What Happened to the Nuclear Test Sites?


Since the formation of the United States,
its mainland has never been invaded or had any major attack but there are
places there which have had more nuclear explosions than anywhere else on earth.
Of the 1054 U.S. nuclear tests, 928 were carried out on the US mainland mostly at
the Nevada Test Site but it wasn’t just the US testing nukes,
the Soviets, British, French, Chinese, Indian and Pakistanis and more recently
the North Koreans have all tested nuclear weapons some on their own
territory and some in remote locations around the world in the air, on land,
underwater and even in space but by far it’s the U.S. and the Soviets that would
have been the biggest players. But what happened at and to the nuclear test sites. The
very first full-scale nuclear test was the Trinity explosion of May 16 1945 at
the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. This was to prove the theories
developed by the Manhattan Project would actually work in reality. Trinity was an
implosion device that used plutonium, this was in response to the original
design which was a gun type device that used uranium-235
but at the time uranium-235 had to be refined almost an atom at a time and
even using a massive x10 graphite reactor of the newly constructed Oak
Ridge National Laboratory, it would take years to get enough uranium-235
for just one bomb. Plutonium could be made much easier in the reactor but in
order to make it become critical and an explosive device, a ball of it would have
to be compressed to about half its size with an explosive lens and this is what
the Trinity test was all about. As the bomb exploded the 30-meter metal tower,
its support structure and the bomb casing itself was vaporized along with
the sand of the desert floor below as the vaporized material cooled and
fell back to the ground it became a green glossy mineral now
called Trinitite. In some of the greenish glass there are patches of red which is
thought to be the copper wire which was used to trigger the explosive lens. Just
after the war samples of Trinitite were sold as
jewelry because it was thought that the fireball had just melted the sand and it
wasn’t particularly radioactive, although now it’s illegal to take samples from
the site which is open to the public twice a year. The level of radiation at
the Trinity Ground Zero site is now approximately for one hour of exposure
about the same as the average U.S. citizen would get per day from natural
radiation sources. Following the war nuclear testing moved to the Nevada
proving grounds about a 100km northwest of Las Vegas. From
1951 until 1962, 100 above ground tests were performed becoming a bit of a
tourist attraction in Las Vegas where they could feel a seismic shock wave
through the ground and see the mushroom cloud rising in the distance. At the time
even though the effects of radiation were becoming much more well-known about, little was done to reduce for Fallout. But it wasn’t just bombs which they
tested the government wanted to know how building’s, infrastructure and people
might fare if there was a nuclear attack. So they built typical American houses,
fully furnished, industrial buildings parts of bridges, electrical supply
stations, even bank vaults in the test zone and exploded nuclear devices nearby.
They tested different types of concrete and building materials to see which
would be more resilient, in fact many of the building codes now in use today are
based on the results of these nuclear tests. As part of the government’s
attempts to reassure the public that things like their money and valuable
documents and records would be safe in the event of a nuclear attack,
Edwin Mosler the president the Mosler safe company whose biggest customer was the government built an armored vault on the Frenchmen flats
area near a 37 kiloton test to prove it it would withstand the heat and blast,
which it did, and it’s still there today, minus the door which was removed afterwards.
Air bursts are considered cleaner than ones just above the ground because if
the fireball reaches the ground, soil and other materials are sucked up into the
fireball and mixed with the nuclear elements to make a highly radioactive
cloud that can travel for hundreds of kilometres. In 1953, a 32 kiloton device
nicknamed ‘Harry’ was detonated. The device later became known as ‘Dirty Harry’
because this test generated more fallout than any other US continental test. Due
to an error and an unexpected change in the wind direction the fallout was blown
over 200 kilometers and over the city of St. George Utah where the people said
there was an oddly metallic sort of taste in the air. But the prevailing
winds carried the fallout from many of the Nevada tests over southern Utah.
