Touring Trinity?

The Gadget at the Trinity Site in July 1945

By Dennis Overbye

TRINITY SITE, N.M. – Once, in another lifetime, I witnessed an atomic explosion. This was in the 1960s at the Nevada Test Site, a vast area about an hour northwest of Las Vegas where the American military tested bombs. I was working for EG&G, a military contracting company that, among other atomic chores, supplied all the instrumentation for the test site; it is now part of a company called Amentum. My job, to study the effects of nuclear explosions on the atmosphere, was sufficient to keep me out of the Vietnam War draft.

Cabriolet, as the test was called, contained the force of 2,300 tons of TNT. Detonated hundreds of feet underground, it was louder than I thought anything could ever be. The ground bulged, and a line of torches marking ground zero flew into the air. From a shaking trailer four miles away, my boss and I filmed tongues of fire erupting from the earth and congealing into an elephant-shaped cloud of dust that drifted off in the general direction of Montana.

Those were heady days in the atomic business, when people thought they could build harbors in a few microseconds of fury, or dig a new Panama Canal overnight in a domino of blasts, or even propel spaceships. Cabriolet was part of the Plowshare Program, which looked for peaceful civilian uses of nuclear explosions. Turns out all they are good for is terror.

And the rest of this article is about TRINITY SITE. Where the first atomic bombs were detonated. Just before we dropped one on Hiroshima…another on Nagasaki. RTFA. Fill out your knowledge of American history.

If the coronavirus doesn’t get you…

Los Alamos National Laboratory will release radioactive vapors into the atmosphere to ventilate several barrels of tritium-tainted waste generated during the Cold War.

The lab informed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency earlier this month that it would ventilate four waste containers, beginning April 17, to relieve the built-up, radioactive hydrogen in the barrels’ headspace to prevent them from rupturing while they’re being handled. The EPA approved the application for the radioactive release last year…

Wind velocity and direction would be factors during the release…

If the federal [radiation] limit is reached before all the drums are ventilated, the remaining drums would be put back into storage at the lab until next year…

L.A.N.L. is more cautious about these containers since their last radioactive leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad six years ago. They packed a waste drum with a mixture of cat litter and nitrate salts, causing it to explode and spray radiation.

They had to shut down W.I.P.P. for three years and the cleanup cost American taxpayers $2 billion.

Let’s shut these radiation alarms off! They keep disturbing our research.

❝ …Government scientists didn’t know they were breathing in radioactive uranium at the time it was happening. In fact, most didn’t learn about their exposure for months, long after they returned home from the nuclear weapons research center where they had inhaled it.

The entire event was characterized by sloppiness, according to a quiet federal investigation, with multiple warnings issued and ignored in advance, and new episodes of contamination allowed to occur afterward. All of this transpired without public notice by the center.

Here’s how it happened: In April and May 2014, an elite group of 97 nuclear researchers from as far away as the U.K. gathered in a remote corner of Nye County, Nev., at the historic site where the U.S. had exploded hundreds of its nuclear weapons. With nuclear bomb testing ended, the scientists were using a device they called Godiva at the National Criticality Experiments Research Center to test nuclear pulses on a smaller and supposedly safe scale.

But as the technicians prepared for their experiments that spring — under significant pressure to clear a major backlog of work and to operate the machine at what a report called Godiva’s “upper energy range” — they committed several grievous errors, according to government reports.

❝ The machine had been moved to Nevada nine years earlier from Los Alamos, N.M. But a shroud, descriptively called Top Hat, which should have covered the machine and prevented the escape of any loose radioactive particles, was not reinstalled when it was reassembled in 2012.

Also, because Godiva’s bursts tended to set off multiple radiation alarms in the center, the experimenters decided to switch the alarm system off. But because the alarms were connected to the ventilation and air filter system for the room, those were shut off as well. The only ventilation remaining was a small exhaust fan that vented into an adjacent anteroom where researchers gathered before and after experiments.

What could go wrong?

RTFA for the whole event. Read the whole article and realize this single example of careless handling, monitoring or dangerous materials isn’t rare. Sloppiness, an absence of concern for the safety of nuclear workers – from techs to supremos – is as bad as you might expect from agencies run by beancounters instead of folks concerned first and foremost with safety.

