University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory, under the direction of
Dr. Arthur Holly Compton, to work toward producing a chain reaction.
The chief difficulty at the time was in procuring uranium oxide in sufficient quantities
and of sufficient purity for the needs ofthe lattice. The raw material, hundreds of tons of
black uranium oxide, was finally bought from the Canadian Radium and Uranium
Company, but it was not pure enough for the experiment with fission (Smyth, 1945:45-
74); however, Compton knew that uranium could be purified by ether extraction.
Remembering his old Mend Edward Mallinckrodt's experiments with ether and his
company's safety record when working with the volatile material, he asked Mallinckrodt,
in April of 1942, to tackle the important and potentially dangerous job ofpurifying 60
tons of uranium oxide in a matter of months. Mallinckrodt agreed, where owners of other
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large companies had declined, and he successfully produced the requisite amount ofthe
material necessary for the fission experiment to succeed (Compton, 1956: 94-95).
Leaving the Mallinckrodt Company as brown dioxide, the material was then shipped to
the Westinghouse Company, where it was turned into metal for placement in the lattice
(Smyth, 1945: 88-94).
The first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction occurred in a squash court under the West
Stands of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago on December 2,1942. Once it was
proved that fission could occur, work to develop the atomic bomb continued under a
program called the Manhattan Project.
Several facilities were constructed by the Manhattan Engineer District to pursue
development ofthe atomic bomb, each with a specific purpose. The first gaseous
diffusion plant and nuclear reactor at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, were built in 1942. Oak
Ridge served as the field headquarters for the Manhattan Project work to separate
uranium 235 and produce plutonium for the atom bomb. In 1943, a second more isolated
plant was built at Hanford, Washington, with larger reactors to produce plutonium from
uranium for use in the bomb (Hewlett, 1962:188-190; Mazuzan, 1984:9-10). The same
year, an isolated laboratory was established at Los Alamos, New Mexico under the
direction ofJ. Robert Oppenheimer (Smyth, 1945:222). Here, the first atomic bomb was
designed, constructed, and demonstrated ~ in July 1945 ~ exploding at White Sands,
New Mexico. This successful test culminated in the bombing ofHiroshima and
Nagasaki, and the end ofWorld War II.
Nuclear Weapon Development - The Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project, as it became known, was officially started with the creation ofthe
Manhattan Engineering District, as part of the United States Army Corps of Engineers in
June 1942. The Manhattan Project was the code name for the United States' top-secret
research project, with the goal ofcreating the world"s first weapon powered by nuclear
fission. The Manhattan Project was unique in that it was a collaboration of university
scientists, industrialists, and military engineers. It was supported by a number of
facilities devoted to weapons design, atomic research, plutonium production, and
enriched uranium production and testing facilities. The Manhattan Project, costing in
excess of $25 billion (1995 dollars), was successfully completed in less than three years,
an incredible feat considering that properties had to be selected and acquired, research
and production facilities designed and constructed, and personnel screened and hired
before work could begin.
Colonel Leslie R. Groves was appointed District head in September, with the task of
ensuring the development ofthe atom bomb. Colonel Groves quickly appointed a
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scientific project leader, Robert J. Oppenheimer, to solve the theoretical problems with
fission bombs, design the weapon configuration, and fabricate the weapon at what would
become me Los Alamos Laboratory. Groves and Oppenheimer worked closely together
throughout the length of the project. Groves was in charge of the project schedule and
development, particularly material and land acquisition, and construction of the facilities
required to support the scientific endeavor. Oppenheimer was in charge of the scientific
discoveries necessary for weapons design.
Los Alamos Laboratory was selected as the site for weapons design in November 1942
and was staffed in March 1943. Research at Los Alamos focused on two designs. One
was a gun-type assembly, where criticality (a spontaneous nuclear fission chain reaction
caused when a sufficient quantity of fissile material is placed within a given area) would
be achieved by forcing together subcritical masses of highly enriched uranium to induce a
nuclear reaction. The other design, an implosion-type assembly, relied on the use of a
plutonium core, surrounded by a spherical assembly which, when imploded, would
initiate a nuclear reaction.
Simultaneously, scientists at Oak Ridge Laboratory (also known as the Clinton
Laboratories) and the Hanford site were doing the theoretical research necessary to obtain
highly enriched uranium and to develop the reactors to create plutonium. The Hanford
Site in Washington state was concerned with plutonium production and separation. At
Oak Ridge, reactors were designed and constructed to produce plutonium and process
facilities were constructed to produce highly enriched uranium.
The level of secrecy maintained in the Manhattan Project proved to be a blessing in
disguise. Although it dictated remote site locations, required subterfuge in obtaining
labor and supplies, and served as a constant irritant to the academic scientists on the
project, it had one overwhelming advantage: secrecy made it possible to make decisions
with little regard for normal political considerations. Secrecy in the Manhattan Project
was so pervasive that many people working for the organization did not know what they
were working on until they heard about the bombing of Hiroshima on the radio. The
need for haste clarified priorities and shaped decision-making. Unfinished research on
three separate, unproven processes had to be used to freeze design plans for production
facilities, even though it was recognized that later findings inevitably would dictate
changes. The pilot-plant stage was eliminated entirely, violating all manufacturing
practices and leading to intermittent shutdowns and endless troubleshooting during trial
runs in the production facilities. The inherent problems of collapsing the stages between
laboratory and full production created an emotionally charged atmosphere with
alternating optimism and despair. For such a large organization to take laboratory
research into design, construction, operation, and product delivery in two and one-half
years (1943 to Hiroshima) was a major industrial achievement.
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By May of 1942, the decision was made to not delay production any longer. The
decision to proceed with production planning led directly to the involvement ofthe
United States Army, specifically the Corps of Engineers. President Roosevelt had
approved Army involvement on October 9,1941. The need for security suggested
placing the program within one ofthe armed forces, and construction expertise made the
Corps of Engineers the logical choice. With this reorganization in place, the nature ofthe
American atomic bomb effort changed from one dominated by research scientists, to one
in which the scientists played a supporting role in the construction enterprise run by the
United States Army Corps of Engineers.
By the time President Roosevelt authorized the Manhattan Project on December 28,
1942, work on the East Tennessee site, where the first production facilities were to be
built, was already underway. The last quarter of 1942 saw the acquisition of a roughly 90
square mile parcel in the ridges just west of Knoxville (the Oak Ridge Military
Reservation). By the end of 1943, three plants were well under construction at the Oak
Ridge Reservation: the Y-12 area, housing the electromagnetic plant; the X-10 area,
which housed the experimental plutonium pile and separation facilities; and K-25, site of
the gaseous diffusion plant. This site, until the end ofWorld War II, was known as the
Clinton Engineer Works. Early population estimates for the town and production
workers were 13,000 people. By 1943, population estimates for the town had risen to
45,000 people. Oak Ridge was the fifth largest town in Tennessee, and the Clinton
Engineer Works was consuming one-seventh ofall the power being generated in the
By the end ofthe war, the United States Army had spent approximately $2.2 billion on
production facilities and towns built in the states ofTennessee, New Mexico, and
Washington, as well as university laboratories from Columbia to Berkeley. In December
1942, investigations began for a second production site. Approximately 225 square miles
were needed for a full-scale plutonium production facility. On February 22,1943, a
temporary office was set up in Hanford, Washington to purchase 144,000 acres in and
around the Hanford-Pasco-White Bluffs area.
In 1944, the Manhattan Project ran into difficulties when the gun assembly weapon
concept was the only workable design. Because of the difficulties with uranium
enrichment facilities, there were no viable production methods. Conversely, production
ofplutonium was proceeding, but a viable weapon design was lacking. Highly enriched
uranium production problems were solved by mid-year. The production of highly
enriched uranium increased to the point where output at Oak Ridge went from 40 grams
per day in November 1944, to 204 grams per day in January 1945. It was predicted that
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by July 1,1945 sufficient uranium (40 kilograms) would be available for bomb
In the spring and summer of 1945, several events happened. In April, President
Roosevelt died ofa brain hemorrhage and the new President, Harry Truman, was briefed
on the Manhattan Project. He had been unaware ofthe project or of the plans to drop the
atom bomb on Japan to end the war in the Pacific. In May 1945, Germany formally
surrendered to the Allies. The war in the Pacific was also nearing its end. Although
military sources suggested that all the major cities in Japan would be bombed into .
submission by the end ofthe year, U.S. military casualties were expected to exceed
500,000 (Groves, 1962). President Truman and his military advisors were convinced
that ifthe atom bomb could be used against Japan, it would serve as a diplomatic tool in
postwar negotiations with the Soviets. On July 16,1945, the United States detonated the
world's first atomic bomb, a fission weapon, code name "Gadget," at the Trinity Test in
New Mexico (see HAER No. NM-1).
On August 6,1945, President Truman directed that the Enola Gay, a specially modified
B-29 bomber, drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the first use ofan atomic weapon in
war. This fission bomb released the equivalent of 12,500 tons ofTNT. Three days later,
on August 9,1945, a second atomic bomb (also fission), releasing the equivalent of
22,000 tons ofTNT, was dropped on Nagasaki, leading to an offer of unconditional
surrender from Japan on August 14,1945, accepted by the United States on August 15.
Formal unconditional surrender of Japan to the United States was signed on
September 2,1945.
The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings resulted in a formerly inconceivable amount of
destruction from a single explosion. In Hiroshima, approximately 140,000 deaths were
attributed to the atomic bomb by the end of 1945. In a single event, the explosion
destroyed 4.4 square miles (11.4 sq km) of a densely populated city, and more than 90%
ofall buildings were damaged, two thirds ofthem completely. Although the tonnage
detonated in Nagasaki was nearly the double that of Hiroshima, the damage was
considerably less. Casualty levels were approximately half of Hiroshima, and 36% of the
buildings were damaged. This lower level of destruction is attributed to the long narrow
shape ofthe city, and the protection to outlying areas afforded by hills (Colliers
Encyclopedia CD-ROM, 1996).
Considerable debate continues over the use of nuclear weapons by the United States and
the its ultimate effect on ending the war. Initially, the immediate surrender of Japan was
attributed solely to the use of atomic weapons. From a historical perspective, standards
of conduct held at the beginning ofWorld War II were much different than those at the
end ofthe war. Many events aided this change in perception, including Hitler's bombing
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ofRotterdam and later London; Germany's use ofovens to kill millions ofJews and
other minorities; Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor and its brutal treatment of prisoners; the
Bataan death march; and the bombing of Shanghai. Early in the European arena, the
British initially refused to drop bombs on civilian targets; they dropped leaflets instead.
Likewise, the United States initially focused on military targets, however, this soon gave
way to more indiscriminate bombing of cities and civilian targets (Kagan, 1995). Five
months prior to the dropping ofthe atomic bomb, an intense conventional fire bombing
campaign had been engaged. Aerial raids using conventional bombs over Tokyo on
March 9-10,1945, resulted in an estimated 100,000 deaths, wounded a similar number,
destroyed more Hum 250,000 buildings, and left hundreds ofthousands homeless
(Sweeney, 1997, and Kagan,1995).
Initially, the American people supported the use of nuclear weapons against Japan as an
effective method ofreducing anticipated American casualties in the final invasion of
Japan. Projected casualty estimates ranged from a high of over one million American
deaths (and a similar number of Japanese) to less than 40,000.
Aside from reducing the number of casualties, it has also been suggested that the United
State's used nuclear weapons in an attempt to strengthen their hand in anticipated
postwar negotiations with the Soviet Union, which had entered the war in the Pacific only
days earlier. Other more recently suggested motivations included a desire to see tangible
results from the investment in the weapons development program, and an experimental
curiosity to see how the bombs would actually work. Regardless, it is likely the United
States believed that due to the ferocity of the Japanese troops, their use of kamikaze
suicide attacks, and their history of not surrendering, the use ofnuclear weapons was
required to shock them into unconditional surrender (Encyclopedia CD-ROM, 1996).
As shown in "Key Events Associated with Nuclear Weapons Development," although
radiation was first discovered in 1896, it was not until the 1930s that a concentrated effort
to develop an atomic weapon was initiated. From the discovery ofuranium fission in
December 1938 by German scientists, it took less than seven years to explode the first
atomic bomb at White Sands, New Mexico in 1945.
Key Events Associated with early Nuclear Weapons Development
1896 Discovery of radiation, first evidence of the fundamental structure of matter.
1905 Quantum Theory was developed.
1932 Leo Szilard conceived ofthe idea of a chain reaction ofneutron collisions with
atomic nuclei to release energy and the potential to use this reaction to create a
(Page 19)
1934 Leo Szilard filed patent for atomic bomb - patent described chain reaction and
concept of critical mass.
1936 Patent was transferred to British Government for protection under secrecy laws.
Dec 1938 Direct evidence of fission was observed and correctly explained by Otto Hahn.
Jan 193? Leo Szilard understood the theory in his atomic bomb patent had been realized and
the creation of a bomb was possible.
Feb 1939 The different fissionable properties ofuranium 235 and 238 were measured
(providing crucial insight to development of the bomb).
My 1939 The Graphite-moderated-reactor concept advanced.
Octl939 President Roosevelt appointed committee to study military implications of atomic
Feb 1941 Plutonium was created.
Sep 1941 Britain began development of atomic bomb.
Dec 1941 United States began work on atomic bomb - predecessor to Manhattan Project
Apr 1942 Design began on world's first human-built nuclear reactor (Fermi).
June 1942 Manhattan Engineer District of United States Army Corps of Engineers is
designated. Colonel Leslie Groves appointed District head.
Sep 1942 Colonel Groves took over the Manhattan Project.
Sep 1942 Colonel Groves purchased land for Oak Ridge Reservation.
Octl942 Colonel Groves appointed Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer as head ofwhat would
become the Los Alamos Laboratory.
Dec 1942 First self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction occurred (CP-1) under the squash court
at Stagg Field (University of Chicago) - reactor contained 36.6 metric tons of
uranium oxide, 5.6 metric tons ofuranium metal, and 350 metric tons of graphite.
Jan 1943 Hanford Engineer Works was acquired to build plutonium production reactors and
separation plants.
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.1943 ♦ Construction of plutonium plant at Hanford site.
♦ Construction ofUranium Enrichment plants (gas diffusion, electromagnetic)
Oak Ridge.
♦ Refinement of gun-assembly weapon design at Los Alamos (high priority).
♦ Preliminary implosion weapon design at Los Alamos (lower priority).
Fall 1943 Project Alberta begins - prepared for actual combat delivery of weapon.
1944 Work proceeded in weapons development, fissile material production, and
weapons delivery.
June 1944 Contract for S-50 thermal diffusion producing plant for highly enriched uranium.
July 1944 Fission measurements were too high for a plutonium gun assembly weapon -
shifted emphasis to implosion.
July 1944 Los Alamos shifted full priority to implosion research; required all resources.
Augl944 Air Force began modification of B-29 bombers for delivery of atomic weapons.
Sepl944 ♦ Total production of enriched uranium was only a few grams.
♦ Only workable bomb design (gun assembly) had no bomb material production
method available.
♦ Plutonium production technique had high probability of success, but no
weapon design.
B-Pile plutonium reactor at Hanford goes on-line and spontaneously shuts down.
Late 1944
Early 1945,
♦ Highly enriched uranium output at Oak Ridge increased from 40 to 90 to 204
grams per day in November, December, and January, respectively. (July 1st
was predicted as date for production of the 40 kilograms sufficient for bomb
♦ Feasibility of implosion bomb design was demonstrated.
♦ Large-scale plutonium production began at Hanford B-Pile reactor.
Feb 1945 Gun design was completed and frozen.
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Feb 1945 F-reactor went on-line at Hanford - theoretical production up to 21 kilograms per
Mar 1945 ♦ Thermal diffusion plant at Oak Ridge began highly enriched uranium
♦ Implosion bomb design approached frozen; evidence that the design worked.
May 8
1945 .
♦ VE Day / Germany surrendered to Allies.
♦ Little Boy was ready except for uranium 235 core / Estimate enough available
by August 1st.
Jun 1945 Implosion core design confirmed.
Jul 1945 ♦ Casting of uranium 235 projectile for Little Boy was complete.
♦ Gadget (test weapon) was assembled on July 6th.
♦ Little Boy shipped out on July 9th.
♦ Gadget was exploded on July 16th/ Explosive yield was 20-22 kilotons of
Augl945 ♦ August 6th - Little Boy (gun design) was dropped on Hiroshima.
♦ August 9th - Fat Man (implosion weapon) was dropped on Nagasaki.
Jul 1946 Atomic Energy Act was passed, creating the Atomic Energy Commission;
replaced the Manhattan Project.
1949 Soviet Union exploded its first plutonium implosion bomb.
Jan 1950 Truman ordered development ofhydrogen bomb.
1951 Construction of the Rocky Flats Plant begins.
Octl952 United States exploded its first hydrogen bomb (thermonuclear bomb).
Augl953 Soviet Union exploded its first prototype-hydrogen bomb.
Aug 1953 Completion of the initial 21 buildings at Rocky Flats (four production buildings
along with guard houses and support buildings).
1953 Production ofnuclear triggers at Rocky Flats.
Jan 1954 First nuclear submarine launched with range of 62,500 miles without refueling.
1954 First warhead for missile was built.
1955 Soviet Union exploded its first "successful" hydrogen bomb.
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.1957 Britain exploded its first hydrogen bomb.
1960 France exploded its first atom bomb.
1963 United States and the Soviet Union signed the first limited test ban treaty
prohibiting underwater, atmospheric, and outer space testing.
1964 Enriched uranium operations (manufacturing and recovery) transferred to Oak
Ridge; manufacture ofall triggers transferred to Rocky Flats.
1964 China exploded its first atom bomb.
The Cold War (1946-90)
Tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States in the immediate aftermath of
World War II soon dashed any hopes for an international agreement controlling atomic
energy. Political instability experienced during the 1930s-1940s continued into the early
Cold War Era, fostering a perceived need for nuclear weapons and driving the major
super powers towards developing various weapons research and development programs
(often referred to as the nuclear arms race). In the United States and the Soviet Union,
the nuclear arms race resulted in the development ofa vast research, production, and
testing network.
The Cold War was the term applied to the competition between the United States and the
Soviet Union that developed after the end of World War II and continued until 1990.
This period was marked by heightened tensions between communist and capitalist
nations. Instability and increased tension across the globe was used to achieve
ideological, political, and economic goals, and most importantly, resulted in the massive
buildup of nuclear arsenals on both sides of the conflict.
There are many opinions regarding the causes of the Cold War. Some schools of thought
attribute the conflict to the American desire for an open-door economic policy around the
world. The Cold War was fueled by ideological differences, the capitalist United States
wanted equal economic access in the Balkans and a rebuilt capitalist Europe, with an
economically healthy Germany to serve as an economic hub. The United States also
supported the concept of self-determination to establish independent nations, particularly
in Poland. The Soviets had different plans for Europe. They were determined to
dominate the Balkans, control Poland (a historic gateway for German invasions of the
Soviet Union) and destroy Germany's capacity to start another war. Others cite the Cold
War as ajustified response by the United States to the threat of Soviet aggression and the
communist/Leninist theory ofinevitable conflict between communist and capitalist
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forces. Another school of thought attributes the Cold War to the policy of deterrence,
with each side trying to out-threaten the other.
Between 1945 and 1947, Stalin, the Soviet leader, drew what was termed an "iron
curtain" across eastern Europe, and sealed East Germany, which had been given to the
Soviets as part ofwar reparations (Drawing 4). This "iron curtain" eliminated the prewar
exchange of information enjoyed by scientists and academics; limited diplomatic
communication; restricted free trade; and eliminated travel between communist and
noncommunist nations.
The competition between the superpowers quickly spread from central and eastern
Europe to the Middle East and Asia. Later it spread to emerging nations in Africa and
ultimately, to the Western Hemisphere. Between 1945 and the 1960s, the competition
involved the governments of Turkey, Iran, Greece, Berlin, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, China,
Guatemala, Cuba, Chile, Hungary, Poland, Egypt, Czechoslovakia, and Angola, with the
United States and Soviets, each trying to expel the other's influences and maintain
After the end of World War n, a number of economic plans and alliances were developed
to restore shattered economies, deal with heightened tensions, and respond to perceived
adversarial moves. In 1947, the Truman Doctrine was pledged to protect free peoples
from the threat of communism, no matter how repressive their governments. By 1948,
the United States sponsored the Marshall Plan, an economic package designed to
revitalize Western Europe. This was followed in 1949 by the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization, an alliance of eleven nations who pledged to help protect each other's
borders from communist expansion. The Soviets responded to the Marshall Plan with a
program to tie together the economies of eastern Europe by forming the Council for
Mutual Economic Assistance; by organizing a blockade of Berlin; and by forming a Sino-
Soviet alliance with China.
The Soviets began their own nuclear weapons development program, culminating in the
explosion of the first Soviet nuclear weapon in 1949. The arms race officially began with
that 1949 detonation. One month after the Soviet nuclear detonation, President Truman
ordered work to begin on the development of the fusion bomb, alternately referred to as a
hydrogen bomb, H-bomb, or thermonuclear bomb.
As the postwar era entered the 1950s, the conflict spread to other parts of the world. The
United States pledged economic and military support to Vietnam and proposed a peace
treaty with Japan, which included United States operated military bases. To neutralize
United States power in Japan, the Soviets responded by supporting plans by communist
North Korea to invade South Korea. Communist China soon joined forces against the
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United States and South Korea. Fighting eventually stabilized along the 38th parallel.
Although a peace treaty was signed in 1953, the conflict between the communist North
'and capitalist South had not ended nearly 45 years later. In Europe, West Germany was
formally admitted to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1952 and rearmed.
The political tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union drove weapons
research and development. Since 1948, when United States scientists discovered a way
to produce low-yield nuclear warheads in large quantities, the continued threat of Soviet
expansion became the reason to produce tactical nuclear weapons in large numbers. At
that time, President Truman approved a major expansion of the atomic program with a
corresponding development of smaller bombs and missile warheads for installation in
Between 1947 and 1952, the Atomic Energy Commission initiated the construction of
facilities that increased United States weapons production capacity enormously. The new
facilities included: three additions to Oak Ridge gaseous complex; gaseous diffusion
plants in Paducah, Kentucky and Portsmouth, Ohio; five additional reactors for producing
plutonium at Hanford, Washington; and five heavy water reactors for producing tritium
from lithium, and for producing plutonium, at the new Savannah River, South Carolina,
site. In addition, the Commission constructed auxiliary facilities to enlarge and
strengthen the production chain from uranium ore to weapons. These included a feed
materials production center at Fernald, Ohio, and component plants at Rocky Flats,
Colorado and Amarillo, Texas. By summer 1952,150,000 workers were engaged in
atomic weapons-related construction activities.
In 1953, the Atomic Energy Commission developed a high-yield, lightweight atomic
weapon. This 'thermonuclear breakthrough" combined with a report that the Soviets
were developing long-range ballistic missiles, led U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower to
assign the highest priority to development ofan intercontinental ballistic missile that
could carry these lightweight weapons. The United States detonated the first fusion, or
hydrogen bomb, in 1954. This was exponentially more powerful than the atomic bomb,
with the equivalent force of 10 megatons (10,000,000 tons) ofTNT (the Hiroshima
atomic bomb had an equivalent force of 12,500 tons of TNT).
U. S. President Dwight Eisenhower, through the Central Intelligence Agency, helped to
overthrow governments sympathetic, or feared to be sympathetic to communism. This
included Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954. The United States faced down Soviet
aggression in the Middle East in 1956, and in West Berlin between 1958 and 1961.
American forces were sent into Lebanon in 1958 to maintain its pro-United States stance.
Economic aid and military advisors were sent to build an independent South Vietnam.
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Meanwhile, the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, established new relations with India
and other key neutral nations, formed an alliance with Cuba after Fidel Castro's
communist revolution, and created the Warsaw Pact in 1955 to counter West German
admittance to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and subsequent rearmament. In
1956, the Soviets used the Warsaw Pact to suppress unrest by military force in
communist bloc nations of Poland and Hungary protecting them from capitalist
A United States "bomber-gap" panic occurred between 1954 and 1957, based on an
erroneous United States Intelligence report that the Soviets had more long-range bombers
than the United States. A "missile gap" panic followed during the years 1957 to 1961,
caused by the Soviet launches in 1957 of Sputnik, the world's first satellite, and the
world's first intercontinental ballistic missile. This perceived technological imbalance
between the United States and the Soviet Union, coupled with the Gaither Report (1957,
which discredited United States military preparedness and urged a 50 percent increase in
military spending) led to a high infusion ofmoney into United States weapons research
and development. Between 1958 and 1960, the American nuclear stockpile ofweapons
tripled, with nearly all the triggers for these weapons manufactured at Rocky Flats
(Drawing 3).
According to declassified nuclear stockpile information released by the U.S. Department
of Defense and Department of Energy, by 1960, the United States nuclear stockpile
consisted ofmore than 18,000 weapons, with a total capacity exceeding 20,000 megatons
of force. Over 7,000 new weapons were added to the United States stockpile that year.
A year later, in 1961, the number of nuclear weapons had increased to more 22,000
weapons, but total force had decreased to less than 11,000 megatons, primarily due to
replacement ofexisting higher tonnage warheads with smaller, more accurate weapons.
This buildup was in response to the United States' fear of Soviet nuclear attack, and to
that end, in 1961, President Kennedy urged American citizens to build bomb shelters to
protect mem from a nuclear war. In 1961, the Berlin Wall was constructed, separating
Soviet-controlled East Berlin from West Berlin.
As American nuclear superiority grew, the Soviets countered by placing nuclear weapons
in Cuba in 1962, resulting in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and pushing the world to the brink
of nuclear war. One result of this crisis was the Limited Test Ban Treaty, banning
nuclear tests in the air and under water after 1963. Otherwise, the military buildup
Throughout the 1960s, the superpowers vied for control of de-colonized Africa, the
Middle East, Asia and Latin America. In 1965, the United States landed troops in the
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Dominican Republic to prevent the emergence of another hostile communist leader, and
the Soviet Union repressed a reform movement in Czechoslovakia in 1968. To prevent
the further spread of nuclear weapons technology, the Soviet Union, United States,
United Kingdom, and 133 other non-nuclear weapons nations signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation
During the 1970s, both the United States and Soviet Union maintained thousands of
nuclear weapons, based on submarines, bombers, and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Both the North Atlantic Treat Organization and Warsaw Pact countries in Europe had
small nuclear warheads called "theater weapons," available to be used as part ofthe
Mutually Assured Destruction policy advanced by then U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert
McNamara. The goal of this policy was to deter the Soviet Union and its allies from a
first strike nuclear attack by ensuring a massive retaliation by the United States.
