Student Presentations

On 2 December 2014, students in our pod presented their final projects at the annual Celebration of Student Learning day.

Their final presentations examined the relationship between Jeff’s art work and their own understanding of Rocky Flats. Here are some photos and brief descriptions of the students’ final presentations:

 Adleigh’s “Plutonium Cake”

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Beya and Zach’s video project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qxFpcvEbJA

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Richard’s “Horseman of the Apocalypse handing over plans to Rocky Flats worker” drawing

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 Johnny’s poems about the Encirclement and the FBI raids

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Nick’s drawings
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Josie’s Child’s bedIMG_0870

 Dan’s Glove Box

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 Cassandra’s book of pressed flowers (front cover) and Rocky

Flats warnings (inside)

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Jeff’s “Plutonium Cookies”
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Paige’s and Lindsey’s collage

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Elsa’s “History” of Rocky Flats

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Marie’s Reflective Eye

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Tatiana’s Glove Boxes

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Kylie and Drew’s Interview Project

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Josie Traberg

In the dark shadows of Cold War nuclear weapons production at Rocky Flats, Colorado, a clan of people, among them Kristen Haag, suffered as martyrs to guarantee America’s position as a nuclear power house. Figures like Jesus Christ and Jeanne d’Arc are considered martyrs, people who suffered persecution and death for advocating their religious beliefs. However, as martyrdom is not limited to persecution based on religion, it also encompasses people like Socrates or John Brown at Harpers Ferry. So, although not killed for their religious beliefs, children like Kristen Haag, naïve to the detrimental powers of society, were supposed to grow up innocently, playing in peace and looking at the world with hopeful eyes. However, Haag and other children’s beliefs of a harmonious world were shattered as they were forced to battle cancer at a young age. Similarly, when former Rocky Flats plant worker Jacque Brever speaks up against the environmental injustice that takes place at the plant, she gives her life away. Plutonium trigger production at Rocky Flats from 1952 to 1989 cast a dark shadow over the surrounding communities. Cancer deaths became frequent and thus human sacrifice (unknowingly to the public) became commonplace.

As a consequence, while learning the turbulent history of Rocky Flats this fall, I often felt inclined to deem the world a hopeless place. However, I have come to realize that there indeed still is hope for humanity. This hope blossoms in the stories shared by Len Ackland, Kristen Iversen, Niels Schoenbeck, and the Candelas Glows activists. Moreover, artist Jeff Gipe has ensured immortalization of Rocky Flats victims through his work “Kristen”. In “Kristen”, Gipe reveals the injustice the Rocky Flats victims and the surrounding communities faced as both cancer victims, and their families, were caught in the tight grip of the plutonium soiled glove forever.

The only substantial scientific study conducted to prove that negative health effects were related to Rocky Flats, is the study by Dr. Carl Johnson, former director for the Jefferson County Health Department. Evidence from Johnson’s study showed that particularly cancer could develope after internal or external plutonium exposure. In the study, Johnson found 491 estimated cancer cases where the Energy Department only estimated one (Iversen 130). However, despite the numerous cancer incidents recorded by Johnson, controversy existed both in regards to exposure for the public and for workers at the plant. When visiting with the former Rocky Flats plant workers at Rocky Flats Cold War Museum on October 15, one of the former workers, who had been treated for cancer five times, and whose wife died of cancer, refuted Johnson’s study and strongly denied our class’ suggestion that plutonium was the source of said cancer incidents. Someone asked if the former workers ever were concerned about their safety while working at Rocky Flats. In response, all the men noted that they were never concerned for their safety while at the plant. To me, it was odd that the plant workers could refute a theory so vigorously, specifically when many of them, seemingly, had suffered as victims as well.

Moreover, also the story discussing site criteria for Rocky Flats fueled my pessimistic view of humanity. When Len Ackland visited our class, on November 7th, he discussed the peculiar decisions relating to the Rocky Flats site criteria. In his book, Making a Real Killing: Rocky Flats and the Nuclear West, Ackland notes that it was crucial that wind patterns crossing the plant, wherever it would be built, would not direct wind towards a large populated area (61). Yet, this detail was not only ignored, but was perhaps even intentional, as it turns out the engineering report with wind pattern analysis was from Stapleton Airport, on the other side of Denver (61).  If Rocky Flats was built for the betterment of the nation, it is peculiar why one would have to manipulate site criteria. I look at this incident as proof that Rocky Flats fueled hopelessness for humanity. Whether someone knew they would be sacrificing people or not, today the decision cannot be reversed, and it continues to cost many lives.

11 year-old Kristen Haag died from plutonium exposure in 1979, never fully aware of what caused her cancer. Kristen, like many others, becomes a sacrifice for the nation’s safety. Seemingly, in the case of Rocky Flats, if the nation was to stand strong in a potential nuclear war against the Soviet Union, the safety of people had to be jeopardized and many had to be sacrificed. However, through Gipe’s work Kristen gains posthumous fame, as she was one of the many sacrificed. She becomes a reminder of the fatal consequences of plutonium exposure and of the negligent decisions of the American government that built a nuclear plant too close to a populated area.
            “Kristen is a complete, interactive, piece of work that engages the viewer to reflect on the threats associated with Rocky Flats. At first, Kristen” (steel, steel wool, polymer clay, fluorescent lights, wood, paint) is taunting simply by inviting the audience to look into a narrow white box. Inside the box the viewer at first sees a glove, resembling one of the gloves used to handle plutonium at the Rocky Flats nuclear plant. The glove, meticulously shaped in steel wool, stands straight up in the box. The fingers on the glove are spread wide and static and seem as if they are ready to grasp around anything that comes its way. This image proves true as the plutonium related to the glove does indeed trap people, affecting anyone who is exposed to the dangerous element.

Gipe plays with juxtaposition, contrasting dark and light in the glove box. The walls are sterile and unpleasantly white, with two rows of white fluorescent lamps covering the box ceiling. The glove itself is dark in color. Pushing the light button outside box, and then letting it go after a few seconds, produces a neon-green fluorescent light inside the glove. This light shows the contour of the 11-year-old girl Kristen. She has her hands carefully folded in front of her; she has pigtails and she is wearing a dress.

The young, smiling, and innocent Kristen is contrasted with the sharp, serious, industrial connotation of the glove, the neon lights, and the glove material, steel wool. The confined glove box space, the sharp lines of the box, and the curve of the lines of the glove present a penetrating flow of energy – negative energy, which eventually will consume Kristen’s life and take her from this world. The surface texture of the white walls also diverges greatly from the prickly and raggedy surface of the steel wool. These elements certainly suggest that nothing about Rocky Flats is or feels comfortable.

