Colorado: The History of Nuclear Energy

Christian McCaffrey
March 12, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2016

Fort Saint Vrain

Fig. 1: Rocky Flats after Deactivation. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Fort Saint Vrain, also known as FSV, was Colorado's first and only Nuclear Power Plant. Located in the Rocky Mountains, it was also America's only commercial High Temperature Gas Cooled reactor design. Building FSV started in 1968, testing began in 1972, and then in December of 1976, the first commercial electric power was generated from the plant. In 1989, all operations came to a close and they began to ship all of the nuclear excess fuel off site. This made Fort Saint Vrain the first nuclear energy power plant to be withdrawn. Fort Saint Vrain is Colorado's only nuclear power plant up to date, and was technically successful, but did not survive commercially. [1]

Rocky Flats Plant

The Rocky Flats Plant was not a nuclear energy power plant on Colorado, but rather a nuclear weapons production factory. It was started in 1952 and was deactivated in 1992 (Fig. 1). Until 1977, it was headed by the United States Atomic Energy Commission, then, later was later taken over by the Department of Energy. In 1989, it went under investigation, and operators were found guilty for violating environmental laws. It is now viewed as a wildlife refuge called the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Despite the plant's nonexistence for some time now, there are still many effects that have lasted. For example, according to ACSESS, the Alliance of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Science Societies, "plutonium contamination in the soil environs of Rocky Flats, CO, has been a potential health risk to the public since the late 1960s." [2]

Current Energy Overview and the Economy

Because Colorado no longer produces nuclear energy, more ways of producing renewable energy are being used. "Wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, small hydroelectric, and other renewable energy resources have been increasing in Colorado over the last decade." Wind is the most used form of energy in the state, providing 13.8% of Colorado's electricity. This has led to a growing economy. Wind manufacturing jobs have opened widely. In 2013, nearly 4,000 jobs were created due to wind manufacturing businesses, and ranks "5th in the nation for wind energy-related jobs." Solar energy is also greatly increasing, providing 328 companies, and 3,600 jobs in 2013, ranking 9th in the nation for solar jobs. [3]

© Christian McCaffrey. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "Nuclear Safety: Reactor Design, Management, and Emergency Preparedness at Fort St. Vrain," U.S. General Accounting Office, GAO/RCED-88-8, November 1987.

[2] M. I. Litaor and A. S. Ibrahim. "Plutonium Association with Selected Solid Phases in Soils of Rocky Flats, Colorado, Using Sequential Extraction Technique," J. Environ. Qual. 25, 1144 (1996).

[3] "Colorado State Energy Report 2014," Colorado Energy Office, 2014.