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|Chapter 1 - Trinity in New Mexico to Atomic Attack in Japan||
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There is something deeply wrong with the way we think. We fear nuclear bombs and radioactive dirty bombs because they could be snuck through our borders and detonated on our soil but we have nuked and irradiated our own land many, many times and no one seems to know this. The 'Trinity' test, as just one example, was an open-air nuclear bomb detonation on American soil in 1945 that doused unevacuated (and inhabited) ranches as close as twenty miles to the ground-zero with dangerous levels of fallout. Trinity was preceded by the '100-ton test,' which was the world's first-ever 'dirty bomb' experiment.1 The 100-ton test was also conducted in the open-air and its radioactive contents may have drifted hundreds of miles downwind. Even though U.S. government officials believed that some New Mexico residents suffered radiation overexposures from the plumes, no American was ever warned, nor later told about their exposures nor included in any health study.
This helps explain the idiosyncratic mode of thinking of the American public, which rightfully apprehends potential nuclear attacks on its soils yet also chronically suffers from amnesia of its own history of nuclear abuses.
In this chapter and the ones that follow, the reader will learn how America pushed to advance deeper into the nuclear age and because of its atomic amnesiac disorder it produced unrelenting tragedies across its sphere of influence.
'Amnesia' comes from the Greek word 'amnestia,' which in English means 'forgetfulness,' which means 'not giving due attention to something.' There are crucial parts of our nuclear age that we as a society don't remember precisely because these events were never given due attention by our 'chiefs' and historians. A person with irrecoverable amnesia is destined for a life of tragedy and we as a society will suffer this same fate unless we finally give due attention to the critical events of our nuclear age, use this knowledge to adjust our understanding of our reality and change course.
The Nuclear Age Begins
In July of 1945, the first atomic bomb was detonated in a stretch of New Mexico's desert. The atomic blast created a mushroom cloud over 40,000 feet-high and a shock wave that shattered windows 120 miles away. The bomb test was called 'Trinity.' Even though the light from the blast was seen in the early dawn across parts of the Southwest - as far away as El Paso, Texas - no one knew it was an atomic explosion. The beans were spilled on the top-secret experiment when President Truman publicly admitted hours after the bombing of Hiroshima that an explosion previously described in New Mexico's newspapers as a large ammunition depot accident was indeed an atomic explosion in America's Southwest. The reason for the atomic test was to see if the nuclear weapon would work.
It did. And the successful detonation of 'Trinity' gave the green-light for the atomic attacks on Japan.
Of the many different types of nuclear experiments preceeding the Trinity test - including initiator trials, subcritical nuclear experiments, and dispersal experiments - the most dangerous to the general public was the dirty bomb test dubbed the '100 ton test.' This test was a deliberate radioactive dispersal experiment designed to calibrate Manhattan Project scientists' radiation equipment for the planned Trinity test and involved a radioactive source that might be found in a terrorist dirty bomb device. The 100-ton test was conducted on May 7, 1945, and involved the detonation of conventional explosives which lofted 98% of the radioactive contents beyond the 900 foot diameter ground zero - traces of the plume likely spread across populated areas of New Mexico.2 Although it is impossible to prove the radioactive contents from the 100-ton test exposed and harmed people, it is fact that Trinity's debris spread across New Mexico and beyond and, per one government official's confession, caused radiation overexposures of Americans to nuclear bomb fallout.
There are several facts about the Trinity test that to this day are poorly understood by the general public. The first little-known fact is that Trinity's fallout circled the globe. About a full month after Trinity, a 'smoke-like layer' measuring 4 to 11 times background levels of radiation was detected over the U.S. West Coast by an airplane crew flying at an elevation of 39,000 feet. It was a remnant of Trinity's radioactive clouds that had circled the globe, arriving on the second or third day after America's atomic bombing of Nagasaki (the plumes from that atomic blast would take more than three days to reach America's shores). Trinity's radioactive debris wasn't just scattered east and west. This is the second little known fact about Trinity. Trinity's fallout also traveled to the far north. Thirty-two years after Trinity, a scientific paper was published that shared an unusual discovery. An ice core layer from "South Dome" in Greenland, in the Arctic, was found to have an independent peak of plutonium between mid-1945 to late-1947.3 How did plutonium dust reach the Arctic as early as 1945? There were only two major events in all of human history through mid-1945 that could have spread plutonium globally - the atomic blast on Nagasaki and the Trinity test. The two explosions had one thing in common: their nuclear devices contained plutonium fuel.