The story of Kristen shows how one suffers as a victim to Rocky Flats, the cover-ups, and the plutonium contamination. In Full Body Burden, Iversen explains that Kristen Haag, just like other kids, swam in Standley Lake and rode horses “across the windswept fields” (46-47). Though kids often came home after a day outside with bumps and scrapes, one bump on Kristen’s knee did not heal (47). After a few weeks Kristen’s leg had been amputated; the bump on her knee was cancer. A couple of months later Kristen dies from cancer (Iversen 47). Suspecting plutonium contamination, the Haag family had Kristen’s ashes analyzed by three laboratories. However, out of the three labs only one reported “high levels of plutonium-239 in Kirsten’s ashes” (47). Oddly, the laboratory connected with Rockwell International, the current plant operator, returned inconclusive test results (47). Looking at this information I was stunned thinking about the injustice and lies related to Rocky Flats. Though Kristen’s parents decided they could not file a lawsuit against Rocky Flats, Kristen was not forgotten. Gipe has placed Kristen inside the glove to show that Rocky Flats and its plutonium production trapped her. Such a placement evokes strong emotions in the viewer as one notes the injustice of stripping an 11-year-old girl of her childhood. Reflecting on Gipe’s detailed decisions to accentuate human sacrifice and the power of destruction, I connected “Kristen” to Len Ackland and his powerful statement in the prologue of Making a Real Killing: Rocky Flats and the Nuclear West. Here Ackland wonders why are “ . . . humans racing to create ever more sophisticated weapons able to destroy” themselves and most other species (X).  Ackland’s question comments directly on my concern for a hopeless and a doomed society as it reveals that although humans are utterly intelligent they are not sophisticated enough to avoid destruction of their surroundings and thus also of themselves. This question shows the issues of national security posed by Rocky Flats. The Rocky Flats plant not only meant that America had weapons, thus power, to destroy other people and nations, but suddenly it also had the power to destroy its very own people, which it “unknowingly” did.

Nonetheless, Kristen is not the only one metaphorically trapped inside a glove box. The story of Jacque Brever reveals a disordered nuclear weapons plant, another subject fueling my view of hopelessness. Jacque noted that Building 771 at the plant was far from a “tidy lab with flasks and vials and workers in lab smocks” (Iversen 220). Workers looked the other way when things went wrong in production, when things were leaking, or were spilled. Managers simply strived to meet the production quotas (221). Jacque worked with the FBI after the raid, sharing her stories and observations from Rocky Flats. Before testified in court, she discovers that someone has poked holes in the gloves she used when handling plutonium. Co-workers confronted her later saying, “‘That’s what you get for making waves’” (230). Jacque suffered from americium and plutonium exposure and soon battled cancer. Though her whistle blowing proved ill fated, Jacque is a sign of hope. She later returned to Colorado, ashamed of the mess she was a part of at Rocky Flats, but after studying environmental policy and management she was determined to make a difference. Jacque is trapped by the glove box for life, and she has to battle cancer, simply because she was one of the ones who put the gloves on every day. Yet, she serves as a great reminder that justice can be made if one has the courage to speak up.

Still today, the danger of plutonium and its health effects remain as a great controversy. One of the great concerns, which Niels Schoenbeck, who visited our class multiple times in October, addressed often, is the large amount of plutonium waste still remaining in the Rocky Flats vicinity. It has been approximated that about 1 tonne of plutonium was released during the 40 years of production at Rocky Flats. These releases stem from the 1957 and 1969 fires, from the outside waste storage at the 903 Pad, from the incinerator burning waste, from the holding ponds, and from the spray irrigation systems (Schoenbeck). Consequently, with 1 tonne of plutonium unaccounted for, multiple hot areas on site, and locations off sites with high levels of radioactivity, the concern for redistribution of radioactive material remains great. Plutonium particles may spread by strong winds patterns from the two mountain canyons west of the plant, by burrowing animals on site, or as a result of runoff from flooding on site (Gabrieloff-Parish and Casse). In response to this concern, Candelas Glows activists Alesya Casse and Michelle Gabrieloff-Parish refuse to let the story of Rocky Flats fade. They protest and stir debate, and more importantly, they want to educate people. They believe that everyone has a right to know and ought to know about Rocky Flats, specifically as plutonium has a half-life 24,100 year and thus will continue to contaminate the area for millenniums. The Candelas Glows activists talk to potential homeowners at Candelas and to dog owners at Westminster Dog Park, just downwind from the plant. Casse and Gabrieloff-Parish are true examples of hope. They prove that although mistakes, cover-ups and lies might have dominated the Rocky Flats history until this point, as the story continues to evolve, everyone can help clean up mess that has been made.

So, although the turbulent history of Rocky Flats and the injustice suffered by people like Kristen and Jacque did overwhelm me with thoughts of despair, I walk away from the subject of Rocky Flats with a sense hope, fascinated by the passion expressed by people like Iversen, Schoenbeck, the Candelas Glows activists, and Gipe. These people have convinced me that dealing with social justice issues is important because anyone can make a difference, though a complicated web such as the Rocky Flats story might be discouraging. Regardless of what action one takes to continue to spread the story of Rocky Flats, Gipe ensures that the issue will never be forgotten. His timeless piece of Kristen Haag remains as a gripping reminder of what it means to be a child and a martyr, a sacrifice for the nation in the name of war and national security.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

Ackland, Len. Making a real killing: Rocky Flats and the nuclear west. UNM Press, 2002.

Anonymous Former Colorado Resident. “Kristen Iversen.” Kristen Iversen, Rocky Flats Stories.                   Web. 9 Nov. 2014.

Casse Alesya, Gabrieloff-Parish Michelle. Candelas Glows. Rocky Flats activists’   presentation.  Regis University. Denver, Colorado. October 2014.

Ciarlo, Dorothy Day. Oral History Project Discussion on Rocky Flats. In class presentations.        Regis University. Denver, Colorado. October 2014.

Iversen, Kristen. Full Body Burden: Growing up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats. New                    York: Crown, 2012. Print.

Schoenbeck, Niels. Rocky Flats Lecture Series. In class presentations. Regis University.                Denver, Colorado. October-November 2014.

 

 

Elsa Meyners, “Stories of Sacrifice”

Picture this: A single mother takes a job at a hazardous facility to earn enough money to raise her only daughter on her own. A freethinking artist has his eyes opened to the tragedy that surrounded him as a child and decides to give it a voice. A parent of three decides to quit her occupation so she can keep her children out of daycare and fulfill her dream as a mother. Two parents become advocates after their cherished daughter passes from cancer at the young age of six. These are the stories of real life people, stories of love and sacrifice all for a nuclear cause understood by few. These stories inspire us to love with all we have, to fight for what we believe in, and to give without second guessing. These are the stories that keep us churning.

