Rocky Flats Plant, Metal Research and Development Laboratory
HAER No. CO-83-AA (Rocky Flats Plant, Building 865)
Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site, Highway 93, Golden, Jefferson
County, Colorado. Building 865 is located south of Central Avenue, at the south end of the
terminus of Ninth Avenue.
This building is a secondary contributor to the Rocky Flats Plant
historic district, associated with the U.S. strategy of nuclear military deterrence during
the Cold War, a strategy considered of major importance in preventing Soviet nuclear
attack. Building 865, built in 1970, was part of the plant research and development
program. The building housed metalworking equipment for the study of non-plutonium metals
and the development of alloys and prototype hardware. The building serviced not only plant
requests, but also handled developmental work for other U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
facilities such as Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico and Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory in California. Alloys and prototype hardware developed at the request of the
plant were used to evaluate new or proposed plant processes. Alloys and prototype hardware
developed for other DOE facilities were used to aid in the development of new process or
weapon designs for the DOE Complex.
Building 865 is a one-story, rectangular structure. Overall floor
space is approximately 37,980 square feet. The building is divided into two areas. The
north side of the building (12,000 square feet) houses offices, a laboratory, a machine
shop, a maintenance shop, and a utility room. The north side of the building covers an
area of 82 by 152 feet. The south side of the building is a high-bay area (23,000 square feet)
that houses metal working operations. The high-bay area, twice as high as the north area,
contains a small mezzanine that supports ventilation equipment. The high-bay area was a
radiological control area where the use of personal protective equipment was required.
Building 865 is built on a concrete slab on-grade. The exterior walls are made of
up-ended precast concrete T-beams. The roof is precast concrete with polyurethane foam
insulation and neoprene topping. Interior walls are precast concrete, concrete block, or
gypsum board. The mezzanine has a structural steel frame. Windows present in the bay are
industrial, multi-paned with metal sashes.
Upgrades to the building included the addition of a second high-efficiency particulate
air filter system (located in Building 867), and the addition of Rooms 171 and 172.
Building 865 has two supporting structures: Building 827, which houses a diesel
generator; and Building 865A, a process-water cooling tower. Buildings 867 and 868 are
exhaust plenums for Building 865.
Building 865, built in 1970, was part of the plant research and
development program. The building housed metalworking equipment for the study of
non-plutonium metals and the development of alloys and prototype hardware. The building
serviced not only plant requests, but also handled developmental work for other DOE facilities such as Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico and
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Alloys and prototype hardware
developed at the request of the plant were used to evaluate new or proposed plant
processes. Alloys and prototype hardware developed for other DOE facilities were used to
aid in the development of new process or weapon designs for the DOE Complex.
A beryllium electrorefining cell, operated briefly during the early 1980s, was designed
as a one-half scale beryllium recovery experimental cell.
The building is used for fabricating prototype hardware and developing
metal alloys and processes. Operations include metalworking, machining, and metallurgical
The most common metals processed were depleted uranium, steel, and aluminum. Other
metals worked in the building included copper, molybdenum, beryllium, titanium, silver,
niobium, tantalum, gold, iridium, platinum, vanadium, tungsten, and alloys of these
Metalworking: All metalworking operations were conducted in the high-bay area. Metalworking processes
included arc and vacuum induction melting, hammer forging, press forming, hydrospinning,
swaging, extruding, drawing, rolling, diffusion bonding, furnace heat treating, salt bath
and glove box operations, and cutting and shearing.
Metals were melted using one of two methods: arc melting and vacuum furnace melting. In
arc melting, the furnance is evacuated of air. With the power turned on, an arc is struck
between the electrode and a starting block placed in the mold. Heat from the arc
progressively melts the end of the electrode; the molten metal is transferred across the
arc and deposited on top of an ingot situated in the mold. Materials melted with this
process included stainless steel alloys, depleted uranium, depleted uranium alloys, and
beryllium. In vacuum melting, an electrical current is induced into the metal by an
induction coil connected to a power supply. The metal charge acts as a secondary circuit
for the current. The melted metal (including beryllium, depleted uranium, copper,
aluminum, lead, steel) is then cast into molds.