If plutonium from the Trinity blast made it to the Arctic and its radioactive clouds crossed the globe not once, but several times, then what about the areas closest to the Trinity site? Wouldn't this region be contaminated, perhaps permanently scarred by radiation?
This is the third little known fact of Trinity - it created a radioactive hot-zone over much of central New Mexico. The nuclear device used for Trinity contained 6 kilograms of plutonium, which is at least 150% of the mass needed in present-day nuclear bombs to embrace a runaway chain reaction that erupts into a nuclear explosion. Trinity's device - code-named 'The Gadget' - was sort of like the Wright Brothers' early tests of their airplane. The first design of the nuclear bomb was a very crude and inefficient piece of workmanship even though it 'took flight,' so to speak. In terms of radioactive damage to the environment and human health, Trinity was incredibly messy, especially for 'downwind' areas of New Mexico from the Trinity Site.
Authors Tad Bartimus and Scott McCartney note in their the book 'Trinity's Children' that Trinity 'was not a terrifically efficient explosion - it didn't use up all of the plutonium in the core. So tiny bits of "unexploded" plutonium was spread over hundreds of miles.' The authors explain that 'A 1978 inquiry noted a lack of specific information on the plutonium fallout but said the area was "one of the significant plutonium contaminated areas in the United States, both in terms of quantity of plutonium deposited and area extended"' They add that '..[A] 1983 field investigation noted "Even after 38 years, there are large areas (near ground zero) whose vegetation is not growing." Many of the ranchers who lived in the area in the time of Trinity have died from cancer, but no scientific studies were initiated.'4 (The contamination of one area just north of the Trinity Site was so great that it was placed - albeit decades later, in the 1980s - on a shortlist of the top 100 areas in the U.S. that harbor excessive radioactive pollution from Cold War activities and most needing of a clean-up.5)
The fourth mostly unknown tidbit about Trinity is that the U.S. government discreetly observed a family of 'downwinders' living in a 'hot spot' but never told them of the dangers they faced. In preparation for the Trinity 'shot,' several ranches in the immediate area of the Trinity Site were evacuated before the detonation, and 'army intelligence agents...searched the countryside trying to locate, list, and map every person living within a 40-mi [sic] radius of ground zero in case evacuation became necessary.'6 One residence in the downwind path overlooked via this search - and missing on the official map of 'inhabited localities' - was the Ratliff Ranch, which was located almost exactly twenty miles from the Trinity ground zero in a gorge area along Route 146 called 'Hoot Owl Canyon.' The Ratliff Ranch, which was inhabited by 'an elderly couple...[and] a young grandson,' became a center of attention in the hours and months to follow because it was one of the 'hottest' areas downwind of Trinity. How hot? Consider right now the radiation levels around you are about 1/100,000 of a unit called a 'Rem' per hour.
At 8:30 am on July 16th, 1945, an 'off-site' monitoring team that traveled through inhabited areas northeast of Trinity's ground-zero reached Hoot Owl Canyon and saw their radiation meter rise rapidly to 20 Rem/hour (normal radiation levels are about 1 million times lower than this). Unsure of their reading, the techs 'backed up to a cooler spot,' which gave a 15 Rem/hour reading. Fearing their instrumentation were contaminated, they took no further measurements. This was one of the highest measurements taken in offsite areas contaminated by Trinity's fallout. The scientists later gave a nickname to 'Hoot Owl Canyon': 'Hot Canyon.'7
The Ratliffs were in the direct path of the radioactive storm and were living in a determined 'hot spot' but weren't told. Actually no one in New Mexico was warned or told about the fallout. The U.S. Army, which was participating in the Trinity exercise, had evacuation plans in place and assigned counterintelligence personnel to towns up to 100 miles from the ground-zero to take charge of a wide-spread evacuation but no evacuation ever happened. This was a terrible judgment call by the U.S. government.
Declassified memos tell the shocking account of how the U.S. government deceived the Ratliffs. In a 1986 interview, Dr. Louis Hempelmann, who served as a group health leader at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico, said that in late 1945 he told the U.S. War Department that 'the health of persons in a certain house near Bingham, N.M.' be "discretely [sic] investigated." (Bingham, isolated on a stretch of highway some 50 miles east of Socorro, was the closest town to the north to the Trinity Site and less than 5 miles to the west of the Ratliffs.)