Lois Meyners, my inspirational mother, wanted to leave a positive impact on her family. After having her first child, Lois knew in her heart she wanted to be the type of mother who spent time with her kids on a daily basis and luckily I was one of those kids. Because of her desire to keep her children around their parents as much as possible, Lois gave up her occupation, fully supporting her husband’s career and becoming a full-time Mom. With a passion for keeping my brothers and I out of daycare, Lois would pick her children up at the bus stop and make crafts with us after school. I remember coming home from my half-day of kindergarten and spending the afternoons with my mother. Most days lunch would be ready when I arrived home and we would sit and watch “Madeline” together. Sometimes, if I was lucky, I would get to go to the grocery store or even the mall on an errand run with my Mom. Whenever we went to the mall, Lois would stop to get a good cup of coffee at the newly rising Starbucks. As a six year old, I wasn’t allowed a dark, bold drink but Vanilla Bean Frappucinos were coffee free and I was the lucky taker. My mother and I would eat the whipped cream first, licking the sweet fluff from our straws between laughs.

These days made me feel like the luckiest kid in the world. Lois, the best mother anyone could ask for, would choose to spend her days with my brothers and I. As a six year old I remember feeling so grown up when I got to go to the grocery store, yank off a plastic bag from the roll and help my mom place the bananas inside. These small moments may seem insignificant to a passerby or not out of the ordinary to another parent, but these moments helped shape me as an individual. From a young age I was recognized by an adult and told that I was good enough for them to spend time with me. Lois’ presence in my childhood showed me the power of intentional love and sacrificed time. Lois hasn’t had a job in over twenty-two years because she wanted to be an active part of her children’s lives, and as an eighteen year old looking back, I could not be more thankful for the sacrifice she chose to make.

Some sacrifices, however, do not come with gratitude. Rocky Flats is a nuclear facility located just outside of Denver, Colorado that produced plutonium pits for nuclear bombs from 1952-1992. The United States sacrificed 176 acres of land in Colorado for the sake of nuclear technology without considering the surrounding environment, health effects on workers, or nuclear hazards it would bring. Unlike the caring sacrifice that my mother made for me that I am able to reflect upon and appreciate, the sacrifice of Rocky Flats from the United States is neither appreciated nor widely accepted by the surrounding environment. This sacrifice of land and the surrounding community is easily comparable to the sacrifice that employees and community members made because of Rocky Flats. Whether classified as contracting a harmful disease without understanding the reasons, growing up in the shadows of a dangerous facility, or becoming sabotaged by former friends, the sacrifices made by individuals connected to Rocky Flats shaped their lives and responses to injustice similar to the way Rocky Flats shaped our country’s nuclear warfare.

Kristen Haag was a young girl who lived in the suburbs of Denver a short distance away from Rocky Flats. The daughter of Rex Haag, she loved riding horses, motorcycles, and swimming. (Iverson). In March 1979 when Kristen was eleven she fell outside and bumped her knee. In May of that same year, doctors found a malignancy in her knee and she was diagnosed with bone cancer. This bright, young girl began chemotherapy and had part of her leg amputated. Before the year ended, Kristen tragically passed from cancer. Rex and his wife were in disbelief. Something in their own backyard was so dangerous that it took the life of their only girl. Rocky Flats, a plutonium pit factory, was just six miles away from their house and Rex did build Kristen’s sandbox the same year of the Rocky Flats Mother’s Day fire in 1969 (Iverson). Could plutonium from the fire have traveled six miles and settled into the Haag sandbox and backyard? Years later Kristen’s ashes were analyzed and scientists found detectable levels Plutonium-239 in her ashes. Kristen’s parents made the ultimate sacrifice for a cause they didn’t stop to think twice about and Jeff Gipe found their story inspiring.

Jeff Gipe grew up just outside of Rocky Flats. His father worked at the plant as maintenance supervisor. Later in life Gipe began to dig into the plutonium producing plant he lived so close to and became inspired by the stories surrounding Rocky Flats. Gipe put together an interactive exhibit, “Kristen,” displaying a hauntingly, glowing figure of a young girl inside a lead-lined glove. This figurine is glowing due to the effects of plutonium contamination. The girl in the glove is Kristen Haag. Kristen’s story of unknowing sacrifice for a cause a six year old failed to understand lives on in Gipe’s artwork.

Kristen was just a number in the American Nuclear War Production Game and Gipe recognized this in his piece “Kristen.” Her family was one of the many families that suffered all for the cause of nuclear warfare. The countless lives that were sacrificed due to Plutonium production are easily compared to the area surrounding Rocky Flats that was sacrificed by the United States. Hundreds of people suffered from radioactive contamination, and the companies in charge simply disregarded the cancer trends. Thyroid cancer trends in individuals living near Rocky Flats were studied by Carl Johnson. Hundreds of acres of land are also suffering from radioactive contamination, and the government is disregarding the environmental impact trends as well. An estimated total of 1,968 gigabecquerals of plutonium escaped into the surrounding environment over the course of the plant’s lifespan. Sacrifice was just a part of what Rocky Flats was; sacrifice in the form of land, time, species, plants, water resources and human lives. The workers of Rocky Flats, in contrast to the Haag family, were no strangers to the dangers of plutonium and came to know and understand sacrifice quite well.

When Jacque Brever began working in the Rocky Flats cafeteria in 1982, she had no idea how this seemingly harmless employment opportunity would impact her life. A single mother with a six-month old daughter and a GED, Jacque needed a means to support herself. She had heard about Rocky Flats from her daughter’s father who worked at the plant as an electric technician. Jacque was in it for the money but upon entry into employment she learned that she would need more of an education to earn the big bucks. Jacque began taking college courses in high hopes of becoming a chemical operator and earning enough money to support her daughter (Brever).

As one of the first women to work in the field, Jacque became a chemical operator, recovering plutonium from waste, dust, shreds, and scraps. She wore the same face mask and worked with a glove box like everyone else but did not earn the respect of her male coworkers. Jacque had worked so hard to get this position and earn her wages and the belittlement coming from her coworkers would not stop her now. Jacque strove to become even more efficient and hardworking and began taking notes in a small booklet on everything she did and saw. Through recording every detail of the day, Jacque failed to notice what should have been left out.

Every obscure observation of each day was recorded in Jacque’s notebook, even the illegal activities going on at Rocky Flats. Jacque did as she was told and went above and beyond by recording what she did. This excessive achievement, however, caught Rocky Flats red-handed and running an inoperative incinerator. Jacque went from a hardworking, boundary-pushing female chemical operator to the proof that the FBI needed and the truth that DOW Chemical feared.

