Colorado's nuclear history: Facts that might surprise you

Posted at 12:02 PM, Mar 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-31 17:39:38-04

DENVER – You might not know it, but Colorado played a major role in the nuclear arms race during the Cold War.

From the mining of uranium, nuclear testing, production and the disposal of Cold War weapons, Colorado had its hand in the nuclear defense of our country.

Here are some of Colorado’s nuclear secrets:

Uranium mining
The radioactive metal is used in the production of nuclear weapons, and Colorado had plenty to offer.

Uravan in western Montrose County was a mining town turned Superfund site. The Uravan mill was once part of the Manhattan project that produced uranium for the first atomic bomb.

The town once boasted a population of 800 (in the 1950s and 60s) and offered several amenities that any small towns of the era would have, including a swimming pool. But what many in the town didn’t know at the time, was that the uranium they were pulling out of the nearby hills was slowly killing them.

MORE | See photos of the town

The town was abandoned in the 1980s and turned into a Superfund site. All of the former buildings were destroyed or moved out of the area.

Was there ever a nuclear detonation in Colorado?
Yes, there was.

Project Rulison was an underground 40-kiloton nuclear test near the Garfield County town of Parchute (then called Grand Valley).

The 1969 blast was part of a series of “peaceful” engineering tests to see how atomic weapons could be used to liberate natural gas from underground regions.

Rocky Flats
Perhaps one of the most well-known relics (and most contaminated sites) of the Cold War, Rocky Flats was a former nuclear weapons production facility near Denver.

The site operated from 1952 to 1992and was the source of contamination issues throughout the decades. Cleanup began in the 90s and now nearly 4,000 acres of the site is set aside as a wildlife refuge. All of the former buildings from the time it was in operation have been destroyed.


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