Atomic Testing in the 1950s and 1960s Research Proposal

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Atomic Testing

Though modern people have concerns about atomic testing and the impact of radioactive fallout, ignorance about the atomic bomb and radiation meant that people who were exposed to such testing in the 1950s and 1960s were frequently unaware of the toxic and possibly fatal consequences of such radiation. On the contrary, rather than strive to avoid toxic fallout for bystanders, the government actually went out of its way to minimize the perception of risk. For example, in Las Vegas, businesses actually touted the nuclear testing as "a super fireworks spectacle for tourists." The government did not discourage this use, but instead allowed thousands of civilians and military personnel to fallout that it knew, or certainly suspected, would be hazardous if not lethal.

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Although the government did need to determine the impact of an atomic weapon that was detonated above-ground, the selection of above-ground testing sites was not based on scientific needs. On the contrary, "the government wanted a nuclear proving ground on the continent to save money after it conducted expensive atomic tests in the Pacific Ocean. It also wanted federal scientists to be able to continue their secret work far from the Korean War." As a result, at the end of 1950, Truman approved the Nevada Test Site in the desert 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. "The barren testing range carved out of the Mojave Desert would be home for the next several decades to 928 of the 1,054 above- and below-ground nuclear experiments conducted by the U.S." In fact, while most people think of nuclear testing as something from the distant past, that testing continued well into the latter-half of the 20th century, and only ended in the Nevada desert in 1992. Today, the area is still used for testing, though not for traditional nuclear testing. However, "by presidential order, the site must be ready to resume nuclear weapons tests within 18 months to three years after a presidential or congressional order."

Research Proposal on Atomic Testing in the 1950s and 1960s Assignment

Although nuclear testing may have been conducted primarily in the Nevada desert, it is a fallacy to assume that such testing only impacted that immediate area. On the contrary, the immediate and long-range negative impact of those tests are currently quite well-known, despite government attempts to keep that information secret. The government did not officially release information about the side-effects of nuclear testing until 1993, and much of that information continues to be classified. In fact, for most of the history of testing, the government actively downplayed the possible negative effects of such testing. For example, in May of 1953, the:

government triggered an above-ground nuclear blast code-named "Harry," whose radioactive fallout blanketed not only the arid desert, but farm fields, homes, schools, factories and businesses across the country. The fallout even wiped out film at Kodak headquarters in Rochester, N.Y. Government agents washed cars and brushed (with whisk brooms) the clothes of residents of St. George, Utah. The government assured those residents everything was safe, but at least 4,390 sheep grazing in Utah died from radiation sickness. The government admitted nothing.

It took years for the government to finally acknowledge any type of liability for exposing thousands of people to radiation, though its impact was realized long before that time. Downwinders, those people exposed to radioactive fallout by nature of being downwind from the tests, experienced a victory in 1984, when "a federal judge in Salt Lake City ruled the government had been negligent by exposing thousands of downwinders to radioactive fallout." However, the victory was a small one; test site workers who sued the government were unsuccessful in their suit. Military workers have also had a problem getting compensation or even getting the VA to cover radioactive-fallout related medical expenses. A look at the stringent requirements for those benefits helps explain those difficulties. Furthermore, although the Federal government has finally acknowledged that the nuclear testing program contributed to some deaths, it maintains that few civilians have died as a result of those tests. Moreover, even those who have received favorable judgments are not guaranteed compensation; most of them continue to wait for payments.

One of the problems with receiving compensation is that there is a significant amount of disagreement in the scientific community regarding the effects of radioactive fallout:

Some scientists, among them a several Nobel laureates, have warned that the radiation may eventually cause as many as ten million deaths worldwide. Other scientists claim the fallout was dispersed and diluted by air and water to the point where it could not be harmful. Congressional hearings have found negligence in the testing program and horrifying consequences.

Necessity of the Testing

Looking back, it is easy to second-guess the government and suggest that nuclear testing was an absolute error. However, that attitude ignores the fact that America faced a tremendous threat in the 1950s and 1960s. The threat of war with Russia, the world's other major superpower of the time, seemed very likely.

Not only would a war with Russia have resulted in deaths, it could have resulted in the death of modern democracy and free market principles, since the Russian ideology of the time was communist:

The tests may have been dangerous, but they took place during dangerous times. The Soviet Union, an avowed enemy of the United States, was developing a nuclear arsenal that very quickly became powerful enough to destroy every city in North America. In the infancy and adolescence of nuclear science, bombs, designs, fuels, and triggers had to be tested. If the United States let the Soviet Union get ahead in the design or production of atomic weapons, the weakness of the U.S. arsenal might very well have tempted its enemy to launch a nuclear war. Atomic testing, therefore, in one form or another, in one place or another, had to happen to maintain a balance of power. Ironically, the only place American bombs exploded was in American territory

However, the fact that the bombs were only exploded in American territory does not mean that only Americans suffered as a result of America's atomic testing program. Of course, it is now known that radioactive pollution can have long-ranging negative effects that impact the entire world. In addition, non-Americans were directly injured by the tests. One well-documented incident involved the downwind contamination of a tuna Trawler by the Bravo cloud. Several of the crewmen became ill and one of them died. The tuna had to be discarded. Though the United States did not admit guilt, it paid $2 million in compensation for the life, the ship, the injuries, and the discarded tuna. Not surprisingly, "the funeral of the dead crew member was attended by 400,000 people, an indication of the loathing of nuclear weaponry by the people of Japan."

In addition, several well-respected atomic-bomb researchers indicated that such extensive atomic-bomb testing would not have been necessary if the United States had not heralded in the nuclear era by dropping atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These scientists actually warned of that possibility, but Truman ignored them. After those bombs were dropped, the same scientists seemed to acknowledge the necessity of nuclear testing, so that the United States could maintain nuclear superiority. They suggested that secrecy would not prevent other countries from obtaining atomic bombs because the basics of the weaponry were already well-known. Furthermore, they downplayed suggestions that the United States could prevent other countries from developing the bomb by monopolizing the base components of the bomb.

Types of Nuclear Tests

There are several ways to classify types of nuclear tests. The first way is by the location of the test. The United States has used three venues for the testing of atomic weaponry: the atmosphere, the ocean, and underground. The second way is by how the test was deployed, whether by tower, tunnel, airdrop, or other method. The third way is by the purpose of the test, "whether the test was part of the weapons development program, a DoD effects test, a joint United States- United Kingdom (U.S.-UK) test, or was part of some special program that involved the use of nuclear devices." There were a total of 1,054 nuclear tests in the time period between July 1945 and September 1992. There is no apparent consistency or order to the frequency of tests each year. However, the late 1950s and the 1960s saw more tests than the time periods before or after. There were 210 atmospheric tests performed: 1 by airburst, 52 by airdrop, 25 by balloon, 36 by barge, 12 by rocket, 28 on the surface, and 56 from a tower. There were 839 tests performed underground, 9 via crater, 763 via shaft, and 67 via tunnel. There were five underwater tests. The tests occurred in a wide variety of location: three in the South Atlantic; 106 in the Pacific Islands; one in Alamogordo, New Mexico; three in Amchitka, Alaska; one in Carlsbad, New Mexico; one in Central, Nevada, one in Fallon, Nevada; one in Farmington, New Mexico; one in Grand Valley, Colorado; two in Hattiesburg,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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