How the World Nuked Itself from 1945-1998
July 4, 2010 6:29 AM   Subscribe

"1945-1998" is a multimedia artwork by Isao Hashimoto that documents over 2000 nuclear explosions -- mostly tests -- on earth since the closing days of World War II. It starts slowly, but give it time, because it ends up looking like the 4th of July.

From the artist's description: "This piece of work is a bird's eye view of the history [of nuclear testing] by scaling down a month length of time into one second . . . I created this work for . . . people who are yet to know of the extremely grave, but present problem of the world."

(It leaves out the two recent N. Korean tests.)

From the website of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization.
posted by fourcheesemac (54 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
I saw this last week and it's actually pretty powerful.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:50 AM on July 4, 2010


Thanks for this post.

My personal favorite nuclear-weapons-related creative work is The War Game, a 1965 film by Peter Watkins that outlines the effects of nuclear war on Britain. You can watch it in its entirety here. It's 48 minutes long, and is a fantastic reminder that nuclear war should scare the hell out of us.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:51 AM on July 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


It's darkly funny to see those European flags pop up - and then the subsequent flashes are far, far, far away from the European continent. (What did those atolls ever do to you, France?)

I hadn't realized just how many bombs we'd literally set off right in our own back yard. That... can't be good. Can it?
posted by harujion at 6:55 AM on July 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Our extinction will not be entirely without merit.
posted by Ritchie at 6:58 AM on July 4, 2010


I hadn't realized just how many bombs we'd literally set off right in our own back yard. That... can't be good. Can it?

I was wondering the same thing. Is there a higher rate cancer, desert or some other negative quality in those areas.
posted by new brand day at 7:04 AM on July 4, 2010


I hadn't realized just how many bombs we'd literally set off right in our own back yard. That... can't be good. Can it?

Technically, no, it can't be good. Though, the vast majority of tests on the US mainland were underground tests. Still, it's not a good plan to be nuking your own property. OTOH, if you're going to detonate nukes, it's probably a more moral thing to do it on your own soil, rather than obliterate some Pacific island. Of course, we did both.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:05 AM on July 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Our extinction will not be entirely without merit.

Extinction? We should be so lucky. My money is on the population crashing back down to a few hundred million once we run out of energy and lose a bunch of arable land, and on life getting much more solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 7:10 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hadn't realized just how many bombs we'd literally set off right in our own back yard. That... can't be good. Can it?



No, it is by no means good. There is a separate FPP that could be made on the literature documenting the effects of radiation (among other things) on the rural American west during the cold war, and continuing into the present. Go visit a small town in the Nevada desert sometime, and talk to the ranchers. Or read Carole Gallagher's amazing book American Ground Zero. (amazon link).

The American west is a nuclear waste dump, too.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:10 AM on July 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was just talking about this with a friend at the bar last night...I was all ready to google it this morning when lo and behold first post on metafilter.

It is both beautiful and depressing.
posted by schyler523 at 7:11 AM on July 4, 2010


Once we're down to a few hundred million, all the technological time bombs around us start going off and the world quickly becomes uninhabitable for mammals living on its surface. What odds do you give for an orderly shutdown of the nuclear power or weapons plants all over the globe in any scenario of drastic human population decline?
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:16 AM on July 4, 2010


Here's a visualization of fallout from these tests from RadicalCartography.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:21 AM on July 4, 2010


"mostly" tests? Unless I missed that other war, weren't all of them but the second and third tests?
posted by yhbc at 7:41 AM on July 4, 2010


"mumble mumble military mumble mumble complex mumble" ... dwight d. eisenhower
posted by kitchenrat at 7:44 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I guess the biggest halt to progress is the holidays. In the video, everything pretty much stops for a couple months around January.

Although probably not intentional, this video is a great political balloon for plugging the Gulf leak with a nuclear weapon. Hey, what's another nuclear detonation? Plowshare, anyone?