McNamara estimated that although 100 million Americans might die in a first strike, the
United States would retaliate by an immediate, massive launch that could destroy an
estimated 20 to 33% ofthe Soviet population and 50 to 75% of Soviet industrial capacity.
Sophisticated weapons ofthis period included missiles armed with multiple warheads.
Summary ofMajor Cold War Events
Mar 1946 Winston Churchill proclaimed Iron Curtain had come down across
M1946 Atomic Energy Act was passed, creating the Atomic Energy Commission,
which replaced the Manhattan Project.
1949 Soviet Union exploded its first plutonium implosion bomb.
Dec 1949 New process increased production of enriched uranium.
Jan 1950 Truman ordered development of the hydrogen bomb.
1950 ♦ McCarthyism began a four-year reign of accusations and suspicion.
♦ Fallout shelters were built as part of a major civil defense program.
♦ June: Outbreak ofKorean Conflict
♦ Development of Redstone Rocket (ground-to-ground ballistic missile
for nuclear war) began.
Octl952 Great Britain exploded its first atom bomb.
Octl952 United States exploded its first hydrogen bomb (thermonuclear bomb).
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1953 The Rosenbergs were executed for acting as spies for the Soviet nuclear
weapons program.
Aug 1953 Soviet Union exploded its first prototype hydrogen bomb.
Dec 1953 Oppenheimer lost his security clearance due to hydrogen bomb opposition
and 1930s communist connections.
1953-54 United States, through the Central Intelligence Agency, helped to
overthrow governments sympathetic to communism (Iran in 1953,
Guatemala in 1954).
1955 . Creation ofthe Warsaw Pact by the Soviet Union to counter anti-
Communist movements.
1955 Soviet Union successfully exploded a true hydrogen bomb.
1957-1961 Perceived "bomber-gap" by the United States led to high infusion of
money into weapons research and development.
1958 United States' policy of massive retaliation was pursued.
1961 President Kennedy advised United States civilians to build bomb shelters.
1961 Berlin Wall was erected.
1962 Cuban Missile Crisis occurred.
1963 United States and the Soviet Union signed the first limited test ban treaty
prohibiting underwater, atmospheric, and outer space nuclear weapons
tests of atomic weapons.
1970s Continuation by both the United States and the Soviet Union of the "arms
The huge military buildup by the Soviets and United States began to take a toll on the
economies ofboth countries. In 1972-73, United States President Richard Nixon signed
the Strategic Anns Limitation Treaty (SALT I) with the Soviet Union leader Leonid
Brezhnev to limit costly strategic arms and strengthen United States-Soviet economic ties
in a period of detente. This period did not last long, as the United States and Soviets
competed with each other for influence in outbreaks in the Middle East, Chile, and
Angola. Internal United States politics altered the SALT I Treaty during Senate
confirmation to the point that it was rejected by Soviet leader Brezhnev in 1975.
President Jimmy Carter's SALT II Treaty was undercut by world events, including the
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Iranian Revolution in 1979, which ended a pro-United States regime, the communistaided
Nicaraguan Revolution, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Relations between the United States and Soviets, already on a downward slide, worsened
in the 1980s, with United States President Reagan's military increases and policy of
confrontation with the Soviets. The combination ofincreased military spending and
economic problems resulted in the United States going from the world's leading creditor
nation to the world's leading debtor nation in 1985.
Meanwhile, the Soviet nuclear arsenal had reached a peak of 45,000 weapons (Drawing
4). That same year, Mikhail Gorbachev gained power and, faced with a collapsing
economy, began making major concessions to the United States in the areas of
conventional forces, nuclear weapons, and removal of internal immigration controls. The
Soviets pulled their troops out of Afghanistan and the Berlin wall fell that year. In 1990,
the Cold War officially ended with the Conference on Security and Cooperation held in
Europe (Drawing 4). By 1991, the breakup of the Soviet Union with the subsequent
dissolution ofthe Warsaw Pact had occurred. In that year, U.S. President George Bush
ordered all bombers and tankers to be taken off alert, and the U.S. Department of Defense
began to reconsider its needs in terms of the size and nature of its military force.
Department of Defense began cutting its military force and cutting back on the
production ofnew weapons.
Societal Impacts ofthe Cold War
Public support was high at the end of World War II, after all, the atomic bomb was
considered to have ended the war, saving possibly hundreds of thousands ofAmerican
lives. Due in part to this initial support, Americans lived with the idea that nuclear
weapons might be used again. Citizens constructed bomb shelters and stocked them with
canned goods, bottled water, and first aid kits. The public, urged on by President John F.
Kennedy, believed these shelters would protect them from the effects of nuclear fallout.
Bomb shelters were constructed in schools and other public buildings, and school
students in the 1950s and 1960s routinely practiced nuclear bomb drills. Public
announcements warned citizens from looking directly at a nuclear blast.
Society's perception ofthe United States nuclear weapons program changed dramatically
throughout the years. Eventually, certain elements of American society rebelled against
the use ofnuclear weapons and against the status quo in general, leading to protests,
rallies, marches, meetings, and publications against nuclear war, nuclear weapons
production, and the Vietnam War to name a few. Other groups rallied to save the
environment and for expanded civil rights. While, much ofthe disagreement over these
issues was peaceful, violent confrontations did take place. In 1972, the first color
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photograph that showed the whole earth from outerspace was published. This image
showed a fragile looking earth of land and sea, without the demarcation of nations. This
image was partly responsible for creating the environmental movement, because it
created a totally different vision ofwhat the earth's future might be (Brauner, 1996).
In the late 70s and 80s, with the passage ofkey legislation (i.e. the Endangered Species
Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act), protection of the environment
became more mainstream. The public began to be more conscious of safety issues
related to the United States nuclear weapons program, and also' environmental protection.
Asthe threat ofSoviet attack diminished in the mid to late 1980s, the principles of
environmental stewardship, and public safety increased in importance, eroding public
support ofme United States nuclear weapons program.
Repercussions of the Cold War are still being argued; however, there is no doubt that the
electronics and information industries are a direct legacy of fifty years of competition
with the Soviets. The number of discoveries and technological innovations made as a
direct result of the Cold War and the pace of those discoveries is staggering. Advances
made in communications, electronics, computers, and other fields have changed the way
the world runs.
Cold War Advances in Nuclear Weapons Design
The first nuclear weapons were designed and assembled by scientists in a laboratory at
Los Alamos in 1945. After World War II ended, there was pressure for immediate
simplification ofthe assembly process so that specially trained military personnel could
assembleatomic bombs. It took several years for this to be achieved. The Mark 4
implosion system, tested in the Spring of 1948, ended the laboratory-style layout of
weapons, and opened the way for mass production and use of assembly-line techniques.
In 1951, the basic nuclear weapon design was established in the United States and the
subsequent effort was concentrated on making weapons lighter and smaller. In 1952, the
United States detonated a thermonuclear, or hydrogen bomb, that had an equivalent force
of 10 megatons of TNT. The Soviets detonated their first hydrogen bomb in 1953,
followed by Great Britain in 1957 and France in 1960.
Initially, nuclear weapons were bombs, which had to be dropped from aircraft. To
deploy a nuclear device, it first had to be taken from a storage facility and loaded onto a
specially modified plane to meet the mission of the moment. Under the policy of massive
retaliation in response to Soviet attack, the missiles had to be ready for immediate use.
Thus, during the 1950s, the United States began to integrate carriers and warheads,
resulting in a specific tailoring ofthe warhead to the weight and shape characteristics of
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the missile carrier. A primary consequence of the carrier and warhead integration was
that the missile system (missile with nuclear warhead) could be launched from any
number oflocations within the United States, from aircraft, watercraft, and from within
the borders of other nations allied with the United States.
This continuing trend toward military rather than peacetime uses of nuclear energy came
about in part because of the change in the political climate from 1945 to 1950. At that
time, the stance of the United States toward the Soviet Union, its World War II ally,
hardened into enmity, which translated into what became known as the Cold War.
Through a series of events in the Soviet Union in 1948-49 — such as the detonation of its
first atomic bomb, its blockade of Berlin, and its growing influence in neighboring China
culminating in the Communist takeover ~ the United States came to believe that the
Soviets were planning both to claim the world for Communism and to eradicate the
United States through a surprise nuclear attack (Clarfield and Wiecek, 1984:144).
President Truman responded to the Soviet threat with a policy declaration, NSC-68
(National Security Council) in 1950 that committed the United States to the arms race
against the Soviet Union. Additionally, Truman approved the production of fusion
weapons (i.e., the hydrogen bomb) and other nuclear weapons as the method for deterring
Soviet attack. The Atomic Energy Commission was directed to produce "more and
bigger bombs," to build reactors to produce plutonium, and to develop uranium and other
raw materials (Clarfield and Wiecek, 1984:122-34). The outbreak of the Korean War in
the same year convinced the United States that the Soviet Union was poised to attack
Europe after decoying forces away from Europe to Korea. The United States detonated a
hydrogen bomb in 1952 and the Soviet Union did the same in 1953.
The establishment of the Rocky Flats Plant was the result of this post-war fear of the
Soviet Union, a fear that drove the federal government to build a vastly expanded nuclear
weapons production system (Drawing 2). It was one of a number of plants built by the
Atomic Energy Commission between 1948 and 1953 to design, manufacture, test, and
maintain nuclear weapons for the United States military. It has been estimated that by
1952*53, the height of expansion, the Atomic Energy Commission was employing
150,000 construction workers ~ equal to 5 percent ofthe United States construction work
force — to fabricate its necessary military nuclear facilities (Hewlett, 1962:587; Dietz,
Between 1950 and 1953, gaseous diffusion plants to extract uranium 235 were built in
Paducah, Kentucky and Portsmouth, Ohio. Five heavy water reactors to produce
plutonium and tritium were built at Savannah River, Aiken, South Carolina, and those
already in existence at Oak Ridge and Hanford were expanded between 1950 and 1953.
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A number of research laboratories were constructed as well to supplement the research
being done at Los Alamos Laboratory, including the Mound Laboratory at Miamisburg,
Ohio and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California. The
Los Alamos Laboratory, taken over from the Manhattan Engineering District in 1946 by
the Atomic Energy Commission, continued to conduct nuclear weapons research,
development, testing, production, and storage (Dietz, 1962:158-9).
The Nevada Test Site, established in 1951, was the location of a number of field tests of
bombs developed at Los Alamos. Originally (1946) the tests took place at Bikini Atoll,
and later Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands. With the announcement in 1949 that
the Soviet Union had exploded its own atom bomb and the outbreak of the Korean War in
1950, the United States wanted both to expand its number of tests and find a test site
closer than the Pacific Ocean. There were sixteen tests in 1951 alone, twelve at the
Nevada Test Site. After the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963 that forbade such
atmospheric testing, the Nevada Test Site continued with underground test explosions,
worked on miniaturizing warheads which made possible development of Multiple
Independently Targeted Re-entry Vehicles, used on intercontinental ballistic missiles
(Dietz, 1962:163; Kaplan, 1982: 68,96).
Six additional facilities were built to support the nuclear weapons program, including the
Sandia Laboratory, The Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, the Mound Plant, the
Kansas City Plant, the Pantex Plant, and the Pinellas Plant. In 1946, the Sandia
Laboratory, under United States Army control during World War II, became the field
headquarters of the United States Defense Atomic Support Agencies. It developed and
tested atomic weapons. First under the control ofthe University ofCalifornia, it was
taken over in 1949 by the Sandia Corporation. The Idaho National Engineering
Laboratory at Idaho Falls, Idaho, was established in 1949 as the National Reactor Testing
Station, using materials from Oak Ridge, Paducah, Portsmouth, Savannah River, and
Hanford in its experimental reactors. The Mound Plant was established at Miamisburg,
Ohio in 1948 operated as the Monsanto Company to manufacture explosive detonators
for the weapons program. The Kansas City plant was built in 1949 in Kansas City,
Missouri, to produce electrical and mechanical components for the weapons program.
The Bendix Company operated it. The Pantex Plant, in Amarillo, Texas, had been built
in 1942 to build conventional bombs and shells, and was reactivated in 1951 as the site
where all the weapons components produced at the other plants were finally assembled
into weapons. The Pinellas Plant in Largo, Florida was established in 1957 to
manufacture neutron generators (Buffer, 1995; Citizen's Guide to Rocky Flats, 1992).
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The Atomic Energy Commission Nuclear Weapons Program
The US nuclear weapons program has been the responsibility of various governmentauthorized
entities. These have included the U.S Army Manhattan Engineering District
(Manhattan District), the Atomic Energy Commission, the Energy Research and
Development Administration, and lastly the U.S. Department ofEnergy (USDOE).
The world's first atomic weapons were developed under the Manhattan Project,
administered by the Manhattan District. World War II ended with the use of atomic
bombs m Japan in August 1945. At that time, the United States was the only country to
possess the knowledge of atomic weapons. After the war, the Manhattan Project was
terminated, and was eventually replaced with a peace-time program. By July 1946,
Congress passed the Atomic Energy Act and appointed the Atomic Energy Commission
to oversee the national atomic energy program. Projects associated with the Manhattan
Project were not transferred to Atomic Energy Commission control until 1947.
In the first few post-war years, the United States held a monopoly on atomic energy and
the production of nuclear weapons. The Atomic Energy Commission was a civilian
group that had the directive to develop both military and peacetime uses for the newly
discovered nuclear energy. It was to be the owner of existing nuclear facilities and any
fissionable material that would be produced in the future. Through the influence of
Enrico Fermi, who had worked on the original bomb, the priority concentrated on the
development ofuranium and other raw materials for weapons production and the
manufacture ofbombs, rather than for peacetime applications (Clarfield and Wiecek,
During the years from 1946 to 1950, Atomic Energy Commission's first mandate was to
rehabilitate the wartime plants, find additional sources ofuranium and plutonium,
continue to carry out scientific research, and create and stockpile atomic weapons. Each
year, the President determined the number ofbombs to be made as part of the Atomic
Energy Commission military program, and the Atomic Energy Commission carried out
the President's mandate (Stein, 1984:8). At this stage, all nuclear bombs were made at
Los Alamos from materials shipped from Hanford or Oak Ridge (Citizen's Guide to
Rocky Flats, 1992).
The Atomic Energy Commission had retained the contractors from the Manhattan
Project, and consequently was able to continue working with highly trained civilians after
the war (Mazuzan, 1984). Mallinckrodt Chemical Works in St. Louis, Missouri was one
ofthe private firms that continued to provide the Atomic Energy Commission with
purified uranium for the Hanford reactor. The Atomic Energy Commission built a new
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plant on the company's property in 1947. Another feed materials production plant was
built at Fernald, Ohio in 1952 to augment the supply from Mallinckrodt
This expanded endeavor to strengthen the weapons production program from the initial
procurement ofuranium ore through the production ofweapons created a system of
research, engineering, testing, manufacturing and stockpiling ofweapons that was
monumental in scope. As a result of testing, the hydrogen bomb was successfully
detonated in 1952 at Eniwetok Atoll, under the code name Operation Ivy, and refined in a
series of subsequent tests between 1954 and 1958. After that time, laboratory and test
goals were to manufacture smaller warheads that could be used on a variety of delivery
vehicles, such as bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and rockets.
The Atomic Energy Commission was tasked with the responsibility of directing the
national atomic energy program. The paramount objective ofthe Commission in the
1940s and 50s was defense and security. Issues that required immediate attention
included national security, retention of nuclear facilities and experienced personnel,
control of the nuclear material stockpile, dissemination or sharing of information with
other nations, establishing the direction of the United States nuclear program, and setting
new goals. All requests for fissionable material were tunneled through the Atomic
Energy Commission and the review committee that was established to aid and advise the
commission. Due to the extreme difficulty in creating fissionable materials, and the
extremely small national stockpile of nuclear material, potential uses were limited. As
military applications had higher immediate priority than non-military applications, the
entire nuclear stockpile was dedicated to weapons development.
In the rush to successfully develop and deploy a nuclear weapon, security concerns were
not given full scrutiny, and generally considered less important than ability. As the hectic
pace ofthe United States nuclear program slowed, there was time to consider a new,
stricter set of security measures, including full background checks for personnel with
access to classified information. The Atomic Energy Commission developed a new set of
security clearances for nonmilitary personnel. These procedures and security clearances
are still in place today. All information associated with the United States nuclear
program was classified as secret, and all individuals with access to classified information
had to undergo a security clearance review. This led to development of the "Q clearance"
which was required for all non-military personnel with access to nuclear information.
United States Nuclear Energy Program
The Atomic Energy Act was amended in 1954, allowing the Federal government and
private industry to promote nuclear power in partnership. Until that time, all nuclear
information was in the hands of the government. This new partnership resulted in a shift
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in emphasis from strictly military applications to allow industrial peacetime uses of
nuclear energy.
An energy crisis occurred in the early to mid-1970s, leaving the United States with an
inadequate energy supply. The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 resulted in the
creadon of the Energy Research and Development Administration and the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was given the licensing
and regulatory functions previously under the Atomic Energy Commission. The Energy
Research and Development Administration was tasked with focusing federal programs to
promote speedy development ofenergy technologies. The Energy Research and
Development Administration also retained oversight of military applications of nuclear
energy. The U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) replaced the Energy Research and
Development Administration in 1977. The USDOE, the 12th cabinet level department, is
responsible for the United States Nuclear Weapons Complex.
The USDOENuclear Weapons Complex
The nuclear arms race resulted in the development of a vast research, production, and
testing network that came to be known as the "Nuclear Weapons Complex." From the
Manhattan Project to 1995, the United States spent over 300 billion dollars on nuclear
weapons research, production, and testing (in 1995 dollars)(USDOE 1995). During a
half century ofoperations, the complex manufactured tens of thousands warheads and
detonated more than one thousand nuclear warheads.
At its peak, the complex consisted ofthirteen major facilities, including laboratories,
production plants, and testing facilities; and numerous smaller facilities including
warehouses, mines, and storage areas (Drawing 2). All of the thirteen sites had
interrelated functions. The USDOE complex contains four types of facilities: 1) nuclear
sites (fabrication and assembly); 2) non-nuclear sites (manufacture ofnon-nuclear
components); 3) laboratories and test sites (research and test support); and 4) weapons
assembly and disassembly.
The thirteen major facilities of the United States Nuclear Weapons Complex included:
• Hartford Site (Hanford, Washington; 1949) - fuel fabrication, irradiation;
• Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (Livermore, California; 1949) - weapons
research and design;
• Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (Idaho Falls, Idaho; 1949) - chemical
• Rocky Flats Plant (Golden, Colorado; 1951) - warhead triggers; .
• Los Alamos National Laboratory (Los Alamos, New Mexico; 1949) - weapons
research and design;
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• Sandia National Laboratory (Albuquerque, New Mexico; 1946) - weapons
• Pantex Plant (Amarillo, Texas; 1942) - high explosives fabrication, final warhead
• Kansas City Plant (Kansas City, Missouri; 1949), - non-nuclear component
• Mound Plant (Miamisburg ,Ohio; 1948) - fabrication of actuators, ignitors, and
• Oak Ridge Reservation (Oak Ridge, Tennessee; 1943) - deuteride and uranium
enrichment, component fabrication (highly enriched uranium, depleted uranium, and
• Savannah River Site (Aiken, South Carolina; 1952) - fuel and target fabrication,
irradiation, chemical separation, and tritium production;
• Pinellas Plant (Largo, Florida; 1957) - production of neutron generators; and
• Nevada Test Site (Las Vegas, Nevada; 1951)- weapons and weapons component
The rest ofthis record describes historical events, construction history, and actions at the
Rocky Flats facility.
Rockv Flats Plant
Site Location
In 195G,4$ie Dow Chemical Company in Midland, Michigan was chosen by the Atomic
Energy Commission to establish the Rocky Flats Plant (named later for its location) as an
alternative fabrication facility for Los Alamos that would manufacture triggers for atomic
bombs. F.H. Langell ofDow was placed in charge Dow in turn chose the Austin
Company of Cleveland as the architectural/engineering firm in charge of construction
(Buffer, 1995). The site of the Rocky Flats Plant, with the code name "Project Apple,"
was chosen after a lengthy study by the Austin Company, in consultation with the Santa
Fe Operations Office ofthe Atomic Energy Commission at Los Alamos, and the Dow
Chemical Company. The criteria for siting such a plant were that it be located west of the
Mississippi River, north of Texas, south of the northern border of Colorado, and east of
Utah. Additionally, it required a dry, moderate climate, a supporting population of at
least 25,000 people, attractive surroundings for future workers, and accessibility from
Los Alamos, Chicago, and St. Louis (The Austin Company, 1951).
Twenty-one areas in the United States were suggested initially as potential sites; only
Denver satisfied all ofAtomic Energy Commission's criteria. An added bonus was that a
number ofthe workers at the Los Alamos facility came from Denver, and it was assumed
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that these people would be willing to relocate to the new facility. Within the Denver area
itself, seven locations were screened for the additional requirement that the site be
isolated from residential areas and close to the airport. Two sites, an area north ofthe
Rocky Mountain Arsenal and Rocky Flats were chosen. The site near the Arsenal was
discarded because ofits light soil that would blow in a windstorm and because the
Atomic Energy Commission facility would have to share an electric power transmission
line with the Arsenal (History Associates Incorporated, 1987:67-69).
Denver enthusiastically received news of the site in 1951, when a Good Friday issue of
The Denver Post, under the headline "There's Good News Today" announced the Atomic
Energy Commission's plans to build the Rocky Flats Plant. Citizens, as well as the
Boulder mayor, the Denver Chamber of Commerce president, the University of Colorado
president, and both Colorado senators, expressed great pride in the choice of the Denver-
Boulder area as the site for an atomic plant. Their patriotic sentiments were expressed
well in the Rocky Mountain News: "We are proud that the area has been chosen for
another important contribution to the nation's strength and future security" (Kennedy,
The original layout ofthe site was based on what the United States thought the enemy's
(Soviet Union) weapons capabilities were at the time. Buildings had to withstand a
specific magnitude of a blast at a certain distance from the site. To achieve this, the first
production buildings were sunk in the ground so that the shock of a blast would then pass
over the tops of the buildings. By 1957, when additional production buildings were
constructed, it was recognized that with the enemy's weapons being more accurate and
larger, the Soviet Union had the capability to destroy an underground building. After that
point, the remaining buildings were built above ground (Calkins, 1998 interview).
As the properties ofnuclear materials became known, and public concern for the
environment grew, attitudes began to change. In 1975, a state task force appointed to
study the Rocky Flats Plant concluded that the siting ofthe plant, with its vast amount of
plutonium and potential for nuclear accidents, so close to the metropolitan area of
Denver, had been a mistake. A 1988 report submitted to Congress indicated that the
Plant's facilities were aging, waste storage and cleanup were major problems, and the
public was opposed to the siting. The following year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation
investigated the Plant for alleged environmental infractions, charges that were later
proved unfounded by a Grand Jury (Kennedy, 1994:29-30; Thompson, 1 October 1993).
Mission ofthe Plant
The Rocky Flats Plant was established in 1951 to manufacture triggers for use in nuclear
weapons and to purify plutonium recovered from retired weapons (called site returns).
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During the 1950s, the desire was to get Los Alamos out of weapons production and back
into design. However, national policy at the time required that in the event of a labor
strike or a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union, all critical elements ofweapons production
could be duplicated at another facility (Calkins, 1998 interview). Los Alamos National ,
Laboratory retained capabilities for trigger production, although the majority ofthe
triggers in the nuclear weapons stockpile were manufactured at Rocky Flats. Information
on specific weapons containing Rocky Flats-built nuclear triggers remains classified.
However, it is known that triggers built at Rocky Flats were used in multiple weapon
types, including individual bombs, warhead (air to air, antiballistic, advanced cruise, air
launched, air to surface, surface to surface, and antisubmarine warfare) missiles, artillery
shells, and atomic demolition munitions.
For a nuclear explosion to occur, the fissile material in a trigger created a first stage
fission reaction, which would ignite a second stage reaction causing fusion of hydrogen
into helium. The second stage reaction created the nuclear explosion. The trigger
contained the majority ofthe fissile material in a nuclear weapon. Parts were formed
from plutonium, uranium, beryllium, stainless steel, and other materials. From 1953 until
1992, the mission of the Rocky Flats Plant was the production of nuclear weapons
components. The Rocky Flats Plant also disassembled retired weapons to recover
plutonium for reuse in weapons production.
Selection ofa weapons program involved a number of critical phases that determined
what facility or plant would receive additional or new contracts. In general, there are
seven basic phases that are considered part of the weapons program development. These
phases are:
• Phase 1 Conception
The military would decide it needed a new weapon to perform a specific task.
The military would meet with the design labs at Los Alamos or Lawrence
Livermore; parameters of the weapons would be determined.
• Phase 2 Feasibility studies
Department of Defense and USDOE would prepare an agreement for
development and procurement responsibilities.
• Phase 3 Development Engineering (prototype study)
A development program, based upon required military characteristics, would be
undertaken. A complete design would be developed.
• Phase 4 First Production
The military would select one agency (Department of Defense, USDOE,
sometimes both) to further design and in many cases, a test unit would be built.
The majority of the test units were built at Rocky Flats.
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• Phase 5 Preliminary production
Selection of a lab and production facility and an assembly facility to produce the
weapon. Under the dual capability policy, there were two design labs, two
production facilities for each component, and two assembly points (Pantex and
Burlington, Iowa).
• Phase 6 Quantity Production and Stockpile Maintenance
Full-scale production would commence and weapons would be stockpiled.
• Phase 7 Retirement and disassembly.
The number ofprograms going on at an individual plant varied to a maximum often to
twelve. Bight programs were considered the norm (Calkins, 1998 interview). There were
many variables from one weapons design to another, with changes ranging from minor
modifications to major advances in sophistication, tolerances, and production techniques.
