Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
In 1957, Five Men Agreed to Stand Under an Exploding Nuclear Bomb (2012) (npr.org)
498 points by sjcsjc on June 7, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 203 comments

Both my paternal grandparents were some of the downwinders in Utah it alludes to. They were exposed to fallout from around 200 atmospheric nuclear tests, the vast majority of which were far more powerful than Fat Man and Little Boy. That is an amount of radiation many orders of magnitude greater than Fukushima. I've researched it extensively and am convinced it is genuinely one of the darkest and most disturbing parts of US 20th Century history and one that remains glossed over to this day

The Atomic Energy Commission had plenty of evidence to believe that the fallout would be harmful to anyone downwind yet reassured the local populations that it was actually healthy due to "hormesis" and encouraged them to watch the detonations and drink contaminated milk while they themselves wore protective gear and followed proper protocol. There were several proposed test sites that would have sent the fallout relatively harmlessly into the Atlantic yet they chose one in an extremely dusty area upwind of population centers which were almost entirely Native Americans and Mormons. At best it was a blatant disregard for human life that prioritized the budget of the AEC over minimizing harm to innocent people and at worst it was an intentional case of unethical human experimentation. It certainly was when they forced infantry to march through mushroom clouds without any decontamination or protective gear.

As for my grandparents, one lost his stomach and gallbladder and went from a muscular ~200 lb outdoorsman to a 90lb skeleton dependent on a feeding tube. Our grandmother died unexpectedly from a horrific variety of lung cancer 10 years later. He lived another 10 years in absolute misery. There are thousands of stories like these in Utah, many of them even more tragic. Despite their oncologists testifying that it was essentially impossible for their cancers to have been caused by anything other than nuclear weapons exposure, neither received the paltry $50,000 compensation because of bureaucratic technicalities.

I grew up next to the Santa Susanna Field Laboratory just north west of Los Angeles. Due to a cover up, no one really knew they built a nuclear reactor there in a warehouse-type building with no containment, that of course had a meltdown and explosion a year or two later. All of my parent's generation from the area died by roughly 60 years old of cancer.

It still boggles my mind that anyone would be so reckless whenever I think about it. Never underestimate the government's (and associated corp's) capacity for pure evil.


>Never underestimate the government's (and associated corp's) capacity for pure evil.

Except when the topic is water fluoridation, vaccines or genetically modified crops, then its all right and above criticism.

The things you named are safe and yield quantifiable benefits. Ionizing radiation, on the other hand, is entirely deleterious.

Relatively safe; we still don't know for sure whether there are no negative consequences. But definitely in another league than ionizing radiation.

> we still don't know for sure whether there are no negative consequences

That is a carefully-worded statement that will always be true about everything.

This is a fascinating story about a genetically modified crop (RoundUp Ready cotton), a pigweed that naturally selected against it, and murder.


Those people were designing devices to kill large numbers of (innocent) civilians.

Given those goals that they had, why would anyone expect them to behave 'ethically' or care about the side effects of their activity ?

Of course that was a 'blatant disregard for human life', since that was the very essence of the technology being developed.

> Given those goals that they had, why would anyone expect them to behave 'ethically' or care about the side effects of their activity ?

Possibly, yes. An argument can be made that the atomic bombs dropped on Japan caused less overall loss of life than an invasion or prolonged conflict (even if heavily weighted to one side).

Wars are far more costly in human lives and suffering if neither side can get enough advantage to win and they become protracted.

There's also the question of how many large conflicts were prevented since the time the creation of atomic weapons because it was seen as too costly, or one side was vastly superior because of them.

This is a very complex topic, and regardless of what you think of it, those developing the weapons might have thought differently. When assessing the motivations and considerations of those people, using only your own assessment and moral calculus is insufficient.

> Possibly, yes.

What is your "yes" referring to? That was not a yes-no answer.

> An argument can be made that the atomic bombs dropped on Japan caused less overall loss of life than an invasion or prolonged conflict (even if heavily weighted to one side).

Not only completely weighted to one side, but consisting in its vast majority of civilians.

> There's also the question of how many large conflicts were prevented since the time the creation of atomic weapons because it was seen as too costly, or one side was vastly superior because of them.

There has been no "war to end all wars", in spite of hopeful predictions. We haven't had WW3, but "one side being vastly superior" has not prevented the US from being engaged near constantly in various wars since after WW2.

It is indeed a very complex topic, but questioning the ethics of those involved in the development of atomic weapons, especially given all we know about the way it was done, is a completely reasonable stance.

