Radioactive "hot spots" discovered outside Rocky Flats cleanup area |

Radioactive "hot spots" discovered outside Rocky Flats cleanup area

LONGMONT ” Crews decontaminating the former nuclear weapons plant at Rocky Flats have found five radioactive “hot spots” outside the established cleanup area, Energy Department officials said.

The discovery prompted decontamination contractor Kaiser Hill to expand soil cleanup around the site, known as the 903 Pad, DOE spokesman John Rampe told the Longmont Times-Call in a story published Thursday.

“These are very small areas that slipped through the cracks,” Rampe said.

The hot spots were discovered over the past three months, and workers removed about 75 cubic yards of soil from them, he said.

The 6,500-acre compound about 10 miles west of Denver made plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons until 1992, when it was shut down because of safety concerns and the end of the Cold War.

The site is undergoing a $7 billion cleanup expected to end next year. Part of the site will become a wildlife refuge with limited public access. The 903 Pad is not included in the refuge area.

More than 4,000 barrels of plutonium-tainted oil were stored on the 903 Pad site during the 1950s and 1960s. Some leaked, contaminating soil and groundwater.

The barrels were disposed of by 1968 and the site was paved with asphalt in 1969 to keep the tainted topsoil from blowing away in the high winds that frequently rake the area, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said.

Niels Schonbeck, a biochemistry professor at Metropolitan State College in Denver who has researched Rocky Flats, said the newly discovered hot spots bolster the argument for keeping Rocky Flats closed to the public.

“If you look hard enough, you’ll find them in other places,” he said.

Schonbeck said DOE and Kaiser-Hill have downplay the contamination danger.

“The people who are cleaning up want to do it for the lowest amount of money and be credited with cleaning up the site,” he said.

A Kaiser-Hill spokesman could not be reached for comment.

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