Guest Column: “Oppenheimer” erases history of nuclear waste caused to Navajo Nation

Hollywood is excited about the blockbuster $80.5 million Oppenheimer brought in during its opening weekend, as reported by Variety. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book American Prometheus, the movie is about the so-called “father of the atomic bomb.”

Hollywood may be gleeful about the long lines to see Oppenheimer, but Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren still thinks Hollywood comes short on reporting on the devastation uranium mining and nuclear testing caused to the country’s largest Indian reservation.

“The Navajo people cannot afford to be, yet again, erased from history,” Nygren writes in a TIME magazine op-ed on July 21, 2023.

“Hollywood has a lot of work to do, and they can start by standing with the Navajo people and urging Congress to provide just compensation for victims of radiation exposure,” Nygren writes.

Nygren, 36, is serving his first term as president of the Navajo Nation and is the youngest ever elected president of the tribal nation.

Nygren says the movie was released five days after the 44th anniversary of the Church Rock uranium mill spill when 94 million gallons of radioactive waste poured into the Puerco River spanning the northern portions of New Mexico and Arizona where the Navajo Nation is located.

“What came next—cancers, miscarriages and mysterious illnesses—is a direct consequence of America’s race for nuclear hegemony. It’s an accomplishment built on top of the bodies of Navajo men, women, and children—the lived experience of nuclear weapons development in the United States. But, as usual, Hollywood chose to gloss over them.” Nygren writes.

In 1990, Congress passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), but the problems on the Navajo Nation still persist.

“Despite the passage of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) in 1990, justice remains elusive for Navajo families who have suffered from the devastating and long-lasting health and environmental effects of the uranium mining industry on Navajo land,” Nygren writes.

While the Oppenheimer movie deals with history, the Navajo Nation still deals with the long-term effects of the spill and uranium mining impacting the lives of its people.

Buu Nygren’s full article can be read in Time magazine.

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