Remember The Days When the US Used Nuclear Weapons Against Americans?


Depending on how you want to count it, the US Government killed about a half million Americans using nuclear weapons. That’s a half a million more than the North Koreans, or anyone else, have.

That’s also not counting all the American lives that were shortened by working with radioactive material at Hanford and Oak Ridge, or Idaho Falls, Los Alamos, and other places. These are US citizens who were on the receiving end of nuclear weapons.

The US Government had plenty of knowledge about the effects of nuclear weapons. But that wasn’t enough: they played with them like they were toys. And they did human experiments without the informed consent of their subjects – it wasn’t quite “Mengele-esque” because Mengele’s subjects were simply compelled whereas the American test-subjects were just ignorant. “Hey we need a couple of volunteers for an experiment” was hardly informed consent, nor was dragooning a punishment detail into being test subjects. The experiments, however, were Mengele-esque in their pointlessness: the US Government already had a very good idea what nuclear weapons would do to people; the energy release was predictable and the shock/thermal effects could be calculated – like Mengele’s experiments it seems as though they were done “because we can” and for no other reason.

If you gave a bunch of thoughtless and brutal teen-agers nuclear weapons, and delivery systems, you’d expect this kind of “hold my beer” ‘experiments’ – it’s sad to think that Kim Jong Un’s nuclear testing program is more focused, more disciplined, and far less damaging than the US’. I’d hypothesize that the reason the US is so upset about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions is because they’re afraid the North Koreans will make the same kind of mistakes that we did, except that would require a degree of self-awareness that the US generally lacks. The North Koreans have not killed a half million North Koreans, or anyone else, with nuclear weapons – so far.

When that footage was shot, there was already plenty of understanding of the various health-effects of various types of radiation, as well as the eye damage that was consequential to staring at a nuclear weapon going off. Of course these guys had no idea about it; they trusted the commanders to worry about their interests. That’s what leaders are supposed to do, right?

What kind of cancers did these people develop? Plenty.

What kind of cancers did all the people downwind of the explosions develop? Plenty.

Photographic emulsion manufacturers like Eastman Kodak knew about it [rj]:

In the 1950s and ’60s, the Atomic Energy Commission doused the United States with thyroid cancer-causing iodine-131 – and 300 other radio isotopes – by exploding atomic and hydrogen bombs above ground in Nevada. To protect the dirty, secretive bomb-building industry, the government chose to warn the photographic film industry about the radioactive fallout patterns, but not the public.

In 1951, Eastman Kodak Co . had threatened a federal lawsuit over the nuclear fallout that was fogging its bulk film shipments. Film was not packed in bubble wrap then, but in corn stalks that were sometimes being fallout-contaminated. By agreeing to warn Kodak, etc., the AEC and the bomb program avoided the public uproar – and the bomb testing program’s possible cancellation – that a lawsuit would have precipitated. The settlement kept the deadliness of the fallout hidden from the public, even though the government well knew that fallout endangered all the people it was supposed to be defending.

There were so many tests, that a huge fallout cloud rained across the entire midwest USA.

This, from a government that was supposedly doing this to protect its people.

Most of this was unnecessary; once Feynman’s arrays of human computers, coupled with John Von Neumann’s monte carlo simulations and the two test-cases that were fired on Japan, the parameters of the shockwaves, thermal energy, etc – were all calculable. Having a bunch of people sit there and witness it was pure, messed-up fun.

Where does the half million number come from? It’s difficult to model the exposures, areas, populations, and mortality rate increases, but modern science can do that: [Meyers]

The Cold War saw the rapid development and deployment of nuclear weapons. To expedite its nuclear weapons program, the United States started to conduct atmospheric nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) in 1951. This deliberate policy decision created immense quantities of radioactive debris and much of this material rained down across the U.S.. One estimate places the total atmospheric release of radioactive material from the NTS from 1951 to 1963 at 12 billion Curies. In comparison, the partial nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl released approximately 81 million Curies of radioactive material (LeBaron, 1998). Knowledge regarding the impact of this pollution is limited to scientific and health studies conducted in the regions surrounding the NTS. Nuclear testing had large pollution externalities associated with it, but the magnitude and extent of the nationwide harm caused by NTS activities have yet to be measured. This paper quantifies one dimension of the external costs of these activities by studying the adverse effects of radioactive fallout on U.S. agriculture.

What Meyers does is look at the methods by which fallout would be absorbed into cattle and diary production, then consumed by Americans. That corn that was fogging Kodak’s emulsions? That was dinner for citizens all around the country.

