Filmmaker portrays nuclear reality

Courtesy photo

Filmmaker and activist Jean Stevens hopes to galvanize local museums, art festivals, community art centers, sports venues and community nonprofits to launch a Zoom concert to raise awareness of the dangers of nuclear bomb production in the United States and around the world.

These times provide continued opportunity for reflection - action and change.

As individuals, families and communities struggle to meet daily challenges of the pandemic, there are others who continue to ring the bell to alert us that there are existential issues that we ignore at our peril, and cannot take a backseat to the pandemic. They are inseparable--if we are to move forward.

Jean Stevens, who coordinates the Taos Environmental Film Festival, is no stranger to these existential issues or global conversations on what is happening to the planet, New Mexico, Taos and environs. Stevens is a filmmaker/singer/songwriter who understands the importance of the arts and community in tackling these issues and bringing awareness of our shared humanity.

Tempo caught up with Stevens and asked her a few questions about her current passion, a series of events in Taos to raise awareness about the development and use of atomic weapons.

Why should there be an event to bring attention to the July 16, 1945 Trinity Site detonation of a nuclear bomb beyond the notion of not forgetting it occurred?

New Mexico residents have a unique opportunity to show the world the destruction caused by the development and use of atomic weapons. On July 16, 1945, the Trinity Site was the first place to explode a weapon of mass destruction on planet earth. The residents of the Tularosa Basin are still dealing with the fallout from that nuclear explosion.

There are still survivors of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki but they are getting old and soon there will not be eyewitnesses to testify and make humanity aware of the horrendous events on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945. A single nuclear bomb detonated over a large city could kill millions of people. Using tens or hundreds of nuclear bombs would disrupt the global climate, causing widespread famine.

Are you aware of any environmental/human/animal health long-term repercussions related to the detonation of nuclear devices?

On July 7, 2000, one of the last survivors, Setsuko Nakamura Thurlow, described, via an international Zoom event sponsored by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, what she witnessed on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945 in Hiroshima. A story of gruesome, heart-wrenching and terrifying detail.

The ICAN website describes it this way: "Immediate effects: A single nuclear weapon can destroy a city and kill most of its people. Several nuclear explosions over modern cities would kill tens of millions of people. Casualties from a major nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia would reach hundreds of millions. It takes around 10 seconds for the fireball from a nuclear explosion to reach its maximum size. A nuclear explosion releases vast amounts of energy in the form of blast, heat and radiation. A shock wave that reaches speeds of many hundreds of kilometers an hour. The blast kills people close to ground zero and causes lung injuries, ear damage and internal bleeding further away. People sustain injuries from collapsing buildings and flying objects.

"Thermal radiation vaporizes everything close to ground zero. The extreme heat causes severe burns and ignites fires over an extensive area, which coalesce into a giant firestorm. Even people in underground shelters face likely death because of a lack of oxygen and carbon monoxide poisoning."

"'Long-term effects: Nuclear weapons produce ionizing radiation, which kills or sickens those exposed, contaminates the environment and has long-term health consequences, including cancer and genetic damage. Their widespread use in atmospheric testing has caused grave long-term consequences. Physicians project that some 2.4 million people worldwide will die from cancers because of atmospheric nuclear tests conducted between 1945 and 1980.

"Using less than 1 percent of the nuclear weapons in the world could disrupt the global climate and threaten two billion people with starvation in a nuclear famine in the long term. The thousands of nuclear weapons possessed by the U.S. and Russia could bring about a nuclear winter, destroying the essential ecosystems on which all life depends.

"Physicians and first responders could not work in devastated, contaminated areas. Even a single nuclear detonation in a modern city would strain existing disaster relief resources to the breaking point; a nuclear war would overwhelm any relief system we could build in advance. Displaced populations from a nuclear war will produce a refugee crisis that is orders of magnitude larger than any we have ever experienced."

In addition, it is estimated that the Navajo Nation cannot drink about one-third of its water because of uranium mining. New Mexico has significant areas that have been identified as sacrificial zones. Soon New Mexico will remember another dubious anniversary, of one of the worst radioactive accidents on our planet at the United Nuclear Corporation's Church Rock Uranium Mine in New Mexico.

Vice.com reported on Aug. 12, 2019: "5:30 a.m. on July 16, 1979, the dam failed, releasing 1,100 tons of uranium waste and 94 million gallons of radioactive water into the Río Puerco and through Navajo lands, a toxic flood that had devastating consequences on the surrounding area."

"The water, filled with acids from the milling process, twisted a metal culvert in the Puerco," according to Judy Pasternak's book "Yellow Dirt: A Poisoned Land and the Betrayal of the Navajos." "Sheep keeled over and died, and crops curdled along the banks. The surge of radiation was detected as far away as Sanders, Arizona, 50 miles downstream."

According to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report, radioactivity levels in the Río Puerco near the breached dam were 7,000 times that of what is allowed in drinking water. The heavily contaminated water flowed over the river banks, creating radioactive pools. "There were children up and down the river playing in those stagnant pools, and they were deadly poisonous," Jorge Winterer, a doctor with Indian Health Service in Gallup, said after the spill.

In pandemic times, what is yourvision for a series of significant events in Taos to draw attention to this?

Scientists have been warning citizens of the world that there would be a global pandemic. They have also warned about the dangers that humanity faces with climate change. Humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers - nuclear war and climate change - that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society's ability to respond. The international security situation is dire, not just because these threats exist, but because world leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode.

Taos is 45 miles downwind from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the location of the invention of the atomic bomb. Taos residents have a unique opportunity to bring global awareness of the importance of peace and the dangers of unneeded nuclear bomb production in the USA and around the world.

How do you envision this could be accomplished?

Taos has a wealth of artists, writers and musicians. Local museums, art festivals, community art centers, sports venues and community nonprofits could come together to help launch a Zoom concert. Perhaps it could be a fundraiser for the Taos Mesa Brewery and also an opportunity to sign the peace and abolition of nuke weapons petition via ICAN.

In 1982, Central Park hosted a fantastic and legendary peace concert and peace march. Zoom events are inexpensive and do not create a carbon footprint because all participants do not have to leave their homes. My dream is to create an event for pacifist creatives from the comfort of their homes or studios, plus other musicians/artists/writers from around the world. I will never forget the impact of "We Are the World."

For those wanting to inform themselves more on these issues, they can access the website of pace e bene at paceebene.org for online programming relating to the 75th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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