Tularosa downwinders fight for justice from first nuclear bomb test

Trinity Tularosa
Tularosa survivors demonstrated for the first time at access to the Trinity Test Site
permitted by our government one day a year

Photo by Natalie Guillén/The New Mexican

Residents of the tranquil Tularosa Basin in the 1940s feasted on figs, apples, peaches and plums grown in their irrigated orchards. They ate eggs from their own chickens. Meat came from the cows and pigs they raised and the elk and turkey they hunted. Three dairies in the area supplied fresh milk. Rainwater was caught in cisterns for gardening.

But everything changed when the first atomic bomb was unleashed without warning at the Trinity Site, about 40 miles upwind from the town of Tularosa, on July 16, 1945.

No one knew just how much things had changed. No one had considered what effect the bomb’s significant radiation might have on the 19,000 people living in the shadow of the mushroom cloud, how that radiation might have seeped into the rainwater, the soil, the vegetation, the blood, the bone.

No one thought fresh milk might be poison.

“People down here started to get sick, started to die at alarming rates,” said Tina Cordova, an Albuquerque businesswoman born and raised in Tularosa. “And we knew it had to have been the bomb.”

We met Cordova in 2010 when her efforts to connect the 1945 atomic bomb test to the abnormally high rate of cancer she discovered among the residents downwind of the Trinity Site seemed close to bringing relief, recognition and a long-overdue apology from the U.S. government.

Three years later, relief, recognition and apology have yet to materialize…

Back in 2010, Cordova said it was hard to find anyone living within a 40-mile radius of the Trinity site who hadn’t known someone stricken with cancer. Six members of her own family had either died of or fought cancer, including herself and her father, who was 3 when the bomb turned the dark skies white and radioactive ash fell from the skies like snow.

Today, Cordova is a 16-year survivor of thyroid cancer. Her father successfully battled two forms of cancer in the past decade but lost his third bout last spring at age 71. As a child, he had loved milk and drank ample quantities, never imagining what it might contain, Cordova said…

Cordova can no longer quickly calculate how many family members have died of cancer, how many in the Tularosa Basin have suffered. There have been so many.

The National Cancer Institute is adding folks from the Tularosa Basin to their study of New Mexicans who may have been affected by the nuclear weapons programs so beloved of our government for decades. The Feds say it never occurred to them to check on radiation from that first and following atomic bomb tests. That’s probably a lie. There’s no doubt they wanted to have some idea what would follow use of these weapons on the wider population they were preparing to use the weapons on – in Japan.

All of this is part of the larger refusal to accept responsibility for contamination and poisoning of Americans associated often by virtue of where they lived – near mining, production and testing of nuclear weapons – in addition to direct employees of our rollout of weapons of mass destruction.

There is no legitimate reason for special laws having to be passed to include the healthcare of ordinary citizens affected by the radiation of our bigger and better bombs. There is no legitimate reason for Congress dragging their feet, turning their collective backs on American citizens damaged individually and generationally by the poisons and death visited upon them by our military death-industry.

We are a nation run by imperial thugs, represented by cowards and flunkies afraid to challenge official powers on behalf of the people who elected them to office. There are few exceptions. There is a greater number sharing guilt for the suffering that became part of the lives of the farmers of the Tularosa Basin after July 16, 1945.

14 thoughts on “Tularosa downwinders fight for justice from first nuclear bomb test

  1. Bert the turtle says:

    See Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment [LAHDRA] Project, Chapter 10: The Trinity Test (http://www.lahdra.org/pubs/reports/In%20Pieces/Chapter%2010-%20Trinity%20Test.pdf), pp 20, 32-46.

    Also: New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook, 60th Field Conference, Geology of the Chupadera Mesa Region, 2009, FIRST ATOMIC BOMB BLAST AND INTERACTION WITH CHUPADERA MESA pages. 425-428 (http://nmgs.nmt.edu/publications/guidebooks/downloads/60/60_p0425_p0428.pdf)

    “…all evaluations of public exposure from the Trinity blast that have been published to date have been published to date have been incomplete in that they have not reflected the internal doses that were received by residents from intakes of airborne radioactivity and contaminated water and foods.

    Some unique characteristics of the Trinity event was not 100% efficient – approximately 4.8 kg of plutonium from amplified the significance of those omissions. The Trinity device remained unfissioned and was dispersed in the environment [the 21 kt yield of the blast (USDOE, 2000) corresponds, at 1.45×1023 fissions per kiloton (Glasstone and Dolan, 1977), to 3.05×1024 atoms or 1.21 kg of 239 Pu fissioned. [That left 4.79 kg of 239 Pu unfissioned].

    In addition: U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, TS Manhattan Project Files, folder 4, “Trinity Test.” Report, by Col. Stafford Warren, Chief of the Manhattan Project’s Medical Section http://www.dannen.com/decision/trin-rad.html
    Note the entry from the office diary of General Groves, which was kept by his secretary, for July 27, 1945.