After radiation was dispersed across agricultural fields, plants absorbed radioactive material and animals consumed contaminated grass. This radiation then might have caused sickness in animals and have been secreted in animal milk. Anecdotal and legal evidence suggests that nuclear test fallout harmed ranchers and farm animals living in the vicinity of the NTS. Note that this region is closer to the test site than the areas examined in this paper and the exposure mechanism differed because radioactive material was deposited through radioactive dust blows and not scavenged through precipitation. In 1954, ranchers in Iron County, UT sued the U.S. Federal Government asserting that their animals had died because of radioactive fallout from 1953 tests at the Nevada Test Site (NTS). These animals fell ill after consuming irradiated pasture in northern Nevada. In 1979 the U.S. Interstate and Commerce Committee opened an investigation into reported incidents of animal deaths from radiation poisoning because of the 1953 Upshot Knothole test series. The report discussed the fact that thousands of sheep and lambs belonging to the Iron County farmers died during the spring and summer of 1953. Around 12.1% of lambing ewes and 25.4% of new lambs dying (or were stillborn.) The report also details independent veterinary assessments identifying radiation poisoning and birth defects in the animals and the subsequent government cover-up conducted by both the Atomic Energy Commission and Public Health Service (US Government Printing Office, 1980). Further corroborating the story of the Utah ranchers, General Electric scientists Bustad et al. (1957) ran experiments on the biological and health effects of radioactive I-131 in sheep. Starting in 1950, they fed groups of sheep varying daily doses of I-131 from .005 nCi to 1800 nCi and followed the effects across years and generations. Starting at 15 nCi animals showed growth retardation and deformities, thyroid damage, reduced fertility, trouble nursing, motor difficulty, and patchy skin/balding.

Give or take 1,000 times worse than Chernobyl, except nobody was evacuated. 300,000 people were evacuated from Fukushima and 150,000 from Chernobyl, and there have been massive ongoing clean-up efforts. The US Government just let its citizens eat shit and die.

Why did cancer rates start rising linearly after 1945?

[Edit: the previous chart is one of many like it that you can find if you search for ‘US cancer nuclear testing’ – the problem is that many of them are woo-woo, some of them are not, many of them are cherry-picked data, and others are not. There are conspiracy nuts, “cleansing” fetishists, and legitimate medical professionals all slicing into whatever data they have, with various results. I want to caveat all such charts as “may be B.S. but interesting.”]

A key enabler of these events is government secrecy: the US military was able to do these things, and classify them, so that they never had to confront questions about their wisdom or competence. They never had to answer any questions because they were able to hold the answers secret. Now, just to make sure you are thoroughly depressed: this is the method that the US Government still takes regarding anything of questionable wisdom that it wants to do. All that facial recognition and tracking stuff? Classified. The surveillance? Classified. The torture program? Classified. The cyberwars against every nation in the world and the US’ own citizens? Classified. The surveillance aircraft overflights along China and the Russian borders, that might spark a shooting war? Classified. The time the Air Force dropped 2 armed H-bombs on North Carolina?[cnn] Classified. The Submarine encounters between US attack subs and other nations’ subs? Classified. These useless and destructive “experiments” are a perfect example of why the people in the government that want to act in secret absolutely should never be allowed to do so.
------ divider ------

Naturally, the British had to have their fun, too. This video is unintentionally revealing. At 0:05 it says “servicemen were ordered to witness the drops, from the farthest side of the island.”

Other than “ooh, look, it bloody worked!” what did the British expect to learn? This is a stupid waste of resources and it was damaging to the people who had been entrusted to its own military. At 3:00 one of the interviewees says, “we’d seen others, but this was the biggest we’d ever seen.” Nice, so they gave multiple doses? What is wrong with these people?! I don’t see it in this particular clip, but the shockwave is so intense it blows some of the troops off their feet.

 

Comments

  1. says

    A lot of this is stupid and makes no sense to put your people into harms way, but one thing I started wondering about with the number of tests that weren’t needed… Yes, they were “secret”, but I’m curious if some of them were a show for the Soviets.

  2. Raucous Indignation says

    Far be it from me to call bullshit on a cancer chart, but “bladder, melanoma, prostate, lung and breast cancer” seem awful cherry picked to me. And that’s totally separate from the general poor quality of cancer data before the SEER database was started in 1973. I will leave the term “rate” for you to help me interpret. Do you mean incidence or prevalence? Or would that be death rate?

  3. says

    I wonder how much US fallout ended up in Canada. Judging from that map parts of Saskatchewan probably got doses in the 150 to 300=+ uCi/square meter range.