Up until 1989, Jacque was a hardworking, single mother who put her own life at risk through plutonium exposure to support her young daughter. All of this didn’t seem to matter any more. No amount of hard work, dedication, or sacrifice could overwrite the new view her coworkers had of her, a whistle-blower. Her gained respect all disappeared at the sound of job cuts and plant closure. Amidst the cold glances and hatred from her coworkers, Jacque continued to work harder, taking on overtime shifts. Even though her work environment had drastically changed and Jacque was faced with new challenges of sabotage from her coworkers, she continued to show up and give it her all out of the love she had for her daughter. Her coworkers poked holes in her gloves, bugged her housed, destroyed her personal belongings, tampered with her engine, and tried to run her off the road (Brever). Jacque had given up so much for this job and exceeded it’s expectations just to have the detestation of her coworkers screw with her life and send her and her daughter into hiding.

These stories of Lois Meyners, Kristen Haag, Jeff Gipe, and Jacque Brever allow us to address questions of sacrifice in our lives. By digging deeper into the selfless love and sacrifice woven into these personal tales we can reflect upon our own actions and better determine how to interact with others. Will our lives reflect sequences of selflessness and compassion or sabotage and detestation? Do we let tragedy break us down or help us fight for a cause? Will the choices we make have a positive influence on a future generations or serve to benefit our own desires?  It is only by asking these tough questions and further self reflection that we can truly understand the meaning of our actions and our drive to keep moving forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Iverson, Kristen. “Bomb Production at Rocky Flats: Death Downwind.” Ratical.org. Ratical,                    2014. Web. 18 Nov. 2014.

Brever, Jacque. “TRANSCRIPT of OH 1498 A-F.” Interview by LeRoy Moore. Maria Rogers                 Oral History Program. Boulder Public Library, 4 June 1999. Web. 18 Nov. 2014.

 

 

 

Nicholas Isbell

Rocky Flats, known for being a mass polluter of plutonium and producer of nuclear weapons, housed over 10,000 employees,  “It was a small city, with as many as 10,000 people working 24/7, three shifts a day,” (Surovchak) and the majority of them seem to be in agreement that Rocky Flats was a good safe place to work. It makes one wonder how so many people could say that a facility that is claimed to have led to thousands of cancer incidents in both humans and animals, including the workers themselves, could be such a wonderful place to be a part of. The same workers that were there during the 1952 and the 1969 fires are in agreement that they felt safer working there getting covered in radiation rather than any other job they could get. In a discussion with three such workers it was very apparent that Rocky Flats could not have felt any safer. It seems unlikely, from the events that have taken place at Rocky Flats, that anyone closely involved would walk away content and proud of what they have taken a part of. However, in order to try and gather some form of truth as to why these workers would say what they’ve said we need to think outside of the glove box and put ourselves into their hazmat boots.

To begin, why would somebody want to work at a place like Rocky Flats? For starters, “the minimum wage rate in the 1953, when the plant first opened, was 75 cents per hour; the average Rocky Flats employee was paid $2.31 per hour” (Buffet). This is over three times the pay of a minimum wage worker. As well as starting off with a significantly higher pay rate Rocky Flats also offered its employees opportunities to work their way up into higher positions within, which meant they got the need to know more information about what went on at the plant as well as a bigger paycheck. Another perk was the illusion of national security and justice. All of the workers had the sense that they were helping America win the war and stay protected from Communist threat throughout the Cold War. Due to the arms race it felt like necessity to make as many bombs or bomb parts as possible. Every bomb we didn’t have was another that the Russians may have to use against us. This fear is obviously present in any 1980’s propaganda all the way into film. This made the entire basis of ‘need to know’ seem like a personal mission for workers to keep secrets in order to keep the peace. Other workers, who did not see Rocky Flats as this patriotic work place, still found that “if I don’t do it somebody else will” (Ciarlo). This statement, which seems to lack any moral constitution or backbone at all, still stands as a reasonable argument for working at a bomb making facility. Its’ better that I do it than someone who will actually enjoy it. This idea that anyone will work at Rocky Flats drew in workers who may not be in support of nuclear war, but would just like to take the paycheck of someone who is, because the job will get done regardless. Thus, a wide assortment of thousands of people came walking in through the doors of Rocky Flats with their resume and a smile.

The majority of Rocky Flats workers today claimed that Rocky Flats felt like a very safe place to work. Despite them all knowing the dangers of plutonium they felt that they were thoroughly protected enough.  From scrubs and hazmat suits to devices that would channel airflow Rocky Flats was, at the time, a state of the art institution (Murph). Air filters, glove boxes, gas masks, chemical showers, Geiger counters, complex containers, and trained security guards all offered a feeling of safety. Despite other claims from activists that the place was “dirty” or “dingy” simply due to the amount of equipment dedicated to security and a small lack of need to know one could definitely feel more than protected working within. Employees knew that any other company would not offer such extravagant measures to keep their workers safe. The existence of these physical representations of protection and the mental memes of safety that floated around acted as all the assurance of safety the workers would need to believe that they were immune to the dangers of plutonium and radiation.

Inside Rocky Flats consists a close-knit safe family-oriented work zone, where the outside lives savagery and anger. On the inside there are employees working together, protecting one another from harmful plutonium and on the outside, angry protestors shouting harassments and forcing accusations. Author Len Ackland said that, “a lot of Rocky Flats workers were treated like Vietnam soldiers being called ‘baby killers’ and ‘murderers’” (Ackland). Rocky Flats employees obviously wouldn’t want to be associated with these sorts of claims thus they would be led to fight in opposition whether they believe it or not. Workers would begin lying to cover up that Rocky Flats was an evil place. They did not want to be demonized. By saying that Rocky Flats was safe they can begin to mislead or at least dilute some of the large waves of hatred coming their way. By saying that plutonium is not as dangerous as it is they lower the threat they pose and bring down tensions between them and the locals nearby. By calling a plutonium button a device over an explosive they make anti-war people a little less angry.  By spreading the disbelief they raise a new culture that believes Rocky Flats was a safe place to live and they do it all to defend themselves from being written in history as the employees of death and destruction.

