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Know the West

Latest: After 26 years, a settlement over Rocky Flats plutonium contamination

The site near Denver was once home to a nuclear weapons plant.


A worker holding a plutonium button at the Rocky Flats nuclear plant.
Library of Congress
From 1952 to 1989, Rocky Flats — a 6,500-acre site just northwest of Denver — was home to a nuclear weapons plant that produced thousands of plutonium triggers for the nation's nuclear arsenal. After toxic waste leaks, catastrophic fires and years of protests, Rocky Flats was raided by both the FBI and the Environmental Protection Agency, and shuttered by 1992. By 2006, the government had spent $7.5 billion to clean it up. Today, 5,000 acres are a wildlife refuge, but the central 1,300 acres remain a Superfund site, haunted by buried chemicals and toxins (“The Half-life of Memory,” HCN, 2/17/09).

In late May, over 15,000 residents who owned homes downwind of Rocky Flats in 1989 reached a $375 million settlement with plant operators over plutonium contamination, ending a 26-year legal battle over violations by Rockwell International Corp. and Dow Chemical Co. A federal judge is expected to approve the settlement, and then a claims process will be established.