An itemized list ofRocky Flats Plant weapons programs or products is not available for
public release because the information is classified. However, Rocky Flats Plants
products are an integral component of virtually every nuclear weapon that has been or is
in the national stockpile, as well as virtually every nuclear test.
Depending on specific time periods, mission statements for Rocky Flats have included:
• Developing and producing nuclear weapons components from plutonium alloys,
beryllium, stainless steel, and depleted uranium;
• Recovery and reprocessing ofplutonium from site returns (retired weapons) and from
by-product residues from manufacturing and recovery operations;
• Fulfilling USDOE/Department of Defense new deployment and testing requirementssupporting
design agency development and testing for Nevada Test Site triggers, nonnuclear
hardware, and other production agency development;
• Conducting in-house technology and process development;
• Providing weapons trainers (training modules) and mockups;
• Disassembly and evaluating triggers from stockpiles;
• Providing reliability evaluation programs; and
• Fabrication and modification tractors and trailers for safe secure transport.
While specific periods of expansion at the Rocky Flats Plant (1956-57 and 1964-65)
cannot be attributed to specific political and military actions, the Plant's overall growth
can be seen in the context of the huge expansion of military weapons during the 1950s
and 1960s, when the United States and the Soviet Union became locked in an arms race.
After the fell ofthe Berlin Wall (1989), the Soviet pullout of Afghanistan (1989), the end
ofthe Cold War (1990), and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact (1991), the threat of the
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nuclear was significantly reduced, signaling the eventual cessation ofnuclear weapon
production in the United States.
Under the National Register of Historic Places, the Rocky Flats Plant was considered
exceptionally significant under Criterion A at the national level under the Cold War
military theme: Development ofAtomic Weapons for Military Purposes. Its period of
significance dates from its inception in 1951 to its mission change in 1992 after the Cold
War ended. The Plant's particular significance came from being the sole producer of
triggers of nuclear weapons from 1964 to 1989 (Drawing 6).
Ofthe buildings at the site, sixty-four structures are considered directly related to the
mission of the Plant and are considered contributing properties to the Rocky Flats Plant
historic district. Buildings central to the Plant's mission include (listed by Building No.
and HAER Report No.):
• Production Work:
Buildings 371 (CO-83-K), 444 (CO-83-L), 460 (CO-83-T), 701(CO-83-P), 707
(CO-83-M), 771 (CO-83-N), 776/777 (CO-83-0), 881 (CO-83-Q), 883 (CO-83-
R), 991 (CO-83-U), 996 (C0-83-E), 997,998,999;
• Research and Development:
Buildings 125 (CO-83-AD), 126 (CO-83-AE), 559 (CO-83-AH), 779 (CO-83-C),
865 (CO-83-AA);
• Worker Safety/Health:
Buildings 112 (CO-83-W), 114 (CO-83-F), 122 (CO-83-S), 123 (CO-83-B), 331
(CO-83-Y), 442 (CO-83-AG), 778 (CO-83-AB), 886 (CO-83-A);
• Security:
Buildings 100, 111 (CO-83-V), 113,120 (CO-83-G), 121 (CO-83-X), 133,372,
372A, 375,440 (CO-83-Z), 446,461,550, 557,761,762 (CO-83-H) 762A, 764,
773,792,792A (CO-83-I), 864, 888 (CO-83-D), 900,901 (CO-83-J), 920,992;
• Administration:
Building 441;
• Infrastructure:
Buildings 124 (CO-83-AC), 215A (CO-83-AF), 443,551,995;
• Maintenance:
Buildings 333,334; and
• Production Waste Treatment:
Buildings 374,774 (CO-83-AI).
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It should be noted that an individual HAER may contain information applicable to other
buildings. The following HAER documents contain information on additional buildings
as indicated.
• Report CO-83-E includes information applicable to Buildings 997,998, and 999.
• Report CO-83-J includes information applicable to Buildings 375,550, and 761.
• Report CO-83-D includes information applicable to Buildings 446,461,557,773,
864, and 992.
• Report CO-83-G includes information applicable to Buildings 100,113,133,900,
• Report CO-83-H includes information applicable to Buildings 372,792, and 764.
• Report CO-83-I includes information applicable to Buildings 372A and 362A.
• If no HAER number is listed, information is included in this report (Buildings 441,
443,551,995,333,334, and 374).
The original configuration of administration, maintenance, infrastructure, and waste
treatment buildings (built between 1951 and 1953) controlled the original layout ofthe
site. These buildings were necessary for both Plant function and in meeting the needs of
employees in a remote and secured work place. The remaining administration, office,
maintenance, infrastructure, waste treatment, and storage buildings were built to
accommodate an increase in production and site population. These structures supported
redundant rather than new, functions at the site. Temporary structures (mostly trailers)
and various storage structures and tents provided additional space for a variety of
technical and administrative tasks. Structures built after 1989, when production ceased,
were considered non-contributing elements to the overall historical significance of the
Plant Site Overview
The Rocky Flats Plant Site
The total Plant site consisted of 6,500 acres in northern Jefferson County, Colorado,
approximately sixteen miles northwest ofDenver and twelve miles from Boulder and
Golden. It was situated on a plateau at the eastern edge of the Front Range of the Rocky
Mountains (Drawing 1). The site was divided into three geographic areas, each fenced
and protected by security forces (Drawing 6). The industrial area, 384 acres, was located
in the center ofthe Plant site. There were 436 structures that included approximately 150
permanent buildings and ninety temporary trailers, plus temporary structures, sheds,
tanks, or parts of larger buildings. Most ofthe structures were industrial in design,
constructed out of concrete, concrete block, or corrugated metal. The Protected Area was
located within the northern portion of the industrial area and contained a complex of
plutonium production facilities. This area was heavily fenced and guarded. The buffer
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zone, the remaining 6,116 acres, surrounded the industrial area and protected the site
from potential encroachment. The Rocky Flats Plant historic district consists of sixtyfour
contributing resources dating from 1951 to 1989 within the industrial area of the
nuclear weapons production plant.
The Plant was a self-contained concentration of industrial buildings surrounded by ranch
land, preserved open space, mining areas, and a low-density residential area. The
original site was 1,900 acres and an additional 4,600 acres was purchased in 1972. The
initial 4-square mile acreage required for the Rocky Flats Plant was acquired through
condemnation when negotiations over price with the three owners of the land, G.W.
Lindsay, Katherine B. Church, and Frank A. Rodgers, failed to be concluded
satisfactorily ("Chronology ofRocky Flats Plant", n.d.). In 1995,234 acres in the
northwest corner of the site were transferred to the USDOE, Golden Field Office to be
used as a scientific wind turbine testing facility for development of alternative energies.
Plant Organization
Operations of the Rocky Flats Plant fell under the administration of the United States
Atomic Energy Commission from 1951 until the Atomic Energy Commission was
dissolved in January 1975. Responsibility for the Plant was then transferred to the
Energy Research and Development Administration, which was succeeded in 1977 by the
United States Department of Energy (USDOE).
The primary role of the USDOE was to provide the contractor with the parameters for
operating the Plant, and to manage the operations contract. Dow Chemical Company,
USA (Dow) was the prime operating contractor of the facility from 1951 until 1975.
Rockwell International (Rockwell) succeeded Dow from 1975 through 1989. EG&G, a
company founded by Edgenton, Germeshausen and Grier, assumed operations on January
1,1990 after the Plant had ceased producing nuclear weapons components, although nonnuclear
production continued for another two years. By 1993, the Plant had transitioned
to a cleanup mission. Kaiser-Hill Company assumed operations in 1995.
In 1951, the Atomic Energy Commission assigned Rocky Flats two main weaponsproduction
missions: the fabrication of nuclear weapons components (specifically
plutonium triggers) and disassembly of obsolete weapons returned to the site (site
returns) to recover and reuse valuable plutonium and uranium. Recycling operations
were conducted to recover plutonium and enriched uranium from processing scraps and
residues. Support programs associated with previous operations included waste handling
and storage, special nuclear materials (fissile materials) accounting, laboratories, tool
manufacturing, research and development, and providing utilities and maintenance
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facilities. Research programs pursued the development of improved methods and
techniques in both fabrication and chemical processing.
Activities at the Rocky Flats Plant concerned Phases 4 through 7 ofthe seven phases of
the weapons program development (first production; preliminary production; quantity
production and stockpile maintenance; and retirement and dismantlement), with
particular emphasis on preliminary and quantity production. Rocky Flats produced most
ofthe plutonium triggers used in nuclear weapons from 1953 to 1964, and all the triggers
produced from 1964 until 1989, when production was suspended.
The Plant also manufactured plutonium components for other portions of the weapons
since it had the facilities* equipment, and expertise required for handling the materials
involved. A component is a single part of a weapon, which is joined with other
components to form a subassembly or an assembly, or larger pieces of a weapon.
Assemblies are then joined with other components and assemblies to form a complete
weapon. Assemblies and components are specifically created for each individual
weapons program. A code number such as W76 or W88 identifies each program.
The Original Plant Construction 1951 -1953
Austin Company began construction at the Plant in 1951 (Drawing 7). Mr. D.W.
Persons, the Atomic Energy Commission Project Engineer assigned to the Plant,
established a temporary office in a garage in Denver, to which personnel from the Austin
Company moved as well. A temporary guard shack on the Rocky Flats property was
constructed in 1951 along Highway 93. Building 91 (later changed to 991) was the first
permanent building, followed by a temporary administration building. Buildings 71
(771),44(444) and 81 (881) followed. In 1952, Buildings 11 (111), 12 (112), 21 (121),
22 (122), 23 (123) and 42 (442) were constructed. At the end of the year, Buildings 111,
112,122,331,334,344,551, 661, and 771 were occupied. The total cost by 1952 for
construction was $2,500,000. In 1952, a railroad spur from the Denver and Rio Grande
railroad, an access road, power lines, and telephone lines were built. At this time, Gilbert
Hoover replaced D.W. Persons as Field Manager ofRocky Flats (Buffer, 1995).
By September 1953, the Austin Company's construction was finished, for a total cost of
approximately $43 million, and there were twenty-one permanent buildings on site. By
November, there were 1,200 employees (Buffer, 1995). The Plant was composed of four
widely separated areas, each one performing a different type ofwork. Plant A (444)
fabricated parts from depleted uranium. Plant B (881) recovered enriched uranium and
fabricated parts from it. Plant C (771) contained the plutonium operations, and Plant D
(991) was the assembly and shipping point (ChemRisk, 1992:51). Those facilities
handling the more highly radioactive plutonium were located on the north side of Central
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Avenue at a distance from the other buildings on site. Facilities handling the less
radioactive enriched uranium and depleted uranium were located on the south side of
Central Avenue and some distance from it. The support buildings were located along
Central Avenue closest to Plant A, the least radioactive facility of the production
buildings. The main administration area was referred to as the "Lump Sum Area"
(Calkins, 1998 interview).
The completed Plant in 1953 contained the four production buildings with their guard
houses, and a number of support buildings including an adrninistration building (111),
cafeteria (112), plant safety building (121), medical emergency building (122), paper
shredder shed (122S), health physics building (123), hazardous storage shed (123S),
garage and fire station (331), paint and blast shop (333), maintenance shop (334),
production support building (441), laundry (442), heating plant (443), warehouse (551),
sealed gas storage building (552), metal fabrication building (553), storage building
(554), waste storage and emergency breathing air building (714), temporary electric shop
(772), waste treatment plant (774), sewage treatment plant (887), and a waste water
treatment plant (995). Originally each production plant had its own cafeteria; Building
112 was used by those employed in the administrative section of the Plant.
Access to the Plant was from the west on a very rough dirt road that eventually became
Highway 93. Initially employees drove the route in their own cars, but soon discovered
that the wear and tear on their vehicles was so bad that it was better to ride the bus. The
Denver-Boulder Bus Company established an additional route between Golden and
Boulder to serve plant commuters, and termed it the "atomic plant route" (Kennedy
1994:13). There were other hardships concerning employee vehicles on site. Personal
cars were only allowed to travel as far as perimeter parking. Employees were then bused
to the Plant buildings. The high winds blew gravel from the parking lots onto the cars,
removing the paint. The wind was often so strong, particularly when there were few
buildings on site, that employees held hands, forming a chain to avoid being blown over.
To everyone's relief, a new oiled State Highway 93 was built in 1954 (Buffer, 1995).
History ofOperations
The original two trigger designs at the Plant were modeled on the designs of the bombs
that were dropped on Hiroshima (Little Boy) and Nagasaki (Fat Man), both involving
solid cores of fissile materials. The Little Boy design contained two solid masses of
uranium at opposite ends of a tube that were forced together by an explosion to achieve
criticality. The Fat Man design had a small plutonium core surrounded by a large amount
of enriched uranium and then by explosives. The detonated explosives caused the
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uranium and plutonium to implode to a reduced volume to cause criticality. These initialgeneration
trigger designs made use of enriched uranium, depleted uranium, some
plutonium, and beryllium. Triggers were fabricated and assembled in the 1950s in the
original four Rocky Flats Plants A, B, C, and D (ChemRisk, 1992; R. Dickey, personal
communication, 1995).
Enriched uranium, the largest component of the trigger, was supplied by the Oak Ridge
Reservation's Y-12 plant as hockey puck-shaped buttons. The buttons were cast, shaped
and formed, machined, inspected, and assembled into component parts for the triggers at
Plant B'(Building 881). Enriched uranium recovery and purification of the waste from
manufacturing these triggers also took place in Plant B. Floors in the chemical salvage
area and a machining room were covered with stainless steel sheets to make cleaning
easier, A large part of the early work at the Plant took place in this building, since the
triggers required large amounts of enriched uranium (ChemRisk, 1992) (Drawing 12).
Depleted uranium was cast and machined in Plant A, Building 444. The material was
shipped to the Plant originally shaped as the crown of a derby hat from Paducah,
Kentucky, and later as ingots from the Feed Materials Production Center in Fernald,
Ohio. The material was cast in the foundry close to the final product form (in near-net
shapes), machined into finished parts, and then inspected. These components were then
sent to the Pantex Plant in Texas for assembly (ChemRisk, 1992:76). Some beryllium
was also processed in Building 444, but as part of research and development for
production engineering and weapons development, rather than as part of the regular
manufacturing process. Like the depleted uranium, it was cast in the foundry into shapes
that were then machined (ChemRisk, 1992:74) (Drawing 13).
Plant C, Building 771, housed all ofthe plutonium processes, including casting buttons of
plutonium metal feed stock; fabrication ofcomponent parts from the buttons; coating,
inspection, testing, and storage ofweapons components; and the recovery of plutonium
from wastes created during this manufacturing process. The plutonium was created in
reactors at Hanford, Washington; Savannah River, South Carolina; and sometimes from
Oak Ridge, Tennessee. It came to the Plant in the form of either plutonium nitrate liquid
or as buttons (Drawing 9).
Trigger components manufactured in Plants A, B, and C, as well as those manufactured
at Oak Ridge, were sent to Plant D for assembly and storage. They were then shipped off
site to the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas for final assembly into the atomic weapon.
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In 1956, a design change was made in the triggers, from a solid, mostly uranium core to a
hollow, mostly plutonium core that was lighter than the previous units and could be made
smaller (Drawing 7). The plutonium buttons were machined into hollow hemispheres
that were then joined. This hollow design required a great deal more machining than the
previous designs. The same materials were used but in a different ratio and form
(ChemRisk, 1992:45-7). Such a change required the construction of a number ofnew
buildings and a change in the uses of existing buildings. An estimated $21 million was
spent on the expansion, called Part IV, and the Plant nearly doubled in size by 1962
(Buffer, 1995). A number of new buildings, including Buildings 701,776/777, 883,999,
114, and 778 were built, as well as additions to Buildings 444, 881, and 771. Further
additions to the Plant were continuous, with several buildings added each year.
With a greater use of plutonium required, the facilities in Building 771 were no longer
adequate, and a plutonium fabrication and foundry building, 776/777, was constructed in
1956-57. Plutonium recovery operations remained in Building 771. Casting took place
in the 776 side of Building 776/777. Rolling, forming, and machining operations were
located in the eastern side of 776. Inspection, assembly, and storage were conducted in
the 777 section of Building 776/777 (EG&G, 1994:1-4; 9-2) (Drawing 9). Because the
trigger was more complex, it was assembled in Building 776/777 rather than at Building
991. After assembly, the units were packed and shipped off site or sent to Building 991
for staging prior to shipping (EG&G, 1994:9-7).
The new trigger design called for the rolling and forming of both enriched and depleted
uranium as well (Drawings 12 and 13). Building 883 was constructed in 1957 adjacent to
Building 881 for rolling and forming uranium. Depleted uranium was cast into ingots in
Building 444, sent to Side A of Building 883 for rolling and forming, and then returned to
Building 444 for machining and inspection. After 1958, depleted uranium was fabricated
on site from billets imported from Ohio. Enriched uranium was cast in Building 881
(enlarged for manufacturing in 1956), sent to Side B of Building 883 for rolling and
forming, and returned to Building 881 for machining and inspection. A reinforced
concrete tunnel was constructed in 1957 to transport enriched uranium between the two
buildings (EG&G, 1992,1994).
Building 447 was added to the southwest corner of Building 444 in 1956 to house
equipment to anneal depleted uranium parts, assemble parts from Building 444, and to
process wastes. Building 445 was added to the east side of444 in 1957 to house the
carbon shop that supplied graphite molds and crucibles to the foundries in Buildings 444
and 776. Building 448 was added to the north side of Building 447 in 1962 to house
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production control offices. Building 451 housed the exhaust filter plenum and exhaust
fans for Buildings 447 and 448 (EG&G, 1992,1994).
The design change for triggers also meant that beryllium would be used to a greater
extent than in the past (Drawing 13). Beryllium was used as a neutron reflector within
the weapon. In 1958, when beryllium operations became a standard part of Plant
operations, beryllium blanks were provided by an outside source and were milled, turned,
drilled, and polished in Building 444 (ChemRisk, 1992:75). The trigger design remained
roughly the same from 1958 to 1989, when the Plant ceased operations, with changes
only in materials, quantities of materials, and dimensions.
After 1957, the primary mission of Building 991 shifted to shipping, receiving, and
storage. Materials handled included special nuclear materials, classified materials, and
other metal components. Most shipments were sent by rail until the mid-1970s, when
specially designed tractor trailers (safe secure transports) were used. The safe secure
transports were used for shipment ofthe final product by roadway. The underground
storage vaults near Building 991 (996,997,998) were used to store retired weapons, sent
by Pantex for recovery of plutonium and uranium, until they were taken to the 700-area
buildings for recovery operations. Another vault, Building 999, was added to the existing
three in 1956. Incoming materials were generally not unpacked in Building 991.
The next large-scale change to the Plant came in the 1960s when the Atomic Energy
Commission chose to make Rocky Flats the sole producer of triggers under the "single
mission" concept. Previously a number of the nuclear weapons facilities had overlapping
functions to provide redundancy in case of enemy attack or a labor strike. Hanford was
manufacturing similar plutonium units and Oak Ridge similar enriched uranium
components to those at the Rocky Flats Plant. Los Alamos also produced triggers on a
small scale. Under the new arrangement, developed for economic reasons, each facility
was to provide separate weapons components. As a result, the enriched uranium
operations, including both manufacturing and recovery work, were transferred to Oak
Ridge in 1964, and the trigger manufacturing was given solely to Rocky Flats.
Production at the Plant increased dramatically.
Plutonium fabrication continued at an expanded level with production continuing in
Building 776/777. By 1967, construction had begun on a new plutonium facility,
Building 707, to augment operations at Building 776/777. By 1969, Building 707, a
state-of-the-art facility, was finished. It was divided into eight modules, separated to
minimize potential fire damage, each for a different operation (EG&G, 1992). A major
fire in Building 776/777 in 1969 necessitated the relocation of some of its foundry,
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fabrication, and final assembly operations into the new Building 707. Building 707A was
built in 1971 to handle these extra operations (EG&G, 1994:7-1). Final assembly
operations remained in Building 707 until the Plant ceased operation (ChemRisk,
1992:79-80). Building 776/777 was cleaned, and used for machining, plutonium
recovery, waste-related operations, disassembly and assembly, and testing operations.
Much of the work became special-order or research and development operations (EG&G,
Building 771 was expanded in 1963-64 (771A), in 1967 (771B), and in 1971 (771C) to
handle increased recovery operations. Building 774 continued to be used as a waste
treatment facility. By 1968, new technologies had been developed for plutonium
recovery from solid and liquid waste. A new recovery building, 371 was built based on
more stringent Atomic Energy Commission standards than had been in use when 771 was
constructed. However, it suffered from various design problems that prevented its
opening until 1981 and caused termination ofrecovery operations in 1986. It never did
become a fully operational recovery facility, and as a result, Building 771, planned to be
closed in anticipation of the use of Building 371, remained in operation. Buildings 707,
771, and 776/777 remained as plutonium production buildings until 1989 when
production ceased.
Finished triggers were taken from the 700-area buildings by truck under armed guard to a
small shed near Building 551, where they were staged under guard for placement on
specially configured atomic material transport railcars. Spur lines from the railroad came
onto the Plant site from the southwest and curved up to run along the west side of
Building 551. Building 440 was constructed in 1971 to modify standard freight cars for
shipment of the triggers to the Pantex Plant in Texas, as well as waste materials to
Nevada. Later the building was also used to modify standard tractor trailers into safe
secure transport for shipping the triggers, making them tamper-proof. These unmarked
safe secure transports were escorted by unmarked trucks and cars and drove the triggers
to the Pantex Plant (SAIC, 1995). Building 991 provided a shipping and storage area.
When enriched uranium operations were transferred to Oak Ridge between 1964-66,
Building 881 was shut down and decontaminated (ChemRisk, 1992:73). Side B of
Building 883, formerly used for enriched uranium, was then used for beryllium rolling
and forming (EG&G, 1992). In 1966, stainless steel operations were transferred from a
vendor in Albuquerque, New Mexico and were located in Building 881. Stainless steel
processing was done in Buildings 881 and 444 until Building 460 was constructed in
1984 specifically for all non-nuclear manufacturing. All stainless steel processing was
consolidated in Building 460.
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Over the years, since the addition of new fabrication and tooling in 1958 for hollow
triggers, the manufacturing facilities and production processes did not change much,
although they did move from building to building. The majority of the Plant expansion
was driven by changes in weapons design, higher safety standards, and expansion of
production (ChemRisk, 1992).
Transport of special nuclear materials was moved out of Building 991 between 1975 and
1976. During this time period, shipping occurred from Building 439/440. Because of
security concerns, shipping was moved back to Building 991 after 1996. Incoming
materials were generally not unpacked in Building 991. Site returns (retired weapons),
however, were unpacked, tested, re-packaged, and shipped to Building 776/777 for
disassembly. Other materials packaged and shipped included non-radioactive raw
materials, partially finished products, purchase order items, non design agency specialorder
items, samples, instruments, and documents.
The Resource, Conservation, and Recovery Act, regulating all aspects of the management
of hazardous waste, became law in October of 1976. The Act made it illegal to
improperly dispose of and handle hazardous waste. A conflict over hazardous waste
jurisdiction at the Plant between the United States Environmental Protection Agency
(USEPA) and USDOE ensued. In 1987-88, the courts confirmed that the USEPA had
jurisdiction. The USEPA did not have access to the Plant and was convinced of
wrongdoing by the USDOE.
During a routine inventory shutdown in December of 1988, glove boxes in Building 771
were cleaned with high temperature steam. The heat from this operation exited the
building through the exhaust stack and a passing aircraft registered the hot spot on film.
Believing that the incinerator was illegally being used during the scheduled shutdown,
the USEPA used this opportunity to convince agents from the FBI to issue a warrant to
enter the Rocky Flats Plant and investigate the allegation. Although the allegation proved
false, the investigation did uncover safety concerns at the Plant and ultimately led to the
temporary suspension of plutonium operations at the Rocky Flats Plant in 1989.
The Plant contractor, Rockwell, was unable to comply both with their USDOE contract
and the requirements of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and sued USDOE
for statutory relief and release from liability. Rockwell stepped down as the contractor;
EG&G was brought in to take over as operator of the site. The Plant remained closed for
an extended period to allow the new operator to address the safety concerns (Buffer,
1995). In 1989, the Plant was added to the National Priorities List of contaminated sites
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to be remediated under the government's Superfund program (Thompson, 6 August,
Significant changes occurred at the site after the 1989 FBI investigation. Many outsiders
were brought in to correct perceived safety problems. They expected to find a centralized
chain of command; however, due to security reasons, there was no designated individual
responsible for operations as a whole. Each separate process was operated independently
ofthe others. Management of the Plant relied on process knowledge for day-to-day
operations, rather than written procedures (Meyers, 1998 interview). A new cultural
outlook and way of doing business was introduced, drastically changing the Plant
operations and creating a tough transition period. With these changes, Secretary Watkins
brought in a new system, which relied on written procedures and conduct-of-operations
to document how work was to be conducted.
As non-nuclear operations continued, the primary focus at the Plant for the next 2 or 3
years was upon bringing the Plant up to current safety and operational standards, which
had to be accomplished prior to a resuming nuclear operations and weapons production.
Building 707 was the primary focus of the resumption efforts, so that the Plant could
continue the W88 weapons program production (Wilson, 1998 interview). Buildings 701
and 559 were ready to resume production. The resumption plan caused the biggest
turmoil the Plant had ever faced because it was forward looking, but most employees
didn't know where it was going (Cunningham, 1998 interview). Contractors were
brought in, mobile trailers set up, numerous procedures were written, and building
drawings were redlined to show all the changes and modifications that had occurred over
the years of intense production.
By 1991, a series of events worldwide, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the
breakup of the Soviet Union with the subsequent dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991,
reduced the Cold War threat and the need for a plutonium trigger manufacturing facility.
