Residents near New Mexico nuclear test site seek Obama visit

AP News
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Posted: May 11, 2016 3:23 PM
Residents near New Mexico nuclear test site seek Obama visit

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Residents of a historic Hispanic village near the site where the U.S. government tested the first atomic bomb have praised President Barack Obama's planned visit to Hiroshima — the Japanese city devastated by the first a-bomb used in war.

The residents, however, also want Obama to visit their village of Tularosa.

They say generations of villagers have suffered from cancers and other health problems resulting from the Trinity Test, but the federal government has yet to fully acknowledge those effects.

"It's high time that the federal government acknowledges the sacrifices New Mexicans made," said Tina Cordova, co-founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders. "We are still suffering from it."

The White House announced Tuesday that Obama will become the first sitting American president to visit Hiroshima.

The Aug. 6, 1945, attack on the city killed 140,000 people. Another bomb dropped on Nagasaki three days later killed 70,000 people. Japan surrendered less than a week later.

Scientists working in the secret city of Los Alamos, New Mexico, developed the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project. The bomb was tested in a stretch of desert near towns with Hispanic and Native American residents.

Residents did not learn it was an atomic bomb until the U.S. dropped the weapon on Japan a month later.

Cordova said Tularosa will hold a candlelight vigil on July 16 — the anniversary of the Trinity Test — and invite Obama to attend.

She said her group is collecting health surveys from affected residents using a $25,000 Santa Fe Community Foundation grant and hoping to get more money to organize the data.

Tularosa and other area residents were not included in the federal Radiation Exposure Compensation Act program, which provides a $50,000 payout as compensation for health problems.

The law only covers areas in Nevada, Arizona and Utah that are downwind from a different test site.

Officials with the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Division, which oversees the program, said Congress would have to amend the act to expand payouts to New Mexico residents.

Cordova said affected people in New Mexico may have been excluded because of racism since many are Hispanic and American Indian.

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said residents of Tularosa deserve recognition from their government and coverage under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

"But while our nation has long recognized the horrific suffering endured by the victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we have not adequately recognized the suffering endured by the victims of the Trinity blast right here in New Mexico," Udall said.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras .