By Mark Ackerman and Rick Sallinger

ARVADA, Colo. (CBS4)– Although Rocky Flats was dismantled and cleaned up more than a decade ago, the controversy surrounding the former nuclear weapons facility has not gone away.

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From 1952 to 1989 radioactive plutonium was used at Rocky Flats to create triggers for hydrogen bombs.

1952-1989: Rocky Flats Workers Produce Plutonium Triggers for Hydrogen Bombs (credit: CBS)

Now houses, a school and a whole community called Candelas, is under construction alongside the former Rocky Flats site, 16 miles northwest of Denver.

Drone4 flies over Candelas (credit: CBS)

CBS4 sent a producer to Candelas with a hidden camera to see what prospective home buyers are being told.

One sales representative pulled out a map to help orient us, “This is Rocky Flats, they were doing some work with nuclear power.”

(credit: CBS)

CBS4: “Nuclear power?”

He said he was not allowed to “interject his opinion” about Rocky Flats, so he offered us a list of websites to read.

(credit: CBS)

“So your first bit of homework is to check out these sites, this is all fact not fiction,” he said.

Copter4 flies over the Rocky Flats site (credit: CBS)

The websites contained disclosures of what Rocky Flats was and test results that found development for residential or any other use was acceptable.


CBS4 obtained documents from another builder, which advised buyers to undertake their own independent investigation.

Candelas (credit: CBS)

All Candelas buyers must sign papers acknowledging the area’s history, current and future use.

CBS4 inquired further at another builder’s model home.

(credit: CBS)

“The thought of that plant being there sometimes freaks people out,” said another sales representative. “But we’ve got 600, 700 homeowners already, it is not an issue for them.”

A third sales representative was more definitive when CBS4 asked, “Is the area safe?”

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Drone4 flies over Candelas (credit: CBS)

“Of course it is. They’d never let us build if it wasn’t.”

The Department of Energy, EPA and Colorado Department of Health and Environment have all signed off on the area being safe for all uses.

CBS4 Investigator Rick Sallinger interviews Lindsay Masters, an environmental protection specialist with the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (credit: CBS)

“Extensive studies and investigation of the former Rocky Flats plant and site have shown that the risk is very low,“ said Lindsay Masters, an environmental protection specialist with the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

PHOTO GALLERY: Rocky Flats: Through The Years

She says she would have no problem sending kids to the new Jefferson County Three Creeks k-8 school which is slated to open at Candelas this fall.

Drone4 flies over Candelas (credit: CBS)

Among the skeptics, though, is Dr. Mark Johnson, the long time Executive Director of the Jefferson County Health Department, speaking for himself.

CBS4 asked Johnson if he would buy a house or send his children to school so close to Rocky Flats?

CBS4 Investigator Rick Sallinger interviews Dr. Mark Johnson, Exec. Dir. of Jefferson County Health Dept. (credit: CBS)

“I probably would not at this time, no,” he said.

He would like an independent look at all the scientific data.

Candelas (credit: CBS)

But, those who live here, like Eric Griffiths, have seen enough studies. CBS4 posed the same question to him.

CBS4 Investigator Rick Sallinger interviews Eric Griffiths (credit: CBS)

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel it was safe,” Griffiths said. “In fact, I look forward to going into that preserve once it’s open.”

Looking out from his patio he doesn’t see a former nuclear weapons facility.

Eric Griffiths shows off his painting of the wildlife refuge (credit: CBS)

He sees what he painted, a wildlife refuge one day filled with magnificent animals grazing where deadly nuclear weapons were once built.

Mark Ackerman is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4. Follow him on Twitter @ackermanmark

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CBS4’s Rick Sallinger is a Peabody award winning reporter who has been with the station more than two decades doing hard news and investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter @ricksallinger.