Work on former nuclear plant to end in October
DENVER – It has been decades since a visitor to the Rocky Flats industrial area could see why the former nuclear weapons plant got its name. Beneath myriad buildings, parking lots, roads and guard towers, eroded rubble filled in the earth like cereal in milk.The coarse jumble of rocks is seeing the light again.Roughly a month before the plant’s cleanup is scheduled for completion, all but a few outbuildings are gone from the 385-acre U.S. Department of Energy factory zone.Soon the tainted factory that employed thousands while producing hydrogen bomb cores from 1952 to 1989 will be reduced, mostly, to Rocky Flats. Officials expect the cleanup to be complete by late October.Dozens of gondola railcars packed with rubble from the leveled Building 371 stood waiting one day recently for an engine to haul them to Envirocare, of Utah, as low-level radioactive waste. In place of the 300,000-square-foot concrete monolith were orderly heaps of backfill.Just one of the paved roads in the former industrial city remains. Heavy equipment tore at it. The western access road, the facility’s connection with Colorado 93, will revert to dirt within a week or so.”It’s a lot different than it was last week,” said John Corsi, spokesman for Kaiser-Hill Co., as he drove past. Kaiser-Hill is the Department of Energy’s lead contractor on the $7 billion Superfund cleanup.Buried contamination will remain, as well as a series of water monitors to make sure it doesn’t escape into Woman or Walnut creeks. Slightly radioactive hot spots probably also will stay on parts of the industrial area and blow immediately downwind, although spots disclosed Sept. 1 will be cleaned up next week.Such hotspots, including the former industrial area and hundreds of acres surrounding and downwind of it, will not be part of the roughly 5,000-acre Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge.What was the Rocky Flats industrial area soon will be an open expanse of surprisingly hilly, rough earth commingled with straw to aid plant growth. Some of it, where the seeds of native grasses have had months or years to grow, already looks “native.”The removal of Building 371, the creation of drainages, removal of temporary rail lines, and landscaping and revegetation are the cleanup’s final actions, said David Shelton, vice president for environmental stewardship at Kaiser-Hill.The hands-on cleanup force of about 6,500 when Kaiser-Hill took over the effort in 1995 has dwindled to about 250, Corsi said. Sixty-three steelworkers remain. By October, there will be just five steelworkers left, he said.More than 100 salaried workers are immersed in the paperwork generated from the project, Corsi said. Regulators aren’t expected to sign off on the cleanup until late 2006.- The Associated Press
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