A Cold War nuclear weapons plant in Colorado was decontaminated 50 years ahead of schedule and $28 billion under what was expected. The clean-up deal included financial penalties for falling behind schedule, $100 million in employee incentives, and a constant pressure on partners to get things done quickly. Former Colorado Senator Wayne Allard has called the project “the best example of a nuclear cleanup success story ever”.
Results & Impact
Clean-up firm Kaiser-Hill completed decontamination and restoration of the Rocky Flats plant in October 2005, more than 50 years ahead of the initial projection. The cost was $7.4 billion, a saving of over $28 billion
US Department of Energy, Colorado Department of Health, Environmental Protection Agency, Rocky Flats Coalition of Local Governments, non-profits Rocky Flats Citizens Advisory Board and Colorado Forum, and clean-up firm Kaiser-Hill
The clean-up firm consulted 6,000 residents, environmentalists and officials to negotiate a plan everyone would support. Its contract included penalties for falling behind schedule, and it gave out $100 million in incentives for employees. The project's leader, Nancy Tuor, also ascribes the speed of the project to maintaining a constant barrage of pressure on all partners to get things done quickly, to the point where they aroused a lot of animosity
Cost & Value
Environmental groups wanted the site left contaminated as a warning against nuclear development. The Department of Energy provided funding to the local community, who were concerned about future use of the land, to hire consultants to conduct independent research into contamination levels. Over a two-year negotiation process, the groups managed to agree on a safe compromise
A nuclear weapons facility has been decontaminated 50 years ahead of schedule and for $28 billion less than initially estimated. The Rocky Flats plant, Colorado, has now been turned into a wildlife refuge.
The plant in Golden, Colorado, produced all the plutonium triggers for US nuclear warheads both during and after the Cold War. The factory was shut down in 1989 with its operators pleading guilty to violating environmental law.
In 1994, the DOE awarded management of the clean-up to Kaiser-Hill, a nuclear decontamination and environmental restoration specialist, expecting the work to take 70 years. In 2000, Kaiser-Hill signed a second contract with the DOE which fast-tracked the operation to a December 2006 completion date. In the end, the work was completed in October 2005, more than 50 years ahead of the DOE’s projections and 14 months ahead of the contractual target. The cost to the taxpayer was also reduced to $7.4 billion, $28 billion less than the initial estimate and $500 million below the revised target.
“We, the collective we, all 6,000 people that were engaged, basically took something that was a significant potential risk to the Denver Metro area and a huge environmental liability, and did something nobody in the world thought we would be able to do,” Nancy Tuor, former CEO of Kaiser-Hill, has said.
“It was a very challenging process,” Tuor told Apolitical. “Inside government, we found there were too many sacred cows who didn’t want to try something new. And we would not take no for an answer. One added factor was that we had to insist on holding people to deadlines to make sure we got the job done efficiently and under budget. There’s a reason why no-one has managed to replicate this for over 20 years.”
Tuor, who had worked at the Environmental Protection Agency and specialised in community outreach. brought together local residents, government agencies and environmental groups, some of whom wanted to leave the area contaminated to serve as a warning about the dangers of nuclear technology. The DOE provided funding to the local community, who were concerned about future use of the land, to hire consultants to conduct independent research. Over a two-year negotiation process, the groups managed to agree on safe contamination levels.
The contract built in penalties for Kaiser-Hill if it failed to stick to its schedule, and the company also gave out $100 million dollars in incentives to site employees over the decade-long contract period.
The project took more than 60 million hours of labour during which no life-threatening injuries occurred. It included the removal of 21 tonnes of weapons grade nuclear materials, the decontamination and destruction of 800 structures and the safe shipment of 600,000 cubic metres of nuclear hazardous material.
For the last decade, the site has been managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a National Wildlife Refuge and is home to herds of mule deer and elk, along with the threatened Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse.
(Photo: US Department of Energy, Office of Legacy Management)