The improbable William Laurence

William Laurence on Tinian Island before the Nagasaki bombing

The most recent episode of MANHATTAN features the arrival of a character based on one of my favorite real-life Manhattan Project participants: William L. Laurence, the “embedded” newspaperman on the project. The character on the show, “Lorentzen,” appears in a somewhat different way than the real-life Laurence does, showing up on the doorstep of Los Alamos having ferreted out something of the work that was taking place. That isn’t how Laurence came to the project, but it is only a mild extrapolation from the case of Jack Raper, a Cleveland journalist who did “discover” that there was a secret laboratory in the desert in 1943, and was responsible for one of the worst leaks of the atomic bomb effort.

William Laurence, however, was solicited. And he was the only journalist so solicited, invited in to serve as something of a cross between a journalist, public relations expert, and propagandist. (When a character on the show hisses to Lorentzen that they “don’t give Pulitzers for propaganda,” she is, as the show’s writers all know, incorrect — the real-life Laurence did receive a Pulitzer for his reporting on the Nagasaki bombing, and it was a form of propaganda, to be sure.)

William Leonard Laurence was born Leib Wolf Siew, in Russian Lithuania. In 1956 he gave an interview to the Oral History Research Office at Columbia University, and, well, I’m just going to let him tell his own “origin story,” because there’s no way I could capture his “flavor” any better than his own words do:

❝I was born in Lithuania, in a very small village. You know Lithuania was one of the strange never-never-lands, you might say, in a certain culture, because it was there that the Jewish intellectual, the Hebraic scholarly centers, were gradually concentrated.. …

The Lithuanian villages were out of space and time, because you know, a life there, in the ghetto, you might say — because that was the only place where the Russianized government permitted Jews to live — they lived there in the 19th century when I was born and the early part of the 20th century in a way that might have been the 15th century, the 16th century. It made no difference. They wore the same type of clothing. They lived the same kind of life, because it was the same culture, you know.

RTFA for another piece of important history you’re not likely to bump into elsewhere. I only posted the bare bones beginning above.

Some of it makes me chuckle. The last couple of firms I worked for before retirement had me up on the hill – so to speak – every once in a while. There are a couple of folks in today’s Los Alamos community I respect for their personal honesty and scientific acumen. Per capita, it is the wealthiest little town in America. Death and destruction pays very well in the Free World.

I met Dr. Oppenheimer a couple times in NYC. Both times, at public forums dedicated to nuclear disarmament and the struggle for peace in the Cold War. Though he was just trying to be part of the audience, he received a standing ovation when spotted.

The TV series is entertaining, BTW. The line between historic record and fiction is pretty well blurred. The flavor, the conflicts between the US military and folks who actually believed in constitutional freedoms as much as scientific freedom of inquiry is well represented. Then – as it is today.

Been watching “Manhattan” on TV? Deadly crud still hasn’t been cleaned up!

The federal Department of Energy has estimated that it will cost $1.2 billion to clean up all the radioactive and hazardous waste at Los Alamos, but New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn says he believes that amount is “far too low.”

Flynn, speaking at a meeting of a Los Alamos National Laboratory citizens advisory board here Thursday, called the DOE’s cost projection “a bare minimum.”

Flynn said the parties involved need “to have an honest conversation about the extent of the problem.” LANL is expected to receive $181 million in federal funds for environmental remediation in the next federal budget year…

And Flynn said any assumption that the state Environment Department will accept the cheapest so-called cap-and-cover contamination remedies from DOE “is misplaced.”

Flynn’s comments came as part of the first public discussion of plans to revise the 2005 legal agreement between the state and DOE over cleanup of LANL’s legacy waste dating back to the 1940s Manhattan Project that developed the first atomic bomb.

Under the 10-year-old consent order that ended a legal fight between New Mexico and the feds, cleanup of the lab’s 40-square-mile site was supposed to be completed by this year. But that didn’t come close to happening and the two sides are preparing to negotiate revisions.

RTFA for lots and lots of details.

