ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Hundreds of visitors are expected to visit the Trinity Test site Saturday as federal officials open the historic grounds for a rare opportunity for tourists to view the site of the world’s first atomic blast.
But as the 70th anniversary of the test approaches, some residents known as Downwinders are pressing for acknowledgement and compensation. They say the test caused long-term health problems, including rare forms of cancer, for many ranching families living in the area at the time.
“We’ve been left out of the narrative” of the history of the bomb, said Tina Cordova, co-founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders. She said they have been fighting for 10 years for recognition, an apology and compensation.
On July 16, 1945, Los Alamos scientists successfully exploded the first atomic bomb at the Trinity site, near Alamogordo. The steel tower that held the bomb disintegrated. Left in its place was a crater that stretched a half mile and several feet deep.
The explosion was felt for miles in the remote area of southern New Mexico where an estimated 19,000 people lived. It took days for the radioactive debris to settle over New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin.
Cordova said her father was 3 years old at the time of the explosion. He later died from a third battle with cancer, said Cordova, who plans to lead about 50 protesters Saturday. The 6th annual candlelight vigil and peaceful demonstration is planned at the Stallion Range Station at 9 a.m., which is east of San Antonio on U.S. 380 and at the Tulie Gate Road at 8 a.m., located on the west side of Tularosa High School.
Over the years, the federal government released little information about the test. Cordova said she even remembers families later having picnics in the area and children taking home the green glass melted from sand that glowed in the dark.
The Downwinders have recently begun receiving enough attention from the National Cancer Institute to visit and try to evaluate the doses of radiation exposure on the day of the blast.
Cordova wants the federal government to compensate New Mexico families hurt by the test. But more importantly, she wants people to stop and think about the Americans directly exposed to the atomic blast and how it has affected them for generations.
“We know the people visiting the site aren’t in control of anything,” Cordova said. “But maybe they’ll see us and think, ‘We should do something for them.'”