Burning Fires (Spring/Summer 1995)

Nuclear Technology & Communities of Color (Vol.5, No.3&4: Spring/Summer 1995)

U.S. Army General Leslie Groves and nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer designed the Manhattan Project according to the military model: secrecy was created and sustained by compartmentalizing every phase of the work. The Project that produced the first atomic bomb was spread over thirty-seven installations scattered across the United States and Canada, each an isolated unit providing only a fragment of the bomb-making process. At Los Alamos, where scientists labored over the mathematical, chemical, and physical challenges of the task, the Project was characterized by a strict division of labor to deter communication among workers and a chain of command assuring that only a few people at the top understood the whole project.


In the crafting of the Nuclear Age, the same forces of compartmentalization and secrecy used in the Manhattan Project merged with the psychological, sociological, economic, and political forces that have shaped environmental racism. The result: a suspiciously high percentage of research laboratories, test sites, reactors, and waste dumps are housed in communities deemed “the middle of nowhere” and “the other side of the tracks” and inhabited by people deemed “poor, uneducated, and politically ineffective.”

How could it have been otherwise?

Ever since western world views emphasizing the domination of nature and “progress” replaced the older ecological philosophies of people-in-relation-to-the-cosmos, the theme of human experience has centered on arms build-up, expansionism, and colonization.

The unraveling of this union has begun. At the World Uranium Hearing in Austria in 1992, people of color from all over the world—from Namibia, Tahiti, Mongolia, Tibet, the American West, Canada, Peru, the Arctic Circle—testified to a board of scientists, journalists, and scholars about the effects of nuclear development on native peoples. Remarkable facts were revealed: over 70 percent of the world’s uranium deposits lie on lands inhabited and considered sacred by indigenous peoples. For every ton of uranium oxide used by the nuclear industry, up to 40,000 tons (still emanating 85 percent of the ore’s original radioactivity) remain behind—often left in mounds, seeping into the water table, scattering in the wind across indigenous lands. Nuclear testing disproportionately rains down upon people of color. And today industrialized nations are luring impoverished tribal governments with promises of money in exchange for storing nuclear waste on their ancestral lands.

Beginning with physicist Enrico Fermi’s revealing declaration at the moment the scientists realized they could catalyze a controlled chain reaction, this issue of Race, Poverty & the Environment marks the 50th anniversary of the Nuclear Age by tracing the intertwining of the nuclear fuel cycle with the contamination—and activism—of communities of color.

People of color have borne more than the lion’s share of the toxic effects of development. And yet, despite the injustice of the situation, if we do not do our job of caring for and communing with our beautiful world, all is lost. In this issue of Race, Poverty & the Environment, we hope to reveal to you the tragic connections between nuclear development and the suffering communities of color—and to inspire you to join the struggle to stop this source of pain and dislocation before another fifty years pass.

--Chellis Glendinning


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In this issue...

2 "6 August 1945"

4 The American Hibakusha

5 Depleted Uranium: Legacy of the Gulf War
by Dolly Lymburner

6 Remembering the Cuban Missile Crisis
by Carl Anthony

9 Los Alamos DC: Growing Up Under a Cloud of Secrecy
by Hilario Romero

11 Radiation and AIDS
by Jay Gould and Benjamin Goldman

12 IQ Is Affected by Fallout
by Jay Gould and Benjamin Goldman

13 Fight Back: Uranium Mining in the Grants Mineral Belt
by Simon Ortiz

16 The Jackpile Mine: Testimony of a Miner
by Dorothy Ann Purley

18 Secrecy and Disregard at Savannah River
by Mildred McClain

20 You CANT Do It in Claiborne Parish LA
by Citizens Against Nuclear Trash

22 Death on the Road: Transportation of Spent Fuel Rods
by Nancy J. Nadel

26 Another Broken Promise
by Manuel Pino

28 High Hopes: Testimony on Human Radiation Experimentation
by Caroline Cannon

29 Other Than Honorable: An Atomic Bomb Veteran
by William Hodsden

32 Indian Nations Go Nuclear Free
by Chuck Johnson

34 A Premonition Fuels Mescalero Apache Struggle
by Rufina Marie Laws

37 Who Here Will Begin This Story?
by Herman Agoyo

39 The Declaration of Salzburg

41 Only Justice Can Stop a Curse
by Alice Walker

43 Resources