  4. says

    Raucous Indignation@#2:
    I’m sure the chart is cherry-picked, as you say. I was unsure whether to include it or not, because the source seemed a bit woo-ey, but the results (if they are not wholly made up) appear to show that there is a linear increase in certain cancers since the US began nuclear weapons testing.

    There are similar charts for some cancers in the Chernobyl and Fukushima aftermaths – the problem with all of these things is that they are a popular target for woo-sters, anti-anything-nuclear advocates, and conspiracy buffs. So, yeah, it could be chemtrails.

    I should have included a comment that I am not confident in the provenance of the chart.

  5. says

    timgueguen@#3:
    I wonder how much US fallout ended up in Canada. Judging from that map parts of Saskatchewan probably got doses in the 150 to 300=+ uCi/square meter range.

    Seems about right to me.
    From the main chart, I can only conclude that the US Government pointlessly exposed a tremendous number of people to nuclear fallout, and did so under military secrecy. No matter how that gets sliced, the US committed (yet another) truly horrible crime.

  6. says

    Tabby Lavalamp@#1:
    I’m curious if some of them were a show for the Soviets.

    I’m not sure… “It’s complicated” – at the time those tests were being done, the Soviets were developing nuclear weapons of their own, and creating their own toxic radiation zones. And, at the time, the US Government was selling the lie to its people that there was a “bomber gap” and then a “missile gap” which (at the highest levels) were known to be exactly the opposite: the US already led by a large margin in terms of the number of deployable weapons, let it insisted that the Soviets were in the lead, so it aggressively produced more warheads and did many public tests.

    Was it a show for the Soviets or just bloody-minded dick-waving?

  7. says

    Huffpo has an article [huff] about cancer rates and testing. It includes:

    In December 1958, a group of visionary scientists at Washington University in St. Louis, working with the citizen group Committee for Nuclear Information, began collecting baby teeth, locally and across the country. They obtained federal grants to cover their costs, and generated large numbers of volunteers to help with tooth collection. Schools, PTAs, churches, scout groups, dental societies, libraries and clinics all took part. Children were rewarded for donating teeth with a small button bearing a likeness of a boy with a gap in his front teeth, with the phrase “I Gave My Tooth to Science.”

    A staggering total of about 320,000 teeth were collected over the next dozen years. Lab tests found that children born in 1963 had about 50 times more Sr-90 in teeth than those born in 1950. Washington University officials used their results in testimony to the U.S. Senate leading to the Partial Test Ban Treaty signed by President John F. Kennedy, ending all above-ground atom bomb tests.

    Testing had ended, but the thorny question of health hazards to Americans — especially children — remained. U.S. childhood cancer rates had climbed in the 1950s and early 1960s, but scientists were stumped as to why. Studies of the fallout-cancer link were only conducted after the Cold War had ended. A 2002 U.S. Centers for Disease Control report calculated that fallout caused 15,000 U.S. cancer deaths, a figure some believed was a gross underestimate. The following year, a blue ribbon European panel reported 61,600,000 cancer deaths worldwide from fallout.

    The St. Louis tooth study was seemingly headed for the history books, until 2001, when Washington University officials stumbled upon 85,000 teeth not used in the study in a remote storage area. The school donated the teeth to the Radiation and Public Health Project (RPHP), a research group conducting its own study of Sr-90 in baby teeth, near U.S. nuclear reactors. Each tooth is enclosed in a small envelope attached to a card identifying the tooth donor.

  8. says

    One of the problems with this, as I mentioned in my reply @#4 is there is a lot of woo surrounding the issue. For example, one of the articles I reviewed when I wrote the piece seemed pretty rational and credible [jonbnarron] until I get to the bottom and it recommends an annual “detox.” Oops.

    So, there are some people who are trying to make this look like it’s all nuclear weapons and others that it’s unnamed industrial toxins, and probably others that it’s GMOs and chemtrails.

    It’s not simple. But can we can conclude that giving unknowing civilians a Chernobyl-worth of radiation, and not mentioning it, is probably not a very good idea? (It’s actually a thousand Chernobyls-worth, but it’s different isotopes and the area is vastly larger; I don’t know how to compare beyond “this does not seem like the sort of thing a legitimate government does to its citizens”)

  9. says

    Some more analysis on lung cancer and nuclear testing, as well as cigarettes. This one is interesting because you’ve got people sucking carcinogens into their lungs, but they may also be sucking in fallout. Which kills how much?
    [alter]
    And then there’s the question of whether the guy writing the article has a particular agenda.

  10. fredex says

    I remember the days when the British and Australian governments used nuclear weapons against me.

  11. says

    fredex@#10:
    I remember the days when the British and Australian governments used nuclear weapons against me.