  2. 2RAD says:

    “New Mexicans in Trinity Site fallout zone still suffering side effects generations later” http://www.kob.com/article/stories/S3632945.shtml After ten years of speaking out, the Tularosa Basin Downwinders finally got the government’s attention.
    But instead of providing tangible help fir the victims, a new series of studies was started in September to determine, nearly 70 years after the fact, where the radiation from the test spread across New Mexico. Meanwhile the U.S. government compensates families in other states near other test sites, under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. Last year, New Mexico Senator Tom Udall re-introduced legislation to amend the Act in order to have communities near the Trinity Site included, but so far the legislation has not been given a committee hearing. https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/s773

  3. WTF? says:

    (3/5/15) The federal government announced this week it has awarded more than $2 billion to people exposed to radiation during the atomic tests near Las Vegas in the 1950s. But it still has not recognized the county that was exposed to the highest levels of radioactive fallout. http://www.fronterasdesk.org/content/9966/feds-pay-downwinders-2-billion-leave-out-mohave-county Mohave County has the highest cancer rate in Arizona. The federal government estimates “downwinders,” or people suffering from cancer caused by atomic fallout, in Mohave were exposed to three times more radioactive fallout than people in a county next door that is eligible for compensation.

  4. Update says:

    A report is scheduled to be released on the health effects of the people who lived near the site of the world’s first atomic bomb test on July 16, 1945.
    The Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium will release the health assessment report Friday on residents of a historic Hispanic village of Tularosa near the Trinity Test in the New Mexico desert.
    Scientists working in the secret city of Los Alamos, New Mexico, developed the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project. The bomb was tested in a stretch of desert near Tularosa where Hispanic and Native American resided.
    Residents say many of those living in the area weren’t told about the dangers and suffered rare forms of cancer. They say they want acknowledgment and compensation from the U.S. government. http://krqe.com/2017/02/09/atomic-bomb-test-effects-report-to-be-released/

  5. Y-1561 device says:

    Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium’s Health Impact Assessment Report released http://www.voanews.com/a/new-mexico-atom-bomb-test-cancer/3719210.html
    Around 800 community health surveys and two community focus groups were used to collect data for the report in partnership with the New Mexico Health Equity Partnership, an initiative of the Santa Fe Community Foundation.
    “It’s the first-ever study done on the Tularosa Downwinders,” said Tina Cordova, co-founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium. Cordova said the report wasn’t a scientific epidemiology study but an attempt to gather information from residents who have complained about various forms of cancers in families who had limited access to health insurance.
    The surveys involved residents of the historic Hispanic village of Tularosa and four New Mexico counties. They want lawmakers to include New Mexico in a federal law that compensates residents near atomic tests.

  6. Kāla says:

    “A compensation program for those exposed to radiation from years of nuclear weapons testing and uranium mining would be expanded under legislation that seeks to address fallout across the western United States, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.” (NYT July 16, 2019) https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2019/07/16/us/ap-us-radiation-exposure-compensation.html
    Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico is rolling out the measure Tuesday on the 74th anniversary of the Trinity Test. As part of the top-secret Manhattan Project, government scientists and the U.S. military dropped the first atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert in 1945. Nearly 200 atmospheric tests followed. Uranium mining persisted even after the tests ceased.
    Citing affected downwinders and Native American tribes, Lujan says coverage must be expanded.

    • Nuked says:

      “Radiation levels in some regions of the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific, where the United States conducted nuclear tests during the Cold War, are far higher than in areas affected by the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear disasters, according to new research from Columbia University.” https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-07/cu-rip071719.php
      “Three studies published July 15 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by a Columbia research team, led by Emlyn Hughes and Malvin Ruderman from the Columbia Center for Nuclear Studies, showed that the concentration of nuclear isotopes on some of the islands was well above the legal exposure limit established in agreements between the U.S. and Republic of the Marshall Islands. The studies measured soil samples, ocean sediment and a variety of fruit.
      Nearly 70 nuclear bombs the United States detonated between 1946 and 1958 left widespread contamination on the islands, a chain of atolls halfway between Australia and Hawaii. The largest nuclear detonation, “Castle Bravo,” in 1954 at Bikini Atoll, was 1,000 times more powerful than either of the bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
      The Marshall Islands have experienced rapid growth since the 1960s. Most of the nation’s residents live on two crowded islands and are unable to return to their home islands because of nuclear contamination. Nuclear fallout from the tests is most concentrated on the Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utirik atolls.”

  7. Kāla says:

    “A compensation program for those exposed to radiation from years of nuclear weapons testing and uranium mining would be expanded under legislation that seeks to address fallout across the western United States, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.” (NYT July 16, 2019) https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2019/07/16/us/ap-us-radiation-exposure-compensation.html
    Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico is rolling out the measure Tuesday on the 74th anniversary of the Trinity Test. As part of the top-secret Manhattan Project, government scientists and the U.S. military dropped the first atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert in 1945. Nearly 200 atmospheric tests followed. Uranium mining persisted even after the tests ceased.
    Citing affected downwinders and Native American tribes, Lujan says coverage must be expanded.

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