-Boom" potential at Rocky Flats
When the FBI raided and
closed the Rocky Flats nuclear facility just outside Denver, Colo.,
in 1989, agents found illegal emissions of radioactive materials.
But more problems were on the way. Sam Cole of Physicians For
Social Responsibility says that since then, plant managers have
been "spinning their wheels," and not taking care of a dangerous
buildup of hydrogen gas.
The gas is escaping from
plutonium, which was used to trigger nuclear bombs. Fourteen tons
of leftover plutonium were stored in tanks after the plant was shut
down, but in 1993, scientists noticed that the tanks were swelling
from pressure created by hydrogen gas, a by-product of stagnant
plutonium. When the Energy Department sent its safety board to
investigate, it concluded that the hydrogen build-up had reached
"well into the explosion range."
officials first placed the plutonium tanks in a shielded room to
contain a possible blast. Then they installed venting systems to
alleviate pressure from the hydrogen. Rocky Flats spokesman Pat
Etchart says these steps prevent any threat to the public. "The
threat is like more of a burp," Etchart says.
Officials are also taking steps to transform the
plutonium from a liquid to a solid state to further reduce the risk
of a blowup. But Cole, who has watchdogged Rocky Flats since 1984,
says these precautions should have been taken years ago. Rocky
Flats, he believes, is now the most unsafe nuclear facility in the