Given the most of the troops were conscripts, does this actually make much difference? When I read the WW1 war poets I find it hard to conclude that their deaths were any more justifiable than civilians who may have voted for or supported the governments directing the war efforts.

Yes. It's silly to distinguish civilian from military deaths without also distinguishing volunteer soldiers from effectively slaves. Civilians too are often largely responsible for wars their countries fight. Especially if they work directly for the war effort manufacturing arms or less directly supporting those who do. I suppose the further removed, the less blame, but also the greater numbers of slightly complicit people.

From 100 Decisive Battles:

"When Okinawa was finally declared secure, the cost had been horrific. Some 150,000 Okinawans died, approximately one-third the island's population. An additional 10,000 Koreans, used by the Japanese military as slave labor, died as well. Of the 119,000 or so Japanese soldiers, as many as 112,000 were killed in the battle or forever sealed inside a collapsed cave or bunker. Aside from the human cost, most of the physical aspects of Okinawan culture were razed. Few buildings survived the 3 months fighting. Collectively, the defenders lost more dead than the Japanese suffered in the two atomic bombings combined. The United States lost 13,000 dead: almost 8,000 on the island and the remainder at sea; another 32,000 were wounded.

The loss of life on both sides, particularly among the Japanese civilians, caused immense worry in Washington. New President Harry Truman was looking at the plans for a proposed assault on the Japanese main islands, and the casualty projections were unacceptable. Projections numbered the potential casualties from 100,000 in the first 30 days to as many as 1 million attackers, and the death count for the Japanese civilians would be impossible to calculate. If they resisted as strongly as did the citizens of Okinawa -- and the inhabitants of the home islands would be even more dedicated to defending their homeland -- Japan would become a wasteland. It was already looking like one in many areas. The U.S. bombing campaign, in place since the previous September, was burning out huge areas of Japanese cities. How much longer the Japanese could have held out in the face of the fire bombing is a matter of much dispute; some project that, had the incendiary raids continued until November, the Japanese would have been thrown back to an almost Stone Age existence. The problem was this: no one in the west knew exactly what was happening in Japan. The devastation could be estimated, but the resistance could not.

Thus, with the casualties of the Okinawa battle fresh in his mind, when Truman learned of the successful testing of an atomic bomb, he ordered its use. This is a decision debated since 6 August 1945, the date of the bombing of Hiroshima, and even before. Just what was known of Japanese decision-making processes before that date is also argued to this day. Was the Japanese government in the process of formulating a peace offer, in spite of the demand for unconditional surrender the Allies had decided upon in February 1943? If they were doing so, did anyone in the west know about it? Who knew what, when they knew it, and what effect that knowledge had or may have had on Truman's decision making is a matter of much dispute. Whatever the political ramifications of the atomic bomb on the immediate and postwar world, Truman's decision was certainly based in no small part on the nature of the fighting on Okinawa. Truman wrote just after his decision, "We'll end the war sooner now. And think of the kids who wont be killed."

Note that a persuasive counter-argument was posted by Floegipoky (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11751090)

"The invasion of Okinawa is not at all comparable to a potential invasion of Japan. I won't address your main point. I'm posting to correct a grave misunderstanding about the relationship between Okinawa and Japan during this period. Okinawa is a distinct cultural entity, and the island was viewed by Japan as occupied territory. Japanese forces slaughtered Okinawans, going so far as to use them as human shields. Some Okinawans were ordered to kill themselves and their families to avoid the horrific fate that the Japanese promised at the hands of American troops. Others, including schoolchildren, were pressed into front-line service or sent on suicide missions. Others were simply murdered, whether for their food or supplies, out of paranoia to root out "spies" (those who made the grave mistake of speaking in Okinawan within earshot), or for entertainment. I'm not saying Americans didn't kill Okinawans too. What I'm saying is that the Japanese could not have cared less about the survival of Okinawa: the land, culture, or people.

While the Japanese were certainly willing to use civilians for tactical or strategic gain, one cannot assume that their military forces would have raped and pillaged their own populace in the same manner.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Okinawa#Civilian_los... "

Nonetheless, you can see how a reasonable person could take the stance that developing the bomb was ethical. Being compared to mass murderers and such is just breathless posturing.

Truman's actions here must also be considered in light of the argument that he had been misled about the nature of the targets for the atomic bombings. From his diary in July 1945:

"This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec. of War, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop that terrible bomb on the old capital or the new."