    Like a trout to the fly, I cannot resist…

    Sounds like you’ve got an interesting story. Care to tell more?

  12. says

    Lofty@#11:
    I found it interesting to read that tobacco plants are particularly good at collecting radioactive materials from their immediate environment, and delivering them directly to the lungs of users. A very effective way of concentrating dangerous fallout.

    Interesting, isn’t it? It’s a good thing the tobacco lobby didn’t know about the fallout, or they could have pushed all the blame onto the feds.

    The whole thing is nightmarish and gives a different perspective on “the cold war didn’t kill many people” and “we’re from the government and we’re here to help.” I had to think long and hard before I made a Mengele reference in a serious posting – but I think the equivalence stands.

  13. DavidinOz says

    fredex may be referring to the British tests at Maralinga. A half arsed attempt was made to remove the aboriginal inhabitants of the area, but let’s face it, in Australia at the time aborigines were still treated as fauna, not humans.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_nuclear_tests_at_Maralinga

    http://theconversation.com/sixty-years-on-the-maralinga-bomb-tests-remind-us-not-to-put-security-over-safety-62441

    WHEN nuclear bombs tore through the nation’s centre, some people living there didn’t even know it was coming. And the true extent of the destruction remains a hushed secret.

  14. says

    Marcus @13

    If you ever get the chance, track down the books of one “Len Beadell”, a surveyor and road builder. He made tracks across vast areas of Australian desert to allow the army access into the region to let off bombs and install their monitoring equipment. Many of his “roads” are still used today by intrepid tourists. A truly remarkable man and probably the last real explorer of the Australian continent. Len died relatively recently … of cancer.

  15. Raucous Indignation says

    Marcus, sorry to call bullshit and run. I had to do to work and stuff. The five cancers in that chart aren’t alike in etiology. Smoking drives lung cancer; that would be made worse with fallout contaminated tobacco. Melanoma is primarily from childhood UV radiation exposure, but it at least is caused by radiation. Bladder and breast are a bit harder for to figure. And then there are cancers which should be mentioned that aren’t. Where is thyroid cancer? There was a huge spike in thyroid cancer, primarily in children, seen after Chernobyl. And where are the leukemias? That mechanism of oncogenesis is well described. They occur within a few years after exposure.

    None of my objections to that silly chart in any way absolve the sociopathic cruelty of the people who ordered these tests. Clearly, real harm was done, and those in charge knew it would happen. I wonder how many medals they were given.

  16. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Marcus
    Just to add in, from a brief skim, these estimates are based on the linear no threshold hypothesis, and particularly the estimates are based on the far end of the model, very low doses per person, which means that the conclusion is bunk. Casually asserting “half a million dead” is unjustified, and probably wrong. Modern evidence indicates that there is a threshold where dose rates below this threshold do substantially less damage, and possibly zero damage, and practically all of the “half million” of the exposed would be below this threshold.

  17. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PS:
    It’s simply wrong that injury is based on total cumulative lifetime dose. Dose rate matters. A dose of 1 Sv delivered instantly is often fatal, but 1 Sv delivered over 80 years is very probably harmless.

  18. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Ack, hitting send too early. Sorry.
    I meant to add: Many of these so-called studies assume, wrongly, that the linear no threshold hypothesis is true, which is roughly equivalent to the assumption that total injury is proportional to total cumulative dose received over a lifetime. I am incredibly suspicious concerning the snippets that you provided because they don’t seem to care about dose rates when drawing their conclusions, which is par for the course for the anti-nuclear people.

  19. Dunc says

    Of course, the LNT model is also based on external exposure, whereas those exposed to fallout from above-ground nuclear testing are likely to have been inhaling and ingesting nano-scale particles of assorted radionuclides, which is a very different matter, especially where alpha emitters are concerned… Inhalation or ingestion of alpha-emitters (such as polonium-210) may be one of the mechanisms by which tobacco smoking causes both lung and bladder cancers, which will be why those are included on the plot. (Yeah, I was surprised by the link between smoking and bladder cancer too, but it’s apparently very robust.) However, I’d be a lot happier to see the various cancers disaggregated, and some control for smoking rates applied.

    There probably are robust studies of the excess morality from fallout exposure (after all, that’s the only possible reason for carrying out these sorts of tests), but they’ll all be classified until doomsday.

