Under The ‘Nuclear Shadow’ Of Colorado’s Rocky Flats
FULL BODY BURDEN
Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats
Kristen Iversen spent years in Europe looking for things to write about before realizing that biggest story she’d ever cover was in the backyard where she grew up. Iversen spent her childhood in Colorado close to the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons factory, playing in fields and swimming in lakes and streams that it now appears were contaminated with plutonium. Later, as a single mother, Iversen worked at the plant but knew little of its environmental and health risks until she saw a feature about it on Nightline.
Iversen’s new book, Full Body Burden: Growing up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats, is in part a memoir about her troubled family, and also an investigation into the decades-long environmental scandal involving nuclear contamination in and around Rocky Flats. Weapons production ended there after FBI agents raided the plant in 1989. Its operators later pleaded guilty to criminal violations of environmental law.
But during Iversen’s childhood, the people living near Rocky Flats had no idea that plutonium bomb components were being constructed so close to their homes — or that radioactive waste was leaking into the surrounding environment. The plant’s day-to-day activities were highly secretive. So secretive, in fact, that Iversen’s family didn’t know what their neighbors who worked at the plant did for a living.
“The rumor in the neighborhood was that they were making cleaning supplies,” says Iversen. “My mother thought they were making Scrubbing Bubbles.”
Instead, the plant was manufacturing balls of plutonium that were integral to creating nuclear chain reactions. Workers at the plant manipulated plutonium using lead-lined gloves that were attached to stainless steel boxes. The plutonium was then shipped to a facility in Texas, where it was encased in conventional explosives and made into bombs.