"He and I are in accord. The target will be a purely military one and we will issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender and save lives. I’m sure they will not do that, but we will have given them the chance. It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler’s crowd or Stalin’s did not discover this atomic bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful..."

( http://www.dannen.com/decision/hst-jl25.html )

Truman also ordered the immediate cessation of further atomic bombings without his explicit approval on August 10th (the military was planning to continue the bombings as further cores became available, which were being produced at the rate of a couple per month).

See also http://blog.nuclearsecrecy.com/2014/08/08/kyoto-misconceptio...

> "The target will be a purely military one"

Dropping such bombs on cities cannot be said to be "purely military". Was Truman really not aware of the targets, or was he being dishonest in his diary?

According to the Wikipedia article [1], Truman was not in the Target Committee, but he was for instance approached about removing Kyoto from the list, so he was aware of the nature of the possible targets.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_bombings_of_Hiroshima_a...

I suggest reading the last link above, particularly the conclusions about Truman's knowledge towards the end.

Thank you. It's highly disturbing that such decision could be made with the president not understanding what he is ordering, and not being presented with other options (the "demonstration" before directly bombing a city).

Groves originally pushed back against the very idea that the military wouldn't be the ones choosing the targets!

Radiolab actually touched on this during their Nukes special episode[1] recently. It's a fairly good accounting of the history of Nuclear weapons, from their place in our armament to public perception to how the law has changed around their use.

1: http://www.radiolab.org/story/nukes/

Also, Dan Carlin's Hardcore history podcast #59.

> Note that a persuasive counter-argument was posted by Floegipoky

It's worth mentioning that this is a useful rebuttal for the question of whether the reasons use of the bomb were valid, they don't matter for the justifications for the development of the bomb and whether the people involved thought it was ethical, because that's resolves purely around what they believed, whether based on correct information or not.

In the same way I can defend myself when I think I'm under attack and hurt a friend that was really just trying to scare me, I'm not acting unethically, I'm acting ethically but under bad information.

The counterpoint provided is interesting, but more important would be whether or not Truman had that information, and if he did, believed it to be reliable.

The original point is pretty much spot-on. By all accounts it appears that Truman did the calculus and came to the conclusion that an invasion would have cost far, far more lives. When judging a person for that decision making process, it is irrelevant (and I suspect you would agree with this) that a different conclusion might have or should have been arrived at if the information necessary to come to that different conclusion wasn't readily available or was of low reliability.

It's really easy to look back with 20/20 hindsight and see mistakes that were made. It's much harder to put yourself in the shoes of someone who did not have that kind of hindsight at the time.

I'm not judging the persons who made the decision. However, I do judge the people who justify such war crimes today.

There are people who to this day say that using the nukes was the right decision meaning that they would do it again given the opportunity. That to me is the tragedy.

If we believe this, we can no longer support non proliferation. In fact, we must actively support all nations to develop and stand by these weapons in such a way that they are capable of second strike. The world is worse off as a result.

I'm not saying whether Truman was a bad guy. He likely wasn't. However, we have the benefit of hindsight. We should know better than to say it was the right call.

"Right or wrong, my country" is stupid. Patriotism does not mean we support all the stupidity done in the name of my country.

You believe killing 100,000 with nuclear weapons is not justified if it's saving millions that would die in a conventional attack?

That is the wrong question. Saving millions of lives to thrust billions into the era of the atom bomb. Now don't you tell me that Russia would have done it anyway because of course but then we could blame Russia for it.

We don't counter and say well someone would have come up with Bohr Model if Bohr wasn't born so why do we insist that Russia would have used the first atom bomb if we had not?

Hmm, the question was never who thrust us into the atomic age, it was whether you'd allow millions of people to die (mostly Japanese) in order not to use the bomb?

That question is scary because it leaves the option of us using a nuke again in the future on civilians.

The answer is no. I would never use strategic nukes on civilian population centers.

The Japanese were ready and willing to surrender before the bombs dropped - and they knew the war was lost as soon as the Soviet Union betrayed its neutrality treaty.

What they were not ready for, was an unconditional surrender. (And, in the end, they surrendered conditionally! The entire sticking point turned out to be moot.)

Truman and his advisers have deliberately pushed a false dichotomy of "Drop the bomb - and then drop a second bomb", versus "Invade the Home Islands." [1]

The reality was that there was a third option available to the US - a conditional Japanese surrender. It chose to commit a war crime for political, not humanitarian reasons - and it never seriously entertained the alternative. Once it had the bomb - the debate was not whether it was going to use it, but where.

