Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

7-15 Exhaustive Nuclear Study Released

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- The 10-year study of chemical and radioactive releases from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Trinity test has been completed.
A draft of the final report is available at Click on "publications." The bulk of the report is on releases from the lab and the health effects on workers and the surrounding community.
But 46 pages of the draft are devoted to the plutonium bomb explosion at Trinity Site and the health effects on "downwinders." Those are folks who were in the vicinity of the site, located between San Antonio and Carrizozo, NM. From there, the cloud spread primarily to the north-northeast, extending into Colorado.
If you were in the area on July 16, 1945 or the weeks that followed, you may have received a dose of the nuclear fallout, especially if you drank milk from animals that grazed in the area.
The central part of the radioactive cloud extended past Las Vegas and through Raton. The rest of the cloud reached out to Socorro and Roswell, Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos. Los Alamos was spared but those folks have been subjected to releases from the lab for 66 years.
In 1999, the lab contracted with the Centers for Disease Control to find historical records pertaining to chemical and radioactive releases. The multi-million dollar project was called the Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment.
The painstaking research combed through all available documents produced by the lab since 1943. Some documents never were found because of being illegible, lost or destroyed. Those with knowledge that would help the records search also have been interviewed but many of those are long since deceased.
It was hoped the findings would yield sufficient information for the reconstruction of detailed radioactive doses but only for the most significant releases may that be possible.
Many have called for an extension of the project to take a closer look at some of the findings. But budget constraints prevent any further study.
Project leaders have named a panel of experts to participate in a final review of the draft. That review will decide what future steps are taken and what specific issues, if any, are examined more closely.
Lab managers are reviewing the draft final report and will submit a technical response during the 30-day comment period. They also will request an independent peer review by the National Academy of Sciences.
Many New Mexico downwinders are hoping this document search will uncover more information about what happened back in '45. Some have had health problems they suspect may be related.
Long term health problems were not a priority for the project staff at the time. Secrecy and safety of the staff were of prime importance. Few measurements were taken immediately and those didn't receive much analysis.
Measurements taken east of the town of Bingham in Hoot Owl Canyon reached levels of 10,000 time higher than the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allowed in a public area. It is now called Hot Canyon.
A few years later, numerous detailed dose reconstructions were made for people who lived downwind from the Nevada Test Site. In 1990, Sen. Orrin Hatch, of Utah, secured legislation creating the Radiation Exposure and Compensation Act. It applied only to victims in parts of Utah, Arizona and Nevada.
My contacts reveal there is sufficient evidence to consider adding downwinders of the Trinity test to this act. Various individuals and groups are taking a close look at the results of this search of millions of records to see what they might reveal for New Mexico downwinders and to secure some compensation for resulting health problems.
If you are a downwinder, contacting New Mexico's U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall to encourage them to carefully analyze the assessment and seeking victim compensation would be one appropriate avenue.
WED, 7-15-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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