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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)



For nearly 40 years, the Rocky Flats Plant was a key part of the Federal government's nationwide complex for nuclear weapons research, development, and production. From 1952 to 1994, the plant's primary mission was the production of nuclear and nonnuclear weapons components from plutonium, uranium, beryllium and stainless steel for the nation's nuclear arsenal. From 1951 until 1989 the Rocky Flats produced the majority of the nation's plutonium pits, the trigger mechanism for nuclear weapons. The Rocky Flats Plant also processed plutonium for reuse and manufactured defense-related components from depleted uranium. Rocky Flats provided unique processing capabilities for the fabrication of weapons components from plutonium, uranium, beryllium, and stainless steel. The Rocky Flats nuclear production mission was curtailed in December 1989 in order to address environmental and safety concerns. In 1989, Rocky Flats was listed on EPA's National Priorities List.

Though efforts to resume operations began in 1990, in 1992 with the end of the Cold War the President cancelled the W-88 Trident Warhead Program, the Rocky Flats production mission. In 1993, the Secretary of Energy formally announced the end of nuclear production at Rocky Flats. The following year, non-nuclear production was also ended. At that time, the site's mission changed to cleanup and closure, and the name was changed to the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site (RFETS). After production operations were shut down, about 250 acres of the northwest buffer area was transferred to the DOE Golden Field Office for the National Wind Technology Center scientific wind turbine testing facility for development of alternative energies.

In the mid-1990s there was an extensive maintenance backlog at RFETS, including the maintenance of vital safety systems. Contributing to this backlog were inadequate staffing, spare parts acquisition problems, challengeable program priorities, and funding levels. The fiscal year 1995 maintenance budgets for several facilities did not include needed funding to reduce or eliminate the maintenance backlog on vital safety systems. The lack of emphasis on maintenance budgets, shifting funding priorities, and lack of a defined authorization basis resulted in essential safety systems in numerous buildings being in poor condition.

Immediately after the curtailment of operation in December 1989, contractors changed. The new contractor (EG&G) initiated plans for resumption of weapons production; however, these plans were changed to address limited resumption activities in Buildings 559 and 707 only, because the production contingency mission was eliminated. The resumption activities, designed to upgrade the facilities and improve the safety culture, took several years and involved significant monetary and management resources. The mentoring, upgrade programs, and conduct of operations principles that were implemented at the resumption facilities were not, however, implemented at the other facilities with the same rigor, resulting in inconsistencies and general deficiencies in safety culture across non-resumption facilities. In the 1990s, incidents indicated that deficiencies in the RFETS safety culture persist. In March 1996, the contractor directed a sitewide stand-down from operations. The stand-down was taken in response to identified performance problems in the area of conduct of operations and procedural compliance.

Structural integrity concerns associated with former operational events, spills, or use of corrosive materials have been identified with various RFETS buildings. Buildings 707, 776, 777, and 779 had areas of corrosion on the concrete floors due to contact with Kathene (LiCl). The LiCl spills were associated with operation of Kathabar dehumidifiers. Building 771 had areas of corrosion on the concrete floors as a result of past contact with hydrochloric acid through spills and seepage. Cracking was also identified in horizontal concrete girders in room 245 of Building 771. Although improvements to the criticality safety program were under way, program implementation was hampered by an increasing trend in criticality safety infractions and deficiencies in the safety basis of criticality safety evaluations. Criticality safety program implementation deficiencies described in 1995 EH reviews by the DOE Office of Environment, Safety and Health (EH) included concerns in criticality engineering staffing levels, organizational independence, reliance on administrative controls, and untimely resolution of longstanding criticality safety issues.

A number of incidents during 1996 were indicative of a breakdown of work controls in radiological control program implementation. These incidents involved failure to comply with controls and requirements established in the controlling radiation work permits, failure to perform appropriate monitoring, and deficiencies in radiological area access control and personnel monitoring. The integrating contractor initially failed to recognize the significance of these recurring incidents, even when RFFO formally highlighted their concerns.

The Department of Energy (DOE) Rocky Flats Field Office (RFFO) was responsible for oversight of RFETS contractor activities. In 1996, there were 296 Federal employees and 3,642 contractor personnel. The budget for FY 1996 was $613.4 million and $580 million each year for FY 1997 and FY 1998. In January 2004, RFFO was renamed the Rocky Flats Project Office (RFPO).

Kaiser-Hill, a partnership between Kaiser Engineering and CH2M Hill, assumed responsibility as the integrating management contractor on July 1, 1995. Kaiser-Hill managed subcontractors, which included: (1) Rocky Mountain Remediation Services (waste operations, D&D, environ mental restoration); (2) Safe Sites of Colorado (plutonium stabilization, repackaging, consoli dation, accountability of SNM, highly enriched uranium shipments, classified parts man agement); (3) Wackenhut Services, Inc. (security); and (4) DynCorp of Colorado, Inc. (building management, maintenance, medical, and emergency preparedness). There were 3,644 integrating contractor personnel at Rocky Flats as of September 1996.

The Kaiser-Hill contract was awarded in April 1995 for the period July 1, 1995, through June 30, 2000. The projected budget for the contract was approximately $3.75 billion for the five-year period. The contract, one of the first under the contract reform initiative, required Kaiser-Hill to act as an integrating management contractor with principal subcontractors performing specific tasks under the general contract. The contract provided strong incentives for Kaiser-Hill and the principal subcontractors to perform quality work on time and within budget, granted flexibility in daily management of work activities, and assigned contractors a greater share of risks and responsibilities. The contract provided for establishment of fee-bearing performance measures (approved by RFFO) to be used to reward and track performance.

As a legacy from past operations, RFETS had 12.9 metric tons of plutonium in the form of metals, oxides, solutions, and scrap/residue and 47.0 kg of plutonium waste in 1996. It also had 6.7 metric tons of highly enriched uranium. At one time the site stored more than 14 tons of plutonium, making it the second-largest repository in the U.S. A large portion of the plutonium inventory at RFETS was stored in forms for packaging and at locations unsuitable for safe interim or longer term storage. The mission of RFETS thus became special nuclear material (SNM) management, site cleanup, environmental restoration, deactivation, and preparation for decontamination and decommissioning (D&D) of facilities. The site goal was to achieve interim site closure within ten years. The plutonium in liquid form, contained in deteriorating piping systems was drained from the piping, stabilized, and shipped to a licensed repository.

During 1996, progress on risk reduction activities associated with SNM increased significantly. Accomplishments included repackaging of over 1,100 plutonium metal items, the thermal stabilization of 80 percent of generated oxides, completion of hydrogen sampling and venting for actinide tanks in Buildings 771 and 371, low-level tank draining in Building 771, and draining of highly enriched uranyl nitrate (HEUN) solution from tanks in Building 886. DNFSB 94-1, the RFCA, and the Rocky Flats Residue Consent Order are major drivers for these activities. The Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement (RFCA) was signed by DOE, EPA, and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) in July 1996. With the signing of the 1997 Corrective Action Decision/Record of Decision (CAD/ROD), the DOE Office of Legacy Management (LM) assumed responsibility for long-term surveillance and maintenance of the site.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 03:42:52 ZULU