Fifteen days away from the 70th anniversary of the Trinity blast, Sen. Tom Udall met with the Tularosa Basin Downwinders to hear stories of how radiation from the atomic bomb affected the health and genes of the people in surrounding areas.
A panel of eight Tularosa Basin Downwinders told Udall, D-NM, stories about the immense amount of Cancer that each of their families and neighbors have suffered from.
Henry Herrera, Tularosa native, was 11 years old on that fateful day in July of 1945. He spoke about his memories of the Trinity blast and the aftermath of debris he watched fall over his hometown.
Udall has tried to pass amendments to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1979.
“So far he’s been unsuccessful but he keeps bringing it up,” said Tularosa Mayor Ray Cordova during the meeting. “I think he’s gaining ground, just like we are.”
Udall said his interest in this cause started in 1978 when he graduated from law school at the University of New Mexico. Stewart Udall, his father and Secretary of the Interior from 1961 to 1969, was invited by a little community in St. George, Utah, to have a meeting similar to the Tularosa Basin Downwinders’ meeting on Wednesday.
Tom Udall said about 40 to 50 people gathered to tell Stewart Udall their stories about what happened to their livestock, relatives and children due to radiation exposure.
“It was a very moving experience for me, just being out of law school,” Tom Udall said. “My father, from that point until he lived to be 90 years old, he had this cause in his heart and he fought it every way he could.”
Udall said his father drafted the help of their whole family to work on getting the people of St. George compensation for the radiation that had been exposed to from nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site.
“He worked from 1978 in the courts and for 10 years they tried cases in the courts,” Udall said. “One court in Utah, Federal District Judge Bruce Jenkins, found negligence on the part of the government.”
Udall spoke about the similarities between the exposure in Utah and the surrounding areas of the Trinity Site.
“They told you it was an explosion of something else rather than telling you what it really was,” he said. “They said nobody was injured and it was in a remote area, but this remote area had lots of people living out there on the land.”
After Jenkins ruled negligence on the part of the government, Udall said every court after that ruled against the people who brought claims forth. He said the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals said it was a horrible case and they believed injustice was done but that it was a national security issue and ruled for immunity for the government. It was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, who let the immunity stand.
“My father wouldn’t give up, he wouldn’t yield,” Udall said. “He took it and he found Sen. Ted Kennedy and Sen. Orrin Hatch, a very odd couple but they took it on as an issue.”
In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act after Congress approved the compassionate payments act and issued an apology to the people that were impacted.
“That happened in 1990 but many people were left out and this community was left out,” Udall said. “This was forgotten in terms of this is where the first test was.”
He said it took another 10 years to include additional people in amendments to the bill.
“Every year that I’ve been in Congress, every time I have had amendments that I’ve pushed for have always had the Trinity Site Downwinders in my legislation,” Udall said. “I am not going to give up on this.”