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.