April 2003

Old incinerator found buried at Rocky Flats

The Casper Star-Tribune, April 29, 2003

[Posted 30/04/2003]

An old incinerator that managers at the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant had assumed was dismantled has been discovered under a pile of dirt, officials said.

Managers thought the 25-foot-tall incinerator had been taken down long ago, said John Corsi, spokesman for Kaiser-Hill, the company cleaning up Rocky Flats.

But he said workers sometime in the past apparently removed the incinerator's 30-foot stack and then simply pushed dirt over the rest of the concrete structure, which was built against a hillside in 1952.

Tests are planned for the next two weeks to determine if the incinerator is contaminated with toxic or radiological material, and managers will then write a cleanup plan for the site, Corsi said. Initial measurements showed no radiation, he said.

Some Rocky Flats watchdogs monitoring the site where plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons were produced during the Cold War said they were surprised by the discovery on Friday.

''Isn't that a shock?'' asked Ken Korkia, executive director of the Rocky Flats Citizens Advisory Board.

Workers removing old waste concrete from another cleanup site nearby made the discovery, Corsi said. They expected to uncover the old slab the incinerator was built on and found the entire structure instead.

The old slab was one of more than 300 spots of possible contamination at Rocky Flats identified during document searches and worker interviews, Corsi said. Workers will investigate each one of those spots before cleanup is complete.

Between 1952 and 1968, officials burned general office waste in the incinerator, Corsi said. They discarded ash in deep pits in another part of the site and later, once the incinerator was closed, sent waste to a landfill on site.

Jerry Henderson, a program specialist for the Citizens Advisory Board, said there is evidence radioactive and other contaminants were burned in the unit. Old ash pits, for example, contain several heavy metals, including depleted uranium, he said.

''Since they've found contamination in the ash pits ... certainly, I'd expect it in the machine itself,'' Henderson said.

Back to contents