ALBUQUERQUE, NM – The story of the first atomic bomb comes to the big screen and New Mexico plays a big part.
Military leaders chose our state for bomb development and testing because it was remote in the 1940s—but it wasn’t empty.
“There’s a legacy of nuclear weapons production that goes beyond mere national laboratories, that’s human,” said Dylan Spaulding, chief scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “You know, there are people who are affected.”
The Union of Concerned Scientists produced a 15-second commercial that aired across New Mexico ahead of the “Oppenheimer” screenings to ensure moviegoers remembered the serious problems the atomic bomb posed to the state.
“New Mexico took a toll for being the home of nuclear development, and that ranged from people mining uranium to people downwind of the Trinity test,” Spaulding said. “This also includes contamination from the laboratories.”
It’s a tribute Tina Cordova knows all too well.
“I’m the fourth generation in my family to have had cancer since 1945,” said Cordova, co-founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium. “Downwinders always say we don’t ask if we’re getting cancer, we ask when it’s our turn because everyone around us was sick.”
Cordova stands up for the New Mexicans who are still suffering the effects of the first atomic bomb test at the Trinity site.
“Trinity was actually a very dirty bombshell,” Cordova said. “It caused massive rainfall. They never again tested a bomb on a platform 100 feet above the ground because it produced so much fallout.”
A newly released study from Princeton University found that the Trinity blast spread radioactive particles across 46 states, Canada and Mexico in the days that followed.
“When there have been nuclear disasters in the past, places like Chernobyl and Fukushima, they declared dead zones and sent everyone out,” Cordova said. “They never did that in New Mexico. They just never came back to assess the damage.”
Downwinders have protested the inclusion of New Mexicans in the US government’s Radiation Exposure Compensation Act for years. It’s an ongoing struggle, which Cordova says moviegoers won’t see in “Oppenheimer.”
“When they came here to do the ‘Oppenheimer’ movie, it was the same, similar invasion of our country in our lives,” Cordova said. “They took our tax incentives, developed this blockbuster Hollywood film that will make hundreds of millions of dollars, and walked away. They tell an incomplete story and we are the inconvenient truth they avoid.”
For related stories: Griffin Rushton