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2004-05-04

Grand Jury Accuses Justice Department of Rocky Flats Nuclear Cover-Up

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We speak with Wes McKinley, a Colorado rancher and the foreman of a grand jury that investigated activity at Rocky Flats about the charges he makes in his new book The Ambushed Grand Jury: How the Justice Department Covered Up Government Nuclear Crimes and How We Caught Them Red Handed. [includes rush transcript]

  • Wes McKinley, a Colorado rancher and the foreman of a grand jury that investigated activity at Rocky Flats. He is co-author of Ambushed Grand Jury: How the Justce Department Covered Up Government Nuclear Crimes And How We Caught Them Red Handed

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: So let’s talk about what’s happened. Secret midnight burning of radioactive waste, an FBI spy flight with infrared cameras. I wanted to bring Wes McKinley into this conversation, a Colorado rancher and a foreman of a grand jury that investigated activity at Rocky Flats. He is co-Author of "Ambushed Grand Jury: How the Justice Department Covered Up Government Nuclear Crimes and How We Caught Them Red-Handed." Can you talk about— on the one hand we have Len Ackland talking about the history. How did the plant close and how did you get involved? How did this whole grand jury get involved?

WES MCKINLEY: Hello, this is Wes McKinley.

AMY GOODMAN: Hi Wes McKinley.

WES MCKINLEY: How you doing this morning?

AMY GOODMAN: Very good to have you with us.

WES MCKINLEY: Thanks, thanks. Well, the way I got involved is that I received a letter in the mail one day to report to grand jury duty. Grand jury is selected from the citizens of Colorado, and I was randomly selected to be on that. No special talents or ability did I bring to it — strictly random selection. Then after about three or four months into it, I become the foreman — kind of by default; the other foreman resigned, couldn’t do it. So we heard all the testimony, like you just said. That was part of the allegations. And we heard all of those things over the course of three years.

AMY GOODMAN: It was three years. Adrienne Anderson, also joining us, Professor of Environmental and Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

ADRIENNE ANDERSON: Yes. Mr. McKinley and his other cohorts on the grand jury were convened from 1989 to 92 to look at purported criminal activity at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant. And as their book chronicles, the U.S. Justice Department actually sold them down the river. At the end of their term of service, Mike Norton and the U.S. Attorney for this region essentially cut a deal with Rockwell International that would not give them any criminal liability — which is what the grand jury sought — but instead would fine them several million dollars, and then they would be off the hook for any other types of liability. And now the concern is what is being done with the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant, whether it has been adequately cleaned up. Many of us in this region around the country say no, it has not. And, in fact, we believe that there is an effort to suppress the extent of information about the extent of the plutonium contamination of that area, the extent of off-site contamination by plutonium. In fact, Dr. Helen Caldicott, who founded the Physicians for Social Responsibility, has said publicly that she believes the entire Denver metropolitan area should not be inhabited because of the disposition of plutonium that occurred from the fires of 1957 and 1969. But it’s actually worse than that because Rocky Flats was also hauling waste off-site up to thirty miles away from the Rocky Flats plant, here near Boulder. It was actually hauling it out to eastern Colorado in a dump site called the Lowry Landfill, taking tons of waste. There’s two tons of plutonium missing from the Rocky Flats nuclear power plant — missing and unaccounted for, the government admits. And, in an investigation I have been involved in since 1996 on behalf of sewage plant workers, we have unraveled a troubling tale of the fact that Rocky Flats was taking waste to this dump, Lowry Landfill, which is now a Superfund site. And, secretly, the polluters at the site, with the government, entered into a deal where they would flush it into public sewer lines. And then, from there, it would be trucked out and used as farm fertilizer on agricultural fields on out in eastern Colorado that are growing food crops for America. And, furthermore, just in recent months they have also concocted a plan where they are taking the water from the sewage facility that is commingled with the Lowry Landfill waste, that does include radioactive waste, and it is being re-routed now into parks into Denver, playgrounds in Denver, and, starting this month, it is even going to be used as irrigation water at the Denver Zoo. And this is the only place in the United States of America where there has been a permit issued to allow plutonium and other nuclear waste to be released from a Superfund site for end-use as farm fertilizer and recycled water to irrigate public parks and recreation areas — unprecedented anywhere else in the country. The only other place in the U.S. where the E.P.A. is trying to do this is in New Jersey at a Superfund site there. And the governor of New Jersey is standing up, screaming about this; they’re fighting over this in court.

AMY GOODMAN: Where is the Superfund site?

ADRIENNE ANDERSON: It’s called the Gems Landfill in Camden County, New Jersey. And there’s tremendous newspaper coverage of this in New Jersey. Yet, here, the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News have refused to report about the documented evidence about this. Dean Singleton, who is the head of the Media News Group here, in our investigation we found actually is part of the problem, part of the deal. And the deal was that the polluters paid into a common fund, secretly. And the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News are two major newspapers here. Both had dumped toxic waste at Lowry Landfill as well. And when the concern—

AMY GOODMAN: What kind of toxic waste?

ADRIENNE ANDERSON: Well, they had dumped printing inks and solvents, and sometimes those contain PCBs. They dumped a relatively small amount, given what Coors dumped, who was the top polluter at the site, and other companies, and including Martin Marietta from the Titan Missile Factory here, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal dumped waste at Lowry Landfill. And trucking records show that Rocky Flats for years took waste out there as well, unidentified waste. The problem, though, is that the newspapers, as jointly liable parties at the Superfund site, they themselves had done a secret deal to pay into a fund. This was revealed by Pulitzer Prize-Winning investigative reporter Eileen Welsome. And it’s been reported about in a three-part series called "Dirty Secrets."

AMY GOODMAN: Eileen Welsome is the reporter from Albuquerque who exposed the nuclear experiments on people all over the country, unknown to them, over decades. Being injected... [muffled].

ADRIENNE ANDERSON: Yes, she did. Her very excellent book The Plutonium Files is required reading for my students on campus. But Ms. Welsome and I had worked together about the evidence around us and found that the newspapers had engaged in these secret deals as well. And the newspapers knew that radioactive premiums were being offered to the polluters to escape liability for the radioactive component of Lowry Landfill. And then shuttling...

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean "premiums"?

ADRIENNE ANDERSON: Well, the polluters at the site— the City of Denver owns the Superfund site. It was also operated by Waste Management, Inc., which has been associated with organized crime around the country. Those two parties together created the secret trust, and then went and asked corporations to pay into the fund to help them with the cleanup at the site. The newspapers were part of that deal. The city and Waste Management, Inc., offered radioactive premiums, that if the companies would pay a radioactive premium, then they would be held harmless and off the hook if and when the public learned that the site was radioactive with plutonium and other waste. Dean Singleton at the Denver Post did not pay a radioactive premium. And so therefore, if the public were to be effective in urging that there be a more effective cleanup to handle the nuclear waste component of the Superfund site, then the newspapers would also be off the hook for that liability. And so they have had a disinterest in reporting the evidentiary trail that we have discovered about the plutonium at the site.

AMY GOODMAN: Well I want to ask our journalism professor about this, but we have to break for a minute. We’re talking to Adrienne Anderson, who is Professor of Environmental and Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, also western director of the National Toxics Campaign, which is a network of community groups that studies toxins in their communities. We are also talking to Wes McKinley, a Colorado rancher and the foreman of a grand jury that investigated Rocky Flats. And Len Ackland, Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado. Stay with us.

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