July 16, 1979-2009: Church Rock, New Mexico
They are walking in prayer today in Church Rock New Mexico, thirty years after the largest radioactive accident in U.S. history (the smaller Three Mile Island happened a few months earlier, in March 1979).
When the dam broke at the United Nuclear Corporation’s Church Rock Uranium Mill in the early morning hours, eleven tons of radioactive wastes and ninety million (90,000,000) gallons of radioactive waste poured into the Rio Puerco with such force that the liquid waste lifted manhole covers throughout Gallup twenty miles downstream and people fled to hospitals complaining of burning feet.
Located partly on tribal lands and partly on private land, the disaster site has had a thirty year back and forth which has seen the Navajo nation outlaw uranium mining on tribal lands and United Nuclear (a subsidiary of General Electric) lobby to begin mining a nearby site while lobbying the EPA to relax its groundwater standards to allow for higher concentrations of waste in order to expedite mine cleanup.
Some aerial shots of Church Rock
July 16, 1945: White Sands, New Mexico
July 16 is also the anniversary of the Trinity Atomic Test at the White Sands Proving Ground. This day spawned Oppenheimer’s famous paraphrasing of the Bhagavad Gita: “I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.
Oppenheimer is also credited for naming the Trinity Site reaching into a poem by John Donne titled “Hymn to God, My God, in My Sickness”
As west and east
In all flat mapsâ€”and I am oneâ€”are one,
So death doth touch the resurrection
Most of the publicly available footage of the blast is pretty lame. The BBC used some original footage in this remake though. Make of it was you will:
July 16th, 2009: Reflections on the Nuclear West
I’m always tempted to read Oppenheimer as a brilliant, flawed, tragic figure. But I’m biased. He quotes John Donne. He actually thinks. He seems semi-capable of analysis, or emotion, and regret. That is to say, he’s fully human, fully engaged with the world in ways that today seems lacking in so many of our public figures.
For instance, in this latest example of the Nuclear West debate in which Arizona State Senator (R) Sylvia Allen falls, ahem, somewhat shall we say short of the kind of engagement with the history of her own region (much less reality).
She is arguing in favor of a bill that will allow uranium mining and further exploration on public lands north of the Grand Canyon. On June 25, 2008 the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources voted in favor of an emergency resolution to halt new uranium mining claims in a 1-million acre area north of the canyon. In April of this year, the BLM approved Quaterra Alaska Inc. to being exploration in violation of the order. Lawsuits started flying and hearing have begun.