Rocky Flats lives on

  • Wes McKinley

    Images courtesy Maria Rogers Oral History Program
  • Jerry San Pietro

    Images courtesy Maria Rogers Oral History Program
  • Norman Warling

    Images courtesy Maria Rogers Oral History Program

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, "The Half-life of Memory."

"... I kind of like the bomb. We are the super country on the planet because we got the biggest weapon ... I wasn't a red-hot activist or had an ax to grind, or anything. ...

"The engineers at Rocky Flats, not in testimony but later, told me we didn't need to do it. Jim Kelly, (who) was a fierce defender of the jobs at Rocky Flats, in his obituary last week, it quoted him as saying, 'The sad thing about it was, we didn't need to pollute like that.' The rabbits were hot. The mosquitoes, you get a mosquito bite, you were polluted. ...

"There's lots of people out there with stories that we didn't hear. Some people say, 'Why didn't you subpoena them? Why didn't you?' Well, we didn't know about it, and how much are you going to haul in your truck? You're not hauling your whole load of wheat at one time, you just haul a load at a time. And that's kind of where we're at. This is a load. This is about all I can carry. I can't carry much, I'm kind of limited."

--interview by Dorothy Ciarlo


"... And then on certain hot jobs, really hot jobs, we'd be in there right with them holding the meter and telling them, 'OK, you got two minutes left, one minute, you're out.' They'd come out of the gloves. They'd had their exposure for a month in, like, 10 minutes. I was right there with 'em. The next guy would come in. I'd count him. 'Time's up!' We went through every lab tech in the building and then we had to shut it down, rope it off, and wait till the next month, when they start over with zeroes! Magically it all goes away in a month! You can be exposed very high this month, and the first of next month you're OK again. So we'd do it all over again. ...

"I had an incident that happened to me. I was standing in a room talking to a guy, no respirator on. He didn't, either. And there was an explosion. And my instrument went 'Kchhhh!' which meant, it's saturated, it's infinity ...

"There's stuff buried out there that'd scare me. I would never go out on that plant site now. ..."

--interview by Hannah Nordhaus

"The people in 771, they knew what they were doing. You had to know what you were doing to work in that building. It wasn't safe. They came out years later saying it was one of the most dangerous buildings in the whole DOE complex. And it was. It was dangerous. It was unsafe. The contamination was there constantly. ...

"And it wasn't only contamination. We had a lot of acids. We had acid spills constantly. I mean, you had lines -- and although they were made out of stainless steel, the acid would still eat through these stainless steel lines, and you'd have leaks, leaks of highly contaminated acid. They would drip on people, yes. I don't remember ever being dripped on, but I sure as heck remember looking up there and finding the drips. ... Somebody'd come and tell you, as a radiation monitor, 'The floor's hot in room 114.' So you go in there and you start checking the floor to see where it's coming from. You find a hotter spot and you look up and there it is. It's dripping out of the overhead. And it did drip on people. And to decon these people wasn't easy. ...

"I mean, I'm not a chemist or anything like that, but they had every acid known to mankind out there. I mean, they would try anything and everything to dissolve plutonium."

--interview by Hannah Nordhaus

The Rocky Flats oral histories were collected in collaboration with Boulder Carnegie Library's Maria Rogers Oral History Program and made possible by a grant from the Colorado State Historical Fund. The interviews are available at

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