In that year, United States President George Bush ordered all bombers and tankers to be
taken off alert, and the Department of Defense began to reconsider its needs in terms of
the size and nature of its military force. As a result of this reconsideration, the
Department of Defense began cutting its military forces and cutting back on the
production ofnew weapons. That same year President Bush also announced the
cancellation of several nuclear weapons programs, including those that would have
provided Rocky Flats with future work. In 1992, President Bush also canceled the
production of the Trident II missile and its warhead (the W-88), the weapon that was the
primary production program at Rocky Flats at the time. In 1992, the temporary
suspension of nuclear weapons production, in place since 1989, was made permanent
(Riddle, 1997 interview). Subsequently, Secretary Watkins publicly announced that the
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mission at the Plant would be changed to environmental restoration and waste
management, with the goal of cleaning up and converting the Plant for new uses.
Public Perception ofthe Rocky Flats Plant
Through the 1950s and 1960s, employees were treated respectfully by most of the public.
The public knew little about the work at the Plant, other than it was for military purposes.
The public did know that in order to work at Rocky Flats, an employee had to undergo an
intensive background search by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and that
employees were working for the security and freedom of the nation (Tesitor, 1998
interview). Public opinion of the Rocky Flats Plant began to change in 1969. Antinuclear,
pro-environmental demonstrations, organized by Citizens Concerned about
Radiation Pollution, began at the Plant after the 1969 fire in Building 776/777.
A strike between Dow and its union in 1970 added to the existing negative sentiment
between the workers and the public. The public was led to believe that Dow continuing
operations during the strike could place the city of Denver in danger. These allegations
brought the Plant further into the public eye (Tesitor, 1998 interview). Activities
associated with the strike, along with public dissent regarding the Vietnam War, began to
alter the public's perception ofand opinions regarding the Plant.
In 1975, a state task force appointed to study the Plant concluded that the siting of the
Plant, with its inventory of plutonium and potential for nuclear accidents so close to the
metropolitan area of Denver, had been a mistake. In the ensuing years, Jefferson
County's Health Department Director, Dr. Carl J. Johnson, published reports allegedly
linking plutonium contamination from the Plant to cancer and infant mortality. The first
large protest at the Plant came in 1978, and included well-known activists Daniel
Ellsberg and Allen Ginsberg. It was the first major protest at any USDOE plant. In
1983, protestors made an attempt to encircle the Plant, drawing thousands of people to
the site. Over the years, some 1,500 protester arrests were made.
The Rocky Flats Plant was one of the most protested sites within the USDOE nuclear
weapons complex. Plutonium was believed to be one of the most hazardous substances
in existence, and Rocky Flats was known to use plutonium in its manufacturing
processes. The protesters came from diverse groups, concerned with differing aspects of
the United States Nuclear Weapons Program. Some were conscientious objectors to the
Vietnam War, others objected to nuclear weapons production on moral grounds, while
others objected to the use of their tax dollars supporting a program they didn't agree with
or want. The Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti (KGB), Committee for State
Security, through a worldwide pro-socialist organization called the World Peace Council
funded a number of anti-nuclear protests, marches, and demonstrations around the
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country (Tesitor, 1998 interview). Others worried about the health effects of nuclear
weapon production, testing, and use, protested at the Rocky Flats Plant. Local citizens
concerned about property devaluation also participated in protests at the Plant. In cases
where towns grew up around facilities like Hanford, Savannah River, and Oak Ridge, the
citizens were reliant on these Plants for their livelihood, and were sympathetic to them
(Wilson, 1998 interview). This was not the case at Rocky Flats. In response to
continuing protests, particularly a 1979 anti-nuclear rally that drew 10,000 participants,
Rockwell employees at the Plant formed a grassroots organization, Citizens for Energy
and Freedom, and organized a pro-nuclear rally, "Power for the People," that attracted
16,000'people (Young, May 8,1992).
Many employees felt that the protesters were well intentioned, but misinformed. They
found the protesters' conclusions to be erroneous. For example, the number of weapons
in the stockpile were believed by the protesters to be the entire number of weapons ever
produced, and did not take into account all the weapons that were retired and
disassembled (Rothe, 1997 interview, Drawing 3). Most employees felt strongly that the
world would be worse off without their efforts. Some employees came to despise the
protesters, believing that to assist the enemy in United States' disarmament was treason,
and if the communists took over the United States, 60 to 70 million people would die in
the purges that would certainly follow (Thompson, 1998 interview).
Workers were proud of their national contribution, and were motivated through
production goals and quality of work. The protests did not affect the workers' morale or
the idea that their work was necessary to prevent the Soviet Union from launching an
attack on the U.S. Most employees did not believe that if the United States threw away
their weapons, the rest of the world would also do so (Hoffman, 1998 interview). During
the Carter Administration (1976), President Jimmy Carter believed that if the United
States took the first steps to stop nuclear weapons production, so would the Soviets. The
Soviet stockpile increased dramatically during this time (Tesitor, 1998 interview).
In the early 1980s, the USDOE Albuquerque Field Office, then in charge of Rocky Flats,
began a study ofwhat the Rocky Flats Plant should look like in the year 2010. A 1988
report submitted to Congress indicated that the Plant's facilities were aging, waste storage
and clean up was a major problem, and the public was opposed to the siting.
Some Plant employees believed that neither the protests nor the FBI raid caused the
ultimate shutdown of the Plant. They believed the shut down was an economic, rather
than a social decision. The late 1980s and early 1990s were a time of transition. The
USDOE was considering consolidation of the Weapons Complex (Stakebake, 1998
interview). The Plant buildings were old and potentially a hazard. To keep the Plant
operating would have required extensive remodeling and substantial funding. Even
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though weapons programs were scheduled into the mid- to late-1990s, the United States
was entering into treaties with the Soviets, and many programs were zeroed-out for
funding (Wilson, 1998 interview). The government was considering whether the
capabilities of the Plant were still needed (Stakebake, 1998 interview).
Other Plant employees, however, believed that the protesters were successful in the
complete closure ofthe site. The protests let the government know of the public's
feelings toward nuclear weapons, and that Americans were no longer proud of their
nuclear heritage. The Plant no longer had the support of local government and the public.
These employees felt that the Secretary of Energy (Admiral Watkins) abandoned the
Plant due to strong public opposition (Tesitor, 1998 interview). The last program,
stainless steel operations, was transferred to Kansas City in 1995.
The Rocky Flats Plant was not the only facility within the United States Nuclear
Weapons Complex that was shut down. All of the major facilities in the complex ceased
nuclear weapons production in the 1980s. For several different reasons, the end of
production was quite sudden and largely unexpected by most employees within a
particular facility. Incidents of mismanagement and contamination at United States
nuclear weapons sites led to a series of investigations into safety and environmental
practices (USDOE, 1995:79). These investigations pointed out that most of the Energy
Department's weapons plants were at or near the end of their design life. Many
operations were discontinued while alternatives for weapons production were considered.
During this general re-evaluation, the Cold War began winding down. With the collapse
of the Soviet Union in 1991, the nuclear arms race of the Cold War came to an end, and
with it the impetus to maintain the nuclear weapons complex in its entirety. As of this
writing, final closure plans for the entire USDOE complex have not been determined.
Facilities within the complex identified for total closure include Mound, Pinellas,
Fernald, Hanford, and Rocky Flats. Other facilities will continue to operate in research
and development, storage, and/or fabrication.
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Manufacturing History
Plutonium Operations
Plutonium is a man-made transuranic metallic chemical element; it is not known to exist
in nature. Plutonium, first discovered in 1941, is created from naturally occurring
uranium that has been bombarded by neutrons in a production reactor. A complex
chemical process is required to separate the newly created plutonium from the remaining
uranium. The importance of plutonium to atomic weaponry is its highly fissile nature; it
can undergo a fission reaction (which provides the force in a nuclear bomb) much more
easily than uranium. However, due to its highly fissile nature, plutonium also has a
higher potential of undergoing a spontaneous, uncontrolled fission reaction, also referred
to as a criticality event. Plutonium occurs in two isotopes, plutonium-238 and plutonium-
239. The plutonium-239 isotope is more highly fissile than the plutonium-238 isotope
(Colliers Encyclopedia CD ROM, 1996).
The key to an atomic weapon is the use of fissile material. Plutonium was used to create
the first-stage fission reaction (the trigger) which set off the second-stage reaction (the
nuclear explosion). Plutonium is made in plutonium-production reactors at Hanford and
the Savannah River sites. The fissile product from the reactors was processed through
chemical separation plants to segregate the plutonium and uranium from other radioactive
isotopes. Most ofthe plutonium from these plants went to Rocky Flats to be
manufactured into weapons components. It was usually in the form of metal, but liquid
and powdered plutonium was also produced. One of the reasons for the mystique of
Rocky Flat was the use and alteration ofraw materials to finished material. Unlike other
areas, all of the manufacturing, technology, people, and skills needed to convert the raw
materials into completed products was conducted at the Plant.
The original plutonium recovery process was adapted from Los Alamos National
Laboratory processes (Crissler, 1998 interview). The process was put into operation in
May 1953 with the first shipment of plutonium nitrate solution from the Hanford Plant in
Richland, Washington. Several years later, the Rocky Flats Plant also started receiving
plutonium nitrate feed from the Oak Ridge Reservation. All of these shipments were
discontinued in 1959. Since that time, internally generated plutonium residues from Plant
operations were the primary feed for the recovery/metal production. Residues normally
were solid materials varying in plutonium content from a few percent to almost pure
plutonium metal.
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The primary objective of the plutonium recovery process was the recovery of plutonium
from all residues generated during plutonium-related fabrication, assembly, and research
operations. The overall recovery process consisted of fifteen major operational unit
processes including incineration, cation exchange, dissolution, anion exchange, batching
and evaporation, precipitation, calcination, hydrofluorination, thermal reduction,
leaching, oralloy leaching, chloride dissolution/chloride anion exchange/dicesium
hexachloroplutonate production, molten salt extraction, salt scrub, and electroreflning
(Drawing 10).
All incoming plutonium (either foundry-generated oxide or associated with production
wastes) was dissolved in nitric acid solutions. Feed material was one oftwo types: a
high-level material (plutonium oxide and impure metal) obtained from foundry casting
operations, or low-level materials (residues produced in the recovery/manufacturing
The overall process and chemistry ofplutonium recovery remained largely unchanged
since recovery operations began. Prior to 1965, plutonium recovery operations were
originally conducted in batch fashion that consisted of simple, manually operated
equipment. At that time, batch operations were sufficient because the limited plutonium
casting and machining operations generated little scrap. Similarly, site returns (retired or
out-of-specification nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons components) were minimal.
To begin the recovery process, a mixture of nitric acid and plutonium residues was heated
and agitated in a beaker inside a glovebox, to dissolve the plutonium into a nitric acid
solution. In addition to being very labor intensive, the beaker method released fumes that
corroded the electric heaters and caused problems for the glove box handling and
filtration system. To improve dissolution, the beakers were replaced in 1965 with a
system of continuous cascade dissolvers. Continuously operating and automatic control
systems were later introduced to increase the recovery capacity of the facility and to
decrease radiation exposure of operating personnel.
During the continuous cascade process, steam coils were immersed in the liquid nitric
acid solution. The resulting slurry overflowed from the first through the last dissolver in
the set. From the last dissolver, the slurry overflowed to a horizontal-pan vacuum filter,
which separated the undissolved solids from the solution. The plutonium solution then
went to ion exchange process. Solids were scraped from the filter, dried on a hot plate,
and packaged for removal from the glove box for treatment and disposal.
After the plutonium was dissolved, the other elemental impurities were separated out of
the solution. The plutonium feed was purified by solvent extraction, later replaced by the
anion exchange process. The plutonium nitrate solutions were pumped through glass
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columns, containing anion exchange resin. The anion exchange process purified and
concentrated plutonium-bearing nitric acid solutions to make them acceptable as feed for
conversion to metal. The solution was concentrated in a steam-heated, naturalconvection
evaporator. The concentrated solution, called bottoms, was transferred to
Relatively pure plutonium nitrate solutions received from oxide dissolution, anion
exchange, and feed evaporation were blended and adjusted to the proper pH and
plutonium concentration before entering the peroxide precipitation process. Feed for the
peroxide precipitation process was prepared in batches by blending the available
solutions in the proper ratios.
The peroxide precipitation process converted the plutonium in solution to a solid form
and achieved some purification of the plutonium from metallic elements, notably
americium. The feed solution was pumped into a refrigerated, stirred reactor called a
digestor. Hydrogen peroxide solution was fed into the digestor. Precipitation occurred in
the digestor and crystal growth occurred. The plutonium peroxide slurry cascaded
through the digestors and into the rotary drum filter basin. Vacuum applied to the filter
removed the liquid, causing the plutonium peroxide to collect on the filter surface. The
plutonium peroxide cake collected on the rotary drum was cut off the filter wheel,
collected in containers, and transferred to the calciner.
The calcination process converted plutonium peroxide to plutonium oxide and drove out
residual water and nitric acid, leaving a dry, powdered product. The dried cake was
collected, screened, and weighed in batches. Every third batch was sampled and
analyzed for impurities for process control. Batches were stored in approved containers
in racks in the glove box while awaiting hydrofiuorination.
Plutonium oxide was converted to plutonium tetrafluoride in a continuous rotary-tube
hydrofluorinator. The plutonium tetrafluoride product was collected, weighed, and
transferred in batches to the reduction process. The hydrofiuorination process produced
high neutron radiation, which emanated from plutonium tetrafluoride.
Plutonium tetrafluoride produced by the hydrofiuorination process was reduced in
batches to plutonium metal by interaction with calcium metal in an induction-heated
reduction vessel. The vessel was heated until the reduction reaction took place,
producing plutonium metal and slag. The resulting plutonium metal button was separated
from the crucible, sand, and calcium fluoride slag. It was cleaned, sampled, and
packaged for storage until the analysis was complete, and the button was sent to
fabrication (Photographs 83-31 and 83-K-17).
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At Rocky Flats, plutonium buttons from the plutonium recovery process were first cast
into ingots (Drawing 9). The casting operation created feed ingots and War Reserve
ingots of plutonium metal. The first casting process created the feed ingot. Materials
used for the creation of feed ingots included plutonium buttons from recovery processes,
briquettes, and scrap plutonium metal. Production control personnel used sampling data
to calculate the precise feed ingot mixture which would produce a War Reserve ingot of
specific purity from the second casting. The casting process consisted of weighing the
metal, placing it in tantalum crucibles, and melting it in one of four electric induction
furnaces. Molten metal was poured into molds to form ingots. The War Reserve ingot
was used to fabricate weapons components. Samples were taken to verify the chemical
makeup and purity of both the War Reserve ingot and the fabricated component.
Plutonium War Reserve ingots were rolled, formed, and heat-treated, and then were cut in
a blanking press. Cut blanks were sent to thermal treatment (annealing and
homogenizing). Following thermal treatment, blanks were formed into hemi-shells (1/2
shells) in a hydroform press. After forming, the parts were annealed and measured on a
density balance.
The hemi-shells went to final machining involving lathes, mills, a drill box, a highprecision
drill press, and a hydraulic press. Each part was then marked with a serial
number, cleaned, weighed, and inspected. Plutonium parts were welded, then inspected
for leaks. Parts were assembled into subassemblies, then into assemblies, and then
assembled into triggers. Assembly included such operations as machining, cleaning,
matching parts, brazing, welding, heating under vacuum for trace contaminant removal,
marking, weighing, monitoring for surface contamination, and packaging for shipment.
The assembled triggers and parts were subjected to final processing steps, final testing,
and inspection, then stored to await shipment.
Depleted Uranium Operations
Naturally occurring uranium ore consists of approximately 1% uranium. That uranium is
composed of three isotopes: U-238 (99.28%), U-235 (0.71%), and U-234 (0.01%).
Depleted uranium results when the more highly fissile isotope U-235 is isolated using a
complex chemical separation process. After removal of the U-235, the resultant material
is referred to as "depleted" in that isotope. Depleted uranium consists almost exclusively
(99.8%) of the U-238 isotope, which, although it has low radioactivity, is not considered
to be very fissile (i.e. able to undergo a fission reaction). U-238 is a very dense, very
hard, heavy metal, and shares the toxic properties of other heavy metals when ingested,
inhaled, or injected.
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Depleted uranium was used as a non-fissile component in the trigger design (Drawing
13). Uranium, nearly twice as dense as lead, was also machined at the Plant into sheets
used as in military tank armor, using its hardness to provide additional protection from
artillery shell penetration. From 1951 until 1955, depleted uranium was shipped to
Rocky Flats as derby-shaped parts from Paducah, Kentucky and later as ingots from the
Feed Materials Production Center in Fernald, Ohio.
Uranium was cast in the foundry into near-net shapes (close to the final product form)
and then sent to machining. Induction-cast depleted uranium, arc-cast depleted uranium,
depleted uranium alloy ingots, beryllium ingots, and aluminum shapes were produced in
the foundry. The metals were placed in crucibles, loaded into one of eight induction
furnaces, and melted in a vacuum atmosphere. Induction casting used radio frequency
energy to melt the metal, which was poured into graphite molds to form ingots.
Metal parts containing depleted uranium, depleted uranium alloy, and depleted uranium
with traces of iron, silica, titanium, aluminum, or stainless steel were cut in the depleted
uranium machining process. Machining operations included turning, facing, boring,
milling, and sawing.
After 1956, the uranium ingots were processed into rolling pucks, then rolled and formed,
and final machined. The depleted uranium ingots or billets were hot rolled and formed
into parts or combined with niobium to form binary metal. Virgin depleted uranium
ingots were weighed, immersed in a salt bath, rolled into a sheet, and sheared to length.
The sheets were annealed in a second salt bath, cooled, and cleaned in water. The sheets
were sheared a second time and trimmed to final length into electrode strips. The
electrode strips were bent, cleaned in acid, and welded in a box configuration. Electrode
filler strips were rolled, punched for boltholes, and cleaned in acid. Final assembly
operations were conducted in Building 991, 777, or 707, depending on the time frame.
Recycled depleted uranium ingots were weighed, cropped, re-weighed, and heated in a
salt bath. The ingots were rolled and sheared to length; the sheets were annealed, cooled,
and cleaned in water. They were then sheared, cut into discs, heated, and formed into
parts. A second forming, called a re-strike, was done to insure proper size.
Depleted uranium recovery operations were not conducted at the Plant.
Enriched Uranium Operations
Enriched uranium is valued for its fissile nature (i.e. its ability to undergo a fission
reaction), and is a primary ingredient in nuclear weapons and nuclear power reactors. It
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is created from naturally occurring uranium, which consists of three isotopes: U-238
(99.28%), U-235 (0.71%), and U-234 (0.01%). Using a complicated chemical separation
process the U-235 isotope is isolated and the concentration is raised to more than 90%
(from an original concentration of 0.71%). The resultant enriched uranium is highly
Enriched uranium was one of the materials used to create the first-stage fission reaction.
It was possible to make nuclear weapons either by using plutonium or uranium. The
"Little Boy" bomb dropped on Hiroshima was a uranium-type bomb, although most
modern atomic weapons used both plutonium and uranium.
The original trigger design required a large amount of enriched uranium. The primary
operations at the Plant included fabrication support, which included the foundry for
casting ofshapes and ingots; machining and inspection; metal product support, which
included recovery of relatively pure materials; and salvage support, which handled
recovery of solutions and solid residues with relatively low enriched uranium content.
Processes used at the Plant were based upon those developed at the Los Alamos
Scientific Laboratory and the Oak Ridge Reservation, during and after World War II.
The processes were refined at the Oak Ridge Reservation Y-12 Plant in the several years
preceding the construction ofthe Rocky Flats Plant, although many improvements to the
process and equipment were made by Plant personnel.
For the first months of operations, uranium castings were received from the Oak Ridge
Reservation in the form of hockey-puck-sized buttons. Once recovery operations were
established, uranium buttons produced at Rocky Flats were added to the feed material. In
the casting process, uranium metal was placed in a crucible, heated in bottom-pouring
induction furnaces, and then poured into graphite molds. Machining operations,
including rolling and forming, and computer controlled turnings took place in Building
883 or the 881 Annex.
In 1964, enriched uranium operations at the Plant began phasing out with the advent of
the Atomic Energy Commission's single mission policy. Production of enriched uranium
components ceased at the Rocky Flats Plant in 1967, when the Y-12 Plant at the Oak
Ridge Reservation assumed sole responsibility. From 1964 to 1966, plutonium
production became the focus of operations at the Plant.
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Enriched uranium recovery operations were initiated shortly after fabrication operations
began. Several different recovery operations were used, depending on the type of initial
material. Uranium recovery involved both slow and fast processes. The slow process
involved placing relatively impure materials with low concentrations of uranium into
nitric acid for leaching and solvent extraction. Impure materials such as slag, sand,
crucibles from the foundry operations, and residues from the incinerator were reduced via
the slow process. The materials were crushed into pea-sized feed in a rod mill and placed
in various dissolving tanks containing nitric acid. Solutions from the dissolution filters
were concentrated in three-story-high solvent extraction columns. The solution was then
pumped into various evaporators for further processing.
The fast process handled materials that were relatively pure, including uranyl nitrate, and
used conversion and reduction steps to produce a pure uranium button. Materials such as
chips from machining operations and black skull oxide contained fairly high percentages
ofenriched uranium that were easy to convert into pure uranium buttons. Chips and skull
oxides were burned to form uranium oxide and then transferred for dissolution in small
batches of concentrated nitric acid. The dissolution room housed three rows of controlled
hoods known as B-boxes (similar to laboratory hoods). These boxes operated with high
air velocities at their openings to ensure that the vapors were contained within the hood.
The dissolution process yielded a uranyl nitrate solution, from which uranium peroxide
was precipitated. Once filtered, the precipitate formed a yellow cake, which was heated
to produce an orange uranium oxide. The dissolution, precipitation, and calcination
processes were originally performed as batch processes. By the late 1950s to early
1960s, the process became a continuous operation. The orange oxides were converted to
uranium tetrafluoride, a green salt. The green salts were transferred for final reduction to
uranium metal.
Beryllium Operations
Beryllium is an alkaline metallic chemical element. Elemental beryllium is a light, steel
gray metal; it is very hard and very brittle. Pure beryllium at high temperatures is very
ductile, and can be rolled into sheets. The primary use for beryllium in the nuclear
weapons program is as a neutron moderator or reflector (Drawing 13). It emits neutrons
when bombarded by alpha particles. Another use of beryllium is as an alloying agent,
where it imparts a highly tensile strength.
Rocky Flats began production scale operations in 1958, with the newer trigger design.
Beryllium was used as a neutron reflector in the trigger design. At room temperatures the
material was extremely brittle and required unique handling techniques.
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Production operations initially involved only the machining, final inspection, and
assembly of beryllium parts which were supplied by an off site vendor. By the mid-
1960s, Rocky Flats beryllium operations also included the casting and shaping of
beryllium parts to the proper dimensions. By 1975, foundry casting ofberyllium on the
Plant site had ceased with beryllium supplied in the form of blanks from an off site
contractor. Machining of beryllium parts continued in Building 444 until production shut
down in the late 1980s.
The "wrought" beryllium process was developed in approximately 1962 through research
and development work at Rocky Flats and other USDOE facilities. This process involved
casting beryllium ingots, sawing the ingots, "canning" (encasing) them in stainless steel,
rolling them into sheets, and cutting the cans away. The beryllium ingots were very
brittle, and in order to roll them they had to be encased in stainless steel and heated to a
temperature ranging from 900 to 1,000 degrees centigrade. After the stainless steel can
was removed, the beryllium sheet was then cut into shapes.
Beryllium machining processes involved sawing, milling, drilling, and lathe operations
followed by polishing and abrading operations. Site returns (retired weapons) and
components containing beryllium were also returned to the machining area for
dismantling. During the Plant's operations, machining has included work on beryllium
casings, wrought processing, sintered forms, and bar stock.
Other than the recycling of parts from site returns (retired weapons), beryllium recovery
operations were not conducted on the Plant site. Some beryllium-related waste
management activities were conducted in Building 447.
Stainless Steel Operations
Stainless steel is created from an alloy of steel with chromium to create a durable
material highly resistant to oxidation. With the nuclear weapons production program,
stainless steel had many uses. One ofthe primary uses for stainless steel at the Rocky
Flats Plant was the manufacture of the tritium reservoir, and tritium delivery system
components. Tritium was used to aid in the second stage fusion reaction of the later
weapon designs.
When enriched uranium operations were phased out at Rocky Flats in the mid-1960s,
factors including favorable economics and considerable floor space in Building 881, led
to the decision to begin stainless steel machining (Drawing 12). The phase-in of stainless
steel machining work began in Building 881 in 1966. All stainless steel work on the
Plant site was done in that building by 1968. In 1967, Dow, the site contractor at the
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time, acquired the J-line (code name) stainless steel activities. Stainless steel machining
work was previously conducted by American Car and Foundry Industries, located in
Albuquerque, New Mexico. Stainless steel work was conducted in Building 881 from
1968 to 1984. In 1984, machining was moved to Building 460, a facility specifically
designed for stainless steel machining operations.
Stainless steel casting, forging, or recovery operations were not conducted on a
production scale at the Plant Stainless steel was used primarily to make the reservoirs
that held tritium gas within the bomb. Other stainless steel work included fabrication of
the tubes and fasteners associated with the tritium reservoir-to-trigger delivery system.
Production operations included machining, assembling, inspection and testing, and
support. Depending on technical requirements, methods, and/or equipment needed, the
sequence of operations was altered to meet specific project needs. Conventional tools,
such as lathes, mills, borers, and presses were used in machining operations. The
machined parts were cleaned and inspected prior to being sent to the assembly area.
Assembly operations included cleaning, matching, brazing, welding, inspection, testing,
and packaging. The parts were then assembled and joined by brazing or welding.
Although stainless steel recovery operations were not conducted at the Plant, scraps and
turnings were generally collected for resale to an off site recycler.
Assembly Operations
Plutonium, enriched uranium, depleted uranium, beryllium, and stainless steel
components fabricated on site, along with components manufactured from Hanford and
Oak Ridge, were assembled into final products, inspected, tested, and placed back in
storage prior to off site shipment. Because all of the radioactive components were coated
in nickel or encased in plastic, assembly of the early concept design products was
conducted in open rooms, not in enclosed glove boxes.
In 1957, production began on a new weapon design, requiring changes in the amount of
materials used in the trigger, the amount of machining and handling required, and the
need for tighter tolerances. Because ofthe new design, final trigger assembly took place
in the newly constructed Building 776/777. Assembly of older uranium-based weapons
continued in Building 991 until the 1960s. A limited number of plutonium-based triggers
were also thought to have been assembled in Building 991 during the early 1960s.
