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The Rocky Flats Plant, a former U.S. nuclear weapons production facility located about 15 miles (24 km) northwest of Denver, caused radioactive (primarily plutonium, americium, and uranium) contamination within and outside its boundaries. The contamination primarily resulted from two major plutonium fires in 1957 and 1969 (plutonium is pyrophoric, and shavings can spontaneously combust) and from wind-blown plutonium that leaked from barrels of radioactive waste. Much lower concentrations of radioactive isotopes were released throughout the operational life of the plant from 1952 to 1992, from smaller accidents and from normal operational releases of plutonium particles too small to be filtered. Prevailing winds from the plant carried airborne contamination south and east, into populated areas northwest of Denver.

The contamination of the Denver area by plutonium from the fires and other sources was not publicly reported until the 1970s. According to a 1972 study coauthored by Edward Martell, "In the more densely populated areas of Denver, the Pu contamination level in surface soils is several times fallout", and the plutonium contamination "just east of the Rocky Flats plant ranges up to hundreds of times that from nuclear tests." As noted by Carl Johnson in Ambio, "Exposures of a large population in the Denver area to plutonium and other radionuclides in the exhaust plumes from the plant date back to 1953."

Weapons production at the plant was halted after a combined FBI and EPA raid in 1989 and years of protests. The plant has since been shut down, with its buildings demolished and completely removed from the site. The Rocky Flats Plant was declared a Superfund site in 1989 and began its transformation to a cleanup site in February 1992. Removal of the plant and surface contamination was largely completed in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Nearly all underground contamination was left in place, and measurable radioactive environmental contamination in and around Rocky Flats will probably persist for thousands of years. The land formerly occupied by the plant is now the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Plans to make this refuge accessible for recreation have been repeatedly delayed due to lack of funding and protested by citizen organizations.

The Department of Energy continues to fund monitoring of the site, but private groups and researchers remain concerned about the extent and long-term public health consequences of the contamination. Estimates of the public health risk caused by the contamination vary significantly, with accusations that the United States government is being too secretive and that citizen activists are being alarmist. (Full article...)

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The world's first nuclear reactor during assembly in the squash court under the West Stands of Stagg Field...

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Luis Walter Alvarez (June 13, 1911 – September 1, 1988) was an American experimental physicist, inventor, and professor who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1968 for his discovery of resonance states in particle physics using the hydrogen bubble chamber. In 2007 the American Journal of Physics commented, "Luis Alvarez was one of the most brilliant and productive experimental physicists of the twentieth century."

After receiving his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1936, Alvarez went to work for Ernest Lawrence at the Radiation Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. Alvarez devised a set of experiments to observe K-electron capture in radioactive nuclei, predicted by the beta decay theory but never before observed. He produced tritium using the cyclotron and measured its lifetime. In collaboration with Felix Bloch, he measured the magnetic moment of the neutron.

In 1940, Alvarez joined the MIT Radiation Laboratory, where he contributed to a number of World War II radar projects, from early improvements to Identification friend or foe (IFF) radar beacons, now called transponders, to a system known as VIXEN for preventing enemy submarines from realizing that they had been found by the new airborne microwave radars. The radar system for which Alvarez is best known and which has played a major role in aviation, most particularly in the post war Berlin airlift, was Ground Controlled Approach (GCA). Alvarez spent a few months at the University of Chicago working on nuclear reactors for Enrico Fermi before coming to Los Alamos to work for Robert Oppenheimer on the Manhattan project. Alvarez worked on the design of explosive lenses, and the development of exploding-bridgewire detonators. As a member of Project Alberta, he observed the Trinity nuclear test from a B-29 Superfortress, and later the bombing of Hiroshima from the B-29 The Great Artiste.

After the war Alvarez was involved in the design of a liquid hydrogen bubble chamber that allowed his team to take millions of photographs of particle interactions, develop complex computer systems to measure and analyze these interactions, and discover entire families of new particles and resonance states. This work resulted in his being awarded the Nobel Prize in 1968. He was involved in a project to x-ray the Egyptian pyramids to search for unknown chambers. With his son, geologist Walter Alvarez, he developed the Alvarez hypothesis which proposes that the extinction event that wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs was the result of an asteroid impact. (Full article...)

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19 January 2024 – Korean conflict, North Korea and weapons of mass destruction
North Korea announces that it has tested a nuclear weapon delivered by an unmanned underwater drone system in the Sea of Japan. (Reuters)

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