Jan 4, 2024 - World

Trinity Test-area residents say they are not giving up on reparations

Paul Pino, a Trinity Test downwider from Carrizozo, N.M., talking about the effects the Trinty Test had on his family.

Paul Pino, a Trinity Test downwinder from Carrizozo, N.M., talking about the effects the test had on his family. Photo: Courtesy of 47th State Film

New Mexicans impacted by the Trinity Test — the world's first atomic explosion — say they are still hopeful one day they'll be included in a federal compensation bill despite Senate leaders last month pulling a provision that would have done that.

The big picture: A federal law that awards financial reparations to people who lived downwind of nuclear testing sites is scheduled to sunset this summer if Congress does not renew it, and it's unclear what lawmakers will do. A provision in last year's bill to renew the act would have included New Mexicans and others for the first time.

  • If Congress lets the law expire, it's unlikely the excluded victims will ever see any compensation to deal with health problems linked to nuclear testing and waste. If it renews it, it likely won't include the added beneficiaries.

What they're saying: "It was immoral that we were taken out of the bill because some (Republican House member) said it cost too much," Tina Cordova, co-founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, tells Axios Latino.

  • "This is the closest we've ever gotten to being included in the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act and we are not giving up. Congress will hear from us."
  • She and other "downwinders" plan on touring the country to promote a new documentary about victims of the Trinity Test to draw more attention to the cause.

Background: On July 16, 1945, the U.S. Army detonated an atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert developed at the then-secret community of Los Alamos.

  • The bomb exploded at 5:29 am, and its thunderous roar during the rainy season knocked people from breakfast tables in the historic Hispanic village of Tularosa and sent Mescalero Apache Reservation residents into hiding.
  • Residents reported black rain and burned cows that passed on radiation poisoning through milk to unsuspecting residents.
  • No one told residents of the site's dangers, and they often picnicked there and took artifacts, including the radioactive green glass known as "trinitite."

Residents only learned about the Trinity Test after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

  • The bomb's aftermath later caused rare forms of cancer for many of the 30,000 people and their descendants in the area surrounding Trinity.

The intrigue: Downwinders received renewed public interest this summer following the release of the blockbuster "Oppenheimer," directed by Christopher Nolan.

  • The movie follows the American scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer as his team races to create the atomic bomb, but it leaves out the after-effects on the people in New Mexico.

Of note: Kai Bird, the Pulitzer Prize-winning co-author of "American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer," the book the film is based on, signed a letter with Nobel laureate urging Congress to include Trinity Test victims in the compensation law.

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