By Jane Stoever
After a July 23 showing of the new movie “Oppenheimer,” on the director of the US laboratory that developed the atom bomb, Ann Suellentrop held a Q&A in the Glenwood Arts Theater in Leawood, KS. “The bomb test that you’ll see,” Ann told some of the audience before the show, “contaminated 46 states, was a 7-mile-high explosion, and turned the desert into radioactive green glass.”
During the Q&A after the film, Ann, a vice chair of PeaceWorks KC, said she has lobbied and protested against nuclear weapons for 15 years. “I have visited all the sites mentioned in the movie,” she noted, including the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico that J. Robert Oppenheimer directed.
The movie has been criticized for not revealing the long-lasting radiation from the blast July 16, 1945. Ann shared that Tina Cordova, of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium in New Mexico, said that her great-grandfather, her grandfather, her father, herself, and her 23-year-old niece have had cancer—a five-generation span, some of the many affected by the blast. “Radiation is especially dangerous to female reproductive systems,” often affecting three generations, Ann added.
Knowing that many attendees might not know the role Kansas City, Mo., plays in the nuclear weapons industry, Ann explained that the National Security Campus (in south KC) since 2014 has produced or procured up to 80 percent of the parts of US nuclear weapons. “Not the plutonium pits or the uranium or tritium,” she said, “but all the metal around those components, as well as the electronic and mechanical parts that guide and set off the bomb.”
The 1949-2014 site of nuclear weapon production in KC was at Bannister Federal Complex, home to many federal offices. “Department of Agriculture,” said one movie attendee, as Ann mentioned the Bannister site during the Q&A. A different audience member said the US National Archives and Records Administration was in the Bannister complex; it relocated to space near Union Station.
“Before PeaceWorks started protesting the toxins at Bannister Federal Complex,” said Ann, the US would admit that only about 300 contaminants had been there, “but over a few years, the US documented that 2,400 contaminants had been used.” The site was partially cleaned up, to the extent possible, but people are not allowed to live on the premises. It’s not zoned for housing, only business, and some business buildings are on the premises now. “I’ve seen those new industrial buildings” at the former Bannister site, said an audience member. “They’re huge.”
Concerning financing, Ann reflected that other industrial nations have free health care or college. “We don’t have them because we spend billions each year on nuclear weapons,” she said. The proposed 2024 budget for the National Security Complex itself would be for $1.28 billion. “And the government has plans to spend $2 trillion nationwide over the next 30 years,” said Ann, “on renovating all nuclear weapons in our arsenal, in effect making newly designed nuclear weapons that may require nuclear bomb testing again!”
Among other topics, Ann discussed the Back from the Brink campaign that PeaceWorks has signed onto, asking people to ask lawmakers to take US nuclear weapons off 24/7 hair-trigger alert and to support the international nuclear ban treaty, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. For more info, see https://www.preventnuclearwar.org .
With a bow to history, Ann said German physicists under Hitler, led by Werner Heisenberg, were morally opposed to making a nuclear bomb when they realized the horror it would release. They knew if they said no to Hitler they would be killed for treason. So, Ann said, “They decided to say it was not possible to make it during the war, and thereby avoided it! The US knew the Germans were not making the bomb, but they lied to the US physicists to manipulate them into making the bomb!” For a story about Heisenberg (the movie has a Heisenberg character), see “The Private Heisenberg and the Absent Bomb,” from The New York Review of Books, https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/12/22/private-heisenberg-absent-bomb/.
—Jane Stoever is a PeaceWorks KC member. © 2023, Ann Suellentrop, Jane Stoever, Sarah Boucek, Merve Esen, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International License.