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Nuclear aftermath
May 24, 2012 8:05 PM   Subscribe

"A day after the 44th nuclear test explosion in the U.S. rent the still Nevada air, observers cautiously inspected department store mannequins which were poised disheveled but still haughty on the sand in the homes of Yucca Flat."
posted by Brandon Blatcher (29 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
*searches furiously for bottlecaps*
posted by joe lisboa at 8:09 PM on May 24, 2012 [16 favorites]


We were really doing some high tech testing back then, eh?

Neat Photos, I've always said that photography is really two things... being in the right place at the right time, and "the light" (always in quotes).
posted by HuronBob at 8:12 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I swear I saw this Twilight Zone.
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:14 PM on May 24, 2012


...Wait, is that David Bowie?

I feel like this should explain something, but I'm not sure what.
posted by KChasm at 8:23 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's quite freaky, now where are those radioactively deformed cave dwellers?
posted by Prudentia at 8:26 PM on May 24, 2012


The most disturbing are all marked "not originally published in LIFE."
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:32 PM on May 24, 2012


Did they check the refrigerator?
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:43 PM on May 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


in the first half of 1955, the U.S. conducted more than a dozen nuclear test explosions in Nevada alone.

OK I realize Nevada is enormous and all but seriously, an average of about every two weeks for six months? That's insane. Did we not fully understand what radiation does by this point or something?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:07 PM on May 24, 2012


Nope. That may well be why John Wayne and so many others that worked on The Conqueror ended up dying of cancer.
posted by Curious Artificer at 9:15 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nope. That may well be why John Wayne and so many others that worked on The Conqueror ended up dying of cancer.

Ah, of course. I forgot it wasn't until a lot later that radiation's destructive power became more common knowledge.

In looking for a map of nuclear tests in Nevada, I ended up finding this video - an animated map charting the 2,053 nuclear explosions set off between 1945 and 1998. Things start to get really nuts by the early 50s, and I had to close the tab by the late 60s, as the flurry of blips became almost steady. But here's a Google Map of the Nevada nuclear testing area. Area looks devastated.

After watching The Day After when I was in middle school, I asked my dad what he would do if he knew there was a nuclear attack impending. "Go outside and give it a big kiss on the way down," was his response, explaining he'd rather be vaporized instantly than waste away to a slow, painful death. I agreed that would probably be the way to go.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:26 PM on May 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


May 16, 1955, issue of LIFE. "Scorched, male mannequin in suit of dark fabric indicates a human would be burned but alive

Ah, hopeful, deluded 1950's America...

"A nuclear reactor powering the family car!"
"Radium toothpaste - for a smile you can see in the dark!"
"Smooth away unwanted blemishes with medicated Mole-away - now with Curium!"

Bonus points if you know whether those are real or not.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:43 PM on May 24, 2012


I'm not sure how haughty I'd be after by legs were blown clean off by a nuclear blast.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:50 PM on May 24, 2012


For more like this, worth pointing out that Trinity and Beyond is both a well-done summary of nuclear testing up to 1964, and available on Netflix streaming.

Plus, it's got an incredible score, and is narrated by William Shatner.
posted by ubernostrum at 9:51 PM on May 24, 2012


I wore a radium dial watch for years.... It was like, "yeah, but not me!"...

OK I realize Nevada is enormous and all but seriously, an average of about every two weeks for six months? That's insane. Did we not fully understand what radiation does by this point or something?

That's sort of it... we didn't have a clue. The '50's were the era of blissful ignorance in SO many areas.
posted by HuronBob at 9:52 PM on May 24, 2012


I was impressed by the animation showing all the detonations in that they even included and accurately located Salmon and Sterling which were tiny (as nukes go) and took place near Hattiesburg Mississippi as part of (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP) project Dribble.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:04 PM on May 24, 2012


I see this reality has chosen the wild wasteland perk.
posted by The Whelk at 10:05 PM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


In looking for a map of nuclear tests in Nevada, I ended up finding this video - an animated map charting the 2,053 nuclear explosions set off between 1945 and 1998. Things start to get really nuts by the early 50s, and I had to close the tab by the late 60s, as the flurry of blips became almost steady.

