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Nuke Weapons Plant To Be Demolished

November 2, 1999

GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) _ On the radioed command from U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, a huge shovel punched a hole in the wall of the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant, a Cold War relic now fading into history.

Beginning the final phase of demolition on the 34-year-old site, workers on Monday set upon Building 779, where methods of reprocessing and purifying plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons were developed. The plant west of Denver was shut down in 1989.

``Places like Rocky Flats helped us win the Cold War,″ Richardson said. ``But now we want these places for other uses.″

Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar said the state, federal and local government officials are working to ``develop a crown jewel of open space here.″

Demolition began two years ago, when workers emptied the buildings of hazardous chemicals and materials, said Dave Nickless, a Department of Energy project manager. All that was left to tear down on Monday was a shell of concrete bricks that he said had been stripped of all radioactivity.

The concrete waste will be stored at Rocky Flats and used as backfill when other buildings, some of which are below ground level, are demolished, he said. Waste contaminated with radioactivity or hazardous chemicals is to be shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M., for long-term storage.

Building 779 housed 134 glove boxes, where workers handled plutonium under protection of heavy gloves attached to metal enclosures. The boxes were ventilated with miles of pipes that pushed contaminated air through huge filters in nearby buildings.

During early stages of demolition, workers found about 14 pounds of plutonium spread throughout the building, along with the glove boxes, ductwork and filters.

Stabilized radioactive waste is shipped twice per week from Rocky Flats to New Mexico, Nickless said.

The work is expected to continue into 2006, when Rocky Flats will be closed completely, Richardson said.

Richardson noted that for thousands of years, humankind’s legacy has involved building _ from the Great Wall of China to the pyramids of Egypt.

``Isn’t it ironic that our longest strides in the past 10 years have had to do with tearing things down, like the Berlin Wall and monuments to Josef Stalin?″ he asked. ``I’m glad to deliver the eulogy ... for this building.″

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