About the film

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

Release Date: 2018

The Half-Life of Memory: Rocky Flats and the Nuclear Trigger, exposes the ongoing and incredible true story of the Rocky Flats nuclear bomb factory, located just outside of Denver, Colorado. The plutonium contaminated site, once called a “factory of death,” will soon open to the public – UNLESS citizens stop it.


Buried beneath a windy plateau at the base of the Rocky Mountains lies the remains of a top secret nuclear weapons manufacturing plant known as Rocky Flats. Rocky Flats produced 70,000 plutonium cores, or “triggers”, for use in thermonuclear bombs. Each core, in itself, is an atomic bomb that carries the killing power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Local citizens were unaware of the bomb plant and the hazards it posed until a major plutonium fire in 1969 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 triggered large scale protests and helped spur an international anti-nuclear movement that pushed for an end to nuclear proliferation.

Opposition to Rocky Flats led to a tipping point in 1989 when the FBI and EPA raided the nuclear weapons plant. ¬ The raid came in response to credible reports of long-concealed criminal radioactive waste violations. Illegal dumping of toxic waste led to vast contamination of air, soil, and water at Rocky Flats and downwind communities. After the extraordinary raid a special federal grand jury was convened to investigate environmental crimes and Rocky Flats was added to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Priority - Superfundcleanup - List.

Local citizens were unaware of the bomb plant and the products it produced until a major plutonium fire in 1969 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 triggered large scale protests and helped set off a national anti-nuclear movement that pushed for an end to nuclear proliferation.

The special federal grand jury described the plant as an “an ongoing criminal enterprise" and they voted to indict officials with Rockwell International and the Department of Energy (DOE) who controlled the plant. Instead, the Department of Justice made deals with the DOE and Rockwell, sealed the evidence, and silenced the special federal grand jury. Contractors at Rocky Flats later admitted that they could not operate in compliance with environmental law

The collapse of the USSR and continued public opposition to nuclear weapons production forced the bomb plant to close for good in 1993. A heated debate then ensued on the standards for “Decommissioning and Decontaminating” the sprawling 10 square mile site and over 800 structures. Ultimately, a compromise cleanup plan was chosen that allowed for higher levels of radioactive contaminants and subsurface infrastructure to remain onsite. The compromise cleanup spent a fraction of the price and time of the original estimate, and sacrificed protections for human health and safety.

Thousands of former Rocky Flats employees have fallen ill from their work and an independent survey seeks to uncover a possible link to illness in the community. Continuing concerns by local citizens have gone unheeded, and now, little more than a decade after the cleanup at Rocky Flats was declared complete, the site’s past is buried, families are moving into areas known to be contaminated, and the outer area of the former nuclear site has been rechristened as a National Wildlife Refuge. Despite the active Superfund site inner core and major concerns from the local community, the federal government plans to open the refuge as a public wildlife park in 2018. MAYBE…

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2010 - Present

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

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

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

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 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

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

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

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

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

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

The last Rocky Flats sign was removed.
May 2017

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 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

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


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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