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About the film

The Half-Life of Memory:
Rocky Flats and the Nuclear Trigger

Release Date: 2019

On a windy plateau overlooking Denver, lies the radioactive buried remains of a top-secret U.S. nuclear bomb plant known as Rocky Flats. Rocky Flats produced an estimated 70,000 atomic bombs for the U.S. arsenal before operations were suddenly halted by an unprecedented FBI raid. Rocky Flats’ contentious past - including radioactive fires, leaks, and spills - has largely been forgotten, but its residual radioactive contamination continues to threaten the citizens of Colorado - and the nuclear bombs Rocky Flats helped to produce remain armed and ready to launch.

Synopsis

Local citizens were unaware of the bomb plant and the hazards it posed until a major plutonium fire sent a plume of smoke across the Denver Metro Area. After the fire, previously undisclosed accidents and routine releases of radioactive material were exposed. News of these events fueled large scale protests and helped ignite an international anti-nuclear movement.

Rocky Flats and the surrounding area was found to be contaminated with some of the highest levels of radioactive plutonium contamination in the world. An extraordinary FBI and EPA raid, in 1989, forever halted nuclear production at Rocky Flats. The bomb plant was eventually shut down and a questionable 10-year, billion-dollar, cleanup concluded in 2005.

Today there is no visible trace of the former plant. The Denver metro area is growing ever closer to the site and a large portion of Rocky Flats has been rechristened as a national wildlife refuge. State and federal officials tout the area’s safety but many citizens, including former workers, a former FBI agent and a county health chief disagree.

Rocky Flats and the surrounding area was found to be contaminated with some of the highest levels of radioactive plutonium contamination in the world. An extraordinary FBI and EPA raid, in 1989, forever halted nuclear production at Rocky Flats. The bomb plant was eventually shut down and a questionable 10-year, billion-dollar, cleanup concluded in 2005.

Today there is no visible trace of the former plant. The Denver metro area is growing ever closer to the site and a large portion of Rocky Flats has been rechristened as a national wildlife refuge. State and federal officials tout the area’s safety but many citizens, including former workers, a former FBI agent and a county health chief disagree.

Thousands of former Rocky Flats workers have fallen ill from radiation contamination and community members are currently working to uncover a possible link to illness in the surrounding neighborhoods. The long-term consequences of Rocky Flats on the Denver area are unknown, and decades of negligence and cover-ups by state and federal officials have left citizens questioning their safety.

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TIMELINE OF IMPORTANT RECENT EVENTS

2010 - Present
ROCKY MOUNTAIN GREENWAY

America’s Great Outdoors envisioned a trail connecting the Rocky Mountain Arsenal – Two Ponds – and Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuges to the Rocky Mountain National Park. The 83-mile path is known as the Rocky Mountain Greenway.
2012 - Present
HOUSING DEVELOPMENTS

Massive housing developments are under construction on lands contaminated with plutonium239 from Rocky Flats. The construction of Candelas, the largest and closest development to Rocky Flats, began in 2012 and is ongoing. In 2012, an activist group, Candelas Glows, formed to raise awareness about Rocky Flats and potential health risks to people moving into the area. Much of Candelas and other off-site lands were a Rocky Flats Superfund site, delisted in May 2007.
September 2013
FLOOD OF 2013

An onslaught of rainstorms caused major flooding in Boulder County. Contamination testing monitors at Rocky Flats were overwhelmed and/or swept downstream.
2014 - 2015
BURN HALTED

The Rocky Flats Technical Group, an ad hoc citizens group of scientists and experts, along with other citizens groups and municipalities were vocal against a proposed 701 acre controlled burn at the Rocky Flats Refuge. USFWS postpones the controlled burn in January 2015. The Rocky Flats Technical Group convinced the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission in February 2015 to delay the USFWS smoke management permit.
May 2015
ANOTHER FLOOD

Another severe storm event floods Rocky Flats. One of the Landfills left in place, approximately 40 acres with depleted uranium, in the active Superfund portion of Rocky Flats slumped several feet that demonstrated topographical instability, erosion and a potential harm to human health.
October 2015
COLD WAR HORSE

Jeff Gipe installs the Rocky Flats Cold War Horse memorial, “to acknowledge Rocky Flats, its workers, and the surrounding community.” A stone inscription near the monument reads in part, “The history of this important national and international site, and the workers who sacrificed so much, have yet to be acknowledged by federal, state or local governments. This memorial stands as a reminder of a history that we must not forget.”
April and May 2015
GREENWAY TESTING PROTOCOL

USFWS along with CDPHE, EPA, DOE and US Department of Transportation pushed local municipalities to vote for a cost sharing federal grant regarding the Rocky Mountain Greenway trails through Rocky Flats Refuge. The Rocky Flats Technical Group convinces one municipality to vote no and the other six voted to include a soil analysis plan contingency regarding the grant. The Rocky Flats Technical Group along with other citizens’ groups want the Rocky Mountain Greenway to be constructed around Rocky Flats.
November 2016
DOWNWINDERS HEALTH SURVEY

