Can you imagine the outrage and fear if this headline were to appear today? The headline never ran—but the bombing was very real.
The Bombing Happened. We Did It.
Most people do not know that the first nuclear bomb exploded right here in the United States. That bomb, a US test, blasted huge about 35 miles southeast of Socorro, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, in what was called the “Trinity Test.” Now, almost 70 years later, people are protesting. Why?
Downwinders Still Suffer
According to the Santa Fe New Mexican and well-documented elsewhere, the “New Mexico community near the site have blamed the detonation of “The Gadget,” a 21-kiloton plutonium device — the same size and composition as the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, a few weeks later — for decades of illnesses and deaths.” On April 5, the Tularosa Basin Downwind Consortium held its first ever-demonstration outside one of the two gates to the Trinity Site. Their goal: to bring attention to their concerns that fallout from the Trinity Test has impacted their health. Crazy? I don’t think so. While the half-life of the actual radiation is relatively short, the chemical poisons released seep into the environment, impacting the health not only of the people living directly downwind, but also residents born long after the initial explosions. The people living downwind from the Trinity Test site were blanketed with radioactive fallout– Radiation levels near some homes were almost 10,000 times what is now allowed in public areas. They were neither told of the hazards of exposure nor protected, nor monitored after the fact. The heirs of the people whose lives were damaged deserve compensation, and the people who lived for years in a poisoned environment deserve recognition, health monitoring and compensation.
Scientists Got Protection and Compensation. Residents Didn’t.
In 1990, the US government passed legislation to compensate Downwinders (called the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act). This legislation compensated the scientists doing the bombing. It ignored the residents who were bombed. (Just as it ignored my community, the Hanford Downwinders.) (Tom Udall just introduced an amendment that would compensate Downwinders, but I’m skeptical. For the past two decades, the compensation, even when expanded, excludes a lot of Manhattan Project downwind communities.)
Why Protest Now?
The few remaining Trinity Downwinders have a glimpse of hope. A 10-year study released in 2010 “found” what residents have always known: they were bombed and not told about it. As a result the National Cancer Institute is set to begin a major study of the health effects of the 1945 Trinity Site atomic test on New Mexico residents. Will this study work? Will the Trinity Downwinders and heirs finally be recognized and compensated? I’ll tell you in my next blog.