This month, in my hometown of Richland, Washington, people are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Manhattan Project–the secret venture that brought us the atomic bomb.
The month-long commemoration activities have been planned for years. The event opened with “For Your Eyes Only” — A James Bond-Themed Cold War Party” and includes weekend “Bus Tours of the B Reactor and T Plant” at Hanford, our friendly old neighborhood nuclear weapons facility. But, until last week, people like me—the “Downwinders” who were poisoned by Hanford’s radiation discharges throughout the Pacific Northwest–were nowhere to be seen on the celebration agenda.
A few weeks ago, after a persistent and tenacious effort by our small group of health-damaged Downwinders and a few tireless supporters, we were invited at the 11th hour to speak at the 70th commemoration.
I am relieved to have a voice at this event, and grateful to the organizers for finding a way to fit us in. But this is far from the first time Downwinders have faced dissent and denial in their own towns and neighborhoods. I am so tired of these divisions, of the angry confrontations with those, oblivious to our deaths and illnesses, who say Hanford did not damage our health. I am so disheartened that many don’t think of us– or deny our reality–when Hanford matters arise. So tired of those who would rather we disappear, or finish dying out. We were once neighbors and friends. Our humanity has somehow gotten lost in the politics surrounding Hanford’s legacy.
[…]We who bear the scars of Hanford are not the enemy. We are its children.
I understand that in my hometown, and in other such sites, the Downwinders’ problems are controversial and unpleasant. Radioactive rivers and contaminated soil don’t sell houses; public acknowledgement of the human toll isn’t exactly good for economic development. And I get that some who lived in the pathway of Hanford’s radiation releases escaped unscathed. I know now that my family’s genetic makeup reflected our sensitivity and susceptibility to health damage from radiation. I understand that those who still live near Hanford have their own lives to live.
Please Welcome Us Home
But I am tired of feeling like a stranger in my own birthplace. I did nothing wrong. My parents did nothing wrong.
It’s time for the Downwinders to be welcomed home.