Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

5-13 Downwinders Fight Back

FRI, 5-13-11
SANTA FE – When disaster occurs in other countries, Americans respond with massive public and private aid. Why don't they do the same when it is a disaster in the United States?
In at least one case, our government is not coming to the aid of people it has harmed. In fact, it appears to be hiding the evidence.
On July 16, 1945, our nation was at war. We had lost hundreds of thousands of troops retaking South Pacific islands the Japanese had taken several years earlier. All that was left was to take the Japanese mainland. Estimates of casualties in that battle ranged as high as 1 million.
Scientists at Los Alamos were working at a feverish pace to finish two different types of atom bombs our politicians felt could likely end the war without invading Japan. The scientists were confident that the "Little Boy" bomb would work but weren't as confident about "Fat Man."
Our government decision makers didn't want the tactical disadvantage of dropping a dud on a country it knew also was working on a nuclear bomb so the decision was made to use it on ourselves first to see if it worked.
Working without supercomputers, they still were able to estimate the amount of devastation from the blast. What they didn't know were the aftereffects. They protected themselves well and, as far as we know, none died from aftereffects. During the past decade numerous obituaries have appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican about scientists, who worked on the bomb, dying of old age.
But what about the people who lived in the counties near Trinity Site? Some lived on ranches closer to the blast that some of the scientists' observation posts. Those ranchers weren't warned of what was about to happen. They all survived, so the government thought it had successfully played with people's lives – in the name of national security – and won.
And that was the end of that. No further testing was done. New Mexicans breathed the air, drank the milk and ate the meat and vegetables they raised, unaware that some of it may have been poisoning their bodies.
And then people started dying of cancer and other radiation-related diseases. It was noted first in laboratory workers and then in people who lived downwind from the Nevada nuclear tests of the 1950s. But no one paid attention to New Mexicans living downwind from both the Trinity test and the Nevada tests. Why not?
Many reasons are given. Trinity was too far in the past. New Mexico was too far from Nevada – even though southern Nevada was part of New Mexico when we were a Spanish territory.
Maybe it was hopelessness. Ranchers from what now is White Sands Missile Range were kicked our congressional told they would get their land back as soon as the war was over. It didn't happen. And they never were adequately compensated despite fighting the government for over 50 years.
Part of it was patriotism. The government needed to conduct the test and would do right by its citizens. Everyone had to sacrifice for the war effort so it is best not to complain.
Finally the facts became overwhelming. New Mexicans had been poisoned and the government wasn't willing to own up to it. A group called the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, headed by Fred Tyler and Nina Cordova was formed to gather evidence and present it to our congressional delegation.
Last year their efforts were bolstered by a Centers for Disease Control 10-year project to analyze every document generated by the lab during its existence to identify any medical information that has not been made public.
The report indicated that no studies have ever been made of the internal radioactive doses received by residents.
Last year New Mexico's entire congressional delegation introduced bills to make eligible New Mexicans a part of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.
They went nowhere. Soon, we'll look at possible reasons why.
Next column will be 5-20-11


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