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The scientific conquest of New Mexico : local legacies of the Manhattan Project 1942-2015

Abstract : On November 16, 1942, in the New Mexican desert, J. Robert Oppenheimer suggested to his military counterpart, General Leslie Groves, that Ashley Pond's Los Alamos Ranch School would be an ideal location for the establishment of a secret laboratory to pursue research on the design and construction of the atomic bomb. This event sealed the fate of New Mexico, dubbed the “Land of Enchantment,” which acquired a new identity as the cradle of the nuclear age. The Los Alamos Laboratory paved the way to a third colonization of the area; a scientific conquest funded by the Federal Government and maintained by the arms race with the Soviet Union. Along the Rio Grande, the derivative installations of the Manhattan Project revolutionized the social, economic, and demographic order in the state while introducing environmental and cultural disruptions. And yet, seventy years later, New Mexico was still among the five poorest states in the nation despite its nuclear Eldorado. This thesis assesses the double-edged quality and the multiple facets of the Manhattan Project's legacy in New Mexico. By evaluating the durability and distribution of the benefits entailed by the nuclear industry in terms of jobs, education, and standards of living, this dissertation focuses on the question of the extent to which local populations actually gained from this high-technology revolution, and of the environmental, socio-economic price, which has been and will have to be paid for the nuclear bonanza. Since the settlement of the first atomic pioneers in Los Alamos, the native populations of New Mexico—be they Indian Pueblo dwellers, Hispanic villagers, or Anglo ranchers—have had to adapt to the ups and downs of the new order based on a dependence on federal funds that were, in turn, determined by global politics, and to face an increasingly harsh competition with outsiders, i.e. nuclear immigrants to the state. A combination of military and government power with secrecy built up the mechanism of a local military-industrial and scientific complex, which maintained the region's status as an internal colony of the United States. Since the 1980s, growing public awareness of environmental and health consequences of radioactivity have prompted antinuclear reactions in New Mexico. Thereupon, many previously unheard voices have spoken up to shed a new light on the nuclear heritage in the state. This local perspective of the humblest, forgotten participants in the advent of the nuclear age lacks historical recognition; therefore, the purpose of this dissertation is to address the relations between New Mexicans and the local nuclear industry.
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Lucie Genay. The scientific conquest of New Mexico : local legacies of the Manhattan Project 1942-2015. History. Université Grenoble Alpes, 2015. English. ⟨NNT : 2015GREAL017⟩. ⟨tel-01428912⟩

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