Hempelmann was referring to the Ratliff Ranch residents. Over the next two years, the residents at the ranch were visited seven times by a team comprised of medical staff, health physicists, LANL scientists and 'Army Intelligence agents' but 'the reasons for these visits were not disclosed to the residents.' A 2010 article8 published in the journal Health Physics noted that 'Medical surveillance of ranchers was limited to casual observation of external appearances and veiled, nonspecific questioning regarding any health complaints.' The Ratliffs were given some excuse, a well-thought out pretext, for the visit that would conceal the fact it was indeed a casual guinea pig check-up.
This wasn't the only time that U.S. military scientists and doctors scrutinized 'exposed' populations who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. There have been dozens of populations, all much larger than the three-person Ratliff family unit, who were in the path of the fallout and not given warnings, or advice of steps that could be taken to reduce their exposures, or timely evacuations or any evacuation at all. All such populations were 'visited' by 'A.E.C. men' who were interested in what happened to the health of these 'downwinders.' Sometimes, these doctors weren't happy enough with the available types of overexposed radiation victims on Earth and proceeded to deliberately expose vulnerable persons in prisons, schools, hospitals, remote islands and nuclear test sites. One chilling example is the case of the Fernald boys - schoolboys classified as mentally retarded and wards of the state at the Fernald State School in Waltham, Massachusetts. During the 1940s and 1950s, without their and their parent's knowledge, these kids were fed cereal spiked with radioactive calcium and iron. They were instructed to eat all of the cereal and drink all the milk from their bowls and doctors proceeded to determine where the radioactive form of fortified nutrients found in breakfast cereal pooled in their bodies. The parents of the boys were asked through a deceptive 'consent form' to allow the experiments on their children. These despicable medical experiments were funded by the Atomic Energy Commission (predecessor to the Department of Energy), the NIH and the Quaker Oats Company. The research was conducted by faculty or staff members of M.I.T., Boston University and Harvard. All of these entities voluntarily committed these crimes and should be given the level of respect they deserve - which is eternal disgrace.
This author suspects these U.S. scientists silently observed the Ratliffs - and other persons of interest in New Mexico - for two main reasons: to begin covering up their own tracks to avoid lawsuits from the victim(s) or the victims were of some medical interest to the government scientists. The worst part of all of this is that wartime secrecy allowed the U.S. government to do what it pleased, regardless of ethics or law. Dr. Hempelmann admitted in a 1986 interview regarding New Mexicans affected and neglected in the Trinity aftermath: "a few people were probably overexposed, but they couldn't prove it and we couldn't prove it. So we just assumed we got away with it."9
American nuclear complex doctors, for over five decades, got away with exploiting many exposed populations by denying their 'patients' access to the truth and independent therapeutic medical help, and prohibiting third-party evidence-gathering, observation, and independent reviews.
So, who other than the Ratliffs were overexposed in New Mexico? The truth is literally thousands and thousands of Americans were overexposed from Trinity. Following the Trinity blast, descending fallout debris, which was described as 'sand-like dust,' 'light snow' and 'like...flour' covered the desert landscape. It coated fence posts, buildings and roofs. It also rained the night after the Trinity blast. This so-called 'rain-out' brought radioactive particles (lingering in the troposphere) that were attached to rain droplets down to the ground.
In New Mexico, collecting rainwater has been a primary means of securing drinking water; one main reason is that local ground water has a high alkali-mineral content that makes it undrinkable. Cisterns are popular in New Mexico - rainwater running off the roof of an ordinary domicile is diverted into a basin and used for potable water. But during the week after Trinity was detonated, this cistern water became contaminated with radioactive debris, including plutonium dust.10 The radioactive rain and the dry, white fallout dust tainted garden-grown foods, cow milk11, goat milk, wild game and backyard chickens and their eggs. In the fallout was iodine-131, which is an isotope that affects the radiation-sensitive thyroid gland.
The fifth poorly understood aspect of Trinity is that significant risks may have arose as Trinity's radiation accumulated in the insides of peoples' bodies. The medium- to long-term consumption in New Mexico of Trinity-tainted 'ingestables,' generally solid food and milk, may have led to high 'internal exposures,' or the biological effects resulting from accumulation of radioactivity in the body's tissue and organs. When in 2008 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) finished a 14-year study into New Mexico's Cold War legacy (on environmental and human health), the federal agency concluded that internal radiation doses of New Mexicans via "intakes of radioactivity via consumption of water, milk, and homegrown vegetables...could have posed significant health risks for individuals exposed after the blast."12