Tina Cordova, Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium

Air Dates: August 5-7, 2023

This week's guest on REPORT FROM SANTA FE is Tina Cordova, co-founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, in a program observing the 78th anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb at the Trinity site in New Mexico on July 16, 1945, an explosion that produced more light and heat than the sun, and exposed residents near and far to harmful radioactivity.

The Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium is a group "Seeking justice for the unknowing, unwilling, and uncompensated, innocent victims of the July 16, 1945 Trinity test in south central New Mexico." In an effort to keep the test top-secret, the government had not evacuated or informed residents who lived nearby the Trinity Test Site.

Known only to top scientists and military officials, the test site was about 200 miles southeast of Los Alamos National Laboratory. The poor farming communities of New Mexico lived off the land and were now forced to do so in a toxic environment — completely unaware of the lasting impacts of the fallout from the Trinity Test. Radiation that is present in nuclear fallout can damage and alter a cell’s DNA, which can lead to mutations and other effects.

New Mexicans have been continually left out of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) that was passed in 1990 to compensate “Downwinders,” those affected by nuclear testing.

Groups in Nevado, Utah, and other regions were included but the government has continually denied the existence of the effects of fallout on New Mexicans, instead claiming, falsely, that the region was "remote and uninhabited" at the time the testing occurred.

Organizations like the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium (TBDC) have continually fought for restitution and recognition under this act, having met all of its requirements.

For years, U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-New Mexico) has been trying, unsuccessfully, to amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to include people in the Trinity fallout zone. Senator Luján called attention to the consequences for his home state in a series of tweets posted at the time of the opening of the “Oppenheimer” movie, noting he just passed a bill in the US Senate to update the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA).

"It’s critical to note 78 years after the nuclear tests this movie centers on, New Mexico continues to face collateral damage from the Trinity Test site,” Luján wrote. "For over 10 years, I've reintroduced legislation to strengthen and expand RECA to fill the coverage gap...But now the federal government has the opportunity to do right by the primarily Hispanic and Indigenous New Mexican communities and pass the expansion and extension of RECA. There can be no time wasted."

Increased awareness of the atomic background due to the movie Oppenheimer, and the introduction of this new bill, are bringing attention to the Downwinders' plight, which is finally being recognized.