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The Secret and the Sacred

Two worlds at Los Alamos
2001 | 58 min | Recommended min. age: 16 y

Hidden in the mountains of Northern New Mexico lies the birthplace of the Atomic Age: Los Alamos, home of the „Manhattan Project“. Here Robert J. Oppenheimer and his staff created the first atomic bomb, „Trinity“, the scientific prototype to „Little Boy“ and „Fat Man,” the bombs which hastened the end of World War II by leveling Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Although the laboratory is today also a leading center of genetic research, it remains a place of secrecy, for its main mission is to maintain the existing nuclear arsenal – a task that hides behind the name, “Stockpile Stewardship”.

The secret meets the sacred upon the mesa of Los Alamos. The lab takes up forty-three square miles – indigenous land of the Tewa people from the pueblos Santa Clara and San Ildefonso. The local Indians are cut off from their traditional shrines of worship: their prayer sites are either fenced off or contaminated. One of the sacred places contains the petroglyph of Avanyu, the mythic serpent that is the guardian of the springs. The Avanyu petroglyph was created long before the first White man set foot on the continent. According to tribal wisdom, those who poison the water must face Avanyu’s fiery revenge. The local ground water has been contaminated by decades of the laboratory’s uncaring. Warnings from the pueblos’ spiritual leaders to laboratory officials fell upon deaf ears. At the laboratory, formulas pull rank on myths.

Nothing disturbs the local air of denial like a little peaceful activism. Artists and activists meet at the Black Hole, a former supermarket that today Ed Grothus calls home. From the Black Hole, Ed, a former laboratory mechanic who became an outspoken pacifist, resells lab salvage. Radioactive waste is never resold; instead, over decades, the laboratory covertly buried it in the ground. That’s where the former New Mexico EPA inspector Greg Mello comes in. Sober Greg with his peaceful Geiger counter has become the laboratory’s most feared critic.

The film also features former lab employees John Balagna, Eloy Roybal and Alex Smith, the Native American historians and environmentalists Gilbert Sanchez, Reina Naranjo, Hilario Romero and Joe Chavarria, the physician Ken Silver, the artist Erika Wanenmacher, and, lastly, the director of the nuclear weapons program, Steve Younger.

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