Wednesday, January 6, 2010

National Park Status for Los Alamos?

The U. S. National Park Service has recently announced its intent to conduct a study for the preservation and interpretation of four historic sites associated with the Manhattan Project. One of these four is the Los Alamos National Laboratory and townsite (for more info see the website: It seems that national pride in the singular product of the Manhattan Project may soon be reburnished.

On the other hand, some months ago (on June 25, 2009, in a public meeting at the Buffalo Thunder Hotel) members of the Centers for Disease Control's "Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment Project" (LAHDRA) presented their draft final report. Much interesting information was conveyed during the approximately two hours allotted to the summarizing of this report.

For example, quoting directly from the LAHDRA final report’s chapter 22, under the heading, “Early airborne releases of Plutonium”:

“Plutonium was processed in crude facilities in D Building during World War II, and many roof-top vents were unfiltered and unmonitored. After DP West Site took over production late in 1945, there was some filtering of releases, but poor monitoring practices caused releases to be underestimated. Documents indicate that DP releases for 1948-1955 alone were over 100 times the total reported by the Lab for operations before 1973.”

After the meeting Joe Shonka of Shonka Research Associates, a contributing author of the report, said that LAHDRA was intended to be a historical study: “Almost everybody is already dead,” he said. “How many people do you know who were alive in the ’40s?”

Shonka noted that the “hapless civilians”, who were caught up in fallout from the first atomic explosion at Trinity Site in New Mexico, “had not been fully evaluated.” Moreover, “There is a lot of distrust and some of this [LAHDRA report] may help the public to trust that scientists know what goes on.”

However, quoting from the LAHDRA final report’s, chapter 22, under the heading
“Public exposures from the Trinity test”:

“Residents of New Mexico were not warned before the 1945 Trinity blast, or warned of health hazards afterward, and no residents were evacuated. Exposure rates in public areas from the world’s first nuclear explosion were measured at levels 10,000 times higher than currently allowed. Residents reported that fallout ‘snowed down’ for days after the blast, most had dairy cows, and most collected rain water off their roofs for drinking. All assessments of doses form the Trinity test issued to date have been incomplete in that they have not addressed internal doses received after intakes of radioactivity through inhalation or consumption of contaminated water or food products.”

In my view, it is questionable that a careful reading of the LAHDRA final report will do much to rebuild trust in activities having to do with nuclear materials. In this context, that a contributor to the LAHDRA study (J. Shonka), should refer to people who lived within approximately 30 miles of the Trinity blast, and who were all unwarned and thus unsheltered at the time, as “hapless civilians” seems disturbing.

According to Webster, “hapless” means “unlucky.” But, these people were not just unlucky. Rather, they had had their vital interests deliberately subordinated to national interests, as a part of the culmination of the then top secret government program.

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