If you watch it to the end, it shows permanent "highlights" of all of the detonations. The USSR/Russia looks like they pretty much conducted nuclear war against themselves, given how many parts of the country had nuclear detonations occur. The US pretty much isolated it to Nevada (at least for tests on their own soil), but it looks like the Soviets were blowing shit up all over the place.
posted by asnider at 10:15 PM on May 24, 2012


Some more rarely-seen footage of the nuclear tests at Yucca Flats.
posted by dhens at 12:02 AM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


OK I realize Nevada is enormous and all but seriously, an average of about every two weeks for six months? That's insane. Did we not fully understand what radiation does by this point or something?

That's sort of it... we didn't have a clue. The '50's were the era of blissful ignorance in SO many areas.


Actually, it was less blissful than wilful ignorance. (Some) people knew perfectly well what radiation did: Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been quite explicit test cases.

Why did these warnings nevertheless go unheeded? Isaac Asimov summed it up pretty well already in 1958: because humans are silly asses.
posted by Skeptic at 2:43 AM on May 25, 2012


The radioactive dissemination has borne fruit in the form of the Tea Party and Birther movement; hear me out, I don't think radioactive particles are good for in utero development and look what we have 60 years after the tests are over!
posted by Renoroc at 5:07 AM on May 25, 2012


OK I realize Nevada is enormous and all but seriously, an average of about every two weeks for six months? That's insane. Did we not fully understand what radiation does by this point or something?

Obviously radation risks were understood - it had inadvertently claimed the lives of plenty of scientists by this point. The health risks of nuclear fallout were not "known" in the 50s in the same way that AIDS transmission risk was not "known" in the late 80s. Plenty of experts suspected, but the public was generally kept ignorant, as investigations and associated criticism were impolitic. Popular activism against nuclear testing in the 50s was basically the beginning of modern grassroots environmentalism (Greenpeace! etc), with groups like Women Strike for Peace forming in response to increasingly public knowledge of the consequences of nuclear fallout. That hard evidence was brought forward by scientists like Dr. Louise Reiss, who famously conducted the Baby Teeth Study, which "ultimately found that children born in St. Louis in 1963 had 50 times as much strontium 90 in their teeth as children born in 1950."

But studies like that were simply final proof of what had been suspected by many. Who knew what, when? That's a highly political question. If only ignorance was the worst sin of the era.
posted by mek at 6:33 AM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Poor mannequins never saw it coming.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:41 AM on May 25, 2012


My grandmother has the great story of being with my grandfather in Las Vegas. It was late, she wanted to go to bed, but he wanted to keep gambling. Angry, she went to sleep in the hotel alone.
Then there was the brightest flash of light she'd ever experienced. And my grandfather racing to the hotel room to be with her, thinking the world was going to end.
posted by atomicstone at 8:54 AM on May 25, 2012


This is pretty sobering, and worth watching twice for the impact. (not a pun)

Did they check the refrigerator?

AskMeFi consensus: don't eat it.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:40 AM on May 25, 2012


For sheer atomic surreality, I like this VIP observer deck in the top photo. Then there's Miss Atomic Bomb and a tasty looking a-bomb cake. Good times!
posted by madamjujujive at 10:27 AM on May 25, 2012


Crawl out through the fallout, baby
posted by The Whelk at 10:28 AM on May 25, 2012


Wilful ignorance? Yep. Take Project Starfish, an early-60s altitude burst test sequence. Following an entertaining first launch failure leading to the destruction of the launch vehicle in flight and release of the warhead material, the Starfish Prime test was a stunning success - if by success, you mean destroying one-third of the satellites in orbit at the time, disrupting electricity supplies over a thousand klilometre radius and communications systems over much of the planet, and creating a few new radiation belts.

The thing is, lots and lots of people were asking the US to not do this test, because it would destroy satellites, cause massive disruption, and comprehensively bugger the Van Allen belts.

America said "Nah". The US had come back to the British scientists who'd made a particularly strong request, and said "We've talked to Van Allen. He doesn't believe you, and they're his belts."
posted by Devonian at 11:01 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Neat! *snaps a picture* -Bender of Futurama

But seriously. Ever watch Trinity And Beyond? We did some crazy shit! Man, we effed up a lot of pacific Islands. But yeah, this is pretty cool stuff. A real nice tribute to the crazy nuclear times of post-war/cold-war America.
posted by PipRuss at 3:47 PM on May 25, 2012


A woman's purse.
Yucca Flats.
The A-bomb.
posted by AugieAugustus at 4:53 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


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