'Extreme makeover' for Rocky Flats is less than impressive

Your Oct. 21 editorial, "Extreme makeover for a nuclear factory," was right to recognize the magnitude of the task of trying to clean up the Rocky Flats nuclear bomb factory near Denver. But your editorial missed when it declared that the "cleanup" recently completed at Rocky Flats sets a positive example of how to clean other contaminated nuclear facilities.

Cleanup contractor Kaiser-Hill's main task at Rocky Flats was to meet the cleanup goals set by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the regulators. This, they say at Kaiser-Hill, they have done. But what they've done falls far short of cleanup to the maximum extent now possible - a cleanup level that is just a prelude to cleanup to average background levels of radiation, the technology for which is still out of reach. In 1995 a working group proposed that when technology allows, Rocky Flats should be cleaned to background levels. The group called for an ongoing program at Rocky Flats to develop the technology required for meeting their long-range goal and a trust fund to cover the ultimate cost.

In late 2002 and early 2003, DOE and the regulators took public comment on the final cleanup plan they would soon adopt. The public record shows that 86 percent of the individuals and groups that commented rejected what was proposed - which is what Kaiser-Hill has just completed.

Though what's just been finished is called a "cleanup," it's a partial one at best. The site is safer than it used to be, but to call it "safe" is a misuse of language. Plutonium, which remains potentially dangerous in minuscule amounts for upwards of 240,000 years, is being left in place. A recent National Academy of Sciences report on health effects of low-dose radiation exposure emphasizes that any dose is potentially harmful.

Now that Rocky Flats has been "cleaned," it's slated to become a national wildlife refuge managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Accordingly, the site was cleaned to the level required to protect a wildlife refuge worker but not to protect the most vulnerable individuals (the very young, very old, or infirm) who may visit the site once it opens to the public (expected possibly as early as 2008).

The wildlife refuge idea is a way of green-washing Rocky Flats, making a dangerously contaminated area look benign, safe, even inviting. The site will not remain a wildlife refuge for as long as plutonium remains dangerous. No one can predict how human or nonhuman forces may alter Rocky Flats after fences fall and memory fades.

Had Kaiser-Hill's prowess in meeting the "cleanup" goals been used to clean the site to the maximum extent now possible, Rocky Flats could continue as a laboratory for development of the technology needed for an eventually more thorough cleanup. The technology and technique could then be exported to other plutonium-contaminated sites. Then, and only then, would Rocky Flats be a fitting model for cleanup elsewhere.
DR. LeRoy Moore
A consultant for the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, Mr. Moore has served on numerous bodies focused on Rocky Flats.
Boulder, Colo.

Smaller classes make better teachers

Regarding your Oct. 25 editorial, "Weeding out bad teachers": Extending the term of probation for teachers could be justified if the school system also changed the factor that is the direct cause of poor education: overcrowded classrooms. If no classroom had more than 25 students, teacher control of discipline problems would be much easier and individual attention possible.
Leila Gillette
Tucson, Ariz.

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