Rio Blanco County Colorado Map

Rio Blanco Test Site, Rio Blanco County

After the failure of the Project Rulison test (see previous), you figured the Atomic Energy Commission would’ve learned its lesson. No way, compadre! Instead, they came up with a bright new idea: if one atomic explosion didn’t work, how about setting off three simultaneously’???

Undeterred by the failure of the Project Rulison test to free commercially exploitable quantities of natural gas, another test was conducted on May 17, 1973, at a location approximately 35 miles to the northwest in Rio Blanco county. The underground sandstone and shale formations were similar to those at Rulison, and the Rio Blanco site had the advantage of being more remote.

Rio Blanco County Colorado Map Photo Gallery



Exactly why the gas freed by the Rio Blanco test was supposed to be less radioactive and thus more commercially recoverable than the gas produced by the Rulison test isn’t clear. In retrospect, Rio Blanco seems to have been based more on a hope the Rulison test outcome was a fluke than scientific data. As with Rulison, the Rio Blanco test was underwritten by two private companies, CER Geonuclear and Equity Oil Company.

The Rio Blanco test used three 30-kiloton bombs placed at a depth over a mile. The bombs were detonated simultaneously and did succeed in releasing large quantities of natural gas. But, as was the case in Project Rulison, the gas was too radioactive for commercial use. The gas was burned away at the site.

What’s There: A concrete marker and plaque explaining the Rio Blanco test is at the site. The mile-deep shaft in which the bombs were placed has been sealed shut with concrete, and scattered pipes and other metal objects can be found amid the grasses and scrub at the site.

Getting a Look Inside: The Rio Blanco site is on public land, so look all you want. But this is very isolated country. You should fill up with gas in Rio Blanco and your car should be in good mechanical condition and have a full spare; extra food, water, and warm clothing should also be taken in case of a problem since you’are a long way from help out here.

Getting There: The site is about 52 miles northeast of Grand Junction, and can be reached by traveling about 21 miles west of the town of Rio Blanco along Black Sulphur Creek road. At that point, a road bears left toward the southwest; the Rio Blanco test site is located a little over four miles down that road.

Rocky Flats Environmental Test Site, between Golden and Boulder

This innocuously-named facility located 21 miles northwest of Denver is a former nuclear weapons fabrication site and a storage facility for over 12 tons of Plutonium-239, over 6.5 tons of uranium-235, and over 160 tons of depleted uranium. It is also the site of numerous cases of unauthorized dumping of radioactive materials that eventually resulted in a FBI raid. In other words, this was Uncle Sam’s atomic landfill site. But at least efforts are now being made to clean up the mess.

Rocky Flats was opened in 1952 to manufacture the hollow plutonium spheres used as “triggers” for hydrogen bombs. It originally duplicated work done at Oak Ridge, TN, but soon added other tasks such as recycling nuclear material from older atomic bombs and storing atomic material. Employment at the site peaked at over 18,000 but sharply declined at the end of the Cold War and was under 10,000 today. Original plans called for the site to be free of all nuclear materials, decontaminated, and converted to a national wildlife refuge by the end of 2006, but that deadline has been extended into the indefinite future. Most operations are concentrated on roughly 380 acres within the 6,262-acre site; the remainder of the acreage serves as a safety/buffer zone.

The environmental problems at Rocky Flats first came to national attention in 1989, when reports surfaced that safety and environmental guidelines were being widely ignored. These reports from current and former workers at Rocky Flats resulted in the FBI raid to gather records and documents. The seized materials revealed a pattern of delayed or ignored maintenance, inadequate staff training, non-working safety equipment in some buildings, dangerous levels of explosive hydrogen gas in storage drums, and unreported cases of leaks of radioactive materials (including cases where the radioactive materials had seeped

Getting There The site is about 52 miles northeast of Grand Junction, and can be reached by traveling about 21 miles west of the town of Rio Blanco along Black Sulphur Creek road. At that point, a road bears left toward the’southwest; the Rio Blanco test site is located a little over four miles down that road.

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