Activists want details on inquiry into ex-nuke weapons plant

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DENVER | Activists are asking a judge to release documents to the public from a 27-year-old criminal investigation into a former nuclear weapons plant located outside Denver.

The activists claimed Thursday that the documents could show whether the federal government made enough of an effort to clean up the site before renovating a portion of it into a wildlife refuge and opening it to the public.

The Rocky Flats plant made plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs until 1989, when it was shut down after a series of fires and accidental releases.

After a grand jury investigation, the plant operator pleaded guilty to environmental violations and was fined $18.5 million. The grand jury records are still sealed.

The site was cleaned up but remains off-limits. A buffer zone around the plant became a wildlife refuge and opened to visitors last fall.

Pat Mellen, an attorney representing the activist groups, said the documents could show whether the government tracked down and cleaned up all the contamination.

Mellen said the grand jury subpoenaed documents from the plant that would have shown where plutonium and other hazardous wastes were disposed of, spilled or buried.

Comparing those documents to the cleanup would show whether all the known contamination sites were remediated, she said.

“Our concern here is that the locations that were cleaned up were complete,” she said. “We want to audit the cleanup.”

State and federal officials say the refuge is safe for the public. Mellen said that determination was based primarily on soil test samples, with five samples taken on every 30 acres. That would be a total of about 870 samples across 8 square miles of land.

“There’s a perception that we’re hoping to dispel that every inch of the refuge was considered and tested, and they went looking for the contamination until they found it,” she said. “That was not the procedure.”