Fallout: Reflections on the 60th Anniversary of the Trinity Test

Ghosts of nuclear war along the banks of the Columbia River

| July 14, 2005

It's been 60 years since the Trinity atomic-bomb test started the nuclear age, and the world is still haunted by ghosts from far-off tragedies in Nagasaki, Hiroshima and Chernobyl. Bill Witherup tells the story of the lesser-known nuclear demons in his hometown of Richland, Washington.

A former farming town along the Columbia River plateau, Richland was sheltered by Manhattan Project secrecy and built by workers who wanted to be a part of the war effort. Military officials had farmers moved off their land and usurped part of the Yakama tribe's reservation for the creation of what today is the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Witherup's father moved his family to Richland and worked at Hanford manufacturing the plutonium used in the Trinity A-bomb test at White Sands, New Mexico, and later in Fat Man dropped on Nagasaki.

Despite the toxic work environment and irregular hours, Hanford workers believed that the government and various contractors like DuPont, GE, and United Nuclear had employees' 'health in mind.' They also held close the belief that the A-bombs were essential to ending the war.

After 36 years at Hanford, Witherup's father died of cancer, a fate met by countless other workers, Native Americans who ate salmon from the Columbia River, and those downwind from Hanford.

Years after his father's death and the end of the Cold War, Witherup questions the current maintenance of nuclear weaponry and what it means for his hometown. On a tour of Hanford's B-reactor, he reflects that the natural beauty of the Columbia plateau can't hide its legacy as a graveyard.
-- Grace Hanson