But the effects were spread across much of a mid US affecting over 3,000
counties and causing a marked increase in the number of cancers from the mid
1950s up until the early 1980s. As of 2014, the US government had approved
28,000 880 claims for a total of $1.9 billion in compensation to
servicemen at the test ranges and to the public who had been exposed to
radioactive fallout. Because of a partial test ban treaty of 1963, atmospheric
tests were banned and all testing went underground. The thinking was that if the
test could be contained deep underground there will be little or no fallout but
they could still contaminate underground water sources
if poorly located. In this shot of the area from Google Earth, each one of the
small circular marks is a subsidence crater formed as a result of an
underground test. Some 828 were done this way, the biggest of these which can be
seen unaided from space as part of Operation Plowshare to see if
nuclear devices could be used in the peaceful use of excavating large areas
of land quickly. The sedan crater which is 100 meters deep and 390 meters across
was formed by a 104 kiloton device detonated a 194 meters underground in july 1962. The test displaced 11 million tons of soil
but the fallout which spread northeast wards in two separate clouds as far as
Iowa was found to be too highly radioactive to make this a practical
peaceful use of nuclear explosions in the u.s. at least but it has believed to
have been used in the Soviet Union. Today the Sedan crater can be visited and the levels of radiation are safe enough as not to warrant any protective clothing. However
in the Soviet Union at this time there was less of a concern for the health and
safety of the rural population of Kazakhstan near the Semipalatinsk test
site which was also known as the polygon. The test site was created as a top
priority on the orders of Stalin by the Marshal of a Soviet Union and head of
the NKVD secret police ever Lavrentiy Beria . in 1947. The facilities were built on an
18,000 square kilometer area of the steppe in northeastern Kazakhstan with gulag
forced labor in what Beria said was uninhabited land but actually had around
about a million people living within a 160 kilometre radius of a
site and had many villages much closer. Between 1949 and 1989, 456 tests were
performed of that 116 were above ground either air dropped or on towers the last of
which occurred in 1962. The total yield of the tests over the site’s 40-year
history is equivalent to about 400 Hiroshima sized bombs or about 6
megatons. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and Kazakhstan became a separate
country, the area was neglected and nuclear materials were left unguarded in
mountain tunnels and bore holes, many of which were
targeted by scavengers looking for scrap metal but not necessarily knowing what
they were picking up. The significant amounts of plutonium left behind were
considered to be one of the biggest nuclear security threats and in 2012
Russian, US and Kazakh scientists completed a secret 17 year, $150
million cleanup operation to make the site safe which included things like
filling bore holes and tunnels with special concrete with chemically bonded
with plutonium. It’s only in the last few years of a scale of radiation damage
has come to light. The Soviet state covered up the extent of the damage for
decades and it wasn’t until 1956 that any studies were conducted into the
effects on the local population. The Institute of radiation medicine and
ecology in Semey or what was known as Semipalatinsk has said that between
500,000 and 1 million people were exposed to substantial radiation doses
when the atmospheric tests were being carried out, which led to a dramatic
increase in cancer, birth defects and mortality from the effects of
radiation. You can find out more in the report by the Norwegian Institute of
International Affairs at the address shown now and also in the description.
But for the biggest Soviet tests they needed somewhere even more remote, Novoa Zemlya is a crescent-shaped island group in the Arctic Ocean off of the northern coast
of Russia. There are 3 test zones on the islands zones, A B and C. It’s most famous
for being the place where the largest-ever nuclear test took place
October 31st 1961 when the Tsar Bomba a 50-megaton nuclear device was dropped
over test zone C. Originally designed to have a yield of 100 megatons
it was scaled back because of fears of the large amount of fallout it would
create and that the plane carrying the bomb would not be able to escape the
fireball in time. Even with a 50-megaton blast, the specially modified Tu-95V was only given a 50% chance of survival. The Tsar Bomba was detonated at 14,000 feet, 4,260m creating a fireball 8 kilometers
across but it was stopped from reaching the ground by his own huge shock wave
reflected back from the ground. The release plane managed to get 45
kilometers away before the detonation but it still dropped a kilometer in the
air due to the shockwave, however it made it back to base safely and the pilot
flying the plane resigned from the airforce shortly after a test. The explosion was
so large that the fireball was visible over a 1000 kilometers away. Every
building within a 55 kilometers radius was destroyed, wooden houses in districts
hundreds of kilometers away were destroyed and stone ones had their roofs
blown off of windows and doors blown in. The mushroom cloud reached an altitude
of 65 kilometers or 213,000 feet, seven times of a height of Everest and
the heat from the fireball could create third-degree burns a
100 kilometers away. This wasn’t the only test carried out at Novaya Zemlya,
there were 224 nuclear detonations with a total yield of 265 megatons that’s a
132 times more than the total amount of munitions used by
all sides during World War two including the two atomic bombs on Japan. The last
nuclear test was carried out there in 1990 and today it’s still a military
test area although mostly a barren Arctic island. Visitors there have found
only slightly raised levels of radiation but access to the main test sites is not
possible. Tor the larger US tests they also used remote islands and atolls but
this time in the South Pacific. Testing started there in 1948 after the islands
came under control of the US as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific
Islands and by 1962, 105 atmospheric and underwater tests had been carried out.
