By: Melissa Tso and Cody Slama
On October 6 2018, protestors gathered at Stallion Gate, 17 miles outside of Trinity Site or “Ground Zero” where the atomic bomb was first tested on July 16, 1945. Every first Saturday in April and October, the U.S. Army hosts a Trinity Site Open House. While hundreds of visitors from across the world attend this open house frenzy, the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium (TBDC) demonstrates at the gate to educate attendees about the forever-lasting damage of this atomic test on the surrounding environment, people and animals.
The most pressing demand from TBDC is for the U.S. government to compensate residents over permanent damages done to their community’s health and wellbeing from nuclear contamination since 1945. While the Radiation Compensation Exposure Act has compensated U.S. citizens in parts of Nevada, Arizona and Utah, the New Mexican Downwinders have never received compensation despite the long history of environmental racism in this state.
High rates of cancer plague southern New Mexico, where residents have been exposed to nuclear contamination from plutonium fallout during and since 1945. Laura Greenwood, with TBDC, explained how cancer has had intergenerational impacts on her late husband and their family. Her husband, who was born 2 years after the first atomic bomb test, had later in his life developed a multitude of cancers, including cancers of the colon, kidney and liver. Each time, he lost a part of these body organs. After his long fight against nuclear-caused cancers, he died in 2012, 14 months after the liver diagnosis. Both of his parents and two of his children also died of nuclear-caused cancers. Devastated by her multiple losses, Laura joined TBDC in 2013.
Barbara Kent is another living testimony who is outspoken about her experience with radioactive fallout. Back in 1945, Barbara and 11 other young girls attended a camp in Ruidoso, New Mexico. The world’s first atomic bomb test happened to be during their stay at the camp. What they thought was snow, was actually radioactive ash from the bomb. The girls played in this radioactive “snow,” catching it on their tongues and scooping it all over their faces. Ten of those innocent, young girls died of cancer before the age of 40. What was supposed to be a reward for their achievements in their youth club turned out to be a nuclear nightmare. Barbara Kent lives on to tell their story.
The U.S. Army reports that Trinity Site is still radioactive, yet thousands of visitors flock there twice a year, some who are pro-nuke and some who want to make sense of the nuclear devastation inflicted on their communities. Ironically, it has become a festive event where: vendors share pro-nuke information, kids play in the sand, people sell radioactive trinitite and/or uranium rock, etc. On site, there is an obelisk that honors the world’s first-ever atomic bomb test.
After visiting with TBDC protestors at Stallion Gate, we decided against visiting Trinity Site due to permanent contamination and knowing that even a minimal amount of exposure to plutonium can cause cancer. Strong testimonies of TBDC members have turned faraway visitors from entering Trinity Site. Travelers from places like Nevada and Canada have turned their vehicles around after hearing the Downwinders’ education and personal stories.
Nuclear contamination to the land and our bodies is part of a long settler-colonial history, where Indigenous peoples have been on the frontlines of nuclear devastation. Looking back in history, it’s critical to examine how the first nuclear bomb was constructed on land stolen for Los Alamos National Laboratories. Through land theft, we have witnessed the US government acquire resources for their military and extraction industry, two major pillars of capitalism. The military and extraction industry continue to reap billions of dollars for those in power, while the rest of us suffer from the resulting contaminants. We cannot address irreversible damage to our land and bodies without deconstructing the existing capitalist structure that thrives off our pain. There can be no solution so long as nuclear colonialism remains intact within the world we presently inhabit.
Read the Downwinders’ Health Impact Assessment here: