June 08, 2018 07:44 PM
Updated June 08, 2018 07:45 PM
A U.S. official harshly criticized a Colorado health officer who questioned the safety of a former nuclear weapons plant and said he did not trust the federal government’s assurances that the site was thoroughly cleaned up before being converted into a wildlife refuge.
The dispute is part of a decadeslong battle over the operation and cleanup of the Rocky Flats facility outside Denver, which made plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons for decades. Part of the site is now a wildlife refuge, and the government plans to open hiking trails and visitor facilities there this year.
Environmentalists and community activists have sued to try to block the plan.
Mark Johnson, health director of Jefferson County, which includes the site, said he’s not sure the area is safe despite a $7 billion Superfund cleanup.
The Rocky Flats plant operated from 1952 until 1989, when U.S. agents raided it to investigate safety and environmental violations. Production never resumed, and the government decided in 1993 to close it down and clean it up.
After the cleanup, 8 square miles (21 square kilometers) on the perimeter became a refuge. Perched on a high mesa northwest of Denver, it offers sweeping views of the foothills and plains and is home to bear, elk, deer and the endangered Preble’s meadow jumping mouse.
Two square miles (5 square kilometers) in the interior of the site, where the plutonium was handled, is off-limits and remains under Energy Department control.