Major Material Processing Buildings
(Note: The HAER documents indicated provide a more detailed description of the
buildings and building operations.)
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Depleted Uranium and Beryllium - Building 44/444 (Plant A) (HAER No. CO-83-L)
Building 444 was one of the first buildings constructed at Rocky Flats. Beginning in
1953, depleted uranium was both cast and machined in this building. The original
building contained the foundry, depleted uranium machine shop, beryllium machine
shop, heat treating shop, plating laboratory, carbon machine shop, casting shop, tool
grinding shop, welding and brazing shop, pressure and leak testing laboratories, precision
measuring laboratories, building maintenance shop, and parts of the precision shop and
non-destructive testing laboratory. Some ofthe former production areas were later used
for storage of excess tools and materials.
From 1952 until the end ofproduction, beryllium and depleted uranium casting,
machining, cleaning and inspection equipment were housed in Building 444. Depleted
uranium was cast into near-net (close to final product) shape in the foundry and then sent
to the machine shop. Prior to the construction of Building 883, casting and final
machining took place in Building 444. After 1956, the uranium and beryllium ingots
were processed into rolling pucks and shipped to Building 883 (Side A) for rolling and
Enriched Uranium, Non-Plutonium Metals/Alloys (Beryllium and Stainless Steel) -
Buildings 81/881, 883, 865, and 460
Building 81/881 (Plant B) (HAER No. CO-83-Q)
Building 881 was one ofthe four original manufacturing buildings that comprised the
Rocky Flats Plant in the early 1950s and was the fourth building to come on line.
Beginning in 1953, this structure housed the Plant's only enriched uranium component
manufacturing and recovery operations. The original purpose of Building 881 was the
processing and machining of enriched uranium into finished weapons components. The
enriched uranium process included chemical recovery operations and foundry equipment.
A large part of the early work at the Plant took place in this building, because the triggers
required a large amount of enriched uranium. The primary operations were divided into
the following areas: fabrication support, which included the foundry for casting of
shapes and ingots; machining and inspection; metal product support, which included
recovery of relatively pure materials; and salvage support, which handled recovery of
solutions and solid residues with relatively low uranium content.
Building 881 operations represent three distinct primary functions: enriched uranium
manufacturing and recovery (1952-66); stainless steel operations (1966-84); and recent
activities that have taken place in the building since manufacturing operations were
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phased out, including research and development, laboratories, and computer
Building 881 is an irregularly shaped, multiple level structure that is built into the side of
a hill. Building 881 is considered to be a three story structure with mezzanine levels on
the first and second floors. The complex encompasses approximately 245,000 square
feet. During the period of uranium and stainless steel production, most of the production
related activities occurred on the second floor.
■Building 883 (HAERNo. CO-83-R)
Building 883 was constructed in 1957 to accommodate fabrication of enriched and depleted
uranium and beryllium parts. The sealed, hollow shape of the weapons components required
a significant amount of rolling and forming of both types of uranium. Because space in the
existing Buildings 881 and 444, (enriched uranium and depleted uranium parts
manufacturing) was inadequate, Building 883 was constructed to handle some ofthe uranium
and beryllium rolling and forming operations.
Building 883 is a high bay, single-story building with a 38' ceiling. The majority ofthe
building's area is contained in a high bay metal working area. Eighty percent of the area of
the building has been used for metal processing.
The processing areas on the first floor were referred to as Sides A, B, and C. The
building was originally designed with two functional areas or sides to prevent cross
contaniination of radioactive enriched uranium with non-fissile depleted uranium. Side A
housed equipment used for rolling, pressing, and shearing of depleted uranium and
beryllium operations. Side B housed equipment used for rolling, pressing, and shearing
of enriched uranium. Side C, completed in 1985, supported acid scrubbing operations
and tank armor plate production.
Building 865 (HAER No. CO-83-AA)
Building 865 was built in 1970 to house metalworking equipment for the study of nonplutonium
metals and the development of alloys. The building contained shops and
equipment that supported metal fabrication, machining, and processing for both
production and development in metalworking. The building conducted metallography
laboratory work and decontamination activities for product research and development.
The building contained equipment for rolling, shearing, forging, extruding, swaging,
grinding, pressing, heat-treating, vacuum induction casting, and vacuum casting. A
number of metals were processed and fabricated into prototype hardware.
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All metalworking operations were conducted in the high bay area. The metal was heated
in electrical resistance furnaces and transferred to the steam hammer for forging. When
beryllium and uranium were forged, permanent hoods were used to create airflow from
the workplace and exhaust away from the operator. Beryllium, uranium, steel, and other
ferrous and nonferrous metals are press-formed (hot or cold) into the desired shapes.
Building 460 (HAER No. CO-83-T)
Building 460 was built in 1984 to house equipment, systems, and personnel for
fabrication, assembly, and testing of stainless steel components such as reservoirs, tubes,
and non-fissile trigger components. The facility was described as the most modern nonnuclear
manufacturing building in the USDOE Nuclear Weapons Complex.
Total area ofthe building is approximately 230,000 square feet, split between the first
floor and two second-floor mezzanines. All non-nuclear manufacturing at the Plant was
consolidated into this one facility. The stainless steel operations conducted in Building
881 and some non-nuclear metalworking operations from Building 444 were transferred
to Building 460 after its completion. Manufactured components were associated with the
tritium reservoir-to-trigger delivery system. Operational processes included fabrication,
assembly, and inspection. Fabrication of stainless steel and other non-nuclear metal parts
included mechanical machining, electrochemical machining and grinding, electric
discharge machining, and crush grinding.
Plutonium- Buildings 71/771, 776/777, 707, 371
Building 771 (Plant C) (HAER No. CO-83-N)
Building 771 was originally constructed as a totally self-contained plutonium fabrication
and recovery facility. For the period ofMay 1953 until 1957, when Building 776/777
entered operation, Building 771 was the sole plutonium facility at the Plant. During this
time period, the building housed plutonium parts production-related activities, including
casting, fabrication (machining), coating, inspection, testing, and recovery operations; the
chemical and physical operations for recovering plutonium and refining plutonium metal;
plutonium chemistry and metallurgical research operations and radiochemical analytical
laboratory operations; storage of plutonium metal; various laboratories; and other support
The original Building 771 is a two story structure built into the side of a hill with most of
three sides covered by earth. The fourth side, opening to the north, provides the main
entrance to the building. The plutonium-related operations were arrayed along the
southern hallway of the first floor. Plutonium manufacturing operations were located on
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the south side ofthe hallway, while plutonium recovery operations were located on the
north side ofthe hallway. Since completion of the original building, six major additions
have been constructed.
By the mid-1950s, the space within Building 771 was inadequate to support all plutonium
operations needed at the Plant. A new weapon design required more plutonium than that
ofthe original weapons. Additionally, the new weapon design required more machining
to achieve the necessary plutonium shapes. An increase in plutonium recovery
operations was expected, partly due to the new weapons design. A new major production
building, Building 776/777, was built to support the casting and fabrication operations.
On September 11 and 12,1957, a fire occurred in a fabrication line in Building 771. The
fire damaged Building 771 and caused radiological contamination, resulting in an
estimated property loss of $818,600 (Buffer, 1995). Many of the plutonium operations
were moved to Building 776/777 after the fire. The fire debris had been cleaned up by
1958. Much of the production and fabrication equipment remained in Building 771 to
provide backup plutonium production capabilities for the Plant. From 1957 onward, the
mission of Building 771 focused primarily on plutonium recovery.
Building 776/777 (HAERNo. CO-83-O)
As a result of the design changes and increase in workload, Building 776/777 was
constructed for plutonium casting, fabrication, and assembly, and quality assurance
testing. The main function of the 776 side of Building 776/777 was the casting and
fabrication of plutonium parts. The main function of the 777 side of Building 776/777
was assembly of parts and some disassembly of site returns (weapons returned to the site
for retirement, upgrade, or reprocessing).
The original foundry was located in the southwest corner of Building 776/777. The
foundry contained sixteen furnaces, which were crowded into the room. Foundry
operations cast plutonium, either as ingots suitable for rolling and further wrought
processing or into shapes amenable to direct machining operations. Fabrication
operations involved either direct machining of ingots or cast shapes or conducting the
wrought process, which further prepared the ingot for machining operations. The
wrought process involved rolling the ingots into sheets and cutting them into circularshaped
blanks to be passed through a press. The pressed blanks were then annealed and
machined. Machining involved taking the cast or wrought part and debrimming or
removing spurs, contouring, drilling, and milling. Machining operations took place on
the North-South-East Line.
Assembly operations involved assembling trigger components. The units primarily
contained nuclear materials such as plutonium and uranium; however, non-nuclear
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materials such as beryllium, steel, copper, aluminum, and silver were also assembled.
Assembly activities included drilling, welding, brazing, turning, and polishing. After
assembly, complete units were packed and shipped off site or to Building 991 for final
processing, storage, and shipping.
The first weapons disassembly (site return) work was performed in the 777 side of
Building 776/777 in 1958. Increased site-return disassembly activities began in the late
1960s, as old weapon designs were retired and disassembled to recover valuable
materials. After disassembly, parts were inspected for unusual conditions and segregated
according to material type. Plutonium materials were returned to the 776 side of the
building's foundry where they were cast into feed ingots. Depending on assay
specifications, the ingot was then sent to the molten salt extraction facility for americium
removal. Otherwise, the ingot was sent to Building 771 for chemical purification and
returned to the foundry as a fresh button. Enriched uranium parts went to Building 881
for recovery, and depleted uranium and inert components were packaged for disposal at
off site disposal sites.
On May 11,1969, a fire occurred in Building 776 from the spontaneous ignition of a
briquette of scrap plutonium. The fire resulted in $26.5 million in property loss, loss of
production capabilities, and the decontamination took two years to complete. The
incident resulted in many new safety features including installation of water sprinklers
and firewalls to control the spread of fire, and the use of inert atmospheres for plutonium
operations to prevent fire propagation from occurring.
After the fire, the majority of the foundry and fabrication operations were transferred to
Building 707. After several months of cleanup, limited production operations resumed in
Building 776. The main operation conducted in Building 776 became waste and residue
handling, although operations such as disassembly of old weapons (site returns) and
special projects continued in the building. Processes conducted in the building included
size reduction of large scrap equipment, pyrochemistry, coating operations, and test runs
of a fluidized-bed incinerator unit.
Building 707 (HAER No. CO-83-M)
Building 707 was the primary plutonium fabrication building from 1970 until production
ceased in 1989. After two destructive fires in other plutonium production buildings
(Buildings 771 and 776/777), the design of Building 707 incorporated extensive control
and safety features, including the first-time use of inert atmosphere in the glove boxes.
Construction of Building 707 began in 1967 with plutonium operations commencing on
May 25,1970. Building 707A was built in 1971 to accommodate operations moved
from Building 776/777 as a result of the fire in Building 776.
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Operations in Building 707 included metallurgy, parts fabrication, assembly, inspection,
and non-destructive testing. The main floor of Building 707 was compartmentalized into
eight side-by-side modules (A through H) which contained one or more of the primary
production operations. Each module was 140' x 49' with an area of approximately 6,860
square feet. The modules were arranged from the north side of the building to the south.
The main floor of Building 707A was divided into two modules, Modules J and K, which
contained plutonium foundry operations and two plutonium storage vaults. One storage
vault, on the north end ofModule K, was equipped with a remote controlled,
computerized retriever (the X-Y retriever) for handling plutonium stored in the vault.
The general flow of work and materials was from Modules J, K, and A sequentially to
Module H.
Building 371 (HAERNo. CO-83-K)
Building 371 was originally built to accommodate the plutonium recovery operations
from Building 771, using advanced technology for plutonium handling, recovery, and
safety. Although fundamentally based on the processes and principles developed
previously in Building 771, the design of Building 371 incorporated many technological
advances and refinements. The design, initiated in 1969, was far more sophisticated and
complex than any others at the Plant; Building 371 was designed to emphasize
automatically controlled, remotely operated processes, as contrasted with the direct,
hands-on operations in Building 771. The operations for the building focused primarily
on recovery of plutonium from both solid and liquid wastes. The final product from the
process operations was intended to be recycled plutonium metal, which was to be reused
in the Plant's primary manufacturing process.
Operations in Building 371 were threefold: recover plutonium from all residues
generated by plutonium-related fabrication, assembly, and research activities throughout
the Plant; convert the recovered plutonium into high-purity metal buttons; and recover
associated americium and convert it to americium dioxide, a saleable product.
Building 371 was originally scheduled for completion in 1976 at a cost of approximately
$70 million. The project was plagued with schedule overruns and construction material
substitutions. The stacker-retriever, a remotely operated, mechanized transport system
for movement of plutonium storage drums, became operational in 1976. In 1978, the
waste treatment process came on line. In 1980, the heating, venting, and air conditioning
systems were brought on line. The rest of the building was finally completed in 1981 at a
total cost of approximately $214 million.
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In 1982, pilot-scale aqueous plutonium recovery operations began in Building 371
(Photograph 83-K-17). There were not enough operators to run the process continuously,
so the process was run in batches, shutting down one phase to start the next. Employees
were to be transferred to the new facility when it was fully operational and recovery
operations in Building 771 were shut down.
One year after the aqueous recovery process began, the USDOE conducted a plutonium
inventory at the Plant. The Building 371 inventory was difficult to quantify. The
building had over 770 miles of piping, of which, 70 miles were plutonium process lines.
Process" lines ran through walls and traversed several floors. In the 1960s, personnel
associated with safeguards and security were primarily concerned with the amount of
material that went into the process and the amount that came out; the amount currently
residing in the process was only estimated. By 1976, accountability was required for
every gram of material at all times. The aqueous process was shut down until all inprocess
plutonium could be located. The majority of the material was found. Designed
in 1968, Building 371 was not constructed to meet this type ofsafeguard and security
requirement Although several projects to upgrade the system were proposed, none were
approved. The aqueous process, which never ran at full capacity, was not operational
after 1983.
Shipping/Receiving, Assembly-Building 91/991 (Plant D) (HAERNo. CO-83-U)
Building 991 was the first building to be completed at Rocky Flats. It was designed for
shipping and receiving and for final assembly ofweapons components. Administrative
services for the Plant were also carried out in Building 991 until Building 111 was
In addition to the handling of materials, a number of research and development projects
were conducted in the building. These included: radiation studies conducted from the
1960s-70s; a beryllium coating process from 1964-76; and an explosives-forming project
from 1966-74. Most special projects and research and development operations were
moved out of the building by 1976.
Building 991 was primarily used for off site shipping of components, assemblies, and
other materials associated with past weapons and/or plutonium metal production. The
building also housed non-destructive testing operations and other support operations.
Building 991 was used to test the quality of non-nuclear raw materials and parts
fabricated by off site vendors and to inventory and store parts for future use. Building
991 took over storage operations from Building 881 in the 1970s. To insure the quality
of the off site materials, a metallography lab was used. In the late 1980s, the handling of
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non-classified materials was moved to Buildings 130 and 460. Non-nuclear materials
ready for assembly were sent directly to Building 460.
Security (HAERNo. CO-83-V, CO-83-G, CO-83-X, CO-83-Z, CO-83-T, CO-83-H, CO-
83-1, CO-83-D, andCO-83-J)
Indicative of the importance of security, the first structure on site was a small guard shed
building in mid-May 1951 (Drawing 17). In comparison, excavation for the first
permanent building on site, Building 91, did not begin until July 10,1951. The Plant was
surrounded by 10 miles of barbed wire fence, electric fence, and livestock fence, and
armed guards patrolled the perimeter of the Plant. Each of the four lettered plants had its
own guardhouse: Building 446 for Plant A; Building 864 for Plant B; Building 773 for
Plant C; and Building 992 for Plant D. Building 121 and firing range were constructed
for the security force as part of the original Plant. As new production buildings were
constructed, individual guardhouses were also constructed for them. Guardhouse 888
was built in 1964, close to the criticality laboratory (Building 886); Guardhouse 461 in
1985, for the stainless steel fabrication plant (Building 460).
Facilities considered to be part of the security force included: Building 119; Building
T120A; Building 121; Building 128; Buildings 987 and 993 (munitions storage);
Buildings 100,120,900, and 920 (personnel access control points); Buildings 372A, 372,
762A, 763,792A, and 792 (major access control points); Buildings 113,133,446,461,
557,773, 864, 888, and 992 (guard posts); and Buildings 375,550,761, and 901 (guard
Security of the Plant included control of access; preparation for and prompt response to
threats or acts of violence; screening of future employees, including a 15-year
background check for Q clearance; inventory control of government equipment; and
procedures for handling breaches of security. The Atomic Energy Act (Section 161.k)
authorized security personnel to carry firearms and arrest without a warrant in order to
safeguard the special nuclear material from theft and to keep citizens and workers from
harm. This authorization included the use of deadly force, when necessary.
The first security chief at Rocky Flats Plant was James A. O'Brien, a former narcotics and
Army intelligence officer. According to a former security director, in the early years,
security was concerned with the Cold War, espionage, and the secrecy associated with
building nuclear weapons. It was important to safeguard design secrets, and later, the
numbers ofweapons being produced. Classified information was available only on a
need-to-know basis; employees received instruction only on their specific duties. All
employees were required to have a Q clearance, a top-secret level for atomic workers
requiring a 15-year background check. Employees were forbidden to talk about their
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work with anyone (Kennedy, 1994:16; Young, 8 May 1992). Employees at the Plant
were unaware of the duties of family members also employed at the Plant. There were
many instances of immediate family members working at the Plant, with no knowledge
ofwhat the other's job duties were.
Cold War fear ran rampant during the early 1950s through the late 1980s, possibly
bordering on paranoia. Employees' backgrounds were thoroughly checked; rooms were
monitored for bugs prior to meetings being held; information was compartmentalized.
Production information was shared only on a need-to-know basis. Secrecy was a key
component of site security. Off site, employees were only allowed to say where they
worked and their official labor title (Weaver, 1998 interview). The secrecy was part of
everyday life: no one asked for or offered information; most workers did not consider it a
drawback, just a fact of working at Rocky Flats.
Very few employees knew what the final product was that was being shipped to Pantex,
nor did they consider it important to know what the final product was (Weaver, 1998
interview). Most employees were cleared for work only in the area or building to which
they were assigned, and did not know what operations occurred in other buildings or
areas. They were required to have a separate badge for each area they entered (Rockwell
News, 1983). Workers parked outside the Plant area, at the west end (the sole entry
point), and were bused to Building 111, where they checked in at the clock room, and
then went to their own buildings. A small bus stop (114) was built in the administrative
area. By the mid-1950s, cars were allowed onto the site. A guard post, Building 100,
was built at the west access road in 1969 to check traffic. By 1964, an east access route
off Indiana Street had been built, with guardhouse Building 900.
Secrecy was also extended to the guards; they were not well informed as to what was to
be protected. Guards were not given information regarding what to protect within
individual buildings; they also worked on a need-to-know basis, gathering knowledge and
information from walking the floor. It was not until the mid-1980s that the security force
was formally trained on the nature of the materials that they were to protect
(Cunningham, 1998 interview).
Formal security sanctions were imposed. The first warning for a security infraction was
verbal, the second was written, the third required time off, and the penalty for the fourth
infraction was termination (Weaver, 1998 interview). Informal sanctions included
embarrassment and ridicule from co-workers. In one group, an eight ball (from a
billiards game) was circulated. If someone was written up, the eight ball had to sit on the
desk of the division manager as a constant reminder until someone else was written up
and the ball was passed on (Riddle, 1997 interview).
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Security infractions were considered big events at the Plant: people believed in what they
were doing and simply did not talk about their individual assignments or the Plant in
general (Richey, 1998 interview). Signs were posted on the outer gates with the number
of infractions that had occurred. When one occurred, an investigation took place
immediately, and the sign was updated regarding the outcome. Since the Plant
community was extremely tight, any infraction was considered a social stigma
(Cunningham, 1998 interview).
During the Manhattan Project, plutonium was also referred to as "copper." If someone
was really talking about copper, it was called "honest-to-god copper" (Rothe, 1997
interview). Continuing the practice of using codes, words such as plutonium, uranium, or
americium were not spoken at the Plant. Instead, code words like "X," "Y," or "Z" were
used. Depleted uranium was also known as tube alloy, carried over from British
terminology, and enriched uranium was also known as oralloy (Oak Ridge alloy).
In the 1970s and 1980s, security was concerned less with espionage and more with the
threat ofterrorism and infiltration of the Plant by protesters. Better protection of the
outer boundaries ofthe site became necessary. In 1972, a buffer zone of 4,600 acres
around the existing 1,900-acre Plant (Industrial Area and buffer zone) was purchased to
expand the open, undeveloped area providing additional protection. The buffer zone was
essentially an open area, surrounded by a barbed wire fence, ofthe type used to fence
grazing cattle from an area.
According to Ed Young, head of security operations at that time, the terrorist attack
during the 1972 Olympics led the government to believe that trained terrorists could
attack national defense facilities (Young, 8 May 1992). As a result, in 1978 plans were
made to install a $5 million perimeter security zone surrounding the plutonium operations
buildings. The perimeter security zone, when finished in 1983, consisted of a doubleperimeter
fence with closed-circuit television, alarms, and an uninterruptable power
supply. Access to the area was controlled at three checkpoint guardhouses: Building 372
at the inner fence by Building 371; Building 762 by 707; and Building 792 by 771. Four
guard towers, Buildings 375,550,761, and 901, were installed along the inner fence
(Buffer, 1995). By 1985, a perimeter intrusion detection assessment system was in place,
with its security centered in Building 764, to detect activities at the perimeter security
zone (Thompson, 2 July 1993).
In 1983, a new policy required that all vehicles driven onto the Plant site be searched by
security forces at the entrance gate. Guard posts and badge check houses were added at
the west gate in 1985 and at the east gate in 1986. In 1988, material access areas were
established to enhance security inside the production and classified building areas.
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The first protests at the Plant brought out the guards in full force, with rifles and
ammunition. During these protests, a booking area was established in Building 111 so
. that arrested protesters were processed on site instead of taking them to the Jefferson
County facility. Protesters that crossed onto Plant property were put on a bus and
transported on site. Many protesters were frightened by being brought inside the
perimeter of the Plant, a response that surprised the security force. Over the years, some
1,500 arrests of protesters were made. As one of the Rocky Flats officials put it to the
protesters, "We're equipped to deal with terrorists, but we are not equipped to deal with
you people." Nevertheless, the arrests were peaceful and according to the head of
security, Ed Young, no one was ever injured (Kennedy, 1994:27; Young, 8 May 1992).
The practice of bringing protestors on site ceased due to infiltration concerns
(Cunningham, 1998 interview). As protests continued and guards became accustomed to
dealing with outsiders, the security forces were not fully armed or in full force.
Guardhouses were established in the west parking lot (133) in 1986 and at the west end of
Central Avenue (113) in 1988. In 1990, the private security guard company, Wackenhut,
took over the protective services contract.
The Plant protection organization had a security inspector force and a lock and key
control group. The security inspectors regulated Plant and interplant access, provided
security patrols and checks, and escorted Plant shipments. Lock and key personnel kept
records of the locks and their keys, and of safes and their keys and combinations.
Security maintained a weapons arsenal, conducted tours for potential contractors, trained
new inspectors, investigated violations of Federal laws, and maintained liaison with local
law enforcement agencies.
Strategically located cameras detected movement in unmanned, sensitive areas for
increased security from unauthorized entry. Camera monitors were located in the nearest
Plant protection guard post.
Procedures to heighten security measures were implemented in January 1991 because of
the unrest in the Middle East. When the Persian Gulf War began on January 16,1991,
the Plant's emergency operations center was activated and staffed around-the-clock. The
USDOE Rocky Flats Field Office provided the operational oversight of safeguards and
security at the Plant. EG&G-Rocky Flats and Wackenhut Service, Inc., were the two
primary contractors responsible for ensuring that protection program strategies, policies,
andVprocedures were appropriately applied at the Plant to protect USDOE assets.
Document control was governed by USDOE regulations for the control and
accountability of classified documents at Rocky Flats. It was responsible for the flow,
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safe keeping, and disposal of classified records, such as documents, microfilm, and
The nuclear materials control group administered a computerized control system that
accounted for all nuclear materials. It also supplied the USDOE nuclear materials
information system with official material status information and data.
Communications at the Plant included a combination of commercial and secure telephone
lines and teletype services, for secure and non-secure radio contact. Supplemental
communication facilities included:
• Direct telephone links between the guard posts and central alarm station in Building
• Direct telephone links between the central alarm station and ten key plant locations;
• Two push-button telephone call directors, one in the central alarm station, and one in
the shift superintendent's office, with connections to thirty stations on and off the
Plant site; and
• A public address system for general Plant or individual building announcements,
national emergency alert and attack signals, building evacuation warnings. Direct
connections to the nation's warning system and the metropolitan emergency
telephone system.
There were two teletype services on site, one commercial and the other secure. The
commercial teletype system, Western Union, based in Building 881, provided a printed
copy of the message. The secure automatic communication network and a programmable
terminal had a teletype center in Building 750. The secure automatic communication
network, connected to USDOE headquarters in Maryland, could prepare, transmit, and
receive classified and unclassified teletype messages from over forty USDOE offices and
contractor locations. A newswire was introduced to the Plant site in 1971. This system,
similar to an answering service, was updated each weekday morning and when events of
major news would break.
There were twelve separate radio frequencies for two-way communication by
departments on site. Radio communication was used by Plant protection, the fire
department, Plant Services, the Plant postal service, radiation monitoring, Plant
maintenance, and facilities engineering.
Radio communications between the Plant and other sites was also used. There was a
two-way connection between the Plant and the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department,
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St. Anthony's Hospital, and nationwide USDOE locations and personnel over the
emergency radio system. There was a listening watch for Colorado State Patrol
Fire Safety
A twenty-five-person fire department provided immediate around-the-clock response to
reports of fires and other emergencies. The fire department routinely inspected all Plant
facilities for fire hazards; held fire training programs for its own members, as well as for
members of building fire brigades and Plant protection personnel; and presented
indoctrination courses for employees on fire prevention and reporting.