A local advocacy group, Rocky Flats Downwinders, initiated a grassroots health survey to study illness in the Rocky Flats area. Initial results indicate a high rate of thyroid and rare cancers.
March 2017
FIELDTRIPS BANNED

The Boulder Valley School District is the first to pass a resolution to ban school field trips to Rocky Flats. Activists and experts are working on a campaign, called Keep Kids Off Rocky Flats, which seeks to have all the school districts in the area to ban fieldtrips to Rocky Flats.
April 2017
WORKER ILLNESS LAWSUIT

Julia Mae Halliburton, the widow of a Rocky Flats worker who died of cancer, sued the Department of Labor who oversees medical compensation for nuclear workers. In 2015, the news organization McClatchy DC reported the startling statistic that 33,480 nuclear workers from across the country who received federal compensation for their illness have died. While this number is vast, it represents only a fraction of the workers who have become ill, many of whom have been denied compensation. Workers must prove that Rocky Flats was “at least as likely as not” the cause of their illness to finally receive compensation. This is a tough if not impossible task with large amounts missing and altered data.
April 2017
ALL SIGNS REMOVED

The last Rocky Flats sign was removed.
May 2017
LAWSUIT SETTLEMENT

Plaintiffs in a 27 year long lawsuit involving homeowners near Rocky Flats reach a settlement with the Dow Chemical Company and Rockwell International regarding plutonium contamination from Rocky Flats. Over 12,000 plaintiffs have been granted a $375 million settlement for devaluation of property values stemming from plutonium contamination.
May 2017
ACTIVIST LAWSUIT

Activist organizations filed a lawsuit and preliminary injunction against the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to block the construction of the planned visitor facility and public use trails at the Rocky Flats Refuge.
Summer 2018
ROCKY FLATS OPENING...

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service plans to open the “Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge” to the public.

TOPIC SUMMARY

The U.S. production of nuclear weapons has left a lingering legacy of contaminated lands and peoples. Over 300 facilities from across the nation have contributed to building the nuclear warheads currently active in the United States’ arsenal. Many of these facilities, their workers, nearby residents and and surrounding lands have been contaminated with radioactive, toxic and hazardous waste from years of production during the Cold War. Now, the institutional memory of these sites is being lost. Documents have been destroyed, or kept from public view, leading some people fear that the story is purposefully being rewritten.

Nuclear contamination at Rocky Flats will remain radioactive for thousands of generations. Many local activists, experts, and former workers contest the opening of the former nuclear site to the public, yet, the USFWS has begun private tours of Rocky Flats, with plans to open the property to the public in the summer of 2018. If the government is successful, Rocky Flats will become the first plutonium contaminated site in the nation to open to the public - but it will not be the last. The push to open former nuclear sites as a public wildlife parks is thought by some to be a strategy of the US government to bury past injustices and to carry on support for nuclear weapons production. The Rocky Flats refuge is a template for nuclear clean-up sites across the nation, including Hanford in Washington.

The refuge designation has drastically accelerated the loss of memory at Rocky Flats, and once the site opens for hiking and biking, knowledge of the land’s toxic past will fade even further. Murph Widdowfield, the president of the Rocky Flats Cold War museum, said of the DOE, “They just want us to go away.” The DOE has actively worked against the the realization of a Rocky Flats museum even though there is a provision in the refuge litigation that stipulates the establishment of the museum. It has become apparent that the DOE seeks to bury Rocky Flats past and present a new “green” creation story that attempts to sanitize the landscape from the violence of its military past.

In the article, “The Half-Life of Memory” (where this film borrows its title), author Hannah Nordhaus writes, “Plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years. The half-life of memory, by contrast, is a much briefer thing. The contamination at Rocky Flats will long outlive our efforts to control or even remember it.”

The global threat of nuclear annihilation hasn’t subsided either. Growing tensions between nuclear nations, coupled with the United States’ $1 trillion plan to rebuild the U.S. nuclear stockpile have many people fearing a second Cold War is near - Donald Trump’s provocations aren’t soothing these uncertainties. As the U.S. embarks on a new nuclear buildup, many people are left wondering how we will remember the previous one. As George Santayana’s famous aphorism goes, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The events at Rocky Flats and across the nuclear weapons complex demonstrate that it is up to us as citizens to not only remember, but to prevent these grievous mistakes from occurring again. It is imperative now more than ever to remember the human and environmental costs of nuclear weapons production, and to prevent actions that could lead to nuclear annihilation.

The Half-Life of Memory is an eye opening film that expose the impact of nuclear weapons globally and locally. The intent of this project is to demonstrate that the injustices at Rocky Flats, sadly, are not isolated incidents but a common occurrence in the military complex. The film will explore the secrecy, cover-ups and half-truths that have overshadowed the legacy of the nuclear arsenal, while educating its viewers to the extreme human, ecological, and monetary costs of building nuclear bombs. The film will also shed light on the potential consequences of our nation’s current nuclear policy decisions on both U.S. and global citizens. The lessons this story holds are too important to forget; the urgency to spread this knowledge is dire.

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