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Know the West

Remember Rocky Flats


Remember Rocky Flats

Dear HCN, Several weeks ago, the White House asked Congress and the Senate to exempt the Defense Department from the environmental laws of our country in the interest of national security. Currently, Congress is evaluating this request to make the Defense Department exempt from both the Clean Air and Clean Water acts (HCN, 5/27/02).

At the risk of sounding unpatriotic, I believe this is a terrible idea that is unnecessary and ill advised. I believe that an incident at Rocky Flats, the Department of Defense Nuclear Weapons Facility located between Denver and Boulder, demonstrates that our Department of Defense can be as much of a threat to our health and welfare as any foreign terrorists.

We have all heard about Three Mile Island, but few people know about the catastrophic release of plutonium from Rocky Flats.

According to a report prepared by a Colorado grand jury in the early 1990s, a staggering 53 kilograms of plutonium were released at Rocky Flats by our Department of Defense contractors, Rockwell International Inc., through a systematic nightly burning of excess stored plutonium over a period of several years. According to reports, the plutonium was burned at night to avoid having the chemical signature detected by any inquisitive environmentalists during the day. The grand jury had to obtain a security clearance to fly over Rocky Flats at night to identify this chemical signature. Rockwell International Inc.'s corporate executives made in excess of $100 million on bonuses tied to keeping the Rocky Flats facility clean of plutonium during this same time.

Under the current Bush proposal, we are being asked to allow the Defense Department and its contractors to be exempt from laws governing the disposal of toxic metals and radiological materials into the air and water supplies of communities across the country. Given the toxicity of the materials and their longevity in the environment, we need to use the knowledge of the Rocky Flats incident to assess the merits of this proposal.

Yes, national security is important but not at the expense of our natural resources or the health of our citizens.

James T. Martin Thousand Oaks, California