Documentary, not rated, 97 minutes,
Becoming Who I Was AlphaGo
The film opens in black and white. Young soldiers are at work, arranging slender mannequins in a home, taking care to straighten a shirt and place others into bed. The soldiers leave. Then there is the flash of an atomic bomb and the house, alone in the desert, rips apart and turns to ash.
The scene is a haunting beginning for director Rebecca Cammisa’s documentary about a St. Louis community living on the edge of a nuclear waste dump. The dump holds hundreds of thousands of tons of uranium tailings and toxic chemicals left over from the Manhattan Project. In recent years, an underground fire began to simmer inside of it, releasing noxious smells that force residents to go indoors and stuff towels along doors and window frames.
The government transferred this waste into the hands of a private company, Republic Services, owned in part by Bill Gates. The company maintains that the dump is safe and did not disclose its contents to home buyers. The Environmental Protection Agency claims that the radioactive particles emitted from it are contained and don’t reach an “action” level. But illness is prolific in West Lake/Bridgeton and the areas surrounding Coldwater Creek. Children grew up playing in streams and playgrounds flush with radioactive particles, which even made it inside some homes. Parents bury young children alongside their grandparents. They point to neighbors’ homes and list the dead. Dogs sprout tumors like strawberries along their fur. Still, the EPA, the state, and the company have done little to protect residents.
For New Mexicans, this story is all too familiar. The state holds vast stores of radioactive waste — much of it the result of the Manhattan Project and the Cold War — in extensive pits that bump up against, or reside beneath, the communities of Los Alamos, Albuquerque, and Carlsbad. The Department of Energy plans to leave much of the waste below ground, stating that it will take decades to clean up the rest. Still, the government wants Los Alamos National Laboratory to produce more atomic weapons, which will lead to a growing surplus of waste. And Eddy and Lea counties want to create a temporary site for high-level waste from nuclear power plants, and have floated the idea of changing the law to bring more waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
But as illustrates, when it comes to nuclear waste and weapons, the idea of safety can become merely lip service. The nuclear industry is defined by power and money, not by human lives. This is a crucial film for New Mexicans to see as we consider our future. It’s also set to air on HBO, which helped fund the documentary, with a release date to be announced. — Rebecca Moss