Shadow on the Hill

Actor and environmental activist, Martin Sheen, narrates Shadow on the Hill, a powerfully moving video that examines the impacts that the Nuclear Age has had, and continues to have, on New Mexico's environment and on the health of the people who live around the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a United States Department of Energy nuclear weapons facility.

This video was created and produced jointly in September 2000 by Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), UNM Masters in Public Health Program, and Thunder Road Productions.

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107 Cienega
Santa Fe, NM 87501
(505) 986–1973

Never–Ending Story
A new documentary illustrates northern New Mexico's relationship
to the nuclear weapon industry.

By Julia Goldberg, Santa Fe Reporter
copyright Santa Fe Reporter , December 6-12, 2000.
Reprinted with permission of the Santa Fe Reporter

In the end, supporters and protesters alike were relegated to screaming from the side of the road. What they yelled varied from whoops of joy in Los Alamos to angry cries of despair in Santa Fe. The first shipment of nuclear waste heading to its salt-bed grave in Carlsbad, New Mexico, signified to all both the end and beginning of an era.

This is the lead from a story I wrote for the Reporter in March, 1999, the week the first trucks rolled to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

I don't normally wax on quite so much, but I'd stood around at the intersection of Airport Road and 599 for so many hours that night waiting (and freezing), I'd had little else to do but roll around sentences in my head.

The truth is, it was a very intense night. By the time the truck actually drove by, many of the people waiting had, like me, watched the WIPP fight for the better part of a decade, if not longer. Many had known this night would someday come. Others thought it never would. If an event can be simultaneously exciting and depressing, such was the night of March 26.

Over the years, I've had the opportunity to write quite a few articles on WIPP, as well as other nuclear related issues. Of all the environmental issues out there, it's the one I feel least sanguine about. The bottom line is, I don't understand how anyone can feel OK about the prospect of radiation poisoning. I don't think I will ever forget an interview I did, about two years ago, with a Hiroshima survivor named Sumiteru Taniguchi, who was blown off his bicycle at the age of 16 when the bomb was dropped. "I kept crying," Taniguichi said, via a translator. "I was crying in pain and suffering and begging for someone to kill me. No one thought I would live."

But reporting on such issues piecemeal doesn't necessarily provide the long view I'm sure activists must take. I don't think about nuclear issues every day (thank God), and while I have, at various times, written about the relationship northern New Mexico has to Los Alamos National Laboratory, it was a narrative based on my own reporting and thoughts - thus incomplete.

What filled it out for me was watching the recently-completed documentary Shadow on the Hill. The film was a collaborative effort between the Santa Fe non-profit Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, the University of New Mexico's public health program and Thunder Road Productions. It was written and produced by Miguel Grunstein and Dale Kruzic. The documentary is part of a package of educational resources developed as a part of a settlement with LANL from CCNS' 1994 lawsuit over violations of the Clean Air Act.

According to CCNS' acting executive director, Suzanne Westerly, the film will be used, along with a study guide and a "lingo bingo" game in communities and schools.

The documentary is a beautiful and moving piece of work. It begins with old "Drop and Cover" footage from the '50s and proceeds fluidly to present day. It touches on WIPP, worker health and safety, contamination issues, governmental secrecy and anti-nuke activism.

Narrated by Martin Sheen (of course), Shadow on the Hill is a poignant blend of disturbing and familiar images ranging from the destruction and devastation at Hiroshima to the recent public-health hearings for lab workers conducted in northern New Mexico.

I was particularly struck by the eloquence of many of the people interviewed. The film includes Marian Naranjo and Anacita Taliman from Santa Clara Pueblo talking about growing up near the lab. Timothy Benally of the Navajo Nation discusses the uranium poisoning former mine workers, like himself, were exposed to. Dr. Helen Caldicott, researcher Jay Coghlan, John Till, who conducted the clean air audit of LANL, and labor attorney Carol Oppenheimer also were interviewed for the piece.

I can't say I actually enjoyed watching Shadow on the Hill, because it tells a very sad story. But I learned from it and appreciated its skill in boiling down the complex history of nuclear weapons in northern New Mexico into a half-hour script.

It's not a story with a happy ending. But the film does culminate with the message that the act of fighting against an industry capable of destroying the environment and human lives is a good fight, and perhaps, someday, one that can be won. As Carol Oppenheimer says, towards the film's end: "This fight comes out of love."

Grunstein and Kuzic end the documentary with a quote from Albert Einstein, which underscores an important point made throughout the documentary. I know it's a little much to start this column with a quote from myself and end it with one from Einstein, but that's what I'm going to do.

“Science has brought forth this danger, that the real problem is in the minds and hearts of men.”