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The downwinders: New Mexicans sickened by atomic bomb testing fight for compensation | New Mexico | The Guardian

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  kavika  •  one month ago  •  19 comments

By:   Jason Berry (the Guardian)

The downwinders: New Mexicans sickened by atomic bomb testing fight for compensation | New Mexico | The Guardian
New film First We Bombed New Mexico sheds light on effects of Oppenheimer's nuclear project and locals' battle for justice

Oppenheimer was an excellent movie but there is a dark side that many are not aware of and this article will cover part of it. As mentioned in the article the uranium mining caused numerous cancer cases which the US government ignored and it also produced the largest radioactive spill in US history.

45 years later it is still being cleaned up on the Navajo reservation. It is a ''super fund site''....


S E E D E D   C O N T E N T


New film First We Bombed New Mexico sheds light on effects of Oppenheimer's nuclear project and locals' battle for justice

Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez watched Oppenheimer - a top winner at Sunday's Academy Awards and Christopher Nolan's treatment on the physicist who guided testing of the first atomic bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico - months ago.

And soon after the scene where Cillian Murphy, as J Robert Oppenheimer, peered through safety goggles in a fortified shed at the huge mushroom cloud, the New Mexico Democrat realized "the untold story" lay on the cutting room floor.

"We see nothing on the impact the bomb had on people living in northern New Mexico," Fernandez said. "There's no way [Manhattan Project physicists] could not have been aware of the radiation's impact on the communities downwind of the Trinity bomb site."

As a 17th-generation descendant of Mexicans who became New Mexicans, Fernandez, 65, speaks of "people living off the land, hanging their clothes, coated with [radioactive] ash, chickens picking in the yard, the lingering effects of what fell onto the ground and crops and was absorbed by animals and people" - for decades to come after the testing of the bomb.

Fernandez was awakened to the vast reach of the radiation after winning her congressional seat in 2020, meeting constituents and befriending Tina Cordova, the leader of "downwinders" - survivors and descendants of multigenerational illnesses discovered well after the 1945 Trinity bomb.

View image in fullscreenThe base camp at the Trinity nuclear test site. Photograph: Corbis via Getty Images

Cordova, who earned a master's degree in biology before becoming the owner of an Albuquerque roofing company, is a survivor of thyroid cancer. Her 24-year-old niece has also grappled with the same condition - and is a fifth-generation family member afflicted with one form of cancer or another.

Cordova is the protagonist of Lois Lipman's award-winning documentary, First We Bombed New Mexico, which also played a role in Fernandez's grasp of bomb-related injustices.

Cordova was not yet born when radioactive ash settled across a vast area of the state's western desert. But her father, Anastacio Cordova, was four at the time, living in Tularosa, a farming village 45 miles from the bomb site. The genetic line of cancers began with him.

In sharing the details of her family's plight, Cordova said: "I sensed a level of sadness in [Fernandez]. She said she had lost family members but didn't go into detail."

A non-smoker, Anastacio had part of his tongue removed at 61, before treatment for the spread of cancer necessitating "high levels of radiation in his head and neck", Cordova said.

"All his teeth had to be extracted," she said. "Then he got prostate cancer. Eight years after the primary oral cancer he had a second primary lesion on his tongue. The doctor said they could remove the tumor but he couldn't have any more radiation because in the first bout with cancer he had been treated with the maximum amount of radiation."

Cordova's father died in 2013 after nine years of illness and repeat trips to Houston's MD Anderson cancer center.

Listening to the stories of Cordova and other downwinders indeed had resonance for Fernandez, the congresswoman said. Her mother came from Colonias, a village in Guadalupe county "within the concentric circles of people exposed to radiation".

"I am not a downwinder," Fernandez said. "I will not be a claimant" - if pending legislation for survivors, which she has co-sponsored, passes Congress. "These people are part of who I am.

"My maternal grandmother died of leukemia blood cancer. My mother, a non-smoker, died of lung cancer. Both were in their 70s."

Her maternal grandfather also died of cancer.

She made it a point to say that there was no speculation among her relatives at the time that their illnesses stemmed from the nuclear bomb in New Mexico. But she made clear that their pasts - combined with that of people like Cordova - made her realize "we've never as a nation apologized to the people of New Mexico".

