"You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you,'
...Then you flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun." - Carly Simon
The big news this summer is the solar eclipse that will occur on August 21, the first time visible across the US since June 8, 1918, five months before the "Great" war ended, 99 years ago. Interesting and exciting. People are making plans to be in the band width across the nation where the best viewing will occur. My son and my niece are pretty excited as well since they share that day as their birthdays. They were born 7 years apart. And 7, though a lucky number is also special as being the number of Cherokee clans.
We are making plans, too. Since the Path of Totality starts in Oregon and arches through St. Louis to the east coast, we are thinking Cahokia for sure for 2 minutes beginning at 11:46 a.m. Cahokia, a historical site of a city as large as London in the 1400's right across the river from St. Louis. No one knows which tribe lived and thrived there. When they left, perhaps they scattered, perhaps they were Cherokees and rejoined our tribe in the southeast. They erected mounds and earth structures and abandoned them.
When my son was in high school he participated in National Indian Youth Leadership Project summer leadership camps held in New Mexico for Native American youth from around the country. I went as a parent, but also to introduce Say It Straight to the campers. A couple of those camps created lifelong memories. During the 1991 summer camp near Zuni Pueblo we experienced a partial solar eclipse and one year the camp was held at Camp Shaver, a YMCA facility established right after WWII near Los Alamos in the mountains of New Mexico.
When the series of articles on the nuclear industry came out this week, I could hardly stop reading them since our campsite one year was so very close to the sole U.S. site that makes plutonium cores for the warheads of nuclear bombs. The Plutonium Facility-4 is a 2 story building 2 blocks square in the middle of a 40-acre campus in the mountains above Santa Fe that was built during World War II to coordinate the construction of the two nuclear bombs used in Japan. Los Alamos has a national security mission where warheads are designed and where plutonium-based power supplies for deep-space probes are made.
We worry a lot about earthquakes here in Oklahoma, at least for the last few years due to man-made activities by the oil and gas industry. But the hundreds of nuclear physicists at Los Alamos not only worry about their work and safety, but also have been made to understand that a rare, large earthquake which could occur because of their active seismic zone, could collapse the roof and the plutonium could react and radioactive, cancer-causing plutonium particles could be released to nearby residential communities. Gulp.
Back to the recent articles, mistakes have been made at Los Alamos, but also at other facilities dealing with nuclear material, but as one person stated, with it being a legend, an icon everybody notices what is done there and standards should be high and penalties for mistakes should be, too. According to Los Alamos nuclear physicist Charles McMillan “DOE and its contractors have repeatedly shown they are not capable of anticipating and preventing serious criticality safety problems,” which has caused building 4 to have been shut down since June 2013.
The year we camped just across the mountain the forest fire began when a single tree was struck by lightning while the campers were sleeping in their tents. Each one woke and looked out to see the tree ablaze. My task the next day, after these youngsters had "baby stepped" down the mountain in total darkness to safety as the fire was spreading behind them, was to process their experience in the group during a Say It Straight session. Say It Straight resulted in empowering communication skills and behavior as was certainly demonstrated during that day. They will never forget what happened, and I will never forget the incredible power they felt as they took care of each other, conquered fear and survived. Those fears and those feelings must also have been taking place across the mountain that same night as Los Alamos dealt with the possibility of a fire. Those fears and feelings must have been felt by those nuclear physicists during their everyday work, but especially when critical mistakes were occurring.
Perhaps one day when the buildings at Los Alamos are discovered in the future when we are all gone for whatever reason, explorers will find that exceptional Building-4 and wonder why suspected intelligent beings would mess with uranium and expect to thrive. Just as we will be wondering what happened to Cahokia's former inhabitants as we enter those grounds on August 21: for the Path of Totality for 2 minutes beginning at 11:46 a.m.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim
— Rebecca Jim is executive director of the LEAD Agency