What started out as a destructive application has become the most versatile source of energy in the world. Nuclear energy has come a long way from its violent birth in the New Mexico desert more than 70 years ago.
On August 2nd 1939, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, urging his administration to begin research and development on a new kind of energy – an energy that could be turned into a weapon.
The nation’s atomic development program, codenamed ‘The Manhattan Project’ came to New Mexico under the direction of J. Robert Oppenheimer.
“He had spent his summers as a youth here in New Mexico. He even bought a ranch – a small ranch – that he and his brother had, and they loved it here,” says Dave Harrow, Curator of the Museum of Nuclear Science.
From 1942 to 1945, the biggest secret in American history was being developed in the small, isolated town of Los Alamos.
On the morning of July 16, 1945 the labors of ‘The Manhattan Project’ came to fruition.
Had that bomb been dropped over the Big-I where Interstate 25 and Interstate 40 intersect in Albuquerque, it would have destroyed everything on this map below outlined in the radius.
Everything between Carlisle and 6th to Commanche and Lomas would have been vaporized. Structures would have been flattened between Osuna and Gibson, and everything from the North Valley to the Sunport would be damaged, if not completely destroyed.
“I remember the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita: ‘Now I am become death… the destroyer of worlds…’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another,” haunting words from Oppenheimer himself.
New Mexico became the epicenter for nuclear development with both Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs.
The U.S. Navy has been using nuclear energy since the 1960’s and they are one of the largest users of nuclear energy in the world.
FACTS: New Mexico Nuclear Employment
Sandia National Labs 12,000
Los Alamos National Labs 10,000+
On the positive side of nuclear science research and development is the advancement of the diagnosis and treatment of disease within the medical field.
Nuclear energy may also be part of a greener future, in part with renewable energy such as solar and wind generated power.
While much of the Labs’ work remains classified, civilians can explore New Mexico’s contribution to the atomic era at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque.