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Open Wound From a Tough Nuclear History- Hannah G

by on December 7, 2011

Rocky Flats was a plant located south of Boulder that created most of the United State’s nuclear weapons. It was dismantled in 1992 and the clean-up of the toxic waste started some years afterward. The land that made up Rocky Flats is now a national wildlife refuge, save some 1,300 acres that are still dangerous and thus, under the control of the Department of Energy (DOE). This area is called the “DOE blob.” The DOE say the land was kept only for the “management of ongoing remedies.” The author of this article, titled “Open Wound from a Tough Nuclear History,” Len Ackland doesn’t love this excuse but applauds it for conveying the uncertainties surrounding the plant and it’s clean-up.

The cleanup, however, is not the biggest problem surrounding Rocky Flats, says Ackland. Rather, the real problems reside in how we are still affected by the plant and our attitudes surrounding it. “The U.S. National Park Service added Rocky Flats to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998 for ‘making a significant contribution to the broad patterns of U.S. History” (249). The DOE is basically trying to save face and prevent the public from seeing the grave dangers that the plant produced. The DOE is turning Rocky Flats into a triumph instead of using it as a lesson.

The lessons that need to be taken from Rocky Flats are “physical and perceptual” according to Ackland. There are many accounts of deadly diseases, including cancer, that have afflicted the workers of Rocky Flats, as well as the residents that lived near the plant. However, the DOE doesn’t recognize these casualties as a result of the plant because it is very difficult to prove that the plant is the direct cause.

The span of destruction is not only on the local level, Ackland adds. Rocky Flats is responsible for an huge amount of the United State’s arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Ackland scolds the United States for unwisely using their power after the Cold War. “And the United States, the world’s sole superpower, rather than taking the lead in outlawing nuclear weapons, again started producing plutonium bombs at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico in 2003 and has plans for a new version of Rocky Flats on one of five DOE sites” (250-1). Ackland wonders, “Do nuclear weapons ensure US National security or pose an unacceptable risk to humanity. If humans are so smart, why have we built huge arsenals of weapons capable of destroying ourselves?” (250).

I believe that having weapons that are capable of such atrocities should be illegal and I am ashamed that America has so many of them. That said, there is nothing we can do about the past, and I think at the very least our government can be honest with the public about the dangers that are present. The government tries to save face and keep people from panicking but when there is imminent danger I think we have the right to know exactly where there is radiation or toxic waste.

What are your opinions on world policy concerning weapons of mass destruction? Should they be outlawed so that no nations have them? Should we give them to everyone to even the playing field? Should there be only certain countries that have them?

I would also like to know how many of you knew about Rocky Flats and the controversial cleanup that took (and is still taking) place just a few minutes down highway 93?


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  1. I really enjoyed this article because it pertains to a problem right here in our own backyard. Before reading about it, I had not even ever heard of the nuclear plant being placed outside of Denver, let alone the direct threats it has had on both humans and the environment. In relation to the introduction by Cowell, i also found it very interesting to see the continuing theme of “wounds” and “healing” of the environment. However, this article particularly struck me because it concerns the need for healing the environment as well as a real problem with human diseases and illness such as cancer. It creates a perfect personification and direct relation we have to our environment and how human decisions and potentially unintended consequences can have such a great impact on humans/nature in the future.
    I do not believe that we or any other country should be constructing or keeping weapons of mass destruction. For obvious reasons, it would not prove that our country is stronger than any other, it just poses a threat and greater urge for other countries to have them as well.

  2. 242colleencarey permalink

    Well, I grew up in a very non-violent place – the Caribbean. I never saw or really herd the ways in which the US or rest of the world use use weapons of mass destruction. What I have seen though is appalling, terrible, and honestly saddening. I think these weapons have just led to more unnecessary destruction. YES, they should be outlawed. NO ONE should have weapons that can completely destroy an entire city…or island for that matter.
    I had never even herd of Rocky Flats before reading this article. As for the controversial cleanup, I cannot believe the US would not make this area as a dangerous place public! This absolutely angers me! The people that its affected should attempt to let the public know and show how the government is trying to hide the dangers of this area.

  3. The government did their job well then, if there are a few of us that didn’t know about it. And I agree with you Colleen. No one should have these. I don’t think that is possible right now though.
    I agree with you too, Kelcy, in that the more nuclear weapons there are, the more will be built. If one country has one then their neighbor wants two and it becomes a vicious cycle until there are hundreds upon hundreds of kilograms of detonatable explosives at very close proximity to the public, causing disease and worse…

  4. After reading this article, I can easily say that I agree with Coco when she said that the controversial cleanup outraged her. I also found myself completely shocked when the article discussed how the US completely hides and disguises the fact that this area is extremely hazardous and dangerous. People are known to live in very dangerous areas that are hazardous (Miami Beach, along the coastline of Central and South America, etc). I am familiar with the Rocky Flats plant. I have a friend who’s grandfather worked at it until it was shut down. Now, her grandfather has all health care covered which I thought was interesting.
    I thought the author did a good job explaining the destruction, corruption, and sadness that came along with the possession and usage of nuclear energy. It seems like the whole dilemma with nuclear energy was a very selfish and greedy controversy.

  5. janellekramer permalink

    Yeah, I feel like my comment was going to fall in line with everyone else’s. Weapons of Mass Destruction have been increasing because everyone else has them. Countries want to be as secure as the next, so when government began to build weapons of mass destruction, all of the countries would could afford it did as well. At this point, the world would essentially cease to exist if any WMD were used because then all countries would begin to fire their WMD. So, basically they will never be used, they only exist for show, and they are leaking toxic waste and toxic matter into the earth surrounding the plants and dump sites. Essentially, I agree that they should not exist.

  6. katiecarbaugh permalink

    I think that if the US government created an “educational area” out of Rocky Flats it would be in order to spread the discourse of development that Peet and Watts talk about in Liberation ecology. Teaching people that the United States have improved circumstances for it’s people because of the creation of nuclear weapons simply enforces the discourse and keeps people enslaved. The government wants to prevent the public from questioning the environmental impact and ethicality of developing and using nuclear weapons so that they don’t lash out and try to change the government–the people in power want to stay in power.
    I was also unaware of the situation and I loved having an article on a topic so close to home because it makes the environmental debate more real and makes me think about my opinions in greater depth. I also tend to agree that WMD are terrible and should never be used, but I don’t think that they aren’t a necessity to have in the modern world. They act as a scare tactic and unless every country disarmed themselves, it’s not practical to go without the “insurance”.

  7. Benjamin N. permalink

    WMDs are such a big issue, it’s difficult to take one stance on them. They’re an easy way for a nation to create power, and they’re dangerous for any nation to have. I don’t think there are certain countries that should be allowed to have them. Personally, I think they should be globally outlawed, but I’m sure there will always be countries that are producing them in private.

    The fact that Rocky Flats is so close to us is an unsettling thought. We hear about nuclear disasters like Chernobyl, and the dangers of radioactive byproducts and think, “well, that will never happen to me, that’s too far away.” Having a highly irradiated location so near to us makes the realities and dangers of nuclear power something that we need to constantly take into consideration.

  8. Honestly I had no idea about Rocky Flats and to be honest was still somewhat confused as to when this was taking place when we were discussing this article in class before I read it. Now that I know more about it I am really interested in driving to go see the land to put an image to the article. I think it is very interesting how Colorado has played a major role in building war capabilities. For instance CU at one point was where various military personnel would go to learn a foreign languages. That is why the university is still considered today of having a prominent language studies program.

  9. punam123 permalink

    i think every country should stop with the productions of weapons of mass destruction. It has created more competition, inter and intrastate. More terrorist groups can give threat to national security. We don’t want another Hiroshima and Nagasaki where thousands of innocent civilians died. But that does not happen at all because of security dilemma. The creation and production of weapon of mass destruction is all political and it is used for political use. So, every nation should stop using it and trying to give threat to other nation.

  10. punam123 permalink

    For your second question, I did know about Rocky Flats and i do know some people who worked their whole life trying to create nuclear plants but i have never been in that place down highway 93. I know people who got laid off from the Rocky Flats because they stop producing nuclear plants.

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