Monday, August 03, 2015

ANNIVERSARY - First Atomic Bomb's Downwinders

"New Mexicans claim cancer is living legacy of world’s first atomic bomb test" PBS NewsHour 7/28/2015


SUMMARY:  This July marks the 70th anniversary of the first ever test of an atomic bomb in New Mexico.  But a group called the Downwinders -- local residents whose homes were downwind of the blast site -- aren't celebrating the milestone.  People here believe the radiation from the bomb has caused a spike in cancers in their communities. Special correspondent Kathleen McCleery reports.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  This month marked the 70th anniversary of the first test of a nuclear bomb.  It was a milestone for science, and credited with leading to the end of World War II.

But one group isn’t celebrating.  They call themselves the Downwinders, because they lived downwind of the blast site.

Special correspondent Kathleen McCleery reports from South Central New Mexico.

KATHLEEN MCCLEERY (NewsHour):  The solemn reading of names at a candlelight vigil.  This one with traditional New Mexican luminaries, is in a baseball field in the village of Tularosa.  These are victims of a different kind of loss.

GLORIA HERRERA, Tularosa Resident:  There’s just — there’s too much cancer here.

WOMAN:  There’s so many tears.

KATHLEEN MCCLEERY:  Gloria Herrera knows about cancer, from her friends, her neighbors and her husband, Henry, who’s had three different kinds.  The Herreras blame the disease on a day etched in Henry’s memory.  He was 11 years old.

HENRY HERRERA, Tularosa Resident:  Boom, that thing exploded.  And I mean it was a big explosion.  It wasn’t like these regular ones we had been hearing.

KATHLEEN MCCLEERY:  In July 1945, scientists worked in secret on the world’s first atomic bomb in a part of New Mexico’s desert called Jornada del Muerto, or Journey of Death.

They hoisted a 19-kiloton device called the Gadget on top of a 100-foot tower.  At 5:29 in the morning on July 16, a tremendous flash came first, and then a mushroom cloud stretched seven-miles high.  It was the same size and power as the plutonium bomb that would be dropped 24 days later on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, killing tens of thousands.

July is the rainy season in New Mexico.  Hours after the blast, the skies opened up.  But no one told residents to evacuate, even as radioactive ash poured down on livestock, crops, water cisterns, and laundry hanging on lines.

"Tour the site of the world’s first atomic bomb explosion" PBS NewsHour

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