WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE — An estimated 3,000 visitors made their way into the Trinity Site Saturday morning to visit the spot where the world’s first atomic bomb was tested 72 years ago.
As part of the Manhattan Project, the atomic bomb was tested at the Trinity Site north of Alamogordo at 5:29:45 a.m. Mountain War Time on July 16, 1945. A successful test meant an atomic bomb using plutonium could be used by the U.S. military against Japan during World War II.
On Saturday, several hundred vehicles entered the site from both the Tulie Gate in Tularosa and the Stallion Gate in San Antonio, N.M. The Trinity Site, which is about 51,000 acre area, was declared a national historic landmark in 1975 but is only opened twice a year to the public by White Sands Missile Range as it sits on the north end of the normally highly restricted range.
While the Trinity Site is home to a scientific success, many residents in the surrounding communities of Tularosa and Socorro believe the site is also the cause of a dark and gruesome history in their communities that is not often talked about.
The Tularosa Basin Downwinders believe that when the atomic bomb was dropped, the radiation it left behind disturbed the genetics of residents in surrounding communities, leaving a cluster of cancer and illness in the those who witnessed the atomic bomb and their descendants. For 12 years, the Downwinders have been working to be included in an amendment to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA).
Last summer, a Senate hearing pertaining to the RECA amendment was scheduled to be held in July but was pushed back due to other pressing business. Currently, the Senate hearing has been rescheduled for Dec. 6.
“I feel like we’re closer than ever before,” said Downwinders co-founder Tina Cordova. “Due to the fact of the hearing being scheduled and because U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan has been pushing so hard in the House and I think we’ll also see House hearings shortly.”
On Saturday, at both entrances into the Trinity Site, the Tularosa Basin Downwinders held peaceful demonstrations to educate visitors.
“I think we need to add the story of the Downwinders to the narrative,” Cordova said. “As people enter, it looks so remote and the government’s always done a great job as describing it as remote and uninhabited, but the reality is people were as close as eight miles and 40,000 people were living in a 50 mile radius and we can never stop stressing that. They took the tests to Nevada and found an area with a 150 mile radius uninhabited and those people received compensation and those of us who lived as close as eight miles haven’t.”
“Off Country,” a feature length documentary, is hoping to bring these stories of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders and others to light.
“We have been visiting landscapes where weapons testing has occurred, so we’ve visited the Trinity Site, we’re going to the Nevada test site in January and we’ve been filming and researching around the former Rocky Flats Plant, around Boulder, Colo.,” said filmmaker Eric Stewart. “We’re interviewing people who have been affected by the nuclear industry and also interviewing anti-nuclear activists.”
Stewart and fellow filmmaker Taylor Dunne have driven over 8,000 miles and collected over two hours of S16mm film and countless hours of interviews, and field recordings. “Off Country” examines three regions in the west, the former Rocky Flats Plant, the White Sands Missile Range and the Nevada Test Site.
“We’re taking wide national and local view at the way in which nuclear production, testing and manufacturing, storage have impacted communities,” Stewart said. “The oral history archive is an attempt to collect all these different stories that might not have been filmed and also to build a multi-generational grassroots movement to advocate for rehabilitating landscapes that have been contaminated and also advocating for accountability and responsibility in the 21st century nuclear weapons program that’s gearing up in Los Alamos and other parts of the country. We’re holding all these town hall forums to interview experts alongside regular citizens.”
Stewart and Dunne would like to host town hall forums in Alamogordo and Tularosa at a future date.
“We’re trying to reach out to people who would be interested in talking with us and also reach people who be interested in hosting us,” Stewart said. “We’re really trying to get the word out to get people to come out of the woodwork and share their story with us and for them to also get a feel for us.”
Saturday was the third time Stewart and Dunne have visited the Trinity Site and they said it holds a special place in their project because as opposed to the Nevada Test Site, where the downwinders have gotten recognition and a certain level of support from the federal government in terms of helping people out financially and medically.
“The Trinity Site is a case and point where the environmental contamination and auxiliary things around that sort of flew under the radar intentionally on behalf of the government,” Stewart said. “The government oftentimes pleads naivety, it was 1945-48 and they didn’t really know the effects of nuclear weapons. The bottom line is that all these communities have been impacted and very little exposure has been given to them. The people have been organizing independently in grassroots ways and we’re sort of comparing that with some of the grassroots activism in Boulder and Nevada around Rocky Flats. The open house is kind of a bizarre combination of this patriotic historical event but also clouded by the undeniable impact it’s had on the local communities. I think that dichotomy is interesting visually and narratively, it’s a large part of our story.”
For more information about Off Country or to help them host a town hall forum locally, visit their website at off-country.com or email them at email@example.com.
©2017 the Alamogordo Daily News (Alamogordo, N.M.)
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