Watching the explosions from far off in space, it's not hard to imagine that some entity would see the call and response of explosions as some primitive form of communication. And they would be right, at least about the primitive part.
posted by hanoixan at 7:50 AM on July 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


My money is on the population crashing back down to a few hundred million

Money won't be worth anything then.
posted by longsleeves at 7:52 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


yes, mostly tests is hyperbole. Hiroshima and Nagasaki seemed like more than exceptions to me. Apologies.

Of course it's all war, just mostly on planet earth.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:58 AM on July 4, 2010


My favorite part was in 1993 when Clinton took office. The era my country now refers to as "The Time of Our National Shame and Downfall", the time when sex overtook violence, as far as birthing monsters into the world.
posted by nervousfritz at 7:59 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't even tell which side you're trolling with that.
posted by umberto at 8:22 AM on July 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


What a profoundly depressing video. :(
posted by zarq at 8:25 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hadn't realised the sheer size of it, and the USA's testing so disproportionately high as well.

As for The War Game. Has anybody in the current UK government watched that, to sit there and say that they will be renewing our nuclear weapons system? I don't care why they think we need it, how can we do that to anybody?
posted by mathw at 8:30 AM on July 4, 2010


It was interesting to note the joint U.S. U.K. tests here in the states while France had to do many more tests as a whole to gather their info.

And what about South Africa and Israel?
posted by Max Power at 8:40 AM on July 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is there ANY scientific reason to have done that many tests? I mean, I know we made a couple of new bombs along the way, but seriously, it blows up, we know it blows up, why are we setting more off? I read the post a couple of days back about nuking the magnetosphere, but seriously, what else did we really need to blow up?

Was this mostly Cold War dickwaving of the worst kind? Or was this just a lot of businesses cashing in by needing excuses to do expensive testing?

Great video, horrifying and sickening at the same time.
posted by yeloson at 9:10 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


8 insane nuclear explosions. There's a partial answer among this photos to your question yeloson. It seems the US was testing various effects of nuclear explosions, both from military and civilian perspectives.
posted by new brand day at 9:25 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


That great white dot over the western US? Yeah that's just off from where I live. We have a large problem with Downwinders, people who have higher rates of cancer, etc as a result of the fallout. It's a reason people in my state loathe the idea of anything nuclear, be it power or waste, happening anywhere near here.
posted by msbutah at 9:27 AM on July 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've read a number of books on the radiation from nuclear testing in the US. It was obviously very bad when they did above-ground testing, which halted in the late 50s or early 60s I think. But it's still out there waiting to be picked up a dust storm and blown into your thyroid. The govt denies it every step of the way, how can one prove a cancer or birth defect was caused by a nuclear bomb, cancer and birth defects happen naturally anyway. Same thing at Chernobyl, the official casualties are very low. The whole world is contaminated with radiation. Geiger counters are not too exspensive.
posted by stbalbach at 9:29 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Omg. Nice piece.

And what the frack is that detonation in the Deep South?!?
posted by Empty Planet at 9:44 AM on July 4, 2010


Wow. Amazing. That gave me goosebumps.
Seeing that, it's pretty obvious why the US doesn't really have any uranium left.

Is there ANY scientific reason to have done that many tests?
Now, I'm no nucular scientist, but I'd be willing to speculate publicly that, while there were engineering motivations for many of the tests, lots of others were scientifically calibrated displays of muscle.

And what the heck was with USSR in 1987, anyway?
posted by Casimir at 9:54 AM on July 4, 2010


And what about South Africa and Israel?

Despite ample circumstantial evidence, nothing was ever confirmed. When the USSR and the US took action to stop South Africa from running their initial test, SA cut their preparations short. The subsequent "Vela" incident was never conclusively confirmed to have been an actual test and not a satellite malfunction. Nor has Israel's involvement been confirmed, either. Personally, I'm inclined to believe it was a test and they were involved, but that's just my opinion. There's no hard evidence either way.

This was discussed at length in this thread.
posted by zarq at 10:03 AM on July 4, 2010


Now, I'm no nucular scientist, but I'd be willing to speculate publicly that, while there were engineering motivations for many of the tests, lots of others were scientifically calibrated displays of muscle.

Of course that's just speculation. But you have to figure that everyone one of these texts, at least in the US, has to have left a paper trail. Someone put in the work order and had to right a justification. They might not have put in the real intention, but it would be interesting to see what all they did put in. Something for a graduate student or ambitious journalist.

(Probably classified. "Technical things we don't want out and that aren't yet available on the internet.")

Oh, and for fun - some of the tests, and not just USers, were to gauge the effect on soldiers. And civilians if they happened to be around.

The mind boggles.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:07 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hadn't realized just how many bombs we'd literally set off right in our own back yard. That... can't be good. Can it?

No. Sensible people set them off in someone else's back yard.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:09 AM on July 4, 2010


And what the frack is that detonation in the Deep South?!?
I didn't notice this until you mentioned it, scarily. There are two at the Salmon Site.
posted by knile at 10:25 AM on July 4, 2010


Purely anecdotal, of course, but my grandfather and many of my uncles who grew up in Idaho during the 50's (downwind from the Nevada tests) died from prostate cancer. I guess the milk in fallout areas encouraged more to grow than just strong bones.
posted by malocchio at 10:46 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Putting on my rational, emotionless, engineering hat for a moment, I'll say that when working on any complex design, you create simulations to test out your ideas. At some point or another, if you want to make sure that your model is accurate and that your design will work, you have to build the real thing to calibrate and verify your models. In any case, the models will always be inferior to the actual running model in analyzing and understanding the design.

Putting on my political hat, you have to know that this was the Cold War, when many people thought that it was entirely possible for the US and USSR to fight the World War to end all wars (and possibly all life). The only thing preventing it was MAD--mutually assured destruction: the idea that neither side would start a war when the end result is that both sides lose. This only works if both sides have the capability of destroying the other. All over the country people were building fallout shelters. You'd see these giant golf balls everywhere that were actually radars looking for Russian planes trying to sneak into the country.

Putting my engineering hat back on, as long as you are going to explode the thing anyway, you might as well take advantage of the oppurtunity to do all kinds of experiments nearby, such as testing biological effects, testing electronics for radiation hardness, trying out various kinds of shielding.

After the end of the Cold War, it became obvious to both countries that the negatives were much higher than the positive outcomes of this testing, and all testing was halted.

Now we have to worry about all the little countries that want to enter the game.
posted by eye of newt at 11:03 AM on July 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Read this and weep:

"Fallout from Nuclear Weapons Tests and Cancer Risks " (Simon, Bouville, Land, American Scientist, 2006)

Money quote:

In 1997, NCI conducted a detailed evaluation of dose to the thyroid glands of U.S. residents from I-131 in fallout from tests in Nevada. In a related activity, we evaluated the risks of thyroid cancer from that exposure and estimated that about 49,000 fallout-related cases might occur in the United States, almost all of them among persons who were under age 20 at some time during the period 1951-57, with 95-percent uncertainty limits of 11,300 and 212,000. The estimated risk may be compared with some 400,000 lifetime thyroid cancers expected in the same population in the absence of any fallout exposure. Accounting for thyroid exposure from global fallout, which was distributed fairly uniformly over the entire United States, might increase the estimated excess by 10 percent, from 49,000 to 54,000. Fallout-related risks for thyroid cancer are likely to exceed those for any other cancer simply because those risks are predominantly ascribable to the thyroid dose from internal radiation, which is unmatched in other organs.

External gamma radiation from fallout, unlike beta radiation from I-131, is penetrating and can be expected to affect all organs. Leukemia, which is believed to originate in the bone marrow, is generally considered a "sentinel" radiation effect because some types tend to appear relatively soon after exposure, especially in children, and to be noticed because of high rates relative to the unexposed. Lifetime rates in the general population, however, are comparable to those for thyroid cancer (on the order of one percent), whereas those for all cancers are about 46 percent in males and 38 percent in females.

A total of about 1,800 deaths from radiation-related leukemia might eventually occur in the United States because of external (1,100 deaths) and internal (650 deaths) radiation from NTS and global fallout. For perspective, this might be compared to about 1.5 million leukemia deaths expected eventually among the 1952 population of the United States. About 22,000 radiation-related cancers, half of them fatal, might eventually result from external exposure from NTS and global fallout, compared to the current lifetime cancer rate of 42 percent (corresponding to about 60 million of the 1952 population).

The risk estimates in Figure 10 do not apply to the extremely high-dose fallout exposures experienced by 82 residents of the Marshall Islands exposed to BRAVO fallout on Rongelap and Ailinginae in 1954, because the total dose to the thyroid gland (88 Gy on average) far exceeded those in any of the studies on which the estimates are based. Other islands in the archipelago, with about 14,000 residents in 1954, had average estimated doses of 0.03 Gy to bone marrow and 0.68 Gy to the thyroid gland. Altogether, excess lifetime cancers are estimated to be three leukemias (compared to 122 expected in the absence of exposure, an excess of 2.5 percent), 219 thyroid cancers (compared to 126 expected in the absence of exposure, an excess of 174 percent) and 162 other cancers (compared to 5,400 expected, an excess of 3 percent).

It is important to note that, even though the fallout exposures discussed here occurred roughly 50 to 60 years ago, only about half of the predicted total numbers of cancers have been expressed so far. The same can be said of the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Most of the people under study who were exposed to fallout or direct radiation—for example, A-bomb survivors—at very young ages during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s are still alive, and the cumulative experience obtained from all studies of radiation-exposed populations is that radiation-related cancers can be expected to occur at any time over the entire lifetime following exposure.

posted by fourcheesemac at 11:22 AM on July 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


wow, amazing. very scary stuff. nthing the comments about so many tests in America.
posted by marienbad at 11:22 AM on July 4, 2010


That is my least favorite Steve Reich piece ever.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:47 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


My personal favorite nuclear-weapons-related creative work is

always, When The Wind Blows
posted by infini at 12:05 PM on July 4, 2010


always, When The Wind Blows

Also a great movie, with a killer soundtrack by Roger Waters.
posted by hippybear at 12:13 PM on July 4, 2010


In case you've never visited the Nevada test site in Google Maps, here's a link.
posted by Casimir at 12:15 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]




Yeloson: Was this mostly Cold War dickwaving of the worst kind? Or was this just a lot of businesses cashing in by needing excuses to do expensive testing?

Both obviously. It is interesting to keep in mind what USA President is in office as the piece progresses. I was surprised by the constancy of American testing during Carter, but not surprised at all when Reagan put the whole thing into high gear in 83, 84, 85, 86, 87 etc....and I think the USSR was trying to respond in kind in 1987 to mask that there were some serious cracks appearing in not only its ability to retain the high levels of military expenditure's but the weakening of the Communist party just before Glasnost was established. I was surprised at the modest 40 or so explosions by the UK. I guess the US was sharing info and even allowing them to set off explosions in the South West. I was even more surprised at the ridiculous number of tests France had to pull off 275 (?). I mean what the fuck, France? Talk about dickwaving...

I'm surprised the planet even has enough empty territory for this sort of insane shit.

Hanoxian: Watching the explosions from far off in space, it's not hard to imagine that some entity would see the call and response of explosions as some primitive form of communication. And they would be right, at least about the primitive part.


And how ironic it would be if they felt the way to communicate with us was by setting off a string of thermonuclear explosions.

Anyhow, The Day After to the Benny Hill theme (Yakkity Sax) really doesn't work for me. I remember that movie from when I was in High School and being unable to sleep, and everyone the next day was freaked the fuck out of their skulls and the teachers (mostly Christian Brothers) really had there work cut out for them trying to quell the fear....
posted by Skygazer at 1:25 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's interesting how the U.S. concentrates mostly in one spot, whereas the USSR seems to have scattered them all over Siberia at different times.

I know the U.S. had a bit of a head start, but jeez, someone in the nuclear command was in love with testing, I mean, 30% more tests than the next competitor?

Also, who in Australia sold out to the Brits? Couldn't they have just nuked Scotland or somewhere?
posted by madajb at 3:14 PM on July 4, 2010


Lots of interesting reading in the comments - thank you!

One of the most interesting looks at nuclear research I've come across is the book Nuclear Rites by Hugh Gusterson. He's an anthropologist who did (anthropological) research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, and I seem to recall him drawing the conclusion that test bombings were the researchers' rite of passage. They wanted to set off nukes in the name of science - and also to have an explosion under their belt. A natural enough urge, but not exactly the epitome of rational thinking.
posted by harujion at 4:47 PM on July 4, 2010


Hugh is a good friend of mine, and Nuclear Rites is an amazing book, absolutely. Thanks for mentioning it harujion.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:20 PM on July 4, 2010


I like this, and the response to the MeFi thread about it, here. Both Y0ung-Hae Chang.
posted by exlotuseater at 5:27 PM on July 4, 2010


original discussion: here.
posted by exlotuseater at 5:28 PM on July 4, 2010


So why did the animation stop in 1998? Why not continue it up to the present?

It seems that the good news that's missing is that the era of nuclear testing is essentially over. The Americans stopped testing in 1992. The Soviets, 1990. U.K. 1991, France and China, 1996.

List of Nuclear Tests
posted by storybored at 7:23 PM on July 4, 2010


Some basic reading on radiation from US nuclear tests:

Ernest Sternglass
Helen Caldicott
Linus Pauling's peace Nobel
1963 Test Ban Treaty, reasons for
Per capita thyroid doses map
1990 Rad exposure comp act

Interesting, little-known sidebar: -one- US satellite (Transit-5BN-3) powered by Pu-238 fell back into the atmosphere and burned up in 1964, releasing almost twice as much Pu (-not- radiation) as all those nuclear tests combined ... according to NASA; the AEC measured a 3-fold increase in Pu fallout. (Pu releases alpha particles, only significantly dangerous if inhaled.)
posted by Twang at 11:53 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


That American Scientist article (the authors all work for the National Cancer Institute, which belongs to the U.S. government) is an interesting bit of soft-pedaling. I notice their claim that "Altogether, 504 devices were exploded." Seems a bit at odds with the over-2000 seen in the OP's link, no?

They fail to mention the "Nuclear Veterans", US soldiers exposed to testing, many without any protection or knowledge about what was happening to them. They also fail to mention exposures to uranium miners and their communities, during and after mining.

All-in-all, a calculated piece of calm-the-fuck-down which cites primarily government sources and avoids most controversial subjects.
posted by Twang at 12:37 AM on July 5, 2010


I am shown to be no better than them, perhaps, for feeling this way, but I'd be happy to see every single still-living politician who bore any measure of responsibility for each and every one of those beeps hung by the neck until dead on live television programs which have been made mandatory viewing for all.

And I don't really mind if you think I'm another evil ethically-challenged old throwback for saying so.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:15 AM on July 5, 2010


Seems a bit at odds with the over-2000 seen in the OP's link, no?

Leaving aside the generally inflammatory tone of your comment, can you read? "Over 2000" refers to all tests globally. Are you saying there were unreported tests in the American west?

The American Scientist article does not softpedal. It just presents the known facts and conservative estimates of associated morbidity and mortality from the few key cancers most associated with fallout.

You're free to rely on the more vague, hysterical, alarmist, or conspiratorial accounts you posted. But it's a long stretch to call the National Cancer Institute a propaganda arm of the government. Really?
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:29 AM on July 5, 2010


There has already been a nuclear war.
posted by Termite at 7:53 AM on July 5, 2010


@fourcheesemac The 2000 is for the whole world ... so, since we're ALL affected by ALL the tests, why pick 505 (less, by the way, than half the number of US tests seen in the animation).

Oh yeah, the NCI is softpedaling. I'm not about "conspiracy" "hysteria", -only- the facts... How long have you been keeping score?
posted by Twang at 12:17 AM on July 6, 2010


You might be surprised.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:11 AM on July 9, 2010


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