What was Rocky Flats?
Rocky Flats was a secret, highly secure U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) facility that produced the “triggers” or cores for nuclear weapons in the nation’s defense using plutonium, highly enriched uranium, beryllium and other materials.
The site in northern Jefferson County was selected as part of the super-secret “Project Apple,” after a highly-classified meeting at the Olin Hotel in downtown Denver. A Denver Post press release on March 23, 1951, announced the acquisition of land and the beginning of construction. The plant became operational in 1952 and continued until it’s closure in 1993.
On November 21, 1991, President George H.W. Bush declared the end of the Cold War as relations began to ease with the Soviet Union. On December 25, 1992, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) officially collapsed with the resignation of Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev as president and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. With the end of the Cold War, the mission at Rocky Flats changes to one of decommissioning and decontamination of the site which began in 1995. It took over 10 years and $7 billion to complete.
Over 800 structures and buildings were demolished and removed. Nuclear material was shipped to other sites. Radioactive wastes were disposed. Soil was remediated. Groundwater treatment systems were installed. Long term environmental monitoring of the site continues to this day to protect area drinking water sources and groundwater.
Where is Rocky Flats? How did it become the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge?
The 6,200-acre site, which had a 400-acre central industrial area (Central Operating Unit [COU]) surrounded by a buffer zone, is located 16 miles northwest of downtown Denver, Colorado, between Golden on the south and Boulder on the north.
Federal legislation sponsored by former U.S. Senator Wayne Allard and U.S. Representative and former U.S. Senator Mark Udall was signed into law in 2001 designating most of the Rocky Flats site a National Wildlife Refuge. The law included a provision to study the feasibility of developing a museum to commemorate the historical, scientific and environmental legacy of the site.
The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge was officially created in July 2007 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took over management of the site, intending to open it for public recreation at some point. However, the COU where the former plant was located is fenced off and will not be opened to the public.
When was the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum started?
In the late 1990s, former Rocky Flats workers, interested citizens, university professors, local, state and federal government representatives met to discuss preserving the history and saving artifacts before the buildings on the site were demolished and their contents removed as part of the decommissioning and decontamination cleanup.
The Rocky Flats Cold War Museum was incorporated in July 2001 as a 501(c) 3 organization. Its mission is to document the historical, social, environmental and scientific aspects of Rocky Flats, and to educate the public about Rocky Flats, the Cold War and their legacies through preservation of key artifacts and development of interpretive and educational programs.
Why establish the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum?
No other Colorado museum is documenting Colorado’s contribution to the global Cold War story. The Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant received plutonium, produced by other top-secret government plants or recycled from old warheads in the field, and turned it into one of the most highly enriched engineered devices ever made by man—plutonium “pits” or triggers for virtually every nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal from 1952-1989.
Rocky Flats was an important part of the national and international history of the Cold War—the central conflict of the second half of the 20th century. Two superpowers, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, faced off in a deadly arms race, developing nuclear weapons and political alliances.
The Rocky Flats plant offered high-paying technical and scientific jobs with education and training for thousands of Rocky Flats workers who had a huge economic and social impact on nearby communities. Plant workers produced and registered an incredible number of patents and developed industrial innovations that are now used worldwide.
Maintaining accessible records and artifacts of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant will provide future historians with original source documents and objects related to the national defense mission of Rocky Flats.
Because of the success of this weapon, we and other countries produced nuclear weapons on such a vast scale...We've created this vast production of the most toxic materials in the world...And I think long in the future, this is the main reason these places will be remembered.
Robert Jacobs, Hiroshima Peace Institute