Most of this crappola goes back 75 years. No one on Earth expects the US Government or the Pentagon to be in a hurry to live up to their responsibilities at contaminating the planet; but, you’d think they’d do something about the little county in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico – that they own lock, stock and barrels of radioactive goo.

Everyone in Los Alamos knows about most of the stuff buried under the town itself. Which fast-food restaurants where you only use the drive-up window. But, I continue to be surprised by the highest-paid help in the entire United States sticking around for those paychecks when they learn what they’re sleeping and living over.

Oppenheimer’s reputation repaired by unredacted security records

Oppenheimer with a socialist who wouldn’t be allowed into the country, today

The release of unredacted transcripts of secret government hearings held in 1954 by the Atomic Energy Commission produced headlines last week as the disclosures reaffirmed the once-questioned loyalty of Los Alamos Manhattan Project mastermind J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Many are asking why it took six decades to release the previously secret sections, other than that the now-restored portions tended to exonerate Oppenheimer. One expert says there was no classified information in the redactions.

All questions of security in the United States are regulated by paranoid idiots.

In a monumental fall from grace, Oppenheimer went from the man who harnessed the power of the atom for the bombs that ended World War II to losing his security clearance after the AEC hearings amid accusations that this chain-smoking American eccentric was a Soviet spy.

The hearings were held against the backdrop of 1950s red-scare America, fueled by factors including the fact that Oppenheimer’s brother and wife had been communists, and his lack of enthusiasm for building the more powerful hydrogen or “Super” bomb.

RTFA. The JOURNAL isn’t quite as much of a PITA as some. They don’t require registration; but, you must answer one or more survey questions which earns them relevant baksheesh I guess.

Cold War hysteria fit perfectly into the reactionary politics of the American establishment post-WW2. Oppenheimer, with a scientist’s objectivity and reliance on observable and verifiable fact did not. Our politicians would rather reject talent than admit their foolishness. Which is why government transparency is a contradiction in terms.

His earnestness about trying to build peace – alienated him from hawkish thugs like Edward Teller who wanted more and bigger bombs every week [and got them] – sealed the deal. No pleas for peace in imperial ideology.

I was lucky enough to meet Dr. Oppenheimer a couple of times. He was just part of the audience at discussions about working to promote peace at forums sponsored by the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy.

Surface Mining At Ground Zero


Wind-blown sand still uncovers sun-bleached bones of men and mules dead for centuries along New Mexico’s Jornado del Muerte, the waterless hell where Spaniards died traveling between Santa Fe and Chihuahua. Few large areas in the United States can match its barren, flat desolation.

Near the center of this vast expanse lies man’s first great insult against the earth – – Trinity Site.

Ground Zero, where a massive steel tower holding the first atomic bomb was vaporized at 5:29 a.m., July 16, 1945, was a slight depression in the silent flatness. For a radius of more than 100 feet melted sand in the form of green glass covered the desert like a splotchy carpet shining in the light from above, dull by night, bright by day. This monument to man’s inhumanity to man, the largest blur on the landscape, was surrounded by a high fence, tight strands of barbed wire, a locked double gate and multilingual warning signs.

The gate was chained shut. Three padlocks served as links in the chain in 1951, any one of which permitted entry when unlocked. A large steel lock was stamped AEC, for the Atomic Energy Commission. A heavy brass padlock was stamped War Dept. The third padlock, a new one hardly larger than the links it secured, replaced one of these links recently melted in two by Jesse Petty’s gas torch. Jesse, my best friend and fellow draftee army buddy, from Carrizozo, New Mexico, had snapped the chain back together wit the little lock during his trip to the site.

Jesse had volunteered, I’ll go out there and cut the chain for you and put on a new padlock, but I won’t go in there, not for anything,”

He had given me the keys when we each returned to Guided Missile School at Ft. Bliss, Texas, from our weekend trips to different home cities.

My plan was to drive a truck to the Trinity atomic bomb site, use my keys to pass through the unguarded US Government gate remove the radioactive glass called Trinitite and transport it close to Los Alamos for a proper burial at its spiritual origin…

…While living in the remote desert of northern New Mexico I had seen an aerial photograph of the radioactive site in a popular magazine. It looked like a giant scab. It was an impurity waiting to be taken away. Writers wrote about it. I was determined to remove it without a trace of publicity. My self-appointed task was to gain entry to the government glass and haul it off for burial, to repair the desert, clean away this radioactive afterbirth.

