25th Anniversary of Chernobyl: Protesters voice nuclear concerns at State Capitol

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Wes McKinley.
Earlier this week, protesters marked the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster with a Capitol steps protest. Among the speakers: Wes McKinley, a state rep and onetime foreman of the Rocky Flats grand jury, which tops Alan Prendergast's list of Colorado's greatest whistleblowers.

The weather was rainy during the Tuesday demonstration, but the passions were hot in thanks in part to the ongoing nuclear emergency at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan -- radiation from which has been detected in Colorado.

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Steven Pierce
Colorado Representative Wes Mckinley talks about implications of a nuclear Colorado.
The protest, hosted by the Colorado Coalition to Prevent Nuclear War, stressed that while incidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima seem far away, the risks they represent for the health of people and the environment strike close to home. Note the recent decision not to build a new nuclear plant near Pueblo.

Capitol protesters were extremely happy with this development, saying it came about because people started asking questions about something that was happening in their own backyard.

Keynoter McKinley and the other speakers -- supplemented by musical performances by the Ragin' Grannies and singer-songwriter/activist Elena Klaver -- advocated for the same things: no more nuclear plants, no more coal, no more oil, and a move toward cleaner, safer energy.

"Officials always talk about the 'safe' levels of nuclear contamination, and there is a safe level. It's zero," McKinley said. "How much money do we spend on cancer research and treatments? And what do we want to do? We build another nuke plant. Where would we be if we spent money on prevention instead? Your money isn't always going towards the right purpose."

Dr. Roberta Richardson, speaking on behalf of Physicians for Social Responsibility, echoed these thoughts.

"The Japanese took all of the necessary precautions, taking earthquakes, weather, terrorism and so forth into account, and the impossible happened," she said. "We would like to believe that the so called 'safe' levels of contamination are true. But the fact of the matter is, that there is no safe level of radiation. Even the low levels of radiation we're exposed to every day can still give us cancer. The safe levels of radiation were based years ago off of an average military recruit -- not children, who are more susceptible to radiation than adults. And fetuses even more so."

Added Jerry Harden, representing sick workers from Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Production Plant: "You don't have to look at Japan and Russia. It's right here in Colorado. It's really easy to find things that are wrong. The challenge is finding out how to fix them."

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Rocky Flats Cold War Museum: Memories of the first (surreal) Rocky Flats museum."

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