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Sarah Kanouse, Banners advertising the Candelas Development adjacent to the former Rocky Flats Plant, 2 June 2014, Flickr



Candelas is a large housing development located between Golden and Boulder, Colorado, just 15 miles from Denver, and a mile south of the Rocky Flats weapons plant. Rocky Flats made plutonium triggers for the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal from 1952 until 1989. Situated within a section of the protective no-build zone surrounding the former industrial plant center, Candelas offers prospective homeowners various Rocky Mountain-oriented house models, solar panels and sustainability farm credits, and wide-open landscape views of the Front Range that overlook the radioactive vestiges of nuclear weapons production.

Although the visual reminders of the plant have now been removed, and remediation of the industrial core has now concluded, much controversy remains about the site and its use and re-use, particularly the conversion of it into a nature refuge and selling of land parcels for housing construction, public backlash over the controversial closure and cleanup of the site, and public health concerns regarding the dangerous aftermath of contamination, especially lingering plutonium and radioactive wastes. Organizations like Candelas Glows explain how large portions of the site have never undergone remediation programs, and that unsafe amounts of radioactive waste still remain throughout the space.

Journalists and various resident-activists have specifically noted that there is no requirement to inform potential home-buyers of the history of the plant or risks associated with living near/on the site. Candelas developers reportedly do not tell residents about the possibility of plutonium exposure or other risks and dangers, including deficient historical waste management practices that may have impacted the entire site and those downstream/downwind. Prospective homebuyers have also indicated that they did not receive any reports on contemporary radioactive hot spots, wildlife impacts, or incidences of cancer, and were either given misleading information or, at best, left to themselves to research the site. Yet, Candelas homebuyers are required to sign papers acknowledging the area’s history, current and future use. Activists who have staged protests at the housing division for the lack of full disclosure about the site’s past activities and current risks have received “cease and desist” letters.

Candelas is one among many former military and defense sites around the country that have been or are slated to be redeveloped for “public use,” whether as parks or parking lots to badly needed housing and commercial properties that bring in tax revenues. Metropolitan and regional planning authorities have sought to redevelop decommissioned military sites and former nuclear facilities, even as these lands suffer from environmental degradation and soil, groundwater, and building contamination related to their former land uses, and thus pose ongoing environmental health risks. The Rocky Mountain Front Range and Denver area hosts a number of these reclaimed former military/industrial sites, such as the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, Lowry Air Force Base, Stapleton, and now Rocky Flats. As the Candelas case demonstrates, the reliance on private property to control and manage residual contamination on site complicates broad public participation. Private developers are often released from liability through inadequate or unclear disclosure requirements, not-to-sue covenants, no-further-action agreements, gag orders folded into rental agreements, and so forth. The public is often not privy to decisions of future land use and reuse, which rest on proprietary information. The long-term costs and health risks associated with these reclaimed properties are yet to be realized, measured, or known and thus raise concerns about intergenerational harm and justice.


Ackerman, Mark and Salliger, Rick. "Building a Community in Colorado’s Nuclear Shadow." CBS4 Denver. July 10, 2017. Accessed August 1, 2020.

Berger, Alan. Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007.

Candelas Glows. "Why the Candelas Development Is Controversial." January 10, 2019. Accessed June 10, 2020.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. "Rocky Flats - Site History." Colorado.gov. Accessed January 13, 2023.

Durham, Nicolene. "Toxic Suburbia: Fantastic Rocky Flats Vistas, Plutonium Breezes." Colorado Independent, January 3, 2014. Accessed August 1, 2020.

Gabrieloff-Parish, Michelle. "Green Housing on Plutonium!" Elephant Journal, May 30, 2013. August 1, 2020.

Kelly, David. "The Area around Rocky Flats Nuclear Plant May Soon Open to the Public - and Some Say That's a Disaster in the Making." Los Angeles Times, July 24, 2018. Accessed August 1, 2020.

Moore, LeRoy and Del Tredici, Robert. "Plutonium is Forever." Daily Camera, January 27, 2012. Accessed August 1, 2020.

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