Fire brigades in the major buildings were trained to act as firefighters until the fire
department personnel arrived on the scene. Plant protection back-up teams were trained
to assist, where necessary. Security and fire personnel were cross-trained in the event
additional backup was needed. Security could help with the hoses and the dress out into
protective equipment. Fire brigade personnel were next in line to be given firearms, if
necessary, in a security emergency (Cunningham, 1998 interview).
Plutonium is pyrophoric, and small particles will spontaneously ignite in the presence of
oxygen. Special precautions had to be developed to prevent and to fight plutonium fires.
Initially, the fire danger of plutonium was not completely understood, and preventative
measures were phased in over time as the dangers became better known. These
precautions to prevent and control fires eventually consisted of using glove boxes
provided with argon or nitrogen atmosphere, displacing oxygen with carbon dioxide, and
using heat-sensing and smoke-sensing devices and fire doors.
Two major plutonium fires occurred at the Rocky Flats Plant, the first in 1957 and the
second in 1969. Buildings were modified and new safety procedures implemented as a
direct result of these fires. The 1957 fire damaged Building 771, causing radiological
contamination ofmuch of the interior of the building. The fire spread from a glove box
window on the fabrication line to the glove box exhaust filters, and the main filter
plenum. The main fire was under control within 30 minutes of its discovery, but
rekindled several times. Shortly after the fire was thought to be under control, flammable
vapors collecting in the main exhaust duct exploded, spreading plutonium contamination
throughout much of the building. Security officers discovered flames at around 10:10
p.m.; the fire was declared out by 2:00 a.m. the following day (September 12).
Prior to the 1957 fire, water was prohibited in the plutonium areas because of its
moderating effect, potentially allowing a criticality event (spontaneous fission chain
reaction) to occur. During the 1957 fire, water was used to extinguish burning
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combustible materials possibly contaminated with plutonium (i.e. Plexiglas and ducting
materials in the exhaust plenum) without a criticality event or fatal consequences. As a
result, standpipes and sprinkler systems were installed in plutonium handling areas
throughout the Plant. Another result ofthis fire, which was propagated by combustible
and flammable material, was that less flammable materials were investigated for use in
glove box construction, specifically, a replacement for Plexiglas windows.
Off site release of plutonium into the atmosphere from the 1957 fire was estimated at
approximately one gram. No major injuries were reported as a' result of the fire. After
that fire, many of the plutonium operations were moved to Building 776/777. The fire
debris was cleaned up by 1958. For a more detailed discussion of the 1957 fire, see
The second plutonium caused fire occurred on May 11,1969, in Building 776/777 glove
boxes. The first notice of the fire came at 2:29 p.m., when an alarm, triggered by a glove
box overheat system, alerted firemen. No one was injured in the blaze, but some thirtythree
employees were treated for contamination. The fire occurred from spontaneous
ignition of a briquette of scrap plutonium alloy metal contained in a small metal can,
probably without a lid. The 1969 fire was the first time that water was used directly on
burning plutonium (Note that in the 1957 fire, water was used to put out burning
combustibles, not burning plutonium). The fire resulted in $26.5 million in property loss.
There was an estimated plutonium release from the building of 0.000012 grams, all
contained on the Plant site. Decontamination of the area took approximately two years.
For a more detailed discussion of the 1969 fire, see HAER No. CO-83-O.
The fire changed the way that business was conducted at Rocky Flats and in the Atomic
Energy Commission complex, and possibly had international influences. Prior to the fire,
there was little quality control. After the fire, the complex started applying multi-layers
of safety reviews and quality control (Calkins, 1998 interview). Safety features instituted
after the fire included the creation of an inert atmosphere in the glove boxes to prevent
propagation of fires and the addition of water sprinklers and more fire walls. Because of
their efforts, fire department personnel received a Group Presidential Citation for heroism
in the 1969 fire for risking their own health and well being to prevent a breach of the
building, thus preventing plutonium contamination in the atmosphere.
Health and Safety
During initial production and experimentation, little was known about the properties of
uranium, plutonium, and beryllium, associated health risks, and allowable levels of
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exposure. Although specifics were not known, from the beginning of operations, it was
recognized that health risks were associated with handling these materials: safety was
always a priority within the weapons complex. Throughout the development of Rocky
Flats, a great deal of expense and effort was dedicated to reducing identified health risks
to both the workers and the environment. Public sentiment against the use of nuclear
power, environmental concerns, economic factors, and issues raised by various protest
groups helped keep the issue of health and safety a top priority at the Plant.
Plutonium is a radioactive material, emitting alpha and beta particles and gamma rays.
Alpha particles are usually completely absorbed by a person's outer layer of dead skin, so
are not harmful to the body. Alpha particles are harmful if ingested or inhaled, delivering
a radiation dose to the lungs, liver, and bones that may increase the risk of cancer
(Sutcliffe, 1995:2). Beta particles are more penetrating than alpha particles, but are less
damaging over distances. Beta particles can be reduced or stopped by a layer of clothing.
Gamma rays can easily pass completely through the human body or be absorbed by
tissue, becoming a radiation hazard for the entire body. As a result, plutonium machining
is performed under controlled conditions inside gloveboxes that include containment,
filtering, and shielding (Citizen's Guide, 1992:16).
Most beryllium compounds are toxic; if inhaled they can cause a disease characterized as
beryllium disease or berylliosis. Inhalation is the primary mode of beryllium entry into
the body, and clinical symptoms may be either acute or chronic.
The health effects of enriched and depleted uranium are significantly less than the health
effects of plutonium, and therefore can be handled outside gloveboxes with the airborne
radiation contamination controlled through building or room ventilation. The principal
concern when working with depleted uranium is uranium's chemical toxicity and beta
particles. If taken into the body via inhalation or ingestion, uranium may damage vital
organs such as the kidneys or lungs. Protective clothing was worn in uranium operation
areas (Weaver, 1998 interview).
When the first quantity of plutonium was made in the 1940s, half of it was turned over to
health and safety experts to study the impacts of this new material on people. Allowable
exposure limits for personnel existed throughout the life ofRocky Flats, changing over
time as new information and data was learned. Major improvements and technological
advancements occurred in the areas of radiation protection, detection, bioassay, and
dosimetry in Building 123. During the production years, funding for equipment and
research programs appeared limitless (Trice, 1997 interview). Monies granted for health
and safety issues allowed the labs access to state-of-the-art equipment to develop
methods to do things faster, cheaper, better, and safer. Although production information
was on a need-to-know basis, information, such as an injury or accident, traveled through
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the Plant like a wild fire (Cunningham, 1998 interview).
In 1963, the first patent granted for a Rocky Flats invention was assigned to John R.
Mann, health physicist, and Art Wainwright, a former Plant employee. The patent was
for an automatic radiation hand counter. Also in the 1960s, the SX-139 supplied
breathing air garment was developed at Rocky Flats and approved by USDOE. This
apparatus represented a two and one half-year effort to improve the supplied breathing air
garments used at the Plant In April 1995, John Schierloch, a mechanical engineer at
Rocky Flats received a patent for a gas generation test canister prototype that measured
the buildup of hydrogen inside plutonium residue storage drums.
In addition to the research efforts, accidents that occurred at the Plant spurred a number
ofnew safety measures. The 1969 fire in the Building 776/777 glove boxes resulted in
the creation of inert nitrogen atmosphere in the glove boxes and the addition of water
sprinklers and more fire walls. As health regulations became stricter and more research
on the effects of radiation or inhalation of particles became known, other changes took
place at the Plant. In 1966, a personnel decontamination room was added to the southeast
corner of the medical building (122), consisting of shower facilities and first-aid
equipment. This addition enabled contaminated workers needing medical attention to go
directly to the decontamination area rather than through the regular emergency building
entrance (Buffer, 1995).
After decades of studies of the health effects to workers and the public living close to the
Plant, the results have been inconclusive. One study, conducted on white males
employed at Rocky Flats for at least two years between 1956 and 1980, recorded the
cancer deaths in this group. Workers with higher internal plutonium concentrations were
found to have higher rates of death from all causes (combining cancer and non-cancer
deaths) and also found to have higher rates of certain types of cancer (lymphopoietic
nemoplasms, digestive system, and prostatic). Workers with higher cumulative external
radiation doses had higher rates ofcertain types ofcancer (brain tumors, liver,
lymphosarcoma, reticulum cell carcinoma, and myeloid leukemia). The results from both
comparisons suggested a possible relation between exposure and observed health effects
but were not conclusive (Wilkinson, 1987).
A limited study, conducted in 1990, of chromosome abnormalities in 18 plutonium
workers at Rocky Flats was conducted. More chromosome aberrations were recorded in
workers with higher cumulative radiation doses. No chromosomal differences were
noted in workers from exposures to chemicals.
A 1981 study examined the relation between cancer rates and exposures to plutonium.
The study found increases in many cancer types for persons in exposed areas (near the
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Plant), as compared with those for unexposed areas. This study was replicated in 1987,
and although the findings were confirmed, conclusions could not be drawn about an
association between plutonium concentrations in the soil outside the Plant and cancer
rates. No increase was found in cancer rates for all cancers combined, for radiationsensitive
cancers, or for cancers of the respiratory system in the region within ten miles of
the Plant for both study periods.
In 1982, researchers measured plutonium concentrations in autopsy samples from more
than 500 persons who died in Colorado. They compared those who lived near the Plant
with those who lived far from the plant, and found a weak relation between plutonium
concentrations in autopsy samples and distance from the Plant. However, the researchers
concluded that the evidence was not strong enough to link the elevated concentrations to
emissions from the Plant.
Researchers at the National Cancer Institute completed a study in 1990 of cancer
incidence and mortality around 62 nuclear facilities in the United States. This study
compared cancer rates in counties near nuclear facilities including the Rocky Flats Plant
with those for counties farther away. The results from this study show slight elevations
for some cancers in some age groups, but these data are hard to interpret because of
limited information about other cancer-related factors.
Colorado Department of Health and the Environment began historical public exposure
studies in 1990 to identify the potential health effects of past chemical and radionuclide
releases from Rocky Flats to surrounding communities. Preliminary conclusions
published in 1993 stated that past public exposures to contaminants from the Plant were
minimal. Final results, due to be published in September of 1999, draw similar
conclusions (Colorado Department ofHealth and Environment).
Epidemiologic studies conducted by the Colorado Department of Health and
Environment suggest elevated cancer risks for Plant workers, but these results are not
definitive. Scientists require fairly stringent evidence for such conclusions. Cancer rates
must be high enough to satisfy criteria for statistical analysis, and must be clearly related
to exposure to radiation or other hazardous substances that came from the nuclear facility.
Epidemiologic studies of persons who lived near the Rocky Flats Plant have yielded
conflicting results, mainly because data on exposures to radiation and toxic materials
from the Plant were not sufficient and/or other cancer-related factors (i.e. smoking, etc.)
were not considered.
The Rocky Flats Beryllium Health Surveillance Program, initiated in June 1991, was
designed to provide medical surveillance for current and former employees exposed to
beryllium. The surveillance program identified 27 cases of chronic beryllium disease and
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another 74 cases of beryllium sensitization out of 4,268 individuals tested. Beryllium
disease affects the lungs of its victims, causing fatigue, shortness of breath, and persistent
Safety Programs
The first major safety program at the Plant was organized by General Manager, F.H.
Langell in 1951. The first division physician came on site in 1952 and acted as the
construction workers' physician (Buffer, 1995). By September 17,1959 Rocky Flats had
established a safety record of 7 million man-hours ofwork without a disabling injury.
The safety figure eclipsed all performances by Colorado industry in addition to the fifteen
other Dow plants (operating at the time) and the eight major facilities comprising the
Albuquerque, New Mexico operations of the Atomic Energy Commission. In June 22,
1960, Dr. Leland Doan, President of the Dow Chemical Company, visited the site and
presented a bronze plaque representing the President's Safety Award in recognition of the
excellent safety record at Rocky Flats.
In 1966, dosimeter badges used to monitor employees' exposure to radiation were a
Type-A gamma ray film badge. By 1969, all gamma ray dosimeters were converted to
thermoluminescent dosimeters. Dosimeter badges were provided to all employees
frequently in production areas. By 1976, all neutron badges used were
thermoluminescent dosimeter badges. Rocky Flats was the first nuclear weapons
facilities to use the thermoluminescent dosimeter badges. Exposure levels were
monitored in the Analytical Health Physics Laboratory (Building 123).
Mandatory measurements for both external and internal doses were taken. Initially,
detection limits for plutonium, americium, and uranium in urine samples was 0.15
disintegration per minute; by 1995, the detection limit was 0.02 disintegration per minute.
This was due to improvements in procedures and equipment developed in the laboratory
over the years.
Filtering of airborne radioactive particles was done through the use of individual
respirators. A respirator fitting program was established in 1964, and in 1971 employees
working in production areas were required to be clean-shaven so that the respirators
would have a snug fit (Buffer, 1995:1971). In 1972, a system was established for
checking the respirators for efficiency in the environmental test chamber of Building 123.
On January 1,1973, a new safety program was kicked off. The "Life is Fragile - Handle
with Care" safety program, designed to increase safety awareness in employees' homes
and communities, was put together by and for employees. In 1973, the Atomic Energy
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Commission allowed state health officials to have access to the fenced, secured areas of
the Plant to check on general safety conditions.
In 1974, more direct emphasis was placed on research activity with the formation of
health sciences, charged with the various aspects of radiation monitoring and employee
health; and environmental sciences and waste control, overseeing all waste control
activity and environmental monitoring. Radiation monitoring conducted in the analytical
physics laboratory (Building 123) included gamma counting, tritium analysis, beryllium
analysis, alpha and beta counting and the dosimetry process.
On July 1,1991 the beryllium health surveillance program officially began. Employees
found to be sensitized to beryllium were further evaluated for chronic beryllium disease
(Buffer, 1995). Two medical studies were begun to monitor the long-term effects of
exposure to beryllium and radioactive materials such as plutonium, enriched uranium,
americium, and others. These studies, mandated by federal law (the National Defense
Act of 1993), involve all former Plant workers, and are currently being used to detect
early signs of disease.
In late February 1994, the Plutonium Working Group Report on "Environmental, Safety
and Health Vulnerabilities Associated with the Department's Plutonium Storage," a 28-
volume, 8,300-page report, was officially released. The report looked at plutonium
environmental, safety, and health vulnerability issues at USDOE facilities complex wide.
The report listed Rocky Flats as having five ofthe fourteen most vulnerable facilities -
Building 771 (No. 1); Building 776 (No. 2); Building 779 (No. 7); Building 707 (No. 8);
and Building 371 (No. 9).
New technology to detect small amounts of americium, a decay tracer product of
plutonium, in employees' lungs was brought on line at Rocky Flats in June 1995. This
technology was the most advanced in the industry and allowed direct measurement of
radiation to be taken for a lung count. Two of the three rooms used by internal dosimetry
used the new technology.
Health and Safety buildings considered primary contributors to the significance of Rocky
Flats according to National Register of Historic Places guidelines include: Building 122
(emergency medical services); 123 (health physics laboratory); 442 (laundry for uraniumcontaminated
clothing); 778 (laundry for plutomum-contarninated clothing); and 886
(nuclear safety facility and critical mass laboratory).
Health Facilities
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The original health facilities were located in the medical building (Building 122 - HAER
No. C0-83-S) and the health physics building (Building 123 - HAER No. CO-83-B). A
. laboratory and administrative area were housed in the health physics building.
Equipment used in collecting air samples, control and accountability ofradioactive
sources, recording limits of surface contamination and radiation exposure, personal
protection, surveillance equipment, x-ray equipment, and a nuclear alarm system were
also housed in Building 123. Personnel also monitored Plant employees for lung and
systemic burdens, using body counting and radiochemical techniques. Analysis of
personnel dosimeters and all airborne sample analyses, including stack samples and
general-room air samples, were conducted in the health physics laboratories.
The medical building (122) housed the doctor and emergency health care facilities. The
medical department provided medical services to employees brought to them by the
emergency unit of the fire department for diagnosis, first aid, x-ray, and minor surgical
treatment, and also provided ambulance service (including helicopter transportation) to
several local hospitals. The medical department performed scheduled physical
examinations of all employees. A personnel decontamination room containing shower
facilities and first aid equipment was added to Building 122 in 1966. This addition
enabled contaminated workers needing medical attention to go directly to the
decontamination area rather than through the regular emergency building entrance
(Buffer, 1995).
Nuclear Safety Department
The nuclear safety group was established in 1953. The primary purposes of the nuclear
safety department were to generate technical criticality safety information, review
operating procedures for nuclear safety, provide guidance for implementing those
procedures, and establish nuclear safety policies for the safety of production operations.
Nuclear criticality safety can be defined as practices associated with avoiding an
accidental nuclear criticality event or spontaneous nuclear fission chain reaction. In a
nuclear chain reaction, a neutron splits one uranium or plutonium atom into two smaller
atoms, which in turn release energy and neutrons; these neutrons split other fissile atoms,
releasing more energy and neutrons. Eventually enough atoms are split and neutrons
released that the reaction sustains itself. The chain reaction produces energy that can be
converted to electricity or used in atomic weapons. A criticality event would not result in
a nuclear explosion, but could liberate a large amount of energy and high levels of
radiation. The presence of large quantities of fissile materials in numerous forms on the
Rocky Flats site made it necessary to maintain an active criticality safety program.
Although a number of nuclear criticality accidents have occurred nationwide, the Rocky
Flats Plant had none.
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The nuclear safety department was divided into two groups: the criticality mass
laboratory, where experiments were conducted, and criticality engineering. The principal
functions of criticality engineering included writing criticality limits and procedures for
the safe handling offissile materials, implementing the limits and procedures in all areas
that handled fissile materials, training and indoctrinating personnel who handled fissile
materials, and performing auditing operations for compliance with USDOE guidelines.
Criticality limits, the amount of material allowed in any one place (process line, storage
container, etc.) at one time, were strictly enforced. If criticality limits were exceeded,
penalties were severe, possibly resulting in termination (Rothei 1997 interview).
Criticality tests were conducted in the criticality mass laboratory after 1964. Until the
early 1960s, criticality testing was done after-hours in the production glove boxes.
Experiments were only allowed to go towards criticality, but not allowed to go critical.
Values were then extrapolated. The need to obtain more actual values was recognized
and in 1964, ground was broken on a state-of-the-art criticality mass laboratory (Rothe,
1997 interview). Investigators would set up the production materials in various arrays to
perform neutron- multiplication experiments and make predictions with respect to safe
geometries for various kinds of production vessels, spacing parameters, shipping
containers, and other items. These in situ experiments conducted outside Building 886
were always subcritical; neutron count rates were observed as criticality was approached
but never reached.
Experiments at Rocky Flats validating the safety parameters for the storage of fissionable
solutions in rascnig ring tanks resulted in the design oftwo substitute storage tank
configurations: the annular tank and the poison tube tank. These designs allowed for
more economical solution testing with no decrease in safety. The poison tube tanks were
not used at the Rocky Flats Plant due to the change in the overall site mission; however,
they were used at other USDOE facilities. Experiments were also conducted to validate
the cross-sections and usefulness of materials used at the Rocky Flats Plant.
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Critical Mass Laboratory (Building 886) (HAER CO-83-A)
To further reduce hazards, criticality tests were moved to a dedicated facility, Building
886. The principal function of the laboratory was to provide accurate criticality data for
engineers to use in establishing safe nuclear procedures. The laboratory facility had
approximately 12,000 square feet of space for electronics, fissile material storage, and
critical mass testing. The actual tests were conducted in a room having 4'-thick concrete
walls and a 2'-thick concrete ceiling. The room was leak tested to insure that, in the event
of an accident, no contamination would be released to the environment. The room was
sealed during experiments. Redundant automatic shutdown mechanisms were built into
each experimental system to preclude a nuclear incident. All experiments followed
detailed written procedures and were conducted by trained personnel. The criticality
safety group at Rocky Flats performed experiments and calculations to identify container
or vessel geometries or arrays of nuclear material that had the potential to spontaneously
fission. Experiments and calculations were conducted to evaluate the potential for
criticality under varying conditions and to validate computer programs used for criticality
safety analysis.
The first experiments in the building were conducted in 1965 with highly enriched
uranium. Between 1965 and 1992, approximately 1,600 critical mass experiments were
conducted on enriched uranium metal and solution, plutonium metal, low enriched
uranium oxide, and several special applications. Additional testing programs were
instituted after 1969 when the critical mass program at Lawrence Radiation Laboratories
was shut down and transferred to Rocky Flats (Rothe, 1997 interview).
After 1983, experiments were conducted primarily with uranyl nitrate solutions, and did
not involve solid materials. Experiments continued until 1987, when testing programs
were temporarily stopped for routine equipment modifications, contamination control,
and ventilation repairs. Before needed corrections and modifications were completed in
1989, operations at the entire Rocky Flats Plant were curtailed due to the FBI raid.
Criticality research at the criticality mass laboratory never resumed.
Heating, Ventilation, andAir Conditioning Systems
Contaminant Zones/Filtration
Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems confined hazardous materials within
process areas to prevent the dispersion of radioactive aerosols, noxious fumes, and vapors
into areas normally occupied by personnel (Drawing 16). They also controlled the
release of such contaminants from a production facility to the lowest practicable levels,
both under normal operating conditions and under accident conditions. Heating,
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ventilation, and air conditioning systems included not only air ventilation capability but
also, in many buildings having nuclear materials, inert gas ventilation that provided
environmental control and fire protection for specific areas.
For confining radioactive materials, individual buildings were divided into several zones
(Zones I-IV), separated by physical barriers. The ventilation pressure was increasingly
negative from zone to zone toward areas of potentially higher radioactivity. Ventilation
atmosphere flowed from areas having the least potential for radioactive contamination
toward areas having progressively higher potentials. Definite pressure differentials were
maintained between the zones.
Zone I, the primary confinement zone, included glove boxes, canyons, vaults, and their
exhaust atmosphere handling and cleaning systems (i.e., areas of highest potential
radioactive contamination). There was either one additional, less critical zone between a
Zone I area and the final containment barrier to the outside environment, or a monolithic
concrete floor, wall, or roof with no penetrations to the outside environment. Zone I
atmosphere was negative with respect to the atmosphere in all other zones.
Zone IA (buffer zone) included access air locks to glove boxes and canyons, downdraft
table enclosures, downdraft tables, hood enclosures, tank vaults, and their exhaust
atmosphere handling and cleaning systems. Zone IA areas were essentially open
containment areas (hoods, and downdraft tables) where the capture velocity of the
ventilation atmosphere was utilized and controlled rather than a fixed pressure
differential maintained.
Zone II (secondary confinement) included the process rooms and work areas containing
the Zone I and Zone IA confinement areas, enclosures, and systems. Zone II
atmospheres were maintained at a pressure less than that ofZone III.
Zone III (tertiary confinement) included access areas, individual process control rooms,
decontamination areas, and the corridors surrounding Zone II and adjacent to the outside
shell ofthe building itself. Zone III also housed the air supply and return system and
utility systems that potentially could contain slight radioactivity. The pressure in Zone III
was negative relative to that in Zone IV of the building.
Zone IV space included such areas as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning control
rooms and general non-radioactive utility and support areas. Zone IV pressure was
slightly negative relative to outside ambient air pressure.
The air pressure balance between zones was maintained by differential pressure-sensing
instruments and was controlled by inlet and outlet zone dampers. The pressure
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differentials maintained air flow toward Zone I areas, then to final filtration, prior to
being exhausted to the outside atmosphere.
The outside shell ofthe building provided the final containment barrier for radioactive
materials. There were no openings in those portions of the building shell that separated
Zone I, IA, and II areas from the outdoors. Passage from Zone III through the building
outer shell to the outdoors was through air locks.
High Efficiency Paniculate Air Filter Testing Laboratory (Building 442) (HAER
No. C0-83-AG)
Air exhausted from facilities handling beryllium, plutonium, and uranium was exhausted
through several stages of high efficiency particulate air filters. The high efficiency
particulate air filters were purchased from various manufactures and tested by the filter
testing group prior to use. Each plutonium production building was fitted with at least
two banks of high efficiency particulate air filters. The filter testing group was formed in
1979 to act as an independent group to test the quality of high efficiency particulate air
filters (ChemRisk, 1992:95).
Operations in the high efficiency particulate air filter test facility were considered critical.
Production buildings were continuously monitored for radioactive contamination. Air
exhausted from the stacks of process and research buildings was monitored to detect
releases ofparticulate radioactivity and toxic dusts and chemicals. Also, ambient air was
monitored for airborne particulate matter, both on and off the Plant site.
Construction of the original section of Building 442, which housed the filter laboratory
was completed in 1953. The original building, containing 2,480 square feet, is a one
story, reinforced concrete structure. The newer part of the facility (constructed in 1975)
is a pre-engineered metal building. This addition housed the warehousing operation.
Breathing Air System
Clean, dry, breathing-quality air was available for personnel who were required to wear
protective suits or masks to perform operations where the atmosphere had less than 19.5
percent oxygen, was radioactive, highly toxic or noxious, or could be hazardous. Air was
supplied in personal tanks or canisters. Typical of these kinds of operations where
supplied air was used include cleaning liquid storage tanks, changing contaminated
filters, spraying a toxic paint or coating, or entering a smoke-filled room to extinguish a
fire. Workers in plutonium process buildings were the most frequent users of supplied
breathing air.
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The most extensive breathing air system was in the 700-area buildings. Either one oftwo
compressors in Building 708 could supply breathing air to Buildings 707,771,774, 776,
777, and 779. Portable compressors also provided Buildings 333,444,559, and 881 with
breathing air capability.
Inert Gases
An inert atmosphere (nitrogen and less than 5 percent oxygen) was used in various glove
boxes and storage areas to rninimize the possibility of fire. Total nitrogen consumption
during fiscal year 1975 was 515.6 million cubic feet; in 1976, nitrogen consumption was
at the rate of 58,000 to 60,000 standard cubic feet per hour.
Gases used in the inert atmosphere were normally supplied from an on site, liquid
nitrogen production plant that was owned and operated by a commercial supplier. A
secondary supply was a liquid nitrogen storage facility that received liquid nitrogen from
the on site plant or by truck or rail shipment from an off site commercial supplier.
