Nuclear Risks in Historical Context

What are we to make of the nuclear risks of Japan?  We still don’t know the details, but it sparked a curiosity in me to investigate our own nuclear history, right here in the land of the free, the ol’ US of A.

Between 1952 and 1992, the US Government conducted 928 nuclear tests at Nevada Test Site.  Some above ground.  Some below.  Lots in the water supply.

928.  Nuclear.  Tests.

Mushroom clouds became tourist attractions in Las Vegas during the ’50s, where people watched from hotels.  The mushroom clouds could be seen for 100 miles around.  Above-ground atomic blasts shattered casino windows downtown.  The city created an official Miss Mushroom Cloud mascot, used for tourism campaigns.

Lee Merlin, Miss Atomic Bomb
Lee Merlin, Miss Atomic Bomb

The test with the highest levels of fallout was the Storax Sedan, a shallow underground nuclear test Area 10 Yucca Flat at the Nevada National Security Site on July 6, 1962. The fallout was detected in Nebraska, South Dakota and Illinois.  After the test,

This test was done to determine if we could use nuclear explosions for the creation of harbors, canals, open pit mines, railroad and highway cuts through mountainous terrain and the construction of dams.  But when they realized that nuclear fallout from its use would be considerable, and widespread geographically, it was abandoned because of the public health concerns.

But the fallout had already occurred.  This was the worst test in terms of health risk.

Of all the fallout contamination, from all the nuclear tests done by the US government, Sedan’s fallout contamination contributed a little under 7% to the total amount of radiation which fell on the U.S. population.

One out of every third underground test were conducted directly in an aquifer, contaminating the ground water. Others were done below water tables. Federal limits to radioactivity in water are 20 picocuries per litre. In the worst zones, the levels reach into the millions of picocuries per litre.

Although radiation levels in the water have declined over time, the longer-lived isotopes will continue to pose risks for tens of thousands of years.  This is from an article in the LA Times titled “Nevada’s hidden ocean of radiation“.

So, given that our own government extensively tested nuclear explosions about a thousand times, with spectators and widespread fallout, it makes me quite skeptical of the fear mongering that is going on over the Japanese meltdown of one nuclear power plant, after the third largest earthquake ever, and a tsunami.

Mainstream media.  Yellow journalism.

Reminds me of how we used to spray DDT on children in public swimming pools in the name of health.  But that’s for another time.

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