'Half-Life of Memory' exposes the ongoing and incredible true story of Rocky Flats; America’s key atomic bomb factory, located outside of Denver, Colorado. The accident stricken plant has been converted into a wildlife refuge and is now largely forgotten, but its residual radioactivity continues to threaten the citizens of Colorado, and the deadly weapons Rocky Flats helped to produce remain armed and ready to launch.
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.
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.
The U.S. production of nuclear weapons has left a lingering legacy of contaminated lands and peoples. Over 300 facilities 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 surrounding lands have been contaminated with radioactive, toxic and hazardous wastes from years of production during the Cold War. Now, many of these sites are being converted to "green" uses and the institutional memory is being lost.
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 that a second Cold War is near. As the U.S. embarks on a new nuclear buildup, many people are left wondering how we will remember the previous one.
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.