Distribution ofthe nitrogen began at Building 223 with an underground, closed-loop
distribution line. From there, the gas was sent to Buildings 371, 701,707,771, and 776.
The nitrogen could be delivered in either clockwise or counterclockwise directions,
should one side of the loop have become inoperable. An interior system delivered the gas
from the 776 to the 777 area in Building 776/777.
Another inert gas system was a manually controlled argon system used in several
plutonium fabrication, assembly, and research buildings. It consisted of a supply tank
with distribution headers to various stations. It was used as a shield in arc welding and to
provide an inert glove box atmosphere.
Nitrogen and argon gases were used as conveying mediums for solid samples in the
close-carrier transfer systems of Building 371. Argon was also used in Building 371 to
safely indicate leaks in calcium metal storage facilities; was mixed with fluorine, as
make-up in a fluorination process; used to provide an inert atmosphere for molten
plutonium metal that was being purified; and used as a purging agent.
Health and Safety Practices
With the exception of those employees working in low-contamination areas such as the
laboratories, all the men (women initially were not allowed to work in the production
buildings) wore white clothing - coats, pants, hats, underwear, socks, and booties -
provided by the Atomic Energy Commission/USDOE (B. Richardson, 1995). Depending
on the area and task involved, at least 20 percent of an employee's time (1.5 hours per
day for each 8-hour shift) was dedicated to issues and practices relating to safety. At a
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minimum, each employee changed out of their protective clothing for morning, lunch,
personal, and afternoon breaks. After each break, the process was reversed (L. Wilson,
. 1998 interview). In addition to the time required for clothes changing, individuals were
routinely monitored with hand scanners and other mechanical devices. This protective
clothing was laundered in various buildings; originally, Buildings 771, 881, and 991 had
their own laundries, and Building 442 laundered the clothing from Building 444. When
Building 778 was constructed, the laundry for the plutonium-related buildings was
washed there; after 1976 ~ when Building 442 became the filter test facility — all laundry
on the site was handled in Building 778 (ChemRisk, 1992:96)..
Preventing employee contamination and exposure was the number one priority at the
Rocky Flats Plant. Many of the systems developed to protect Plant employees and area
residents were exclusive to the Rocky Flats Plant; they were not needed in other
manufecturing plants. Glove boxes and stainless steel enclosures were designed for
plutonium handling. Rubber gloves, usually impregnated with lead oxide, were affixed
to the glove boxes to facilitate the handling of plutonium. The glove boxes also had leadglass
windows and 0.125"-thick lead shielding to protect personnel against gamma rays
and x-rays. Water walls and hydrogenous materials were used where neutron shielding
was required.
Containment and shielding meant that plutonium was machined inside lead- and waterlined
glove boxes. Plutonium was moved from workstation to workstation within the six
modules in Building 707 in a system ofinterconnected enclosed glove boxes and lines
that ran for several hundred feet. In addition, Building 707 was connected to Building
776 via a glove box conveyor line (B. Richardson, 1995). In 1971, the operations in the
waste treatment building (774) were enclosed, providing containment of radioactive
airborne particles. Additional shielding, using lead, leaded glass, and Benelux and
Plexiglas was added to the glove boxes and conveyor lines in Buildings 776/777 and 771
in 1968 to reduce exposure to radiation (EG&G, 1994). From the outset of operations in
the late 1950s, employees wore dosimetry badges to measure external radiation exposure,
and radiation and health physics monitors watched operations in the production buildings
(Buffer, 1995).
Certain glove boxes had inert nitrogen atmospheres containing a maximum of about 5
percent oxygen to protect against fire propagation. Additional protection was provided
via the use of heat- and smoke-sensing devices, roll-down fire doors, and fire doors with
fusible links within the glove box system, and quick-connect fire extinguishers.
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Plutonium ingots and parts were generally stored in closed containers within a large
vaults. An inert atmosphere was maintained inside some vaults. One inerted vault had
10"-thick concrete walls with 7.25 "-thick windows made of laminated glass enclosing
gelled water. Material was introduced and removed from the vault by means of a
computer-operated retriever able to be manipulated in three different directions.
Safety in the plutonium fabrication and assembly operation was assured by the following
physical and administrative features:
• The1 operations were enclosed within steel glove boxes, and operating personnel wore
protective clothing;
• Certain steps were performed in an inert atmosphere to reduce the chance for
• Contaminants were filtered from liquid coolants and inert atmospheres;
• Heat, radioactivity, and oxygen levels were continuously monitored;
• Equipment was shielded to protect personnel from exposure to gamma, x-ray, and
neutron radiation;
• Fire doors confined fire, and there were effective fire-suppression systems in place;
• Plutonium was handled remotely, whenever possible;
• Criticality limits were posted for easy reference;
• Safety inspectors maintained a constant vigil for unsafe conditions and practices; and
• There was adequate indoctrination and on-the-job training of personnel.
Protective measures against dust containing beryllium particles required proper
ventilation that included the use of specialized exhaust hoods, immediate availability of
respiratory equipment, performance of certain operations under wet conditions, and
continuous monitoring at all workstations. Employees in beryllium areas wore protective
clothing and had to wash themselves before eating, drinking, or smoking, and prior to
leaving the area.
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Workers in uranium fabrication areas wore protective clothing; before leaving their
workstations and before eating, drinking, or smoking, they were required to wash
Non-Radioactive Materials
Regulations for the safe use, storage, shipment, and disposal of various chemicals and
materials at the Plant were found in such publications as the material hazards manual, the
chemical safety data sheets ofthe Manufacturing Chemists' Association, the health safety
and environmental manual, operational safety analyses, and individual building rules. In
its list, the material hazards volume records such information as composition, ignition
temperature, irritants, odor threshold, toxicity, reactions with other materials, flash point,
flammable limits, and human tolerance limits. In addition, audits, inventories, and
reviews were frequently conducted at the Plant.
Research and Development
Research Efforts - Production Processes
In the early years, the Los Alamos (New Mexico) and Lawrence Livermore Laboratory
handled most of the research efforts. Any research done at the Rocky Flats Plant was
incorporated into production engineering for new weapon design. The Rocky Flats Plant
specialized in research concerning the properties of plutonium. Since very few locations
in the United States had the capabilities to work with plutonium, discoveries regarding its
behavior and properties were largely unknown. Plant personnel conducted research on
the properties ofmany materials that were not widely used elsewhere. They also
developed new materials and processes, applying their new knowledge as they went.
Plant personnel considered projects associated with research and development exciting
(Stakebake, 1998 interview). Although the mission of the Plant changed to waste
management in the early 1990s, research and development programs continued at full
scale. Laboratories were established in each of the three manufacturing buildings,
specializing in the materials of the Plant, either plutonium, enriched uranium, or depleted
Each production process in a given building had a number of research and development
personnel, technicians, and radiation monitors to handle problems as they arose. During
Rockwell's contract, there were over 300 people involved in research and development
(Brown, 1998 interview). Research efforts were chiefly directed toward improving the
methods by which plutonium parts were produced for nuclear weapons. When the Rocky
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Flats Plant became the sole producer of plutonium triggers in the 1960s, research and
development activities increased markedly.
Research issues related to metallurgy, machining, joining, material evaluation, inspection,
nondestructive testing, coating, remote engineering, and chemistry were carried out in the
300,400,700, 800, and 900 areas of the Plant.
Specific research labs included: Building 779 (plutonium research); Building 865 (nonplutonium
metals and the development of alloys); Building 993 (bonding tests on
stainless steel and uranium alloy); and Building 886 (critical mass experiments with
uranium and plutonium). Building 886 was one oftwo remaining general purpose critical
mass laboratories in the United States. Experiments conducted at Building 886 were used
to set safety standards for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (ChemRisk, 1992: 85-92;
EG&G, 1992).
Additional testing laboratories were constructed as needed. Building 125 (standards
laboratory) was used for analyses ofincoming materials for quality assurance/quality
control. Building 126 (calibration laboratory) was used to calibrate the machining
equipment used in manufacturing precision components. Building 705 was used to test
coatings used on materials, and develop work for reactor fuels using depleted uranium
oxides and beryllium. Design waste treatment processes were tested in Building 701.
Building 559 was used for analysis of the purity of plutonium. Building 561 expanded
the capabilities of the laboratories in Building 559. Under the research and development
theme, buildings considered primary contributing elements to the historic significance of
Rocky Flats included buildings: 125 (testing-standards lab); 126 (testing-calibration lab);
559 (lab - chemical analytical support for plutonium production); 705 (coating lab); 779
(lab - plutonium production and recovery); and 865 (enriched uranium-material
Areas ofResearch
Material Handling
The metallurgy section at the Plant studied the properties of plutonium and its alloys
under the conditions that existed as the metals were shaped by various metalworking
methods. Other metals such as beryllium, titanium, depleted uranium, stainless steel,
copper, and aluminum were subjected to melting, casting, forging, rolling, forming, heat
treating, and property-measuring operations. Building 865 was built in 1970 to house
metalworking equipment for the study of non-plutonium metals and the development of
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Conventional methods for machining plutonium, uranium, beryllium, and other metals,
were continually examined in support of production. Experts knowing the latest
techniques worked at Rocky Flats. In many cases, there were no commercial substitutes
available. Cutting edge technologies conducted at the Plant resulted in a number of
patents, doctoral degrees for some of the personnel working on the technologies, and
numerous scientific discoveries. Machine shops and machinists would fabricate
whatever was needed to facilitate a project. Each production person had access to a
number of research and development technicians in the building to handle problems as
they arose.
The joining group worked to improve the technology of bonding. They performed
resistance welds, welds with an electron beam pulsed arc, a gas metallic arc, and a gas
tungsten arc, plus solid-state bonding, using a variety of dissimilar metals.
Research was conducted in inspection methods using laser interferometry, interference
microscopy, advanced ultrasonics, and acoustic emissions were developed at the Plant.
Nondestructive testing of stainless steel, beryllium, and other materials included
ultrasonic, acoustic emission, and eddy current techniques. Optical methods for
measuring surface roughness by light scattering and holography were also investigated.
Experimental coating and surface-finishing activities included:
• Electroplating with copper, nickel, chromium, silver, gold, and cadmium;
• Autocatalytic plating with nickel, gold, and copper;
• Chemical milling and polishing of metals;
• Anodizing aluminum and beryllium;
• Oxidizing steels; and
• Organically coating with polyvinyl chloride, Teflon, polyurethane, and epoxy.
Research efforts improved corrosion protection, manufacturing methods, and joining and
bonding techniques.
Research associated with remote engineering focused on reducing personnel radiation
exposure with the use of remote controls for various processes. New technologies used
• Mechanical arms, hydraulically operated to replace human arms in the americium line
where extremity exposure was a hazard;
• Devices that could be used in glove box atmospheres to perform as human hands and
arms would perform;
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• Robots that could carry out repetitive operations and, guided by a human, could
handle thermally hot or very heavy operations; and,
• A remote-control vehicle to change cobalt sources for nondestructive testing.
Chemical Research
All of the major production areas contained" their own chemical laboratories. Depending
on the material that was handled, a wide variety of research projects were conducted.
Research at the Plant included:
• Preparing purified actinide compounds, such as oxides, nitrates, fluorides, chlorides,
sulfates, and similar compounds;
• Making pure metals and alloys of metals;
• Custom casting foils, disks, and ingots for special orders from USDOE design agency
• Selectively hydriding uranium and plutonium;
• Converting the oxides of uranium and plutonium to fluorides, separate from the
production stream;
• Developing special separation and purification methods for materials containing
plutonium, uranium-235 and -233, americium-241, neptunium, and curium;
• Improving techniques for the recovery of americium;
• Materials development, process instrumentation and control, and equipment design
and development ofon site waste treatment processes; and
• Development of chemical standards.
Studies also resulted in the development of instruments that were used in improving
glove box gloves, bags, and windows; storage testing; and studying the incineration of
low-level plutonium-contaminated wastes.
Waste Treatment
Research and development on the treatment and handling of waste was varied and ongoing
throughout the life ofthe Plant. Some the studies were oriented towards handling
special materials, such as plutonium, while others addressed problems associated with
disposing of wastes produced during the production processes.
Other projects included development of an incinerator used for burning plutoniumcontaminated
waste, development of a waste compactor and development of the ferrite
waste treatment process. The plutonium incinerator, designed and built by Plant
personnel, was installed in Building 771 in 1958. This equipment functioned like an
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industrial incinerator with a series of filters, scrubbers and heat exchangers designed to
purify toxic gases and other byproducts of the burning process.
In July 1979, the two story, 3,000 square foot fluidized-bed incinerator, housed in
Building 776/777, made its first continuous 108 hour run. It brought to a close nine years
of research and development on the project. The $2 million incineration facility was
designed to demonstrate a process for combustion and reduction of low-level transuranic
wastes generated at the Plant.
On September 26,1985, the waste treatment process called ferrite waste treatment, which
significantly improved the method for removing actinide contamination from waste
water, earned Rockwell the IR-100 Award (an industry-wide award).
On May 23,1995, an innovative way to treat waste with waste, which was developed by
researchers at the Plant, was unveiled to the public during demonstrations ofpolymer
encapsulation conducted on site.
Explosive Bonding Pit
Explosive bonding experiments were conducted at the explosive forming area near
Building 993. Many of the experiments were designed to bond together flat plates of
stainless steel and uranium alloy. Experiments conducted in March of 1968 with 192
grams of40 percent dynamite drove a stainless steel plate into radioactive material,
forming a bonded laminate. Other experiments ofunknown nature took place near
Building 993 for at least two and one half years. Until March 1968, experiments took
place inside buried, sand-filled, 55-gallon drums. The explosive events took place below
grade. Air shocks from the explosions were objectionable to Building 991 occupants, so
a pit was dug into a hillside near Building 993 to house the apparatus and mitigate air
shocks. The 10' x 19' pit was approximately 4' deep.
Special Orders
The Plant conducted special order work for other facilities in the nuclear weapons
complex, the Department of Defense, and to fulfill needs of other Federal departments
and agencies. Most of the special order work at Rocky Flats did not involve materials
outside those used in regular production activities. The tracer work was one of the few
Radionuclide tracers were introduced into manufactured components and triggers
destined for off site test shots. These materials were blended into the regular component
materials so that scientists could study performance of the different weapon components
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based on post-test distribution of the rare tracers. After the test shot, the scientists could
then core through the site and find out how each tracer reacted, enabling them to calculate
how each ofthe components acted in the detonation. Neptunium tracers, associated with
both uranium and plutonium components, were manufactured in Buildings 771 and 881.
Most of the special order work was relatively short-lived. Perhaps the biggest exception
to this was the zero power plutonium reactor project, in which Rocky Flats manufactured
approximately 4,000 stainless steel-clad fuel elements consisting ofplutonium,
molybdenum, and uranium. Production took place from 1967 to 1968. The Plant
manufactured the fuel rods for installation in the reactor at Argonne National Laboratory.
The zero power plutonium reactor fuel elements were made by first alloying uranium and
molybdenum in Building 444. The uranium-molybdenum alloy was then sent to Building
771, where it was alloyed with plutonium by casting it into plates of various sizes. The
ternary alloy plates were clad in stainless steel envelopes in Building 776/777 and sealed
by welding.
From the mid 1970s through the late 1980s, the Plant was involved in a series of projects
involving depleted uranium manufacturing expertise already developed at the Plant. One
such project required the manufacturing of thousands of calorimeter plates used for
shielding in reactors at Switzerland, Harvard University, and Brookhaven National
Laboratory. The Army contracted the Plant to develop armor-piercing ammunition
rounds. This project ran from the mid 1970s to the late 1970s. The Army, fearing that
the armor-piercing technology may fall into the wrong hands, came back to the Plant in
1981 to develop bulletproof armor plates for the M1A1 tanks. For the Army projects, the
Plant was only involved in prototype development of these products and not the full-scale
Rocky Flats was also involved in Project Plowshare, an effort to develop technology for
using nuclear explosives for peaceful applications, such as excavation and uncovering of
deep mineral deposits. Example applications envisioned for the technology included
excavation of a sea-level alternative to the Panama Canal and west coast harbors for
Africa, Australia, and South America. Rocky Flats' involvement in making components
for Project Plowshare lasted from around 1959 to the mid-1970s.
Natural Sciences
In 1976, Colorado State University at Fort Collins, under a contract with the Energy
Research and Development Administration began a two-year program to determine
whether the approximately one hundred deer that roam on and off Rocky Flats ingest any
plutonium and consequently transport (via ingestion/excretion) it to other locations,
primarily the foothills. The university was already under contract with the Energy
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Research and Development Administration to study plutonium in soil, vegetation, and
small mammals at Rocky Flats. Results of the study indicated that none of the Plant or
animal communities contained evidence of radioactive contamination. Follow up studies
on the grasshoppers and mice in 1991 also failed to find any evidence ofplutonium in the
studied ecosystem.
In 1976, Rocky Flats was selected as a test and research center for small wind energy
conversion systems and a wind energy research station was established in the northwest
corner ofthe Plant. In October 1984, the wind energy research center at the wind site
became part ofUSDOE's Solar Energy Research Institute organization.
Clean-up and Remediation Studies
In 1994, Rocky Flats was selected as one of fourteen federal technology demonstration
sites by a USDOE advisory committee to develop on site innovative technologies. The
site was a candidate for demonstrations oftwo of nine technologies identified by the
committee - thermal desorption and microwave solidification. A news release issued
February 9,1996, announced that workers at Rocky Flats were using a low temperature
process to treat contaminated soils from a former chemical disposal site. The low
temperature thermal desorption process involves heating contaminated soils to
temperatures from 150 to 300° Fahrenheit, which causes the organic chemicals in the soil
to pass off as vapor. The vapors are then condensed into a liquid and passed through a
granular-activated carbon unit. Wastes captured in the desorption process were treated
on site and/or disposed of at an off site waste facility. In the early 1990s, Plant personnel
developed a microwave melter to immobilize wastes in a vitreous, glass-like substance.
On August 25,1994, representatives ofRocky Flats signed a collaborative agreement
between EG&G Rocky Flats and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The agreement
provided for the development of unique technical approaches to environmental cleanup
and restoration activities at Rocky Flats.
Support Facilities
An additional 379 structures at the Plant provided a variety of services, including offices,
storage buildings, shops, utilities (heating, electrical, and water supply systems), waste
management, offices, and maintenance over the years. Ofthose structures, seven are
considered part of the Rocky Flats Plant historic district, including Buildings 333,334,
374,441,443, 551, and 995.
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Office Administration and Supplies
Two office buildings and a warehouse are considered part of the historic district, Building
111 (HAERNo.CO-83-V), Building441, and Building 551. Because Building 111 in
the 1950s was the main check-in and access point for employees, it is considered part of
the Plant security.
Building 441 contains offices and administrative support facilities. The building
formerly supplied analytical and general laboratories required for various Plant A
operations (depleted uranium, beryllium). Testing conducted in Building 441 included xray
chemical analyses, spectroscopy, emission, general chemistry, and water analysis (Ed
Vejota, 1998 interview). When the uranium operations were transferred to Oak Ridge,
most of the labs were closed down in Building 441 between 1965-1968. After that time
much of the structure was converted to office and administrative support facilities.
Building 551 was constructed in 1953 as a warehouse and fabrication shop for metal
cleaning, welding, cutting, and threading. The structure is single story, concrete and
concrete block L-shaped outline containing approximately 100,000 square feet. A small
cluster of offices is located in the southern end. Various safety equipment (except safety
glasses), spare parts, and orders for special equipment were taken in this area. Since its
construction, Building 551 has been used as a primary warehouse (USDOE, 1989).
Completed materials from Building 991 were shipped to Building 551 for staging and
loading onto trains. Likewise, all equipment and materials were received in Building
551, temporarily stored and then shipped to the appropriate buildings. Shipping and
receiving of nuclear parts to the building were discontinued when trucks replaced the
train system (Rockwell, 1989).
Waste Management
Waste facilities at the Rocky Flats Plant consisted of treatment facilities, process lines,
storage facilities, one disposal facility, and support facilities. The historic district waste
treatment buildings included: 374 and 774 (Liquid Waste Operations) (HAER No. CO-
83-AI); 776/777 (HAER No. CO-83-O) and 889 (Solid Waste Operations); and 995
(Sewage Treatment Plant).
Liquid Waste Treatment
Buildings 774 and 374 are responsible for treatment of liquid process wastes to remove
chemical and radioactive constituents. Liquid process wastes were kept separate from
sanitary wastes and treated in separate waste treatment facilities. Building 371 and 774
operations treated all liquid process wastes from Building 771 plutonium recovery
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processes, plus all other liquid process wastes that had too much plutonium content for on
site impoundment. The treatment was for the purpose of liquid waste disposal; it
included no plutonium recovery. Building 774 was the only Rocky Flats facility capable
of processing high-level radioactive liquid waste. Building 374 processed liquid wastes
contaminated with lower levels of radioactivity.
Building 774 received radioactive acid wastes, caustic, aqueous, and organic wastes,
waste oils, non-radioactive waste, and photographic solutions. These wastes were either
piped directly into Building 774, or transferred in drums, containers, or other types of
Treatment of liquid waste was divided into two stages. The first stage operation in
Building 774 treated only the liquid materials associated with plutonium. Recovered
materials were packaged in sludge drums. Aqueous wastes not compatible with the first
stage operations were isolated and solidified with cement. The second stage operation in
Building 774 handled all other Plant liquid process wastes that required treatment. It also
provided further treatment for the first stage effluent. The second stage consisted oftwo
precipitation processes, one continuous and the other batch. The continuous process was
used for liquids that were only radioactively contaminated. The batch precipitation
process was used for all liquids that were chemically, as well as radioactively
contaminated. Both processes utilized the same chemical reagents that were used in the
first stage. The precipitate formed was filtered and packaged in drums as sludge. The
treated effluents from both processes were held in isolated tanks until analytical sample
data was obtained. Treated wastes not meeting the radioactivity requirements were
recycled through the appropriate second stage process.
Chemically contaminated process waste that met radioactivity standards without
treatment was impounded in lined evaporation ponds; process liquid wastes that met
required water specifications without treatment were impounded in Ponds A2 and B2.
The chemically contaminated waste impounded in the asphalt-lined ponds was
transferred to the evaporator feed tanks in Building 774 as capacity permitted. Recovered
waste materials were dried, converted into salts, and boxed for storage.
Contaminated lathe coolant and organic solvent were transferred from their sources via
separate pipelines into an isolated feed tank system in Building 774. Miscellaneous
organic solvents and oils received in containers were filtered and transferred into the
organic solvent feed tank system also. These wastes were processed to form a solid and
packaged in drums.
In the 1970s, a series of changes were made in the 774 process. After the 1970s,
radioactive processes were contained in glove boxes. In 1982, laundry water processing
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was shifted to Building 374. Low-level and transuranic waste continued to be processed
in Building 774 until 1987, when the low-level processing was halted in anticipation of
the startup ofthe fluidized-bed incinerator in Building 776/777. The transuranic waste
processing operation was then redesigned.
The role of Building 774 in process waste treatment diminished with the inauguration of
the new process waste treatment facility in Building 374. Building 774 continued to
process all contaminated organic waste that could not be incinerated, but decontaminated
only those process wastes from the old recovery process in Building 771.
Decontaminated waste solutions were then transferred to Building 374 for evaporation.
Construction on Building 374 began in 1977 and was completed in 1980. The waste
treatment facility is a freestanding structure approximately 140' X 145'. Total floor space
is approximately 66,330 square feet. The evaporator began operating in 1977 to process
high-nitrate wastes from the lined ponds.
Building 374 Waste Treatment Facility was designed to remove radioactive and chemical
constituents from aqueous waste received from Buildings 122/123,371,443,444,460,
559,707,774,776/777, 778,779, 865, 881, 883, 889, and the 207-series solar ponds
through the process waste collection system (valve vaults).
The new production wastewater treatment plant was designed to replace Building 774 as
the primary-process wastewater treatment plant. Building 374 was designed to more
effectively treat nitrate wastes, had a greater processing capacity, improved hazardous
material containment systems, and improved control systems. All wastes received were
treated for disposal by:
• Decontamination - precipitation;
• Neutralization;
• Evaporation;
• Vacuum filter; and/or
• Spray dryer/saltcrete.
The effluents from these processes were converted into reusable distilled water,
disposable solid wastes (saltcrete and vacuum filter sludge), and exhaust gases.
Building 374 houses approximately thirty-three tanks for receiving and storing liquid
process waste for treatment; treatment areas (including the evaporator, spray
dryer/saltcrete, decontamination-precipitation, neutralizer, and the vacuum filter);
container handling and storage areas; supporting mechanical equipment and utilities for
the building; a chemical preparation area; and office areas. An enclosed shipping and
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receiving dock was located on the east side of the building for receiving miscellaneous
aqueous wastes from sources not connected to the process waste collection piping system
and for receiving empty containers and other process-related items. The dock was also
used for shipping full containers of processed solid wastes.
Wastes received at the building were segregated according to radiation and chemical
content in order to tailor the treatment process to specific waste parameters for more
effective treatment, and to generate a uniform sludge. Treatable liquid waste streams first
underwent radioactive waste treatment, which consisted of a combination of
precipitation; acid neutralization; sludge filtration, drying and packaging; and process
vent scrubbing. Precipitated solids were removed and solidified by cementing in drums.
Filtrates were further processed to remove chemical contaminants. Desaltable liquid
waste streams were processed to remove salts. Sources of liquids for desalination were
primarily laundry wastes, non-radioactive production wastes, radioactively
decontaminated waste, and chemically contaminated solutions from asphalt-lined ponds.
The original process waste lines are a network of tanks and underground pipelines used to
transport and provide temporary storage for aqueous chemical and radioactive process
wastes from point of origin to on site treatment and discharge. The original process
waste lines consist of approximately 35,000 feet of pipeline, and seventy-three tanks in
thirty-four separate locations. The system handled process wastes from Buildings 123,
444,707,771,776,779,865, 881, 881, and 889, including minor amounts of process
wastes from Buildings 122 and 441. The original process waste lines routed wastes to
Building 774 or to one ofthe ponds used for either storage or solar evaporation.
