“In the suburbs of Denver, a top-secret nuclear bomb plant operated for decades, leaving a toxic legacy that still haunts the community today."
The Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant churned out a staggering 70,000 atomic bombs, known as “triggers,” for the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Behind a veil of government secrecy, fires, leaks, and illicit dumping of hazardous materials contaminated the Denver area with radioactive and toxic substances.
In 1969, a significant plutonium fire marked a turning point, prompting a group of local citizens to embark on a grassroots campaign to unveil the imminent threat of nuclear weapons production at Rocky Flats. By 1978, the protests had grown to massive levels, attracting thousands of people who demanded the closure of the plant. "
Mass protests continued for over a decade and reached a pivotal moment in 1989, when the FBI executed an unprecedented raid at Rocky Flats, effectively shuttering the bomb plant. The extraordinary raid uncovered evidence of environmental contamination, conspiracy, and cover-ups. However, a special federal grand jury was thwarted when they attempted to hold officials accountable.
A ten-year multi-billion-dollar cap-and-cover effort was declared complete in 2005, and a national wildlife refuge now overlays the Rocky Flats site. "The Most Dangerous Buildings In America" rest silently beneath six feet of soil at the center of the refuge, concealing a landscape still saturated with residual contamination.
Today, the radioactive legacy of Rocky Flats is invisible to the naked eye. New housing developments are engulfing areas known to be contaminated with radioactive plutonium. Thousands of former Rocky Flats workers have suffered devastating consequences from radiation contamination. Community members are determined to uncover a potential link between Rocky Flats and alarming health reports in the surrounding neighborhoods. Numerous lawsuits, continued deception, health concerns, and ongoing contamination issues continue to plague Rocky Flats, yet the public is largely unaware of Rocky Flats' past and its long-lasting radioactive effects. State and Federal officials claim the area is safe, however, the lasting repercussions of Rocky Flats on the Denver area remain uncertain, as plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years
Judy Padilla is a former Rocky Flats worker, cancer survivor, and widow. Padilla worked on the front lines of Rocky Flats production, forming plutonium “triggers” inside steel encased gloveboxes. After developing cancer, Padilla took six months off work for surgery and returned to Rocky Flats until its closure in 2005. Her husband, Charlie, also worked at Rocky Flats and passed away from cancer in 2002. Judy has been an advocate for sick nuclear works and an outspoken critic of Rocky Flats’ reopening as a national wildlife refuge.
Jon Lipsky is a retired FBI agent and former police officer. Lipsky led the unprecedented FBI raid on the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant in 1989. His investigation exposed mass pollution, cover-ups, and illegal dumping of nuclear waste at Rocky Flats, leading to the permanent closure of the facility and a halt in U.S. atomic bomb production. Lipsky later emerged as a notorious whistleblower for Rocky Flats, taking early retirement from the FBI to expose the hidden secrets of Rocky Flats to the public.
Wes McKinley is a rancher and former schoolteacher from southeastern Colorado. In 1992, he was thrust into an unexpected role as the foreman of a Special Federal Grand Jury investigating crimes at Rocky Flats. Alongside his fellow jury members, McKinley was outraged by the Justice Department's dismissal of their pleas for criminal prosecution against the plant operators. Fueled by a desire for truth, the jury broke their oath of secrecy to go public and expose the perilous nuclear contamination at Rocky Flats. Since then, Wes McKinley has emerged as an enduring whistleblower on a mission to warn the public about Rocky Flats.
Dr. Mark Johnson has been the public health director of Jefferson County since 1989. Dr. Johnson came forward with concerns about opening Rocky Flats as a national wildlife refuge and allowing housing on nearby contaminated lands. His detractors have labeled him the “General of the Scare Brigade” for his public denunciation of Rocky Flats; however, he continues to advocate for the health and safety of nearby residents.
Tiffany Hansen grew up just downwind of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant. After experiencing health issues and learning about a possible link to nuclear waste, she began reaching out to friends and found that many of her peers also had illnesses. She launched the Rocky Flats Downwinders campaign, in 2015, which has plotted over 900 incidents of cancer in the local community. She continues to educate the public and is determined to uncover a potential link between Rocky Flats and the alarming health reports in surrounding neighborhoods.
The U.S. production of nuclear weapons has left a lingering legacy of contaminated lands and peoples. Over 300 facilities across the nation have contributed to building the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Accidents have plagued the weapons complex, leaving workers, nearby residents, and surrounding environments contaminated with radioactive and hazardous wastes.
The most notorious instances of contamination, neglect, and coverups occurred at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, near Denver, Colorado. The Rocky Flats Plant was the central nuclear bomb production facility in the United States. Workers produced an estimated 70,000 atomic bombs destined for thermonuclear warheads.
The Rocky Flats plant was shuttered, and nuclear arms were reduced globally thanks largely to the heroic acts of ordinary citizens. Now, the U.S. has embarked on a new nuclear era that will cost trillions of dollars and have incalculable risks.
Through extraordinary archival footage and powerful testimonials, HALF-LIFE OF MEMORY not only unveils the shocking truth about Rocky Flats' operations and contamination but also prompts crucial questions about the consequences of the nation's renewed nuclear weapons build-up and the urgent need for public awareness.
Jeff Gipe is an accomplished visual artist and filmmaker, known for his profound exploration of the US nuclear legacy through various artistic mediums. Gipe developed a deep connection to the subject matter having grown up near the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant, where his father worked for many years.
Dan de Jesus is a professional videographer and editor with experience in corporate, short films, indie, and documentary work. Dan’s recent projects include, Life In The Balance, a forthcoming documentary, and Ode to NYC, a music video for IRISHLATINA.
Jonah Rosenberg is a composer, musician, sound and multimedia designer based in Brooklyn, NY. He creates performances that straddle jazz and free-improvised music, electroacoustic chamber music, installation, theater, performance art and film. Recent film credits include the dance film SEASONED, Documenting Desire - AORTA films and the Documentary Half-Life of Memory.
Mallory O’Connell attended Metropolitain State University where she helped launch the Rocky Flats Downwinders health survey, in 2015. She has remained involved with Rocky Flats and has conducted over 50 interviews with Rocky Flats officials, residents, scientists, and activists to better understand the Rocky Flats issue and help raise public awareness.