And Fernandez, a graduate of Yale and Stanford law school who worked as a public interest attorney before Congress, is working to fix that.

Her efforts come in the form of fighting for passage of a bill first filed by Ben Ray Lujan, Fernandez's congressional predecessor who was elected to the US Senate in 2020. The now expanded legislative proposal seeks financial compensation - reparations - for downwinders, a category that also extends to Nevadans afflicted from later nuclear testing, victims of uranium pollution in Utah and Missouri, and workers from several other states exposed to radiation from the nuclear testing infrastructure, long cloaked in secrecy.

View image in fullscreenThe test tower. Photograph: Corbis via Getty Images

Fernandez is quick to invoke a surreal scene from First We Bombed New Mexico to discuss the legislation: "Little girls dancing around in the ash, tasting it on their tongues, thinking it was summer snow" - in the early aftermath of the bomb testing.

But it's now more than just the film that is catalyzing support for providing downwinders with long-due compensation after losing so many loved ones to nuclear fallout disease patterns.

The compensation bill championed by Lujan in the Senate and Fernandez in the House has earned backing across the political aisle from Missouri's far-right US senator Josh Hawley.

Hawley joined Lujan and Fernandez's ranks last summer after an investigation by the Missouri Independent, MuckRock and the Associated Press uncovered rare cancers as well as autoimmune disorders among St Louis workers who processed uranium used in early stages of the Manhattan Project at the heart of Oppenheimer. There was radioactive waste found in lakes and creeks and groundwater pollution at sites in St Louis county yet to be cleaned.

The bill co-sponsored by Hawley - who gave a clenched fist salute to supporters of former president Donald Trump before they staged the January 6 Capitol attack - is likely one of the few political issues on which the Missouri Republican is likely to agree with the Joe Biden White House.

View image in fullscreenThe tremendous fireball erupting in the sky after the bomb's detonation. Photograph: Corbis via Getty Images

Biden, too, endorsed the compensation bill which on Thursday passed the Senate 69-31 with a broad bipartisan vote. The measure now goes to the House.

Fernandez stressed the coalition is "not questioning the US's decision to pursue the bomb and nuclear power as part of national security" to end the second world war. But, she said: "We need for victims of that national priority to receive compensation for what they and their families suffered."

A sequence in First We Bombed New Mexico poignantly conveys that point.

The former US senator Tom Udall tells Tina Cordova's group how moved he was to have heard their stories. The film cuts to grainy footage of Tom's father, Steward Udall, as the US's secretary of the interior in the 1960s. With a catch in the throat, the elder Udall shows outrage about disease-stricken uranium miners in Utah - then says cynically: "No matter how much they have lied or what harm they may have done, you cannot sue the government.

"As one Atomic Energy Commission official I knew in the [early 1960s] said, 'Well, if we admit now that we have not told them the truth, they won't believe anything we said.'"

First We Bombed New Mexico has a private screening for members of Congress. It will be shown at 7pm on 26 March at the Environmental film festival on the American University's campus in Washington, with Cordova and Lipman taking questions.

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Kavika
Professor Principal
1  seeder  Kavika     one month ago

The dark side of what happened with ''The Bomb''.

 
 
 
evilone
Professor Guide
2  evilone    one month ago

I spent a few years on White Sands Missile Range, but never deployed to any of the hot areas. 

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  evilone @2    one month ago
I spent a few years on White Sands Missile Range, but never deployed to any of the hot areas.

That is good news, a lot of cancer in those areas.

 
 
 
evilone
Professor Guide
2.1.1  evilone  replied to  Kavika @2.1    one month ago
That is good news, a lot of cancer in those areas.

I was also in Germany when Chernobyl went up. They told us not to walk barefoot in wet grass... jrSmiley_88_smiley_image.gif  

Back to the topic at hand. I don't know if offering compensation to family members is the answer or not (it could be), but what really does need to happen is admission of wrong doing and something from Congress to prevent future cover-ups the next time the Government does something. Something that compels them to take care of the next group.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
2.1.2  seeder  Kavika   replied to  evilone @2.1.1    one month ago
I was also in Germany when Chernobyl went up. They told us not to walk barefoot in wet grass...  