All of this relates to Rocky Flats inspired artist Jeff Gipes art piece called ‘Critical Mass’. Critical Mass is a new take on a classic photo of a Rocky Flats worker using a glove box holding a plutonium button. This piece shows the physical barrier between Rocky Flats workers and their craft, plutonium buttons. This in a way can represent their mental distance from these buttons being weapons of destruction to just being a device. The weapons were never physically open in their presence or even physically in their hands. However, this piece adds another dimension to itself through the way it works. The observer stands outside of the box containing the art itself and the worker, inside, stands outside of the plutonium box. These layers of separation, to me, represent the separation we ourselves face when trying to discover the ugly truth within Rocky Flats. Simply trying to get into the mindset of the workers poses as a difficult task,  but then trying to delve even deeper into the mindset of plutonium triggers and nuclear weapons becomes an entirely more difficult task. In one simple interaction of looking through a peephole into the life of a worker we gain an entire perspective on how looking at the issue of Rocky Flats is. Trying to break down the truth of these workers and this plant, while only having the few tools we are given is like trying to turn the lens within the art to see more then we are allowed to. It feels impossible. However, in order to do Rocky Flats and the world or at least just the workers justice we have to try and attempt the impossible. We have to will the piece to bend and mesh to our own understandings and from within we have to try to become the workers looking out at the world of critics staring back in at us. In that perspective it is important to remember that every single day these employees felt these eyes watching them. They understood the consequences, but they went ahead with it anyway. What drives someone to be inside the box, contained, or to be outside as another observer or chaos?

As we have read we have discovered a little more perspective and hopefully understanding on what it means to have been a Rocky Flats employee. An immense burden has been placed upon these workers shoulders that take more than just an outside look to see. Before we begin casting stones it is important to fully justify doing so and in the case of the Rocky Flats employees it is hard to say whether or not we should. In some instances what they are doing is very selfish. By withholding the truth they could be risking the lives of thousands of others. The decision lies solely upon you and I and we should not take such a choice lightly. By condemning without a care would be very akin to wanting to sentence an innocent boy to death as shown in the classic film, 12 Angry Men. Do we disregard the truth for the easy answer or do we commit ourselves to a real answer, something that will really help future generations and possibly protect older ones?

 

 

 

Marie Reynolds, “Jacque Brever: Exposing the Toxic Truth & Breaking Through the “Glove” of Captivity Surrounding Rocky Flats”

Uncertainty and passion have a strange way of working together. The mindboggling questions Rocky Flats has left us with have only enhanced the richness of our conversations. The ideas, relationships, and art that have emerged from this not-so-incredible time of our history make our study of Rocky Flats all the more powerful. Rocky Flats has created a web of interconnected emotions and perspectives throughout Colorado. People have come together to get the word out and spread their passion on either side of the spectrum. Our research of this plant and all of the people we have spoken to show me that this is not solely a study of nuclear weaponry or plutonium. It is about humanity. It is about how we treat each other. How we want to be perceived, and how we don’t. Action is necessary and change is attainable, but what matters most is how we go about making those changes and who makes an impact along the way.

We have heard many different sides to the story, and will probably never know the full truth, but look at how many passionate people we have encountered in just a month of study. Take the visit we had with Len Ackland. Because he is a journalist, he must stay unbiased, giving views on both sides of the issues. It was interesting to hear someone give information on every angle of Rocky Flats in one sitting and I think this helped us to show more compassion for everything we heard from different people, even if we disagreed ourselves. On the other hand, Michelle Gabrieloff-Parish and Alesya Case, Rocky Flats activists who are running a campaign called “Candelas Glows,” passionately told their personal stories to raise awareness of Rocky Flats contamination. Through this, we gained insight into the opinions and views of people living very near to the plant and all of its toxins. Though the clashing of views has played a major role in our study, I think one of the most creative and thought provoking would be the artwork done by Jeff Gipe, a New York artist who grew up near Rocky Flats and who’s father worked there for twenty years. His pieces act as a remembrance for the people affected and the various perspectives coming from the issues surrounding Rocky Flats. His art asks questions and demands answers. Through hearing him speak about his work and visiting it myself, I have been able to peer through different lenses each time I go back, finding more meaning all the while. This isn’t to say that what I am seeing is exactly was Gipe wanted to portray, but he leaves a lot of room for perspective, and that is what makes his work incredible.

After learning more about what the second reflection would be about, I came to look at his artwork a few more times. The pieces require various moments of focused attention and intrigue, luring you in and asking for your own perspective. Recently I’ve found myself drawn to the art piece of Kristen Haag called “Kristen”. This installation is made of steel wool, steel, polymer clay, fluorescent lights, wood, and phosphorescent paint (Pentilla). The meticulous combination of materials creates a powerful sculpture of a young girl, Kristen Haag, who died from cancer at age 11. Her death was allegedly caused by her living so near to Rocky Flats and the looming danger of plutonium & other toxins. Peering through glass at a girl who is practically held hostage inside a glowing glove evoked a combination of emotions that have been more present in me this semester than ever before. Emotions of anger at Rocky Flats. Confusion by what exactly I was staring at. And appreciation for Gipe and the passion for storytelling that emerges from the sculpture. When you hold down a button for ten seconds and then let go, the light turns off and Kristen glows inside the glove in a ghostly way. Whether this was a reference to the “glow” of radiation or an aesthetic element of surprise in the artwork, her expression demands the viewers, us, to find out what Rocky Flats has done because she could not herself.

 Human interaction and the choices we make unbeknownst to others have potential to cause great things, horrendous and incredible. All of the people we have met have their own beliefs and their own ways of life. They have families and friends and histories, and I think we as researchers have to keep that in mind. As we read Kristen Iverson’s book, Full Body Burden, a woman by the name of Jacque Brever became quite the character. Brever journeyed through the process of becoming a Rocky Flats worker, and then a Rocky Flats “whistleblower”, ultimately sacrificing herself for her daughter, the community, and the truth of what went on at Rocky Flats (Brever). Brever made the choice to interact with the FBI. Many workers were angry and some retaliated. She decided it was more important to expose the contaminated truth about Rocky Flats then to save her own health. Whether she knew the repercussions of her actions or not, her retaliation overcame the power of Rockwell and the DOE, the Department of Energy (Brever).

Gipe’s work commemorates all of the Rocky Flats workers affected by the plant’s negligence, and in my view, especially Jacque Brever. Brever was 25 when she originally applied for a job at Rocky Flats. She was a new mother and in desperate need of a job; her unconditional love for her daughter appearing in every move she made to take down the towering forces. Her first job was in the cafeteria and two years later she got a Q clearance to work as a chemical operator on the “hot” side of the plant, recovering plutonium. Brever began to take notes on everything she experienced in the plant. She wrote everything down until she knew the plant like the back of her hand. She wrote about how safety was not a priority of the plant, and how lying was a daily occurrence (Brever). By the written word she was able to uncover bit by bit the wrong doings of Rocky Flats.

