Jul 27, 2023

Radioactive Fallout from the Trinity Nuclear Test Impacted 46 U.S. States, Study Finds

As millions of people head to the theaters this weekend to see Christopher Nolan’s epic Oppenheimer, a new study has been released that tracks the radioactive devastation wrought by the U.S. government’s first nuclear weapons test. The “Trinity” test, as it was secretly known, was the first nuclear detonation by the American military, occurring on July 16, 1945. That test resulted in the distribution of radioactive deposits to 46 U.S. states, as well as to parts of Canada and Mexico, the new research shows. The report also attempts to analyze the impact of the dozens of other “atmospheric” nuclear weapons tests carried out by the federal government between 1951 and 1962 inside the United States. The tests, researchers say, caused “widespread dispersion of radioactive fallout” and led to “environmental contamination and population exposures.” Here are some of the key takeaways from the new report.

The Trinity test and the dozens of nuclear tests that followed were the result of the top secret Manhattan Project, the WWII era U.S. government program that focused on the development of the atomic bomb. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the titular protagonist of Christopher Nolan’s new movie, headed the program for the government and thus was a pivotal figure in the development of the first atom bomb. The Trinity was the culmination of months of highly secretive work and took place in the New Mexico desert. The newly published research focuses on “atmospheric tests,” meaning tests that impacted the atmosphere, though the U.S. government has also extensively conducted underground nuclear weapons testing, blowing up an estimated 815 subterranean nukes between 1951 and 1998.

Read more

These Are the Best Desktop Apps for Gmail

9 of the Best Flops on Display at the Museum of Failure

From Disney+ to Max, Here Are the Best Streaming Services

The new research on the Trinity and other above-ground nuclear tests uses a combination of data that wasn’t previously available for other evaluations. The research paper uses high-resolution reanalyzed historical weather fields, U.S. government data, and complex atmospheric modeling to try to chart the distribution of radioactive fallout in the days following historical nuclear tests. According to the findings of the new study, the Trinity test had a large impact on the total amount of nuclear fallout that has spread throughout the U.S. “Our results show the significant contribution of the Trinity fallout to the total deposition density across the contiguous U.S....and in New Mexico in particular.” The report states that fallout from Trinity reached 46 states in just 10 days.

The report notes that of the 101 nuclear tests carried out during the time period studied, 94 of them created radioactive mushroom clouds that subsequently dispersed nuclear fallout across the country.

While the Trinity test took place in New Mexico, the other 93 atmospheric tests that generated a mushroom cloud took place in various locations around Nevada. The above graphic shows the extent to which researchers believe nuclear tests spread nuclear fallout across the country. The picture “shows the cumulative radionuclide deposition density map following the first 5 days after each of the 94 atmospheric tests” included in the study.

The report also notes that the U.S. carried out 45 “airburst” tests, the likes of which involved detonating nuclear bombs in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. These tests were conducted by shooting a rocket into the atmosphere that would be “armed to burst at a predetermined point in space,” one study notes. The above photo shows what looks like a photo of the sun but is actually visual capture of a nuclear bomb being blown up in the sky. In at least one instance, the government reportedly had volunteers stand under one such airburst explosion to test the health impacts it would have on people standing beneath one.

The research could start a new conversation about how many people are due compensation from the government over the health impacts of the tests, the New York Times has reported. The 1990 Radiation Exposure Compensation Act is a federal statute designed to pay out money to communities and individuals that have been impacted by government nuclear testing, though the new research suggests that a much broader area was potentially impacted by testing than the legislation previously acknowledged. The report says that it hopes its findings “provide an opportunity for re-evaluating the public health and environmental implications from atmospheric nuclear testing”:

Our total deposition density estimates across the contiguous United States have implications for public health and discussions about the 1990 Radiation Exposure and Compensation Act. Aggregated by counties and federally recognized tribal lands, our total deposition density estimates show that there are locations in New Mexico, and in other parts of the United States, including Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, and Idaho, where radionuclide deposition reached levels larger than those we estimate in some counties covered by RECA. Total deposition density is a metric that reflects external exposure to radiation without accounting for internal contamination via the ingestion of contaminated water, fresh milk, and other foodstuffs.

More from Gizmodo

The Best Free AI Art Generators, Ranked

The Best Free TV and Movie Channels For Every Major Streaming Device

Sign up for Gizmodo's Newsletter. For the latest news, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Click here to read the full article.

Of the 101 tests carried out in the U.S., 94 created radioactive mushroom cloudsThe U.S. also carried out 45 “airburst” tests