Transcript of radio commentary that aired July 15, 2003 on KUNM public radio 89.9 fm in Albuquerque. Link to audio at end of page.
By Arjun Makhijani
The age of nuclear shock and awe was born fifty eight years ago. On July 16, 1945, the desert dawn of New Mexico was greeted with the blinding, awful flash of an atomic blast. It is often celebrated as a moment of great accomplishment. The town of Los Alamos, where the bomb was designed and built, has a street named Trinity, not after the well-known holy trio, but after the nuclear explosion that day, which had a heart of plutonium.
Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the bomb project, thought that he was seeing a “destroyer of worlds.” But still, the damage that was inflicted that day on the land and the people of New Mexico still remains practically unknown.
Colonel Stafford L. Warren, the radiological safety director for the test, set out to survey the fallout soon after it. He found a radiological disaster: “[T]he dust outfall from various portions of the [radioactive] cloud was potentially a very dangerous hazard over a band almost 30 miles wide extending almost 90 miles northeast of the site.”
There were many communities in the path of that hazard, including the Mescalero reservation. While he dutifully reported that no one was exposed to “a dangerous amount of radiation,” Col. Warren also estimated that some people received external radiation doses up 60 rad over two weeks. That’s equivalent to thousands of chest X-rays. Radioactive dust from the test was still lingering in the air four days later, as far as 200 miles from ground zero.
There has never been a serious investigation of what that fallout did to people, especially children and pregnant women in its path. What happened to them? There are troubling indications, but we do not we do not know definitively.
General Groves, who headed up the Manhattan Project, had already expressed fears of legal liability well before the test. The concerns of two insightful physicists, John Magee and Joseph Hirshfelder, who feared that the fallout may extend far from the test site, were set aside.
The U.S. government has failed in its responsibilities to the affected people. It is time for the State of New Mexico to take up the question. Governor Richardson, when he was Energy Secretary in Washington, showed historic leadership by advocating for compensation for nuclear weapons workers who were put in harm’s way during the Cold War. I urge him to show the same compassion for the downwinders created by the very first atomic blast in his own state. He might use its fifty-eighth anniversary to announce the formation of a state-led public commission to investigate its health effects.
You can find Col. Stafford Warren’s radiological survey and his memo of July 21, 1945, on the web site of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, www.ieer.org. This is Arjun Makhijani.
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