Rocky Flats - Hell on Earth

Having just watched Dark Circle I wanted to add my own take on Rocky Flats from my recently published book called Living with the Atom.  Click each frame to enlarge

As I noted in the Dark Circle page - many of the things we now know about weren’t available to the film makers in 1982.  We do know that the findings of a Jefferson County Grand Jury were sequestered and those on the panel were legally prevented from saying anything.  

Dark Circle

I want to get a little sombre this Christmas Eve, 2019.  I watched this award winning documentary today.  It focuses primarily on the disaster that is Rocky Flats Nuclear Plant.  Let me just quote from a review by a documentarian:


Growing up in Broomfield, Colorado, I vaguely knew that the nearby nuclear weapons plant Rocky Flats existed. As a family, we sometimes worried about drinking contaminated water and would occasionally even glimpse a protest. But radiation is an abstract notion for kids. As someone says in the 1982 film Dark Circle, “You can’t see it, you can’t feel it.” Dark Circle, directed by Judy Irving, Christopher Beaver and Ruth Landy, is one of the most poignant films about the military industrial complex ever made.

Sequences include interviews with a man who survived Nagasaki, footage of hideous experiments on live pigs to determine the effect of a nuclear blast on skin, and soldiers intentionally exposed to radiation. But the film is most focused when it spends time in the subdivisions that multiplied along the Colorado Front Range from the 1960s through the 1980s. These communities were often built on contaminated soil, and under the toxic wind created by a nuclear weapons factory only a few miles away, in Rocky Flats. Dark Circle is about where I grew up.

Seeing this film while I was young made me both horrified and thankful. Out of thin air came a tool to understand my world. Our next-door neighbor worked at Rocky Flats. One day I asked him about exposure to radiation, and he said that it had happened to him a few times. It was called “getting hot,” and it resulted in a couple of weeks paid vacation. At home, we were told Rocky Flats built “triggers” for nuclear weapons. In Dark Circle, it was clear they were building “the Bomb.” The film shows the depth of mismanagement, environmental disaster and lying that took place at Rocky Flats. The plant burned down twice, each time releasing clouds of poison into the air and landscape. Animals in the surrounding farmland were dying or being born disfigured. Workers at the plant kept getting cancer.

Dark Circle also delves into the companies who had vested interests in keeping Rocky Flats running. The filmmakers’ access is astonishing, invoking jealousy in those of us now working in an era of reflexive secrecy. They get an interview with a man whose head is badly mangled from brain surgery, and capture a press conference where an emotional spokeswoman chokes through the company line. “The area around Rocky Flats is a safe place to live,” she says. At one point the crew finds a young saleswoman excitedly talking about the benefits of “unmanned aerial drones”; at that moment it’s easy to forget that this film was shot nearly 40 years ago.

Dark Circle was so controversial that in 1985, PBS decided to yank its nationwide broadcast, calling it “one-sided.” The writer B.J. Bullert, in his 1997 book Public Television: Politics and the Battle over Documentary Film, said the decision “robbed” American audiences of the chance to hear a perspective that was unflattering to the US Government. The PBS series POV aired the film in 1989, and it won a national Emmy. Today, the film’s truths are widely recognized, and it’s clear Rockwell and the government lied regularly and then tried to bury it all in secrecy.

Eventually, after bowing to enormous pressure, Rocky Flats was made into a National Park. But considering the enormous longevity of nuclear toxicity, there is still a dark circle of death in the dirt.

Dark Circle does what great documentaries do: It shows something right in front of you not previously seen. For a kid who grew up drinking and swimming in Front Range water and playing in that Colorado dirt, it re-wrote my genetic code as a filmmaker to include a simmering anger, a deep questioning of entrenched interests and a desire to fight back.

Brian Knappenberger is an award-winning documentary writer and director whose credits include The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz and We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists. Knappenberger is currently in production on a ten-part investigative documentary series for Participant Media—slated to air in the winter of 2016—which will spotlight stories of people fighting back against institutional abuses of power.

My own view of the documentary is that it rolled up all of our fears and horrors into one giant steaming ball of radiation.  Don’t get me wrong, I  think Rocky Flats is an abomination.  After reading about Chernobyl, Hanford Nuclear Site, Rock Flats and Fukushima it is abundantly clear Governments and Industries just can’t keep from lying to us the general public.  I think that when the movie was made in 1982 there wasn’t enough known about the lies and deceit that kept the plant going for another 7 years.  There is plenty now to make a documentary just about Rocky Flats without having to bring in the emotions of Hiroshima or Nagasaki.  

Who by David Byrne


Who’ll be my Valentine?
Who’ll lift this heavy load?
Who’ll share this taxicab?
Who wants to climb aboard?

