Paul Karolyi decided to discern the truth about the safety of the Refuge by interviewing many of the historical and current players in the Rocky Flats story. Once again I strongly recommend his excellent audio series about Rocky Flats (also available as podcasts) for his radio program Changing Denver. As he noted in the third episode, “The legacy of Rocky Flats extends far beyond the former plant site and the wildlife refuge. It’s a vast, multi-faceted, interconnected web of damaged relationships, deep-seated prejudices and hurt feelings, and it’s woven into the fabric of our community.” Warning: Because Randy Stafford often comes across initially as reasonable, Mr. Karolyi was bamboozled and has a special addendum entitled 4B: A rebuttal of sorts. This I do not recommend.

The anti-Refuge activists are in fact in general anti-nuclear. They would love to have you believe they’re worried about your health, though.

The following websites are reliably anti-nuclear, with a special focus on Rocky Flats. Warning: do not expect science or recent data on these; they mostly concern the history of the processing plant. Many claims are misleading or outright wrong.

Three more websites have died since 2017:,, and (checkered history at present).

Please let me know of other websites specifically devoted to Rocky Flats issues: I know of (mostly marketing) and (putatively satirical, ostensibly selling stuff.).

Master narrative

  1. Plutonium is extremely dangerous
  2. Not enough is known about plutonium in Rocky Flats
  3. The wisest course of action is to place the Refuge off limits to public use
  4. Cancers downwind of Rocky Flats must be due to plutonium in Rocky Flats soil
  5. You cannot trust the U.S. government (Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency) or the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to provide reliable information.  The DOE after all pays the operating budget of the Rocky Flats part of the CDPHE

Remarks on each

  1. Yes it is.  But ‘the dose makes the poison’ [Paracelcus, 1538]. The focus on plutonium is historical and ridiculously out of proportion.  The Pu isotopes account for less than 1% of the total soil radioactivity in Rocky Flats.  Pu is no different from dozens of other natural alpha-particle emitters.  It is notable for emitting so few gamma rays that soil Pu has to be measured in the lab.
  2. Plutonium levels in soils in and around the Refuge have been measured in multiple waves since the 1970s, amounting to tens of thousands of samples.  Detailed contour maps from the DOE and new measurements in 2019 and by Fish&Wildlife and work-for-hire to detect hot particles are available in our Cleanup document. One can argue that Rocky Flats has the best-characterized residual radiation contamination in the world.
  3. The Colorado Front Range has the highest background radiation levels in the United States.  Many parts of Colorado have natural radiation levels higher than anything measured in Rocky Flats because of geology and altitude.  Are they off limits to public use for health reasons?
  4. Elevated cancer rates around Rocky Flats have been looked for repeatedly since the 1970s and not found.  (Carl Johnson measurements found the highest cancer rates due to plutonium at the State Capitol: politely discredited by experts in the mid-1980s.)  If you understand measured soil plutonium levels you understand why.  Variations
  5. You cannot hide most radiation, since it is generally accompanied by very penetrating gamma rays, sometimes detectable from orbit.  In general it is easy to detect and measure with great precision.  Contributions of many radioisotopes in Rocky Flats soil were measured by many labs (federal, private, academic, foreign) in establishing NIST soil standards.  The frameworks used to analyze health risks from radiation have been refined over decades and are used by many international organizations, in addition to the DOE, the EPA, and the CDPHE.


Anti-Refuge groups may appear to be a group of harmless, well-intentioned cranks.  But they have had an impact that may not be apparent:

  • Approached school superintendents of Jefferson County, Westminster, Boulder Valley, and several Adams County school districts, warning about liability if children were harmed by visiting the Refuge, without any evidence whatsoever that there was any danger.  How do you feel about un-elected, uninformed people bypassing school boards to influence your school district?
  • Blocked a controlled burn by Fish&Wildlife on Rocky Flats in 2015. There has been no controlled burn since 2004 (Westword). Which would you rather have, a controlled burn or an uncontrolled burn? Think about the Marshall Fire.
  • Arrive in large groups at city council meetings to make repetitive statements about their concerns.  I watched as the Broomfield City Council–completely unprepared for this onslaught–capitulate about not funding the Jefferson Parkway months before the actual vote.
  • Delayed Fish&Wildlife plans to build recreational structures in the Refuge by a series of delaying lawsuits judged to be without merit in 2022by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. See the blog entry about this.
  • Wasted tens of thousands or more of taxpayer dollars in lawsuits and civil servant wasted time.

Example: rational anti-nuclear activists

Unlike our anti-Refuge folks, activists elsewhere need not be anti-science and conspiracy-theory based. They too believe in measurements, not hearsay.

Measurements at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant during transfer of spent fuel into storage tanks by the San Luis Obispo group Mothers for Peace. The net radiation dose from this particular 3:16 hour trajectory was 1.

Demographics of opposition to Refuge use

  • People living in older developments in Westminster, Superior, Broomfield, and older parts of Arvada—the same places many Rocky Flats employees lived while the plant was operating. They remember when the Rocky Flats plant began receiving negative press attention after the 1969 fire. Government cold war secrecy meant that few knew in detail what was going on at Rocky Flats, and older neighbors retain a distrust about Rocky Flats.
  • Aging activists, for whom Rocky Flats was a symbol of cold war weapons manufacturing, government secrecy, and the peace and environmental movement. Some felt the Superfund cleanup was inadequate, since they did not know that Pu isotopes were a trace contaminant (less than 1% of total soil radioactivity, about 2.5% of total soil alpha particle emission), cleaned up because it was human made.
  • People whose elderly relatives or parents have illnesses which they attribute to living around Rocky Flats when it was operating. Some even blame current illnesses on proximity.