When fellow workers heard that Jacque had let the word out about the incinerator and other illegal hazardous operations, the sabotage began. At that point Jacque was not concerned about herself but the moral justice that had to be served. During the FBI trial she endured days of harassment from fellow workers, overwhelming amounts of plutonium contamination, FBI officials prodding her for information, and the major threat of losing her job and never working again. She later contracted thyroid cancer and five tumors, as well as PTSD from the excruciating moments of the FBI Raid (Brever). Workers purposely poked holes in her gloves, exposing her to plutonium contamination. “That’s what you get for making waves”, a coworker named Mike sneered at her later on (Brever). Chills. When I read this in Iverson’s novel Full Body Burden, I questioned humanity’s motives. How could someone do that? How could someone physically contaminate another person who is living life just like everyone else? Eerie and disgusting as this comment may be, it makes me see Jacque as even more of an inspiration. She was concerned about what was right and ethical. She sacrificed her job and her “loyal” relationships. She acted on her morals and rights as a human being in the United States. She made a choice. She was thinking of her daughter’s future, her family, and her community.

Blindsided by government control and public image, Rockwell and the DOE let the safety of their workers fall below the importance of nuclear weaponry. Imagine being guided through a maze with a blindfold on, uncertainty folding in on you, and placing complete trust on the person leading you. Like this, the whole Rocky Flats operation acted as a trust fall, but when you knew more than you should, Rocky Flats wouldn’t catch you. This is what I interpreted Jacque’s story as. This place that she believed to be safe and credible turned right around a stabbed her in the back. The F.B.I Raid led by Jon Lipsky in 1989 was the breaking point for Jacque and all that she had experienced at the plant. Everything that Rocky Flats provoked Jacque to do ended up with her testifying against them in court.

In a 2005 article published by Grist, Jacque speaks about the Rocky Flats clean up. She stated, “Washington is going to make nuclear-waste dumps into plutonium playgrounds” (Grist Staff). The statement struck me. Just like Kristen Haag played in the dirt, the sandbox, and around her neighborhood, so will other kids. Candelas, “one of Colorado’s largest new developments” sits on the border of the so-called Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge, atop land “contaminated with plutonium and, according to the Department of Labor, over 1,000 other carcinogenic chemicals” (“About Candelas Glows”). The area is advertising fun and happiness for children within the subdivision of beautiful homes on top of a plutonium cemetery. I bring Jeff Gipe’s artwork back to this because, as I perceive it, “Kristen” stands as a call-to-action for the Colorado communities.  If you look closely at the sculpted Kristen’s face, she stares back at you with an innocent expression of helplessness. Her expression tells a tale even without the glove around her. If her story isn’t enough, Gipe’s powerful artwork portrays even more the justice issues surrounding Rocky Flats: trust in government, secrecy, and public image over public safety.

“Kristen” by Gipe is a perfect commemoration of Jacque Brever, showing that she is a key piece of the Rocky Flats past, present, and future. Gipe’s artwork shows someone who never got the chance to find out herself, to be curious, or to become a kind of Jacque Brever. I would like to think of his work as a message to current and future generations. Jacque has such an incredible story that should be told in order to promote asking the hard questions and going against the grain of society. Jacque Brever is a real life hero because she broke through the “glove of captivity”, Rockwell and the DOE, in a way that was stripped of Kristen Haag. She exposed toxic truths that could still be hidden today without her quick thinking and strong will. Be active in your community, be curious about your surroundings, and be passionate about where you live and the people around you. Because in the end, it is all about humanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

“About Candelas Glows.” Candelas Glows: Colorado’s Green Housing      Development…Adjacent to a   Plutonium Burial Site. Candelas Glows. Web. 20            Nov. 2014. <http://candelasglows.com/about/&gt;.

 

Brever, Jacque. “Oral History Interview with Jacque Brever.” Interview by LeRoy             Moore. Boulder Library. Boulder Public Library, 1999. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.     <http://oralhistory.boulderlibrary.org/interview/oh1498/&gt;.

 

Grist Staff. “Ex-FBI Agent Charges Feds with Radioactive Coverup at Rocky Flats.”       Grist. Grist, 22 Jan. 2005. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://grist.org/article/little-     rockyflats/>.

 

Iversen, Kristen. Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky           Flats. New York: Crown Publishers, 2012. Print.

 

Pentilla, Annie. “Jeff Gipe’s “Renegade Art”: Protesting Development Near Rocky            Flats Plutonium Plant.” Tikkun Daily Blog. Tikkun Daily, 21 Apr. 2014.        Web.    09 Nov. 2014.

 

 

 

 

Richard Blume, “Nuclear Firework”

The old-fashioned camera piece that sits in the library remains a mystery. Last time I examined the piece, I noticed a sticker that said “In God We Trust” right above the viewing lens. Seeing that really struck me. Before looking into the piece, I did not even know what to expect. To my surprise, I found a man looking right back at me when I glanced inside. He stood with his hands reaching out protected by lead-lined gloves shaping a plutonium trigger in a glove box. The face of the worker shaping the plutonium appears to be content. He seems to know that what he is making may potentially be the main piece in a nuclear weapon assembly. I believe it is a very powerful photo. The plutonium in the photo appears to be gold. It is gold to him because it brings the food on the table, but is it gold to us? For us, perhaps the gold represents a sort of “Gold era” for the advancement of technology in our nation’s defense.

The separation between the man and the trigger suggests a certain hesitance in his construction of the plutonium trigger. The smile on his face suggests ignorance. Or he is a happy man because his “ignorance” keeps his family satisfied with financial needs.

The man reminds me of someone who enjoys their job, but doesn’t exactly know what they are making can potentially do. The art piece reminds me of my first experience with fireworks.

Rows and rows of firecrackers, bottle rockets, M-80s, and many more lined the fireworks pavilion off highway 44 in the backcountry of Jefferson County in St. Louis. I felt better than a kid at the candy shop because I was a kid in a fireworks tent at a farm. Of course being a nine year old boy with an obsession of explosions, I sought out the biggest and most bad ass looking firework on display. “WARNING: SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH MAY OCCUR”, lined the wrapping of the beast. I examined the explosive twisting and turning it looking for the wick.

Like the man in the art piece, I knew that a great energy waited inside of the product I held. I also had a massive smile on my face as I stared at the great massive cylinder that had an eagle carrying a firework. It was great American symbolism. At the time, I knew not of its effects, but only knew that I wanted to relieve my curiosity that surrounded the Chinese firework.

The man working in the glove box was a man making a living off a risky and mysterious job and I was simply a boy trying to ebb away my curiosity of seeing the effects of the biggest firework in the tent. I managed to understand that going with your twenty-two year old cousin creates a bigger selection of fireworks. Fortunately for me, I dropped it in the cart with no questions asked.

