by Janette D. Sherman, M.D.
Just 70 years ago, on July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb was detonated at the Alamogordo Nuclear Site in New Mexico. Trinity was the name chosen by J. Robert Oppenheimer after a poem by John Donne, poet and cleric, who lived from 1572 until 1631. Why Trinity, which suggests “Father, Son and Holy Ghost?”
Not to be a female chauvinist, but no Mother would have agreed to the development of a bomb so powerful it could wipe out civilization.
And Son? Perhaps the alternative spelling, “Sun,” as suggested in the name of Robert Jungk’s book, “Brighter Than a Thousand Suns.”
And Holy Ghost? That has proved to be true – the ghosts of humans, animals, birds, sea life, insects and plants, damaged by nuclear activities.
It was not enough for Gen. Leslie Groves, in charge of the Trinity test site, to observe the damage caused by the bomb. Indeed, he decreed that two bombs should be dropped on Japan.
Groves ordered Little Boy, the uranium bomb, be dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6. And three days later, Fat Man, the plutonium bomb, was detonated over Nagasaki.
Oppenheimer later recalled that the explosion had reminded him of a line from the Hindu holy text, the Bhagavad-Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” The terrifying destructive power of atomic weapons and the uses to which they might be put were to haunt many of the Manhattan Project scientists for the remainder of their lives.
Despite the obvious dangers of nuclear technology, multiple countries have joined the death trade and developed mines, refineries, power plants and bombs.
Countries such as Iran want to develop a nuclear industry, while Israel, developers and owners of nuclear bombs, want to stop Iran – to the point of urging that the country be bombed.
Is it to any advantage to having nuclear power or nuclear weapons? Considering the costs and problems of containment of waste, physical and armed protection of nuclear sites, and the costs and adverse effects from exposure to nuclear radiation, it seems very unlikely.
But rationality did not stop the development of nuclear bombs or nuclear power plants. Given the geologic fallout from testing in Nevada, our government found a new place: Bikini Atoll and other sites in the Marshall Islands, with residents still suffering adverse effects today after the first bomb test in 1954.
Multiple servicemen, workers and ships were exposed to the tests, after which many of the ships were sailed or towed to Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco to be decontaminated. The Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory was established in 1945 and continued operating until 1969.
I worked there in the 1950s as a biologist, testing animals that were exposed to thermal burns and radiation. Unsurprisingly, Hunters Point has been found to be contaminated by asbestos, chemicals and radioactivity.
But still those severe threats to the health of the environment did not stop nuclear development. We now have documentation of animal deaths after the near meltdown of Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, massive contamination after the Chernobyl power plant explosion in 1986 and, more recently, continuing worldwide contamination from the Fukushima nuclear plants in Japan.
It is obvious that the costs are enormous, but who is paying the price? Is it developers and legislators – or the citizens who are exposed without their permission and knowledge?
Janette D. Sherman, M.D., a physician, toxicologist and author, concentrating on chemicals and nuclear radiation that cause cancer and birth defects, is consulting editor for “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and Nature,” a comprehensive presentation of all the available information concerning the health and environmental effects of the low dose radioactive contaminants. Originally published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009 for $150, she has had it republished for wide distribution at only $10. See http://janettesherman.com/books/. Dr. Sherman has worked in radiation and biologic research at the University of California nuclear facility and at the U.S. Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory at the Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco. Her primary interest is the prevention of illness through public education and patient awareness. She can be reached at www.janettesherman.com.