Atmospheric Nuclear Tests: Environmental and Human Consequences
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Bombs have been detonated on top of towers, onboard barges, suspended from balloons, on the earth's surface, underwater to depths of m, underground to depths of more than 2,m and in horizontal tunnels.
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Test bombs have been dropped by aircraft and fired by rockets up to miles into the atmosphere. International concern over radioactive fallout resulting from atmospheric tests escalated in the mid s.
By accident, local civilians on the Marshall Islands, US servicemen stationed on Rongerik atoll, and the Japanese fishing trawler Lucky Dragon, were contaminated with the fallout. Atmospheric testing was banned by the Partial Test Ban Treaty. France conducted its last atmospheric test in , China in Underwater testing refers to explosions which take place underwater or close to the surface of the water.
Relatively few underwater tests have been conducted. The first underwater nuclear test — Operation Crossroads — was conducted by the United States in at its Pacific Proving Grounds in the Marshall Islands with the purpose of evaluating the effects of nuclear weapons used against naval vessels. Underwater nuclear explosions close to the surface can disperse large amounts of radioactive water and steam, contaminating nearby ships, structures and individuals.
Underground testing means that nuclear explosions are detonated at varying depths under the surface of the earth. These comprised the majority i. When the explosion is fully contained, underground nuclear testing emits negligible fallout compared to atmospheric testing. However, if underground nuclear tests "vent" to the surface, they can produce considerable radioactive debris. Underground testing is usually evident through seismic activity related to the yield of the nuclear device.
While the Alamogordo test demonstrated many of the explosion's effects, it failed to provide a meaningful comprehension of radioactive nuclear fallout, which was not well understood by project scientists until years later. Together these two bombs killed some , Japanese citizens outright, with over , more dying subsequently from lethal radiation overdoses.
No sooner was World War II brought to a close in August than an all-out technical-industrial nuclear weapons race ensued between the two newly emerging superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union.
The cost in dollars and lives
Between and , the United States conducted an additional six tests. At the outset, neither the United States nor the Soviet Union had many nuclear weapons to spare so their nuclear testing was relatively limited. However, by the s the United States had established a dedicated test site Nevada Test Site and was also using a site in the Marshall Islands Pacific Proving Grounds for extensive nuclear testing. The Soviet Union also began testing on a limited scale, primarily in Semipalatinsk in the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan.
Early tests were used primarily to ascertain the military effects of nuclear weapons and to test new weapon designs. Exacerbated tensions and an atmosphere of pervasive fear and suspicion catalyzed competition to build more powerful and sophisticated bombs. During the s new hydrogen bomb designs were tested in the Pacific, as were new and improved fission weapon designs.
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The United Kingdom became the third country to test nuclear weapons on 3 October On 1 November the United States became the first country to test a hydrogen bomb. The Castle Bravo test on 1 March yielded 15 megatons and was the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated by the United States. However, this did little to stop the extensive nuclear testing that characterized the following 35 years, not subsiding until the end of the Cold War in the late s. From to , the average number of nuclear tests conducted every year was Nuclear testing peaked in the late s and early s.
How Nuclear Tests Spawned Environmentalism
The year alone saw as many as tests: 96 conducted by the United States and 79 by the Soviet Union. It was tested at the Novaya Zemlya test site near the Arctic Circle. France and China became nuclear weapon States in and respectively. France initially tested in Algeria, and later on in the South Pacific. China conducted all its nuclear tests at Lop Nur in Xinjiang Province. The early s also saw the introduction of the only testing limitation effort that had concrete effects on how testing was conducted during the Cold War. The Partial Test Ban Treaty banned nuclear testing for military and for peaceful purposes, in the atmosphere, underwater and in space.
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