These pipelines vary in age, use, and construction materials. They range from 1" to 10"
in diameter, and are constructed of a variety of materials, including cast iron, stainless
steel, vitrified clay, polyvinyl chloride, Teflon, plastic, and Pyrex glass. Construction of
the original process waste lines began in 1952; additions, repairs, and maintenance on the
system continued until 1975. Beginning in 1975, construction of replacement waste
process lines began, and continued until 1984, when a new double-lined, fully inspectable
system was completed.
Solid Waste Treatment
Two buildings were primarily responsible for the treatment of solid waste: Building
776/777 after the fire of 1969; and Building 889, a decontamination facility situated
outside the Protected Area. Only Building 776/777 was considered part of the historic
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Building 776/777 was the main production facility for weapons components until the
1969 fire. Waste operations began in 1969 and were initiated as a means to
systematically dispose of fire-damaged equipment.
Building 889 was an equipment decontamination and waste reduction facility for
equipment and wastes. Waste materials included surplus equipment, high efficiency
particulate ah* filters, and combustible materials (e.g., paper and plastic) generated inside
process areas requiring personal protective equipment for entry, and decontamination
prior to exit. Surplus equipment was evaluated for future use; decontaminated equipment
might have been reused on site or sold off site. Equipment used included a compactor, a
drum crusher, a steam cleaner, and tools required for cutting and disassembly.
The original solid waste landfill at the Plant was located on the south side of the property.
The landfill, which opened in 1952 and closed in August 1968, received non-radioactive
solid waste such as paper, food items, office wastes, lumber, etc. An incinerator, Facility
209, located on the west access road, was also in operation from 1952 to 1958. The
incinerator was used to burn non-radioactive combustible wastes. Resulting ash residue
was buried next to the incinerator. The incinerator was demolished in the 1960s.
A second sanitary landfill began operation in 1968. The second landfill was located on
25 acres north of the Plant in the buffer zone. The landfill was established to dispose of
solid sanitary waste generated at the Plant, including dried sanitary waste sludge. By
1971, all solid waste originating in plutonium handling areas of the Plant was monitored
for radioactivity prior to placement in solid waste dumpsters destined for the landfill.
Sanitary Wastewater Treatment
Liquid sanitary wastes consisted of sewage from restrooms and janitor sinks, water from
showers, food processing areas, and cooling towers. The sanitary wastes from nonplutonium
areas were kept separate from sanitary wastes from plutonium areas until they
reached a diversion box upstream oftwo holding tanks above the sewage treatment
facility, Building 995. At the holding tanks, the sewage was retained if it was suspected
of being contaminated.
The Building 995 treatment process was a flow-equalized, two-train, continuous-flow,
activated sludge system followed by polymer/alum-enhanced, post-secondary
clarification, filtration, chlorination, and dechlorination. Trucking support was required
to transfer the sewage from the wind energy research station and guard station to
Building 995, and for the transfer of sewage sludge to the 910 drying beds.
The sanitary waste liquids were filtered and chemically treated. The filtered liquid
flowed into the clear well and the first and second chlorine basins for disinfecting. From
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the second chlorine basin, the treated water went into Pond B-l, then to Pond B-3, and
finally to Pond B-4. Initially, treated effluent was discharged from Pond B-4 to Walnut
Creek drainage. In 1979, a no discharge policy was instituted, resulting in the use of
spray fields to evaporate treated wastewater. The spray fields were used from 1979 to
1985. Treated effluent was also evaporated in Building 374.
Treated wastewater was pumped to the cooling towers of production buildings and
evaporated. As the cooling tower evaporated the wastewater, the dissolved and
suspended solids remained in the circulating water and would eventually reach a level
detrimental to cooling tower operation. Various chemicals are added to the cooling
tower's circulating water systems to prevent biological growth, corrosion, scaling, and
other effects that can foul heat transfer surfaces and degrade performance. Proportional
amounts of these chemicals and their reactants are carried with the blow-down water,
which is discharged into the sanitary sewage system. Total solids in the cooling tower
water are normally maintained at approximately 500 to 700 parts per million.
Solids from each stage ofthe liquid waste treatment (aerators, chemical mixing pit, final
clarifier, catch basin, and filters) were routed back to the digester for retreatment. From
the digester, solids were sent to drying beds, then packaged for offsite shipment.
A number of sludge drying beds had been in use throughout the operational history of the
treatment plant The three original beds were sand and gravel pads; more beds were
added in 1962 and 1985. One of the 1985-installed beds was lined with concrete. In
1991, two beds previously used for reverse osmosis processes associated with Building
995 were converted for use as sanitary waste sludge drying beds.
Waste Storage
Rocky Flats had numerous structures, buildings, sheds, and pads for on site storage of
waste, including the following:
• Building 569 was located within the Protected Area and was used for storage and
radioactive assay of waste crates
• Building 664 was a waste storage, waste staging, and waste shipping facility;
• Building 788 functioned as a storage facility - previous uses included pondcrete
processing, where sludges from nearby solar ponds were pumped into the facility and
mixed with Portland cement;
• Building 964 stored low-level mixed waste and low-level waste in cargo containers;
• The 750 and 904 storage pads, which are outside facilities, were originally used as
parking lots for office trailers. In 1987, the pads were paved for use as storage areas
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for pondcrete and saltcrete. In 1990, five tents were installed on the 750 pad and four
tents on the 904 pad. The tents provided storage areas for pondcrete and saltcrete.
Utilities Systems
Initially, water was brought in from the city of Boulder in tank trucks until the on site
water treatment facility was operational (ChemRisk, 1992). Construction of the water
system began in 1952, and was completed in 1953. The system has been operating daily
since then, with no interruption in service (Web, 1997).
All raw water was purchased from the City and County of Denver and was drawn from
two Denver-owned sources, Ralston Reservoir and the South Boulder Diversion Canal
(Rockwell, 1989).
Originally, the primary year-round source of raw water was Ralston Reservoir.
Completed in 1938, Ralston Reservoir is located about 5-1/2 pipeline miles southsouthwest
from the Plant site. The reservoir, with a capacity of 1,200-acre feet, originally
provided about two-thirds of the water required by the Plant. It is filled from the
drainage basin in which it lies and from Gross Reservoir, by way of the South Boulder
Diversion Canal. Water was pumped from Ralston Reservoir to the Plant through a cast
iron supply main (Denver Water Board, 1997; Web, 1997; Rockwell, 1989).
In the early 1980s, the South Boulder Diversion Canal, which passes about one and onehalf
miles west of the Plant, became the primary source ofraw water at the Plant. The
canal transfers water from Gross Reservoir to Ralston Reservoir. Because Gross
Reservoir, located on South Boulder Creek about ten miles west-northwest of the Plant, is
considerably larger and at a higher elevation than Ralston Reservoir, water was carried to
the Plant by gravity flow. The Denver Water Board regulates the flow in the canal (Web,
1997; Rockwell, 1989).
Incoming water may be stored in the raw water storage pond located about 1/2 mile west
of the water treatment plant (Building 124). The pond has a nominal capacity of 1.5
million gallons, enough water for approximately four days. If necessary, the pond could
be bypassed and the water could be pumped directly to the Plant (Rockwell, 1989).
At the Plant, the incoming raw water was divided into two streams. One entered an on
site raw water distribution system to disburse water for cooling towers and minor
irrigation and miscellaneous purposes. The second stream passed through Building 124
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where the water was treated and distributed for domestic, process, and fire protection
uses throughout the Plant (Rockwell, 1989).
The potable water system at the Plant has over 2,000,000 gallons of storage capacity in
four storage tanks and the Building 124 clear well. Building 215A was one of the storage
tanks, and is the only elevated water tower on site. The storage was designed so two
separate 4-hour sources of fire protection water were available at all times (Rockwell,
Filter backwash water from Building 124 was reprocessed in a facility that had two
60,000-gallon storage tanks, two drying beds, and several pumps. This facility permitted
reuse of highly turbid water, eliminating its discharge off site (Rockwell, 1989).
Near Building 124, there is a connection where, in an extreme emergency, the incoming
raw water main could be connected directly to the treated water distribution main,
bypassing all storage tanks and the treatment plant.
Steam Distribution
Steam produced by boilers at Rocky Flats was used in the heating and air conditioning
systems in the buildings and for process heating. Condensate from the heating,
ventilation, and air conditioning systems Plant wide was returned to a 300,000 gallon
tank (Facility 211), which is located near the steam plant, providing a reserve of boiler
feed water. The condensate from process heating was also returned to the steam plant,
unless it was contaminated, in which case it was sent to waste treatment for processing.
Building 443, the steam plant, was constructed in 1952, and brought on line in 1953. The
building's exterior walls are constructed of concrete and metal. Metal wall additions
were constructed in 1966,1970,1974, and 1982 to house additional or replacement
boilers. The original steam plant main space and mezzanine occupied 4,004 square feet.
The 1966 addition encompasses 6,810 square feet on the main floor and mezzanine; the
1970 addition occupies 4,422 square feet on the main and mezzanine floors; and the 1974
addition consists of 4,618 square feet on the main and mezzanine floors. A locomotive
was brought on site to provide steam for building heat prior to completion of the Steam
Plant (phemRisk, 1992).
The steam plant originally housed boilers 1,2, and 3, which were fueled with No. 6 fuel
oil. Fuel oil was stored in two aboveground fixed roof storage tanks with a combined
capacity of 2.3 million gallons. The Plant converted to natural gas in 1966 with the
removal of the original three boilers and installation of boilers 4 and 5. In 1970, boiler 6
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was installed. Boiler 7 was installed in 1974. In 1982, a utility upgrade resulted in the
final addition to the steam plant with the construction of a co-generation building.
Steam distribution lines are both above and below ground. The major underground lines
in the system are a 12" line from Building 443 to a valve pit near Eighth Street and
Central Avenue. The major overhead line runs from Building 443 to the plutonium
recovery and waste treatment facilities, Buildings 371 and 374. The remainder of the
Plant was served by a 125-pound-per-square-inch system, most of it overhead, from
Building 443.
The steam plant was equipped with an emergency generator backup system able to
prevent boiler shutdown during power outages by providing all four boilers with a
continuous power supply. One generator also provided emergency power for the fire
station part of Building 331. The generators were divided so that each one could support
two boilers through automatic transfer switches at their respective motor control centers.
Supplemental, standby steam boilers were located in Buildings 881 and 771 for use
should the main steam plant shut down. Building 991 was equipped with supplemental
hot water boilers. The supplemental boilers were for heating purposes only, and were not
used for production
Plant Power
Plant electricity was purchased from Public Service Company of Colorado. The Plant did
not produce its own power for production purposes.
The maintenance structures considered contributing elements to the overall significance
ofthe Rocky Flats Plant included Buildings 333 and 334. Building 333 is a one story,
concrete block building. The building is approximately 30' x 100', outside dimensions.
Building 333 was originally constructed in 1953; later additions were completed in 1967
and 1973.
Paint storage and painting operations occurred in Rooms 101,102, and 102A of Building
333. Sandblasting was performed in Room 103 with support equipment in Room 104
and external to the building. The balance of the building housed offices and building
support (restrooms, janitor closets). To the west exterior, there was free standing
sandblasting equipment with metal frame support for separating paint residue from the
blasting agent There was also a small concrete block storage shed and temporary metal
cargo containers.
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Building 333 had specialized heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems for
venting of spray paint fumes and the sandblaster. Three specialized off-gas cleanup and
filtering systems were installed: a very large filter system for the Room 102A spray
booth; a smaller filter system for the Room 101 spray hood; and a cyclone and filter
system for the sandblaster to the west end of the building, outside Room 104.
Building 334 primarily supported site maintenance activities and included electrical,
machine, sheet metal, carpentry, and pipe shops. Building 334 also had an office area
and housed the credit union. Building 334 has a two story shop area and single story
office wing and contains approximately 40,000 square feet of space. The exterior walls
are constructed of concrete/steel, concrete block, and transite. Some of the exterior walls
of the shop area have windows that have been painted.
The Employees
Throughout the years, the Rocky Flats Plant contractors offered jobs to people. In 1951,
the Plant employed about 133 people (excluding construction workers). In 1953, when
production at the Plant began, the number had risen to 1,059 employees. In 1957, the
Soviet Union launched Sputnik and sent the United States into a panic. The Soviet Union
had been perceived to be ten years behind the United States in technological
developments, but after the launch it appeared they were five to seven years ahead. The
government pressured the weapons complex contractors to increase the stockpile of
weapons (Tesitor, 1998 interview). From 1957 to the end of the first expansion of the
Plant in 1963, the number of employees grew to over 3,000.
In the 1960s, the Atomic Energy Commission changed to a single mission policy, the
Plant became the sole producer of triggers, and the employee population rose to over
3,700 by 1970. During the mid-1970s, the Plant had finished the production for prior
weapons programs and was awaiting the startup of new ones. Some Plant employees felt
that President Jimmy Carter was reluctant to authorize the enhanced-radiation weapon,
which was designed to kill people as well as destroy property (Wilson, 1998 interview).
Dow Chemical did not renew their contract as site operator. The Plant employee
population slid to around 2,750; below the employment level in 1963. The Plant
stabilized employment levels with new work in non-nuclear weapons production in
stainless steel and depleted uranium armor (Tesitor, 1998 interview).
Under Rockwell and President Ronald Reagan's administration in the 1980s, the Plant
population grew again, reaching close to 6,000 employees. When production was
curtailed in 1989, many outside contractors were brought in to bring the buildings up to
current standards and write operational procedures so that production could resume.
(Page 106)
During 1991, the Plant population had increased to over 7,100 employees. Until 1989,
slightly over half of the population had been hourly (union) laborers, with the balance
being salaried. Under EG&G, hourly (union) laborers accounted for about one-third of
the work force. During the early production years, the Atomic Energy Commission had a
low level of representation on site (five employees in 1961). After production ceased,
the USDOE and support staffpopulation represented over 200 people (Kaiser-Hill
Human Resources records, n.d.).
The Rocky Flats Plant offered steady work and good wages. Many production laborers
started as janitors, cleaning up contamination, emptying trash, and mopping the floors; a
position that paid better than a semi-skilled labor position outside the Plant (interview,
1997). In the early 1960s, a janitorial position off site paid approximately $2.00 per hour,
compared to $6.00 per hour at the Plant (Tesitor, 1998 interview). Most stayed in a
janitorial position for a month or two, while internally competing for a production line or
other position.
In July of 1956, Atomic Energy Commission's 20th semi-annual report identified Rocky
Flats as a "weapons production facility " with no further explanation of the Plant's secret
function. The use of plutonium at the Plant was not reported officially until June 16,
1957 by The Denver Post. The article came out as a result of reports that two workers
had been injured in an explosion at the Plant on June 14,1957. Also in a 1957 press
release, the Atomic Energy Commission stated that plutonium was kept at the Rocky
Flats Plant (Buffer, 1997 interview). In November of 1960, the first aerial photograph of
Rocky Flats was published in The Denver Post. The caption for the article stated that,
"Litde is known about the Plant's work, except that it handles radioactive materials and
some ofthe very rare minerals coming into new prominence in the defense program"
(The Denver Post, 30 Nov 1960). There is no record ofwhen the public was officially
informed of the specific products being manufactured at the Plant.
Very few employees knew what the final product was that was being shipped to Pantex
(Weaver, 1998 interview). Most of the employees did not consider it important to know
what the final product of the Plant was. What the workers did know was that whatever
they were doing was important to national security and they believed their work was
keeping communism from the United States' shores (Riddle, 1997 interview). A year or
so into a job, many employees were able to deduce the true nature of their work.
Although some may have been opposed to nuclear weapons in general, most supported a
strong government to deter the use of these weapons by others (Wilson, 1998 interview).
Dow promised job security, and that the workers could work there until they retired.
Benefits were impressive - vacation, insurance, sick leave, and retirement. The
contractor provided clothes, physical examinations, and a hot meal at a very low price.
(Page 107)
The work was interesting, the facility was safe, and the pay was better than most.
Opportunities to move up were ample, and Dow Chemical was running the Plant
satisfactorily and had good relations with the labor union (Riddle, 1997 interview). Some
employees would choose the night shift so they could finish school or spend time with
their family (Weaver, 1998 interview; Riddle, 1997 interview). Dow was interested in
keeping their employees. The expertise and talent needed to run such a facility could not
be hired offthe street, and it was a one-of-a-kind plant (Tesitor, 1998 interview). In July
of 1974, in recognition of superior performance in safety, environmental control,
production, and energy use reduction, Dow employees at Rocky Flats were each paid
cash awards equivalent to six and one-half percent of their 1973 base pay (totaling more
than $2,280,000).
Despite the rapid pace that weapons production facilities went up across the country in
the early 1950s, the Plant was well organized and operated in a safety conscious manner.
Most ofthe training was on-the-job. Knowledgeable people taught new people. Written
procedures were minimal. Written procedures that were available were considered
guidance, and could not substitute for the feel for the job acquired by the operators
(Weaver, 1998 interview). Complex processes relied as much on the operators' firsthand
knowledge of the system as on their knowledge of formulas or a procedure. The
buildings were in good condition, the floors were polished, and even the desks were
polished once a month (Wilson, 1998 interview).
The opportunity to work with cutting edge technologies led to many patents and attracted
people with advanced degrees to the Plant (Cunningham, 1998 interview). In 1987,
ninety-six employees with Ph.D.'s worked on site, a large number for a non-academic
setting (Meyer, 1998 interview). Production and laboratory staff got what they needed to
do their work. If a tool was required for a specific task, it was made available. In many
cases, there were no commercial products available. Machine shops and the machinists
on site were top-notch; they would fabricate whatever was needed to facilitate a project.
Employees working at Rocky Flats, were leaders in the field, knew the latest techniques,
and what could and could not be done (Richey, 1998 interview). Early on, there were
very few locations in the United States that had the capabilities to work with plutonium.
The study of the behavior and properties of plutonium was wide open. Very few people
were doing it, and to those in research and development at the Plant, it was very exciting
(Stakebake, 1998 interview).
Rocky Flats was a high-security facility. Interviewees and employees knew that the
facility was run by the Atomic Energy Commission, and that the Plant was engaged in
weapons production. Secrecy was an everyday part ofworking at the Plant. Even
spouses and children were kept in the dark regarding the materials used at the site.
(Page 108)
Although secrecy and need-to-know were key security strategies, gossip and comradeship
flourished on site. If a co-worker sustained an injury, got a security infraction, or there
was a death in the family, the site population knew of it in a very short period of time.
Money was collected or good natured ribbing ensued almost immediately. The
employees had a strong sense of mission and goal. As one employee put it, "we were
helping to fight communism, it was as all American as you could get" (Cunningham,
1998 interview).
A Rocky Flats Family Day was held May 2-3,1970. This was the first opportunity in the
Plant's nineteen years of operation for families to see the facility. Approximately 7,700
people attended the event, including invited members of the press. During the August 26,
1972 Rocky Flats Family Day Celebration, several buildings were opened for viewing,
including manufacturing facilities in Buildings 776/777 and 444, research facilities in
Building 991, the library in Building 706, and the ceramics laboratory in Building 750
(USDOE Public Affairs, n.d.).
When Rockwell International took over operation of the Plant on July 1,1975, Plant
management began conducting regular briefings to the local press. By July 18,1975,
Rockwell began the first regularly scheduled public tours of the Plant, along with
publishing the Rockwell News, a four-page employee newspaper published every other
The Plant mission change in 1992 from weapons production to environmental cleanup
had the greatest impact on the employees. Few believed that the Cold War would ever
end. After more than thirty years of working in a cutting-edge field and developing
highly specialized components, there was no market for this kind of expertise (Tesitor,
1998 interview). The work that many had spent their entire careers doing, ceased. One
employee put it this way: "the mission was gone and there is no glory or grace in cleanup"
(Cunningham, 1998 interview).
Future ofRockv Flats
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of the Cold War nuclear arms
race, USDOE's emphasis at Rocky Flats shifted from weapons production to waste
management, stabilization, and clean-up activities. This transition involved both
engineering and institutional changes.
Rocky Flats goals that are currently being addressed include: stabilization of radioactive
materials; disposal of clean up wastes; and development ofnew technologies to handle
environmental clean-up.
(Page 109)
The key to an atomic weapon is the fissile material. The triggers manufactured at Rocky
Flats contained the majority of fissile material found in a nuclear weapon. With the
retirement of the weapons program, the primary function of Rocky Flats, production of
the trigger components, was no longer considered essential.
At this writing, all buildings associated with plutonium production or use of plutonium at
Rocky Flats are to be closed down and removed. Facilities identified for total closure
include.Mound, Pinellas, Fernald, Hanford, and Rocky Flats. Other facilities will
continue to operate in research and development, storage, and/or fabrication.
The cleanup strategy for Rocky Flats is outlined in the 1998 draft document Accelerating
Cleanup: Path to Closure Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site. The end state for
the Plant has not been finalized, however, the Rocky Flats Closure Agreement describes
an end state in which:
• All special nuclear materials are shipped to an off site repository;
• All radioactive waste is shipped off site;
• All facilities are demolished except for facilities contracted for commercial reuse;
• Environmental remediation of contaminated areas is complete to the extent that future
land uses are enabled and downstream water supplies are protected; and
• Land use enabled by cleanup levels would permit open space uses of the Plant's
buffer zone and either open space or industrial reuse of the industrial area. The nature
ofopen space has yet to be determined.
Documents Used
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. 1990., Public Health Statement on
Plutonium, http://atsdrl
Brauner, David. 'Ten Commandments of Photography, Part 1" The Jerusalem Post, 14
August 1996. Available Electric Library:
Buffer, Patricia. 1995. "Highlights in Rocky Flats History". Rocky Flats Repository.
Golden, Colorado.
Burney, Michael S. et al. 1989. An Archaeological andHistorical Survey ofSelected
Parcels Within the Department ofEnergy, Rocky Flats Plant, Northern Jefferson
County, Colorado. Boulder, CO: Burney & Associates.
(Page 110)
"Chronology ofRocky Flats Plant". [n.d]. Rocky Flats Repository. Golden, Colorado.
Citizens Guide To Rocky Flats. 1992. Boulder, CO: Rocky Mountain Peace Center.
Clarfield, Gerard H. and William M. Wiecek. Nuclear America. Military and Civilian
Nuclear Power in the United States 1940-1980. New York: Harper & Row, 1984.
Colorado Department ofHealth. Project Tasks 3 &4 Final Draft Report. Reconstruction of
Historical Rocky Flats Operations andIdentification ofRelease Points (1992), by
ChemRisk. Rocky Flats Repository. Golden, Colorado.
Colliers Encyclopedia CD-ROM, War, Nuclear, Vol. 23, by Lawrence Feedman, P.F.
Collier, 1996.
Compton, Arthur H. 1956. Atomic Quest. New York: Oxford University Press.
Crisler, L. R. 1991. "Rocky Flats Plant Plutonium Recovery Reference Process." for
EG&G Rocky Flats, Inc. Rocky Flats Repository. Golden, Colorado.
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Persons Contacted
Abeyta, {Catherine, employed at the Plant for 27 years by the site contractor. Personal
communication, January 1998.
Bistline, Robert, employed at the Plant since 1966 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, November 12* 1997, and January 1998.
Buffer, Pat, employed at the Plant since 1984 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, November 1997.
Cable, Jerry, employed at the Plant for 16 years by the site contractor. Personal
communication, December 1997.
Calkins, Ken, employed at the site since 1955 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, February 1998.
Coven, Walter, employed at the Plant from 1955 to 1988 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, January 1998.
Cunningham, Steven, employed at the Plant since 1977 by the site security contractor.
Personal communication, March, 1998.
(Page 114)
Daggy, David, employed at the Plant since 1981 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, September 1997.
Ellison, Ruth, employed at the Plant for 7 years by the site contractor. Personal
communication, January 1998.
Falk, Roger, employed at the Plant since 1966 by the site contractor. Personnel
communication, January 1998.
Hackman, Laverne, employed at the Plant since 1985 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, November 12,1997.
Hahn, Jim, employed at the Plant since 1978 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, November 18,1997.
Healy, Terry, employed at the Plant since 1976 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, January 1998.
Hoffinan, Rod, employed at the Plant since 1963 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, February 1998.
Krieg, Dolores, employed at the Plant for 40 years by the site contractor. Personal
communication, November 1997.
Lily, Chris, employed at the Plant since 1990 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, November 12,1997.
Lowe, Jean, employed at the Plant for 25 years by the site contractor. Personal
communication, January 1998.
Meyers, Wayne, employed at the Plant since 1987 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, February 1988.
Newby, Ronald, employed at the Plant since 1967 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, January 1997.
Nieweg, Ron, employed at the Plant since 1970 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, February 1998.
Padron, Henry, employed at the Plant since 1969, by the site contractor. Personal
communication, December 1997.
(Page 115)
Petersell, Jeff, employed at the Plant since 1980 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, December 1997.
Richey, Lew, employed at the Plant since 1970 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, August 1997.
Richmond, Lou, employed at the Plant since 1970 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, January 1998.
Riddle, Robert, employed at the Plant since 1958 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, September 1997.
Roberts, Jim, employed at the Plant from 1967 to 1997 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, January 1998.
Rothe, Dr. Robert E., Nuclear criticality experimenter in nuclear safety, employed at the
Plant since August 1964. Personal communication, 1997.
Sasa, Paul, employed at the Plant since September of 1978 by the site contractor.
Personal communication, November 1997 and January 1998.
Stakebake, Jerry, employed at the Plant since 1965 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, January 22,1997.
Swenson, Peter, employed at the Plant since 1982 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, December 1997.
Tesitor, Chuck, employed at the Plant since 1963 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, February 1998.
Thompson, Gary, employed at the Plant since 1976 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, February 1998.
Trice, Conrad, employed at the Plant by the site contractor since 1974. Personal
communication, January 1997.
Vejota Ed, employed at the Plant for 30 years by the site contractor. Personal
communication, January 1998.
(Page 116)
Weaver, Jack, employed at the Plant since September of 1961 by the site contractor.
Personal communication, August 1997 and February 1998.
Web, David, employed at the Plant since 1977 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, November 1997.
Wilson, Larry, employed at the Plant since 1963 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, February 1998.
Wilson* Sharon, employed at the Plant since 1981 by the site contractor. Personal
communication, September 1997.
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