After my family said the blessing before our Independence Day dinner, I decided I couldn’t wait for after dinner to see the firework. I managed to sneak the missile outside. First, I walked out to the middle of the street looking both ways to make sure I had enough time to shoot the firework–it was clear. I reached in my pocket fumbling for the lighter I took from my parent’s car while I set the mortar down with my other hand. I struggled to pull the tape off of the wick because of the mixed emotions that screamed in my head leaving me a little careless. I needed neither security clearance nor codes to blast the firework in the sky. I simply sparked the firework, but clumsily knocked down the firework frame with my shaky hands. The firework, now laying parallel to the ground, was locked in on my Aunt and Uncle’s house.

Do I want to fix it real quick? My memory of hearing stories of kids loosing fingers and blowing off their hands shielded me from intervening in the disaster that I had created. I didn’t know what to expect. I was in a shadow of something greater. I had no experience in fireworks, but out of ignorance of being a kid I believed that I had knowledge, which was a false knowledge. As I stood waiting for the disaster to happen, reality slapped me in the face. What was I doing? Did I really believe that seeing the monster explosion would outweigh the ass-whooping my parents might give me or the physical consequences of loosing an arm? Wait; shouldn’t my family be coming out right now? I stood behind my parent’s Ford overwhelmed with joy.

It was a dud. It felt like

God came down from heaven and put out the firework himself, maybe, or at least it felt like that. In reality, some man a thousand miles away in China, fatigued by the monotonous work of an assembly line, probably forgot to add a component.

On the contrary, the men who designed the “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” did not fail. Simply put, they were not duds. The man with his hands outstretched into the glove box knows about the plutonium he holds. He, like the fatigued man making fireworks, does not know the future of the product they make. They understand that their products can kill and harm people, especially in the hands of an irrational thinker, but they also know that they can be used in positive ways. It wouldn’t have mattered if the nuclear weapons dropped in Japan were duds because the action was still performed with the intention of working.

The man in Rocky Flats does not know what the product he holds will be used for. Uncertainty surrounds the man shaping the button. As learned in class, he is in the shadow of something greater. He grimly holds the mysterious button with no knowledge of its future within the heavily armed fences of Rocky Flats, nor its future outside of the facility. He knows that it is a job providing a steady income protecting American ideology and he can only trust in God that what he assembles will never be used. Also, he knows that one mistake could kill him or result in mutually assured destruction warfare.

The camera represents a projection of the past when we look through it. A truth illuminates our face. Similarly, looking at the man is like viewing a movie through a projector because all one can do is sit back and confront the horror that sits on display.     Now, six decades later, that simple, but complex piece of art work that stands in the library represents a sign for the people of the future. It is a sign of vigilance and a reminder to stay curious. When the light switch activates and the man appears, a ghost of our future presents himself to the spectator. It may feel scary to confront the ghost, but he needs to be embraced.

 

Daniel Costello

If you’re one of the “fortunate” few that knows a bit about Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant you’re probably part of the population that is drowning in the waters of confusing information regarding the nuclear facility. Certain facts about the plant are double sided, open ended and arguable, which is understandable given that the plant was in operation during the fragile, secretive era of the Cold War. The plant played a key role in our nation’s defense during the middle of the twentieth century, developing many plutonium “buttons” which was the main component in nuclear bombs. Many people of the Denver metro area were negatively affected by the plant’s operation not just the workers. Even people like the small town, traditional family of Tamara Smith.

Tamara Smith was a girl several years younger than Author Kristen Iversen who also grew up in Bridledale, Colorado rather close to where Kristen was raised. Tamara had a rather traditional upbringing somewhat similar to Kristen apart from being raised in a Mormon family. They took pride in living off the land. They grew their own food in a garden and had farm animals as well as dug their own well on the property. Throughout Full Body Burden Kristen recalls her horses always eating the vegetables out of their garden. Tamara was a normal girl of the area who liked to ride her horse around all the open land and play outside. She eventually attended the same high school as Kristen, Pomona High School.

Tamara Smith was just one of the “average Joes” of Bridledale. Growing up in a farm-like setting on open land right beneath the beautiful Front Range, her childhood was filled with riding horses and swimming and playing outside just as it was for all the other kids. She lived in a sort of childhood bliss aside from having many strange allergic reactions to the outdoors. The Smith family as a whole perhaps lived in a sort of ignorant bliss when it comes to where they lived, as did many families, precariously perched near the boundary of Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons facility.

I think what drew me to Tamara was her and her family’s innocence. They were an average family that had just moved to a beautiful new place rich of everything they wanted, they had space for animals and gardens and their own well. They were a simple, traditional family who didn’t believe in going to the doctor. They were promised a near perfect land to call home but like many other families they got a bit more than they bargained for.

Throughout learning about Rocky Flats I have been exposed to many stories and testimonials against the plant or scientific data showing how poorly they managed plutonium and how much of a potential danger it was to live in the surrounding communities like Bridledale. Dr. Neils Schonbeck came into our class and discussed scientific studies conducted around the old weapons plant. One of those studies included a survey on how much Plutonium was in the soil horizons surrounding the plant. When he was addressing this point I couldn’t help but think about the Smith family garden and other families’ gardens in Bridledale. He also talked about how radioactive the area really is in certain parts.  Former FBI agent John Lipsky also visited our class and discussed a lot of the inner workings of the plant. He addressed how much plutonium was becoming airborne from the waste water sprinklers and blowing into the communities as well as his role in the history making FBI raid of the plant in 1989. It was meeting people like these who were very adamant about the plants hazardous operation and methods that really made me question the purpose of having such a place. What I really wanted to know though was why in the world would families like Tamara’s or Kristen’s or anyone live near Rocky Flats once this information was available? Our visit to the Rocky Flats Cold War museum definitely addressed that.

When we visited The Rocky Flats Cold War Museum in Arvada and talked with former workers at the plant, I was a bit shocked but understanding to what they had to say. They said that working at the plant was one of the safest cleanest places they had ever worked, not only that but they said it was like working with one big happy family. They felt that they were doing a patriotic duty for their country which is more than admirable. Yet they also said they had it engrained in their minds that they weren’t making weapons, they were making devices. Hearing that, I immediately questioned the validity of certain information they were providing us. If they were, in a way “brainwashed” into thinking that what they were making wasn’t harmful I didn’t know if the information they would tell us could be given too much merit. That being said I still have the upmost respect for those men and their intentions. I quoted Ken Freeburg as saying that they are “not called weapons, those are devices”. I was also a bit dumbfounded when one of the former workers said “there were no cover ups [at Rocky Flats], just confidential work.” It wasn’t just these few men that felt this way about the plant though. We also were exposed to some testimonials from the oral histories from employees of the plant conducted by Dorothy Ciarlo. A lot of the employees seemed to share similar feelings with the former workers about the plant. I found myself upset at what these employees had to say but after a moment of gathering my thoughts, I began to understand where they came from.