Who is an honest man? Who is an honest man?

Who’ll help a tired soldier?
Far from his own home town
Carry these men and women
Who get lost when the sun goes down?

Who is an honest man? Who is an honest man?

Who walks this dusty road?
Who always pulls their weight?
Who’s this? Inside-a me?
Who made a big mistake?

Who sees these constellations?
See them go spinning round
Carry these men and women
Who get lost when the sun goes down?

Who is an honest man? Who is an honest man?

With a graceful motion she sat down slowly
Drank a cup of co ee and she’ll fold her laundry
She begins to tell us all her life story
All around the table—ev’rybody starin’

Who shouts out hallelujah?
Who’s gonna sing out loud?
Carry these men and women?
Who get lost when the sun goes down?

Who’s getting out-a here?
Who thinks they’re wide-awake?
Who’s gonna be my friend?
All around the table—ev’rybody starin’

Fuji Acros II first roll

Fujifilm announced a ways back that they were re-introducing Acros as Across II.  It is claimed that it’s the finest grain ISO 100 film out there.  I had not shot much of it all when it was discontinued.  Mystical thinking has always led me to try new cameras and/or film thinking this would improve my photography - NOT!  But having a new film to try is always fun.  It became available November 22, 2019 only in Japan.  There was some rumors that it would not be shipped to the US.  I found it on Global Rakuten and within a few short days had three rolls to play with.  Shot with the Leica M7 and the Voightlander 40/1.4 here are the results.  I goofed up on the ISO setting and shot it at ISO 80; HC110 - B for 5 minutes. ( Massive Development app said 4.5 minutes but that’s too short a development time IMHO).

Another curious item about the re-release is the box itself.  At the bottom it says ‘Made in the UK” The film forums have been working overtime to figure out what this means?  The box was made in the UK, the film, what?

Cold Saturday Walk with Duke

The Highland Bridge is the third of three pedestrian bridges to connect Downtown Denver with the Highland neighborhood. The bridge crosses the Valley Highway between Platte Street and Central Street as an extension of the 16th Street Mall. The bridge was opened on December 16, 2006.

Valley Highway is really I-25.  First time we took Duke for a walk away from the neighborhood.  He whined a little but seemed to have a good time.  I just wanted to get out to take pictures.  

My Wife’s Life is sparred

Because I found mini-Gojira today in the driveway.  He was dirty, cold and hungry so I cleaned him up and told him he can be an indoor only Gojira.  Currently he’s gnawing on my amaryllis.

私は妻にミニゴジラを1日使用させましたが、彼女は雪の中で彼を失いました。 今日私は彼を見つけた-彼は今、ただの屋内ゴジラになるだろう!

Mystery Film

So I have this film bulk loader that has some film in it.  What film?  Not sure and there’s no way to know unless I shoot some and develop it hoping that the film numbers come out of the wash.  I made the assumption that this was some old Kodak XX (5222).  I used HC110B for 5 minutes and the results are pretty good.  There were scratches on some of the negatives - the bulk loader, the canister or the camera - who knows?

Introduced in 1959 by Eastman Kodak, Double X is widely considered to be the quintessential black-and-white cinema film stock, one that can reliably deliver the moody intensity of Old Hollywood and film noir. Seeing as its resumé includes some of the all-time great films like Raging Bull and Schindler’s List, let’s all agree that it’s pretty good at what it does. In fact, Double X has proved to be so good that the film has never been reformulated and is still being produced by Eastman Kodak by the mile.

RetroChrome 320

RetroChrome is government surplus Eastman Ektachrome. Made for industrial and governmental applications, Kodak adds “it is color reversal camera film that is intended for photography under daylight illumination. Among its many applications are news photography, sporting events and industrial photography.” The film is cold-stored expired. The film performs excellent at it’s intended box speed which leads us to believe that this film has been stored in the “deep freeze” for the past decade.

From the FPP site.

Tokyo Story

What a great movie.  1953.  Some say it’s slow paced but the emotion and realism is amazing.  I read somewhere that the director’s movies were not brought to an international audience because his movies were too ‘Japanese’.  I would totally disagree with this as the plot line is really universal:

Elderly couple Shukishi and Tomi Hirayama live in the small coastal village of Onomichi, Japan with their youngest daughter, schoolteacher Kyoko Hirayama. Their other three surviving adult children, who they have not seen in quite some time, live either in Tokyo or Osaka. As such, Shukishi and Tomi make the unilateral decision to have an extended visit in Tokyo with their children, pediatrician Koichi Hirayama and beautician Shige Kaneko, and their respective families (which includes two grandchildren). In transit, they make an unexpected stop in Osaka and stay with their other son, Keiso Hirayama. All of their children treat the visit more as an obligation than a want, each trying to figure out what to do with their parents while they continue on with their own daily lives. At one point, they even decide to ship their parents off to an inexpensive resort at Atami Hot Springs rather than spend time with them. The only offspring who makes a concerted effort on this trip is Noriko