And so it goes. I’ve never heard this story before. Our online compadre, Mike, just suggested it. I read it – and it is fascinating.

When I was still on the road I’d drive by Trinity site every week or so and think about getting in on the annual visit. Always figured my years of pissing off the FBI, CIA, every piece of alphabetized fascist crap-mentality in government would probably get me arrested and thrown out. Never have visited.

Dr. Pray’s story is fascinating. The Feds let on that the Trinitite, the atomic glass burned from molten sand at that first test site disappeared over years of tourists taking souvenirs. Ralph Pray’s story makes a lot more sense.

He died May 30, 2014.

Thanks, Mike

States the most & least dependent on Federal Government

Dependent states
Click for large interactive map

The extent to which the average American’s tax burden would vary based on his state of residence represents a significant point of differentiation between state economies. But it’s only once piece of the puzzle.

What if, for example, a particular state can afford not to tax its residents at high rates because it’s receiving disproportionately more funding from the federal government than states with apparently oppressive tax codes? That would change the narrative significantly, revealing federal dependence where bold, efficient stewardship was once thought to preside.

The idea of the American freeloader burst into the public consciousness when #47percent started trending on Twitter. And while the notion is senselessly insulting to millions of hardworking Americans, it is true that some states receive a far higher return on their federal income tax investment than others.

Just how pronounced is this disparity, and to what extent does it alter our perception of state and local tax rates around the country? WalletHub sought to answer those questions by comparing the 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of three key metrics: 1) Return on Taxes Paid to the Federal Government; 2) Federal Funding as a Percentage of State Revenue; and 3) Number of Federal Employees Per Capita.

Folks living in New Mexico know even without looking where we fit into this picture puzzle. Yup, tied with Mississippi at the bottom of the heap.

Our Republican governor is often spoken off as the hope for moderate Republicans as President or Vice-President in 2016. Right now, our education system battles with Mississippi for the honors of being the worst, unemployment is still increasing while the rest of the country seem to be growing a few jobs and here we are at the bottom.

Thanks, Barry Ritholtz

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.

When will Republicans modernize? Kickbacks are so old-fashioned

Campaign Troika: Gov. Susana Martinez, Heather Wilson, Sen. Marco Rubio

Former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson collected nearly half a million dollars in questionable payments from four federally funded nuclear labs after she left office, the Energy Department’s inspector general says in a new report.

Wilson failed to provide documentation for the work she did to earn $20,000 a month from the Los Alamos and Sandia national labs in New Mexico from January 2009 to March 2011, the report said. Officials at the Nevada Test Site and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee acknowledged there “were no deliverables” associated with $30,000 the two labs paid Wilson. And Sandia and Los Alamos appear to have asked Wilson to help them secure more work for the labs, an apparent violation of her contract, the report said.

In total, nearly $450,000 in questionable payments were identified, the bulk from Los Alamos and Sandia.

The contractors that run the labs billed the payments to the government, “even though they did not receive evidence that work performed under the agreements had been completed,” the report said. The payments were fully reimbursed by the government

The report called Wilson’s agreements with the labs unusual and in some cases “highly irregular.” And it said the agreements and the lab operators failed to include or enforce “even minimum” invoicing standards required under federal regulations.

Wilson, a Republican who represented New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, collected much of the money in between two unsuccessful runs for the U.S. Senate. She was defeated last year by Democrat Martin Heinrich during a campaign that highlighted her connections to Los Alamos and Sandia. The labs conduct classified research on nuclear weapons…

During the 2012 Senate campaign, the AP sought copies of Wilson’s contracts with the labs after she disclosed income from Los Alamos, Sandia and Oak Ridge. And all three labs called the documents confidential.

Well – we’re not supposed to question anything the government and their security monkeys say is “confidential”. Right?

Meanwhile, stealing from the American people – whether it’s to pay for shiny nuclear weapons or the latest gear to snoop on our online conversations – is always the favorite hustle for the military-industrial mafia.