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Len Ackland papers

Identifier: COU:2018

Scope and Contents

This collection contains materials related to Ackland’s research and writing on Rocky Flats, primarily from his work on Making a Real Killing: Rocky Flats and the Nuclear West. The bulk of the material is subject files including reports, articles, newspaper clippings, photocopies and handwritten notes on topics important to the history of Rocky Flats including acquiring land from the Church-McKay family, environmental impact, waste removal, accidents such as the 1957 and 1969 fires, workers safety issues, health effects of chemical and radiation exposure, nuclear history and the Cold War, and the 1989 FBI Raid on the plant. Other material includes writing files and drafts used when creating the book, photographs sent to the publisher for inclusion in the book, material used in the creation a “virtual museum,” or website, on the Cold War and Rocky Flats created in the early 2000s, and depositions from trials involving Rocky Flats, Dow Chemical, or Rockwell International. There are also reporter’s tapes and notes from interviews Ackland conducted with workers, activists, concerned citizens, union leaders and others during his investigation into the history of the plant and its operations. Finally, there are materials used to create a “virtual museum” or website for the Cold War Museum in the early 2000s.


  • Creation: 1950 - 2014

Conditions Governing Access

All material in Series 4 in the subseries consisting of interview tapes is CLOSED TO ALL RESEARCH ACCESS AND USE until 2074 in keeping with ethical and legal guidelines of the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects, the Society of American Archivists, and the University of Colorado Boulder Archives. The material consists of interviews with individuals used in journalistic reporting who may not have participated with the understanding that the recordings would be archived. Researchers wishing to access restricted tapes must obtain permission from the University of Colorado Boulder Institutional Review Board. Contact for more information.

Materials in Series 2 in the subseries on Marvin Theilson contains personal health information (PHI), such as social security numbers and health records, that is restricted from most use under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) for 50 years after the date of death of the individual whose records are included in the collection. This restriction includes but is not limited to reproduction and publication. Advance permission is required to access this material and may require application to and approval from the University of Colorado's Institutional Review Board. All researchers using collections containing PHI will be required to sign a Private and Personal Identifying Information (PPII) Access and Use Form indicating their responsibilities in regard to accessing and using these materials. Contact for more information.

Copyright Statement

The University Libraries may not own the copyright to all materials in this collection. Researchers are responsible for contacting the copyright holder(s) for this material and obtaining permission to publish or broadcast. The University Libraries will not grant permission to publish or broadcast this material and are not responsible for copyright violations resulting from such use.

Biographical Note

Len Ackland (b. 1944) was a journalist and journalism professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. As an undergraduate he attended the University of Colorado Boulder and received a bachelor’s degree in History. He then attended John’s Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies to earn a Masters Degree. During 1967-1968, he was a volunteer teacher with International Voluntary Services, then a RAND Corp. researcher and a freelance reporter in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Later, as a reporter for the Des Moines Register he received the 1978 George Polk Award for a series on discriminatory mortgage lending, also known as “redlining.” He then became a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. In the 1980s he was editor of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. The Bulletin won the 1987 National Magazine Award for a special issue on the Chernobyl accident. He joined the faculty at CU Boulder in 1991 where he was the founding director of the Center for Environmental Journalism.

Ackland authored the book Making a Real Killing: Rocky Flats and the Nuclear West in 1999, published by the University of New Mexico press. The book covers the history of major events at the Rocky Flats plant located between Boulder and Golden, CO from its beginning until the time the book was first published and then an updated paperback was published in 2002. Ackland remained interested in Rocky Flats throughout the 2000s, and authored several articles in Denver area newspapers and magazines on its environmental impact and cleanup efforts. Ackland was also a founding board member of the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum. He was also interested in and published articles on nuclear weapons and nuclear power well into retirement.

The Rocky Flats plant was built in 1951 and operated by Dow Chemical through a contract with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) which later became the Department of Energy (DOE). The plant processed plutonium and manufactured bombs that were the successors to the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. These plutonium bombs are used to detonate or “trigger” much more powerful thermonuclear (hydrogen) bombs. During the plant’s operation, there were two major fires in 1957 and 1969. During the late 1960s and 1970s peace activist and environmental groups protested the plant’s continued operations. Facing concerns over mismanagement, including concerns over the how the plant was disposing of waste, the AEC ended the contract with Dow Chemical and began a contract with Rockwell International. After continuing concerns over waste management on the environment and the effects on a growing Denver population, the FBI began investigating plant activities, resulting in an FBI/Environmental Protection Agency raid on the plant in 1989. With the end of the Cold War and continued environmental concerns, the plant’s weapons manufacturing mission ended in 1992 and a lengthy cleanup began under EG&C and then Kaiser-Hill under contracts with the DOE. About 80 percent of the 10-square-mile site was transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2007.


20.59 linear feet (46 document boxes and 4 other boxes. )

Language of Materials



Len Ackland (b. 1944) was a journalist and became a journalism professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in 1991. He was the founding director of the Center for Environmental Journalism. He authored Making a Real Killing: Rocky Flats and the Nuclear West in 1999 in addition to many articles in the Denver area on Rocky Flats. The collection contains his writing notes; subject files such as photocopies, articles and reports; and interviews used when writing about Rocky Flats. The collection covers events important to the history of the Rock Flats plants including workers issues, environmental impact, waste removal, accidents, and activism.


The arrangement of this collection primarily follows the original order maintained by the creator with only occasional reordering to group like materials together. Where possible the original folder titles of the creator were preserved.

The collection consists of six series. Series 1: Writing Files, Series 2: Subject Files, Series 3: Virtual Museum Series 4: Interviews, Series 5: Depositions, Series 6: Photographs.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was given by Len Ackland in 2019 (COU 2019-005).

Len Ackland papers
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This finding aid written by Ashlyn Velte.
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This finding aid is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries, Rare and Distinctive Collections Repository

1720 Pleasant Street
184 UCB
Boulder Colorado 80503 United States