The US Government conducted hundreds of atomic weapons tests at a remote site in the state of Nevada. This was all done in the 1950s to up their nuclear capabilities while the tensions in the Cold War were building up. There were some reckless experiments before 1963 and had really dire consequences.
The nuclear fallout from the bomb tests was unintended and a new research shows that it the consequences were far more extreme than what they were previously thought. The above ground tests on the US soil exposed millions of Americans to high amounts of radioactive pollution. The radioactive particles made their way into the environment and food supply and led to as many as 695,000 deaths from 1951-1973.
These figures make them comparable to the American bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tests in the United States were moved underground but it was a little too late as more than 100 atmospheric bomb tests had already taken place at the Nevada test site.
In the recent study, Keith Meyers, a researcher from the University of Arizona analyzed annual county-level fallout patterns across the US. What he discovered that the Americans came in contact with radioactive pollution through milk. “During the 1950’s most milk was consumed in the local area it was produced,” Meyers explains. “It is through this channel where local fallout deposition would enter the local food supply.”
On examining the estimates of the pollution concentrations in the locally produced milk, Meyers found that the radioactive isotopes from the tests contributed to as many as 395,000-695,000 deaths. He also observed that the effects were not just isolated to the region around the test site but that the pollution made its way across the whole country.
“The geographic scope of the mortality consequences of NTS activities is broader than what previous research has shown,” Meyers writes. “The largest health effects appear in areas far beyond the scope of previous scientific and medical studies. “The scientific and medical literature has studied the effects of atmospheric testing on populations residing in Downwind counties in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. Counter-intuitively, the areas where fallout had the largest impact on the crude death rate was not in the region surrounding the test site, but rather in areas with moderate levels of radioactive fallout deposition in the interior of the country.”
Meyers makes a note that this was due to the pasturing practices of the time and the above ground bomb tests contributed to “hundreds of thousands of premature deaths in the United States between 1951 and 1972.” and this number would have been in the millions if it wasn’t for the testing moratorium put in place in 1958 and the introduction of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.