Remember the Human Cost of Nuclear Weapons: a Letter to the Cast and Crew of Oppenheimer

January 23, 2024 | 9:19 am
Universal Pictures
Tara Drozdenko
Director, Global Security Program

Read more of UCS’s critical analysis of Oppenheimer and the global security issues it examines here.

Oppenheimer has reinvigorated public conversation about nuclear weapons and the health harms of testing, especially the harm done to communities who were left to deal with the effects of radioactive fallout without any information or help. As a physicist myself, when I watched the film, I was struck by J. Robert Oppenheimer’s advocacy against the devastating harms from nuclear weapons – and his complicity. For example, before the Trinity Test, he warned of possible health effects from fallout for bombing crews, yet failed to consider risks for nearby communities. Today, those communities are still suffering from cancers, autoimmune disorders, thyroid disorders and more.

While Oppenheimer’s advocacy during his own time wasn’t straightforward, those involved in the film have a clear and simple opportunity to help right a historical wrong. My organization, the Union of Concerned Scientists, works closely with communities sickened by radiation from nuclear weapons testing, waste, and uranium mining, including those exposed to fallout from the Trinity Test. But after nearly 80 years of fighting, many of these communities are still waiting for basic support for the cancers and other illnesses they suffer.

I’m writing to ask you, the cast of Oppenheimer – Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Florence Pugh, Robert Downey Jr., Matthew Modine, Jack Quaid, and so many more – to use your voice and your influence to bring further attention to this issue.

In part due to the impact of Oppenheimer, last summer the Senate passed a bill to compensate victims of nuclear testing, waste, and mining, the closest many of these communities have ever come to recognition and help from their government. We spent the fall and winter fighting every day to make that bill law. We came so close, but in December we learned that Congress turned their backs on these communities and failed to fund support. It’s hard to tell you how painful that decision was.

People from these communities often tell us that it feels like the government is just waiting for them to die, and this feels like confirmation. So many who once led this fight have already died. Tina Cordova, a leader in New Mexico and Trinity Test Downwinder, said to our group: “I know that most of you are tired of the fight. I know I certainly am. But this is not the time to give up. I will do this work until the day that we receive justice or until the day they put me in the ground.”

Now that Congress is back in session, we are starting again. To pass this bill, we will need much more public awareness and political will than we have had so far. Unfortunately, this history has been forgotten by so many. But you could change that by using your platform and your voice to shine a light on this fight.

You can learn more about the communities that have been on the frontlines of nuclear weapons testing and production.