H-Bomb Guinea Pigs! Natives Suffering Decades After New Mexico Tests
Much has been made of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on two now-infamous cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the health-nightmare aftermath.
But only now is the spotlight being put onto those who had the actual first atomic bomb dropped in their vicinity—it was the Americans’ own people, Turtle Island’s original inhabitants, the Indigenous Peoples of the southwest. The world's first atomic bomb was detonated on July 16, 1945, in New Mexico—home to 19 American Indian pueblos, two Apache tribes and some chapters of the Navajo Nation. Manhattan Project scientists exploded the device containing six kilograms of plutonium 239 on a 100-foot tower at the Trinity Site in the Jornada del Muerto (Journey of Death) Valley at what is now the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range. The blast was the equivalent of 21 kilotons of TNT. At the time an estimated 19,000 people lived within a 50-mile radius.
It has taken nearly 70 years, but the National Cancer Institute is launching a study to determine how much radiation the residents of New Mexico were exposed to that fateful day, and what effect it could have on their lives.
What people reported seeing at 5:30 that morning was a flash more brilliant than daylight followed by a green (or red or violet or blue, depending on who is recounting the story) glow in the sky. No one knew what had happened, no one knew how to protect themselves from the effects of this new technology, and no one knew that it would be almost 70 years before the government would investigate what those effects were.
"No one was told, everything was top secret, and that's the mistake,” said Marian Naranjo, Santa Clara Pueblo, director of Honor Our Pueblo Existence, an area community group. “Because when you look at what people here in New Mexico were doing during 1945, they were farmers. And in July you get up at the crack of dawn to go out and do your work."
The Trinity test was conducted to determine whether the plutonium bomb intended for Nagasaki would act according to theory. It did. But the Department of Defense changed the design of the bomb anyway.
"From the Trinity test they determined that they were going to have to drop the bomb from a higher altitude or detonate the bomb at a higher altitude than they did at Trinity,” said Tina Cordova, Santa Clara Pueblo, head of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders’ Consortium, an activist group that has been pushing for just such a study for more than 10 years. “At Trinity they put it on a platform 100 feet in the air, and at Nagasaki they detonated it much higher in the atmosphere because at Trinity what happened was that they didn't create a very large blast field but created a very expansive radiation field. At Nagasaki they wanted a different effect; they wanted to create a large blast field, and they weren't necessarily interested in creating a radiation field."
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