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The Rio Blanco Site is located 6,600 feet above sea level in the Piceance Basin in northwestern Colorado, about 52 miles north-northeast of Grand Junction, Colorado and 36 miles northwest of Rifle, Colorado.

On May 17, 1973, the AEC detonated three 33-kiloton nuclear devices nearly simultaneously in a single emplacement well at depths of 5,836, 6,230, and 6,689 feet below the ground surface at Rio Blanco Site. The tests were conducted in fine-grain, low permeability sandstone.

The goal of the Rio Blanco tests was to increase natural gas production from low-permeability sandstone. This was the third and final natural-gas reservoir stimulation test in the Plowshare Program, which was a series of nuclear tests conducted by the AEC to find peaceful applications of nuclear explosives. The two previous tests were Project Gasbuggy in New Mexico and Project Rulison in Colorado. The AEC conducted the test in partnership with CER Geonuclear Corporation and Continental Oil Company (Conoco).

The detonations were designed to create three blast cavities, each with a diameter of about 150 feet. The explosions were expected to create a rubble chimney above each cavity, and the three chimneys were expected to join. Each explosive package had a tracer gas inside which would be used to verify that the rubble chimneys were connected. An armored coaxial cable connected all the systems to control equipment on the surface.

At first it seemed like the test was a success when the detonation stimulated gas flow in above average quantities. During post detonation tests the pressure dropped 40 percent. The natural gas that was produced was also radioactive. The tracer gas tests showed that there was a lack of post-detonation interconnection between the chimneys. The fracturing did not extend as far out as had been predicted. When subsequent hydraulic fracturing and production tests in a well were conducted outside the blast zone, the results were disappointing.

The AEC began decommissioning the site in 1975 and by 1976 surface and restoration was complete. One of the test wells was used for injection of contaminated liquid waste from test and decontamination operations. The emplacement well at surface ground zero, and test wells were plugged and decommissioned.

Areas at the Rio Blanco site are contaminated including radioactive contamination of the deep bedrock around the shot cavities. There is contamination of a deep zone in one of the wells from injecting contaminated water from the production testing and decontamination operations. There is also possible surface contamination from the gas flaring activities and near-surface hazardous waste contamination from the closed mud pits. Ground water is the most likely transport medium for the deep contamination.

In 2002 the DOE performed a corrective action investigation and risk assessment at the Rio Blanco Site. They concluded that the contaminants present do not present a significant risk to human health and that no feasible technology exists for removing test-related radioactivity from the subsurface. Due to this the investigation concluded that no corrective actions would be required.

At surface ground zero there is a brass plaque mounted in a concrete base that serves as a permanent monument. The plaque details the historical significance of the project and the restrictions on subsurface excavation. No subsurface intrusion are permitted within a radius of 100 feet from the monument to a vertical depth of 1,500 feet and no subsurface intrusion within a radius of 600 feet from the monument to a true vertical depth between 1,500 feet and 7,500 feet without the permission of the DOE.

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