Part II: Project Rulison Protester Remembers the Bomb

The history of America’s atomic age from nearly 40 years ago is haunting Colorado once again.

The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, now called the Department of Energy, experimented with a nuclear bomb west of Rifle in 1969 called Project Rulison in order to release the natural gas locked into the rock.

The bomb released gas, but it was too contaminated to use.

Robert Prince tried to stop the Project Rulison atomic blast back in 1969. Link to Part I here.

Below is Part II of his story… CC: Did your protest experience at the Project Rulison bomb affect you professionally? From your blog, it appears you may still have “personal” issues about the Project Rulison.

RP: I have been a teacher in higher education in the state of Colorado since 1971. If you count the time in the Peace Corps in Tunisia where I taught at the University of Tunis, my higher end teaching experience began in 1966 and has lasted over 41 years.

So the professional connection to Rulison – except in the broad sense politically – is only marginal.

What has come through is the length to which the government and oil and gas industries in the state would be willing to go to rape the mountains to extract profit. That doesn’t seem to have changed much.

Most of my political work focuses on the Middle East – as is evident from the blog. I am worried about the fate of the earth in a general sense, as are most people and I am concerned that since the collapse of Communism, the danger of nuclear war has actually increased (while becoming more diffuse) while interests in nuclear questions has fallen off to a considerable degree.

Colorado has been a state that was something of a nuclear playground – Project Rulison, Rio Blanco, Rocky Flats, Lockheed Martin, the missile silos in the northeast part of the state. Those things have concerned me, of course. I was stunned that for a few dollars a gas drilling company would risk provoking the evil genie now bottled up at the Project Rulison site.

CC: In your blog, you wrote: “Concluding that the natural gas at Project Rulison would be contaminated with radioactive isotopes did not require a doctorate in geology or chemistry.”

Adding your personal experiences and research about Project Rulison, what are the most frustrating elements about the debate concerning drilling closer than three miles to the detonation site? Do you believe the general public is again neutral about the subject, or do you think there is more concern about the possible radiation contamination today than almost 40 years ago?

Can these protests stop the drilling any more than your protests stopped the bomb?

RP: In my opinion, these are some of the major issues concerning drilling near radioactive contaminated sites:

A. Although some radioactive elements lose their potency quickly, others continue and are potent for up to half a billion years.

B. There is too many variables controlling possible radioactive leaks. even with new technologies tracking the earth’s fissures around Rulison (or other sites) is little more than speculation.

Cc. As Carol King sang it – the earth does move under our feet and the geological structure of the Rulison cavity could change, from earthquakes or even less severe tectonic movements – leading to new fissures and possible leaks.

D. The monitoring agencies – both state and federal – have a history of laxity on these questions and in the case of the Feds – outright lying – as was the case at Rocky Flats where they denied any problems for decades, when they knew otherwise and in great detail.

E. In one article I read these past few days, I remember reading that a spokesperson from the state regulatory agency admitted that the state doesn’t have adequate monitoring devices.

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The main point is better to error on the side of caution than on the side of greed. Why play with fire?

CC: Thank you for joining us and sharing your thoughts and memories on Project Rulison.

Bio: Rob Prince teaches International Studies at the University of Denver. From New York City, he’s lived in Colorado since 1969. He met his wife, Nancy, at the Rulison Project protest and they have two grown daughters.

Photo of Rob Prince and his wife, Nancy circa 1980’s.