That and not tip-toeing through the stores is also very helpful.../s

Back to the topic at hand. I don't know if offering compensation to family members is the answer or not (it could be), but what really does need to happen is admission of wrong doing and something from Congress to prevent future cover-ups the next time the Government does something. Something that compels them to take care of the next group.

I totally agree with the admission and something to prevent it from happening again. I'm not sure the government is capable of overseeing itself their record isn't all that outstanding.

 
 
 
evilone
Professor Guide
2.1.3  evilone  replied to  Kavika @2.1.2    one month ago
I'm not sure the government is capable of overseeing itself their record isn't all that outstanding.

No, putting assholes and idiots in charge of themselves is never good policy.

 
 
 
devangelical
Professor Principal
3  devangelical    one month ago

isn't that what republicans call a pre-existing condition?

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
3.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  devangelical @3    one month ago

That sounds about right.

 
 
 
Texan1211
Professor Principal
3.2  Texan1211  replied to  devangelical @3    one month ago
isn't that what republicans call a pre-existing condition?

Can you quote a single Republican saying that?

 
 
 
devangelical
Professor Principal
3.2.1  devangelical  replied to  Texan1211 @3.2    one month ago

oh that's right, republicans have always been at the forefront of advocating compensation for victims of toxic exposure by the gov't. /s

 
 
 
Texan1211
Professor Principal
3.2.2  Texan1211  replied to  devangelical @3.2.1    one month ago
oh that's right, republicans have always been at the forefront of advocating compensation for victims of toxic exposure by the gov't. /s

Sarcasm wasn't necessary, a simple "No, I made it up and can not provide any quotes" would have sufficed nicely.

Still not too late to try it!

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
4  Trout Giggles    one month ago

Thyroid cancer is almost always related to radiation exposure. I used to know stuff about radiation and the types of emitters plutonium and uranium are (Pu was used in one of the bombs, U was used in the Trinity bomb, I think)

Anyway, Pu is an alpha emitter. Alphas are slow and heavy but when inhaled or ingested do a great amount of internal damage. Pu has a long half-life so there's probably still alpha particles out there in the desert which is why the Trinity site is forbidden territory.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
4.1  seeder  Kavika   replied to  Trout Giggles @4    one month ago

Good information, thanks Trout.

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
4.1.1  Trout Giggles  replied to  Kavika @4.1    one month ago

I'm going on memory here from what I learned in Tech School at Brooks AFB. I may have gotten a thing or two wrong

 
 
 
devangelical
Professor Principal
4.2  devangelical  replied to  Trout Giggles @4    one month ago
the Trinity site is forbidden territory

not if you're an NA, apparently...

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
4.2.1  Trout Giggles  replied to  devangelical @4.2    one month ago

I wouldn't go in there. Stirring up the dust with all those alpha emitters in it......

 
 
 
devangelical
Professor Principal
4.2.2  devangelical  replied to  Trout Giggles @4.2.1    one month ago

pffft. I grew up down wind of rocky flats, in jeffco, southeast of boulder. we knew then that climbing under a classroom desk to duck and cover wasn't going to do much to stop a 10000 degree gust of wind at 2000mph. 50 some years ago after a plutonium fire with an atmospheric release occurred, those in the know said the ground was contaminated for a quarter million years. now there's expensive housing developments within the shadow of the wind path of any fallout.  

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
4.2.3  Trout Giggles  replied to  devangelical @4.2.2    one month ago

The CDC will be doing cancer studies there soon

 
 
 
Dig
Professor Participates
5  Dig    one month ago

I wonder how long it will be before we can stream it? The film's website only shows a few festival showings through April, but no info for what's after that.

Here's a link to a map of the fallout area – Trinity Test Fallout

As bad as that is, here's a fallout map of both Trinity and the Nevada tests later on – SGS Maps Radioactive Fallout

Check this out, too – Atomic Tests During the 1950s Probably Killed Nearly Half a Million Americans

And while we're at it, here's a cool video showing all 2053 nuclear explosions between 1945 and 1998:

(you can speed it up in the playback menu if you want to)

***

Scary stuff. Over 2000 detonations. Several of them were underground, especially toward the end, but a great many of them were surface tests. It's kind of hard to believe how much of that was done after the effects of the first few were known.

 
 

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