There were several processes used to create forms or shapes for parts. Hammer forging
was used to force heated metal to conform to the shape of a metal die by hammer blows. The
press forming process pressed hot or cold beryllium, uranium, steel, and other ferrous and
nonferrous metals into the desired shape. Hydrospinning formed hot or cold metals into
desired shapes using rollers while the metal was rotated at a high speed. Swaging
subjected stock (bar or tube) to a series of blows from two or four dies which rotated
around the stock so that the piece was hammered from all sides.
Other methods were used to produce specific types of shapes.
Extrusion was used to
produce cylindrical bars, hollow tubes, and shapes with irregular cross sections by
forcing preheated metal through a die orifice under high pressure. Drawing was used to
change the cross section of metal wire, rods, or tubing by pulling the metal through a
die. The rolling process, used to reduce cross section, shaped metals by passing them
between two rollers revolving at the same speed in opposite directions.
Metal parts were joined in a bonding process where thin layers of bonding material were
plated on the surfaces of materials being joined. Pressure was applied to the joined
surfaces (under an inert atmosphere or vacuum) to create the bond. Formed metal parts were furnace heat-treated in an argon or air atmosphere, or under a
vacuum using electric resistance-type furnaces. Salt baths were used to heat metal pieces
to a high temperature in preparation for forging, rolling, or some other type of working.
Operations involving beryllium powder were conducted inside glove boxes. High-purity
beryllium was produced and canned (sealed in a can) in glove boxes. Beryllium chips from
lathe operations were processed in two types of mills (a ball mill and a fluid energy mill)
to form a powder. The powder was then sealed into stainless steel containers in
preparation for further processing.
A large abrasive wheel was used to reduce large billets and bar stock to a useable size
for further fabrication. Sheet metal was cut to the desired shape and size using a shear
Machining: Machining operations included milling, grinding, drilling, and cutting operations. The
machine shop was equipped with standard equipment including surface grinders, drill
presses, and saws. Other equipment in the machine shop was specialized; lathes and milling
machines in the shop were equipped with tracers.
Metallurgy: A metallurgy laboratory, located in the northeastern corner of the building, conducted
mechanical testing of metals and prepared metal samples for examination. Mechanical tests
determined the tensile properties of the metals at room, elevated, and at very low
temperatures. Other tests measured hardness of the metals and alloys using various methods
(Brinell, Rockwell, Knoop, and diamond pyramid). These test methods used the depth of
indentation of a steel ball, or a diamond pyramid under pressure, to measure hardness.
Samples were prepared for macroscopic and microscopic examination by sawing, cutting,
mounting, grinding, polishing, and etching operations. After preparation, the samples were
visually examined at various magnifications and optical conditions to identify structural
details, including the crystalline structure of alloys.
Miscellaneous Operations: The final use of the building was to conduct metallography laboratory work and
decontamination activities for the product research and development group.
Colorado Department of Health. Project Tasks 3
& 4 Final Draft Report. Reconstruction of Historical Rocky Flats Operations and
Identification of Release Points (1992), by ChemRisk. Rocky Flats Repository. Golden,
United States Department of Energy. Historical Release Report (HRR) (1994), by
EG&G. Rocky Flats Plant Repository. Golden, Colorado, 1994.
United States Department of Energy. Final Cultural Resources Survey Report (1995), by Science Applications International Corporation. Rocky Flats Repository. Golden,
D. Jayne Aaron, Environmental Designer, engineering-environmental
Management, Inc. (e2M). Judith Berryman, Ph.D., Archaeologist, e2M,
Index to Photographs
Located south of Central Avenue, at the south end of the terminus of Ninth Avenue, Golden Vicinity, Jefferson County, Colorado.
Photographs CO-83-AA-1 through CO-83-AA-2 were taken by various site photography
contractors, dates are indicated in parentheses.
CO-83-AA-1 – View of the installation of an extrusion press in the high-bay area of Building 865. The extrusion press was used to produce cylindrical bars, hollow tubes, and shapes with irregular cross sections by forcing preheated metal through a die orifice under high pressure. (5/22/70)
CO-83-AA-2 – View of the hydrospinning equipment in Building 865. The hydrospinning process formed metals into desired shapes by rollers while the metal was rotated at high speed. Beryllium, uranium, refractory metals, and other nonferrous metals were spun either hot or cold, into a variety of shapes. (11/9/73)