Doc­u­men­tary, not rated, 97 min­utes,

Pasatiempo - - CAPSULE REVIEWS - Atomic Home­front

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

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