These were men and women of post-World War 2 America trying to help their country and to their knowledge they weren’t doing anything to harm themselves or others. They reminded me a lot of the soldiers that had to witness nuclear bomb tests and go run into the fallout, they were simply doing their duty and maybe didn’t know everything about what was happening. I think that the government and the companies running Rocky Flats were simply misinforming their employees on a lot of important details about how they were managing plutonium and the waste generated from the plant. Companies had to cut corners to fill the order demanded by the federal government and it was easier just to have employees do their job and their job only with few questions asked. Their “right to know, need to know” way of employment probably lead to even more misunderstanding and confusion about how the plant was really running.

I think that because many people were in a type of Cold War mindset, no one was really questioning what was going on at the plant. It was run by the government and was an essential part of our national security, so not many people had a lot to say about it. After visiting the museum and talking to employees, I realized that a large portion of people at the plant and a lot of people in the community at that time thought like this. Tamara’s family and Kristen’s family and countless others were affected by this type of thinking. No one wanted to know that they were living in a radiation filled area, they had beautiful land and new homes and the idea that something was possibly harming them that the government was producing seemed foolish to believe.

Dried up pond at Dog Park

Even today almost a decade after the “cleanup” people are still being exposed to radiation from the closed plant.  In ENVS 250 we drove to a dog park near the old plant and in an experiment I conducted with a partner we found that the top few inches of dirt in the open field of the park read as high as 40 counts per minute on a Geiger counter. We weren’t the only ones to find such a conclusion, Michelle Parish and Alesya Casse, two modern Rocky Flats activists went to the same park and picked up over 120 counts per minute on a Geiger counter on the West side of the park. This is a startling amount of radiation to be accessible to the public and their pets. Although the radiation at the dog park and other residential areas is controversial, many families in the surrounding area were harmed by this radiation that was spilling over from the plant. For myself, it arose the question of who benefitted from all of this?

When we visited LeRoy Moore at the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center he brought up a point about people versus profit. I thought this was really interesting when applied to Rocky Flats, I felt that it wasn’t only profit that outweighed the price of people’s health but also production. There were many shortcuts in safety and precautionary methods at the plant in order to put out the amount the government wanted. In Kristen’s book she discusses how radiation monitors and heat sensors were either blocked, broken or turned off in hot zones where plutonium was being handled. It was even more startling when listening to some of Dorothy Ciarlo’s oral histories and finding out that some people slept in the locker rooms overnight so they could get more overtime hours. Rocky Flats may have played an integral role in the defense of our country during the cold war, but in retrospect the development and testing of nuclear weapons seemed to hurt more people than it helped. I think the only real beneficiaries of all the work at Rocky Flats were the corporate machos making the money.  People got paid a very handsome wage at Rocky Flats, especially the companies that ran the plant, because they were contracted by the federal government giving them billions of dollars. I don’t think that any amount of money outweighs the danger it put some of its employees in as well as families like Tamara’s.

Tamara being an average Joe of the local area experienced some health issues, just like many others around her. When she first moved to Bridledale at four years old she started having all sorts of allergic reactions to things outside, her ears would itch and eyes would always water and she seems to get sick a lot. Tamara grew up and attended high school and college, frequently having headaches that don’t go away. She started visiting doctors every month to diagnose what’s going on with her head. After a CT scan of her brain doctors find a tumor the size of a large lemon. A doctor who Tamara consults for other treatment believes that the brain cancer is directly related to Rocky Flats.

Tamara and countless others were in the dark, so to speak, about the true happenings at Rocky Flats. The darkness covered up the truth about Rocky Flats and when the light was finally shone on all the issues it seemed almost too late. I found that Tamara’s story and many others like it relate a lot to Jeff Gipe’s piece “Kristen” modeled after the young girl Kristen Haag who died of cancer and complications related to Rocky Flats at the age of 11. When you look at the piece of work you push down a pedal which turns on a light in the box and you see a lead lined glove, the type of glove used to handle plutonium in boxes. After ten seconds you let your foot off of the light pedal and inside the glove you see a glowing figurine of young eleven year old Kristen kneeling sweetly and innocently. I think the correlation between this piece and Tamara among others, is that things aren’t always as they seem or always how we want them to be. When we shine light on something commonly accepted or normal we can begin to see the real truth to things. When the light was shone onto Rocky Flats people began to see that it wasn’t just a nice place to work, or a place that produced something to protect our wonderful country, we began to see that there was a lot of unsettling details about the plant. Those unsettling details went too long unaccepted and it’s those details that hurt average citizens, people like Tamara Smith and Kristen Haag.

Rocky Flats is one of the most complex and confusing discourses someone could learn about. During operation of Rocky Flats the general public was misinformed or in the dark on the operations of the plant.  As citizens of Colorado and of our nation we need to think about the potential dangers and benefits of nuclear weapons. Less than 30 years ago the development of these weapons of mass destruction was happening in our own backyard. It affected or harmed many fellow Coloradans in one way or another. We have a right to be well informed citizens and too many of us take that for granted and don’t always stay up to date on issues. Knowing what went on at the plant and knowing what happened to people like Tamara Smith and her family or Kristen Haag I implore everyone to question the facts, dig deeper and stay well informed so that tragedies like Rocky Flats don’t get swept under the rug.

Welcome

During the fall semester of 2014 I and two of my colleagues at Regis University–Dr. Cath Kleier of the Biology department and Dr. Morgan Reitmeyer of the English department, taught a course that examined the history and legacy of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons plant in Arvada, Colorado.

Rocky Flats operated from 1952-1992 and it’s legacy is still a significant part of the meto Denver region. Over the course of 40 years, workers at the Rocky Flats plant produced over 70,000 plutonium “pits,” and these “pits” became the heart of the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

Over the course of the fall semester, my colleagues and I and our students met at talked with many people who held a wide range of opinions and ideas related to the Rocky Flats plant.

One of our final projects was to examine the history of Rocky Flats through the art work of our friend, Jeff Gipe, a Brooklyn-based artist who grew up near Rocky Flats and who has developed numerous works that deal with the legacy and history of Rocky Flats. Jeff was kind enough to display three of his pieces in our library for the entire fall semester.

The essays that make up this blog spot are written by students in our class who were mediating and reflecting on Rocky Flats and all that it has come to mean to them through Jeff’s art.

You can view some of Jeff’s work at jeffgipe.com.