  20. Dunc says

    Having said that though, if tobacco-mediated exposure to radionuclides is a factor in smorking-releated deaths, then it becomes very difficult to see how you would distinguish between “normal” smorking-releated deaths and “fallout-enhanced” smorking-releated deaths, especially considering that most of the robust research on smorking-releated mortality is from after these tests…

  21. deranger says

    During the Cold War, and especially in the 1955 – 1965 era, Americans believed they faced an existential threat. Hiding under a school desk, evacuation drills, DefCon alerts, basically every day we wondered what would happen to the U. S. Imagine the current incessant threats from North Korea, but streaming from the Soviet Union, a far more formidable opponent. Nuclear detonations in the atmosphere, literally HUNDREDS of them, were patently intended to broadcast the nation’s intent to defend itself. After enlisting in the Air Force, after training I was placed in a position to view things from near the edge of the wedge. The outfit I served in (as an electronics tech) almost daily flew very near or in Soviet airspace from bases in countries ringing Russia, attempting to determine Soviet capabilities; we already knew their intent. I believe that in similar circumstances we would behave in much the same way today, only now we’re not that much smarter, just more cynical.

  22. says

    Raucous Indignation@#17:
    Marcus, sorry to call bullshit and run. I had to do to work and stuff. The five cancers in that chart aren’t alike in etiology. Smoking drives lung cancer; that would be made worse with fallout contaminated tobacco. Melanoma is primarily from childhood UV radiation exposure, but it at least is caused by radiation. Bladder and breast are a bit harder for to figure. And then there are cancers which should be mentioned that aren’t. Where is thyroid cancer? There was a huge spike in thyroid cancer, primarily in children, seen after Chernobyl. And where are the leukemias? That mechanism of oncogenesis is well described. They occur within a few years after exposure.

    No need to apologize. As I said in the posting, the data for this stuff seems complicated (a lot of it is based on proxy data, such as “days taken off work” increase means “reduction in wellness”, just for one example) and it is definitely a breeding-ground for conspiracy theories, alt-med, and who knows what all else. I tried to qualify that I don’t whole-heartedly accept this data – although: it’s interesting.

    The one thing I come away with from this is: we need better reporting about medical outcomes, at national (minimum) levels and our government are a bunch of irresponsible bastards who cannot be trusted. I’d already figured the latter out.

    Tangentially, one of the big pieces of health data (like the fallout data) that is not being adequately tracked and analyzed is police-on-citizen violence. I suspect that 50 years from now people will be looking at that with the same horror with which we’re looking at the fallout data.

  23. says

    EnlightenmentLiberal@#18:
    Just to add in, from a brief skim, these estimates are based on the linear no threshold hypothesis, and particularly the estimates are based on the far end of the model, very low doses per person, which means that the conclusion is bunk. Casually asserting “half a million dead” is unjustified, and probably wrong. Modern evidence indicates that there is a threshold where dose rates below this threshold do substantially less damage, and possibly zero damage, and practically all of the “half million” of the exposed would be below this threshold.

    OK, I’ll buy that. And, yes, I’m aware that there’s a difference between exposure and long-term and “it’s really complicated.” If I recall, (someone explained this to me as I was tramping through downtown Pripyat) part of the reason that Chernobyl was so bad was the graphite mediator burned and created and distributed some particularly nasty long-lasting and radioactive stuff. That would be substantially different from what a nuclear test creates (though the US was using mixes of air and ground bursts, which also create different fallout)

    So, I will adopt the position of “I don’t know” regarding this matter.

  24. says

    “Some more analysis on lung cancer and nuclear testing, as well as cigarettes. This one is interesting because you’ve got people sucking carcinogens into their lungs, but they may also be sucking in fallout. Which kills how much?” – Marcus

    Marcus,
    I am the author of that blog. The reason why I got interested in the subject was because many years ago it became clear to me that there was no correlation whatsoever between historical cigarette consumption and lung cancer deaths. If you look at countries such as the US it looks like there is a correlation but if you look at other countries there is no correlation. What really drives it home that cigarettes do not drive lung cancer rates is the fact that in countries such as in the former soviet union lung cancer death rates have fallen in line with the west despite the fact that they continued with high smoker prevalence to this day. This I think that this eliminates any possibility that there is a synergistic effect between cigarettes and any other cause including atomic weapons testing.

    So if it is not true that cigarettes drive lung cancer rates then what does drive lung cancer rates?

    I have looked at many hypotheses but nuclear fallout as a hypothesis remains hard to reject not least because it fits the lung cancer signature of most countries perfectly as can be seen on my page on nuclear fallout and lung cancer.

    It is also worth noting that during the 1950s it was already known that the amount of radiation in cigarettes was negligible compared with the amount breathed from the atmosphere and the majority of radiation came down with the rain see here.

    I understand your concerns about my motives but I have no connection with the tobacco industry or the anti-smoking industry and I am a smoker but nothing more sinister that! I hope the extra info I have provided is of interest!

Leave a Reply