Noriko played by Setsuko Hara:

Setsuko Hara became one of Japan’s best-loved stars over her 30-year film career. Her signature character type, variations on a daughter devoted to her parents and home, inspired the nickname that stayed with her until retirement: the Eternal Virgin. To some extent, reality mirrored her roles in these films. In a society that considers marriage and parenting almost obligatory, she remained single and childless, something of a controversy in Japan in the 1950s. Fortunately she was popular enough to avoid criticism, but the 1950s were still a hard decade. She was plagued by ill health, missing out on several top roles as a result, and she witnessed the death of her camera-man brother in a freak train accident on set.

In 1963, shortly after the death of her mentor, director Yasujirô Ozu, she suddenly walked away from the film industry. At age 43, and at the height of her popularity, she bluntly refused to perform again, angering her fans, the industry, and the press. She implied acting had never been a pleasure and that she had only pursued a career in order to provide for her large family; this explanation is seen as the cause of her popularity backlash. She moved to a small house in picturesque Kamakura where she remained, living alone (though apparently sociable with friends), and refusing all roles offered.

She is undoubtedly known mostly for her work with Yasujiro Ozu, making six films with the great director, including the so-called Noriko trilogy, of which Tokyo Story (1953) is probably the best-known. She also worked with Akira KurosawaMikio NaruseHiroshi Inagaki, and many others.

Bad Pictures

So today I tried several things new in the film lab ( otherwise known as the guest bathroom).  One was the Cinestill TCS 1000 temperature control device.  I’ve tended to use liquid developers because they had high dilution factors making it easier to get the temperature correct.  Just get the tap water at the right temperature and then add the small amount of developer to the mix.  But this limits what developer you can use ( for example I shy away from D-76 either straight or 1:1 because of this). The TCS 1000 agitates and temperature corrects and it all seems to work well. 

The second adventure didn’t turn out so well.  I tried the FilmPhotographyProject version of the mono bath ( Develop-Stop-Fix) all in one solution. I made the mistake of not having it in the ‘soup’ long enough so the negatives came out under fixed.  The grain was huge!  I was using Kentmere 400.  They do warn that ISO at or above 400 may not do well with the mono bath.  I will give it another try with correcting these deficiencies of mine.


Plutopia is a book about the parallel plutonium plants - one in the US ( Hanford Washington) and the other in the former USSR ( Ozersk in the Souther Urals).   

These plants were used to produce plutonium for the arms race during the Cold War.  They went about it differently in some respects, and in others they were very similar.   Hanford had segregated living quarter - only whites with professional skills were given gorgeous homes, good schools and health care.  If you were an ordinary laborer you had to live in a shanty town which maybe on contaminated ground.  In Russia the whole facility was like a prison regardless if you were actually a prisoner or part of the technical team. During much of it’s existence Maiak ( Mayak) was cordoned off from the rest of Russia.  Eventually they learned that they could keep valuable workers if they treated them to consumer goods ( capitalism in the USSR !)

Here are some quotes from the book:

“the practices of plutopia: partitioning territory into “nuclear” and “clean” zones, skimping on safety and waste management to prioritize production, repressing information about accidents, forging safety records, deploying temporary “jumpers” to do dirty work, and glossing over sick workers and radioactive territories, all while treating select citizens to generous government subsidies and soothing public relations programs.”

“four decades of operation, the Hanford plutonium plant near Richland and the Maiak plant next to Ozersk each issued at least 200 million curies of radioactivity—twice what Chernobyl emitted—into the surrounding environment. The plants left behind hundreds of square miles of uninhabitable territory, contaminated rivers, soiled fields and forests, and thousands of people claiming to be sick from the plants’ radioactive effluence.”

There is an excellent article from The Japan Times on the Mayak plant

No Comment

My new self published book of Japan Photos taken on film .  This was from our October Trip to Japan.  I wanted a book that just showed photos without my stupid comments.  Only the last page has some text.  This was in addition to a book that I just completed that was more of documentary of out travels which is fine.

Void Tokyo

VoidTokyo is a street photography journal published by a dozen or so enthusiasts.  I purchased Vol 3 and 6 .  I was very impressed with the quality of the magazine and it’s printing.  The street photography scene in Tokyo appears to be very vibrant.  Why shouldn’t it be?  We spent a scant 48 hours in Tokyo and I definitely would love to go back.

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