The first ever test after Trinity and Japanese atomic bombs was to find out if
Navy ships could withstand a nuclear attack. Operation crossroads was
performed in a lagoon at Bikini Atoll because of its remote location suitable
weather and only a small population of a 167 people which
were relocated. The Galapagos Islands had also been considered as a possible
nuclear test site. The test was witnessed by invited members of the press and the
public. Over 90 ships including captured German, Japanese and surplus US ships
would make up the test fleet in the lagoon. This was to be a three bomb test
the first being called ‘Able’ was an airdrop exploding 158 meters above the fleet with the following tests being underwater. All
three bombs were to be the same as the 23 kiloton ‘Fatman’ implosion
bomb dropped on Nagasaki. The ‘Able’ test was hampered by the bomb being 650
meters off target. Five ships were sunk and 14 seriously damaged. The second test called ‘Baker’ was an underwater test the first time that this had occurred. It
created a host of effects many of which had never been seen before but the
biggest was the fact that it made the sea in the lagoon highly radioactive. The
radiation was so bad that many of the ships could not be decontaminated but
some in the Navy didn’t believe the problem was real. It was only when a navy
surgeon who retrieved a fish from a lagoon and placed it next to a piece of
photographic film which it exposed that they decided to cancel the third test.
Only five ships were able to be used after the test and the chairman of the
Atomic Energy Commission Glenn T Seaborg called it the world’s first nuclear
disaster. In 1952, the first hydrogen bomb test
codenamed Ivy Mike took place at the bigger Eniwetok atoll 320 kilometers east of bikini. This wasn’t so much a bomb as a scientific
experiment as the hydrogen fuel had to be cooled in a
massive cryogenic plant. When it was detonated it produced a yield of 10.4 megatons but over 8 megatons of that came from the fast
fission of the uranium temper which created a huge amount of fallout and an
underwater crater 1.9 kilometers wide and 50 meters deep. By 1954 the hydrogen
bomb had been refined to become a device that could be dropped from a plane and on
the 28th of February the first of six bomb tests were carried out as part of
Operation Castle at Bikini Atoll. The Castle Bravo test was estimated to have
a yield of 6 megatons but due to an unexpectedly high performance of the
lithium-7 in the design it actually had a yield of 15 megatons and to this day
is the largest U.S. nuclear explosion. Because of a much greater power, the fall
out was much more than expected with highly radioactive calcium from the
vaporized coral reef below the bomb not only covering the Bikini Atoll itself
but also blowing eastwards and contaminating other atolls where both US
personnel and Islanders were residing at the time. A Japanese fishing boat was
also caught in the fallout and one member of a crew died of radiation
sickness a few days afterwards. To this day Bikini Atoll is still heavily
contaminated and crops grown there are not safe to eat. At Eniwetok, a crater
on the small island of Runet which had been formed by a bomb test was used by
the U.S. to dump contaminated topsoil and radioactive debris including
plutonium from a bomb that failed to explode correctly. Starting in 1977 four
thousand U.S. servicemen worked for three years to clean up the area and then
cover the waste with a concrete dome. However, this was only meant to be a
temporary measure until something more permanent could be arranged and only
4 out of the 40 islands contaminated were cleaned. Because of this the bottom
of a test crater was not lined with concrete and so now with rising sea-levels
caused by climate change, sea water is seeping inside through the porous
bedrock into the dome and leaching out radioactive material. But the seabed of the
Eniwetok lagoon is actually as radioactive as the material under the
dome. It’s been estimated that it will cost nearly a billion dollars to clean
up the area effectively and instead it’s proposed that contaminated areas be
treated with potassium which were only cost around about a $100 million. Many
of the U.S. servicemen that built the dome and worked on the cleanup claim they
were not told they will be cleaning up radioactive waste and were not given
proper training or protective clothing. In the decades since the end of the
cleanup many have died of cancer and had other
health problems which they say is related to their exposure to radiation.
However because they were not at the test sites when the tests were being
performed the U.S. government says they are not eligible for compensation. The
full effects of nuclear testing are difficult to quantify but there has been
a growing body of evidence over the last 60 years or so. Whichever way you look at
it every nuclear power put the development of increasingly more
devastating weapons ahead of the health and safety of not only their own people
but also many others for generations to come who were far removed from the
political decision-makers and that is the legacy of the nuclear test sites. In
1991 a study by the International physicians for the Prevention of nuclear
war the IPPNW estimated that by the year 2000, 430,000 cancer deaths would have
been related to atmospheric testing and concluded but eventually about 2.4
million deaths would be the result of the nuclear tests. So what are your
thoughts on the issues of nuclear tests and the effects they’ve had and are
still having let me know in the comments below and also don’t forget to subscribe,
thumbs up and share the video please. Although over tests were the practical
demonstration of the Theory’s, the ideas themselves came from the brightest minds
in maths and physics using nothing more than slide rules on blackboards but even
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