[1] http://blog.nuclearsecrecy.com/2015/08/03/were-there-alterna...

Some choice snippets:

"At the very least, waiting more than three days after Hiroshima might have been humane. Three days was barely enough time for the Japanese high command to verify that the weapon used was a nuclear bomb, much less assess its impact and make strategic sense of it. Doing so may have avoided the need for the second bombing run altogether."

"Two months before Hiroshima, scientists at the University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory, one of the key Manhattan Project facilities, authored a report arguing that the first use of an atomic bomb should not be on an inhabited city"

"But the initial target for the bomb, discussed in 1943 (long before it was ready) was the island of Truk (now called Chuuk), an ostensibly purely military target, the Japanese equivalent of Pearl Harbor."

"And, in fact, we do now know that the Soviet invasion may have weighed as heavily on the Japanese high command as did the atomic bombings, if not more so. So why didn’t Truman wait? The official reason given after the fact was that any delay whatsoever would be interpreted as wasting time, and American lives, once the atomic bomb was available. But it may also have been because Truman, and especially his Secretary of State, Byrnes, may have hoped that the war might have ended before the Soviets had entered."

>...The Japanese were ready and willing to surrender before the bombs dropped

Some factions in the Japanese civilian government were willing to surrender with varying amounts of conditions. That doesn’t mean the “Japanese” were willing to surrender nor does it mean that these conditions would have been acceptable to the Allies.

Even after 2 atomic bombs were dropped there was an attempted military coup to prevent the Emperor from surrendering.

>...What they were not ready for, was an unconditional surrender. (And, in the end, they surrendered conditionally!

No, they accepted the Potsdam declaration.

The japanese were willing to surrender before the bomb, if allowed to keep all of the territories they had conquered. That's a far cry from the conditions we got or deserved.

> What is your "yes" referring to? That was not a yes-no answer.

I misread it as "Would anyone" instead of "Why would anyone".

> Not only completely weighted to one side, but consisting in its vast majority of civilians.

That's nothing new with atomic weapons. There was massive firebombing of Japanese cities prior to the nuclear attack.

From January 1944 until August 1945, the U.S. dropped 157,000 tons of bombs on Japanese cities, according to the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey. It estimated that 333,000 people were killed, including the 80,000 killed in the Aug. 6 Hiroshima atomic bomb attack and 40,000 in Nagasaki three days later.[1]

That puts the loss of life from the atomic attacks at just over a third of the total loss of life from bombing. The question is how long would the Japanese have decided to prolong the war before losing (or winning, given some unforeseen circumstance) and would more or less people have died before that point. A show of overwhelming force, with the promise of more to come, can go a long way towards stopping hostilities very quickly.

> There has been no "war to end all wars", in spite of hopeful predictions. We haven't had WW3, but "one side being vastly superior" has not prevented the US from being engaged near constantly in various wars since after WW2.

Total loss of life in WW1 is estimated to be around 18 million people (11 million military, 7 million civilian).[2]

Total loss of life in WW2 is estimated to be between 50 million and 80 million.[3]

Any conflict since WW2 hsa been miniscule in comparison. Total casualties in Vietnam are estimated to be below 1.5 million over almost an entire decade.[4]

I would say that we are very lucky there hasn't been a WW3. It likely would have casualties in the hundreds of millions.

> It is indeed a very complex topic, but questioning the ethics of those involved in the development of atomic weapons, especially given all we know about the way it was done, is a completely reasonable stance.

I didn't take the original statement as much of a "question" of ethics, as an assumption that none of them could be expected to act ethically ("why would anyone expect them to behave 'ethically'" is the specific wording) because of the nature of the work. I think it's likely that some of them thought they were working for the greater good, and we cannot assume a failure of ethics in all cases.

1: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/03/10/national/deadly-...

2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_casualties

3: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties

4: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War_casualties

Yes, the casualties in WW2 were much higher than those in subsequent conflicts. However, thus turn of events would have been completely unpredictable to the first nuclear scientists. If you look back to the writings and newspaper clippings of the day, society took it for granted that there would be a WW3.

In fact, in the years that followed WW2, even the idea of launching a pre-emptive nuclear strike was not beyond the pale. One of my favorite quotes from John von Neumann: "If you say why not bomb [the Soviets] tomorrow, I say, why not today? If you say today at five o'clock, I say why not one o'clock?"

My argument is that superior military capability (whether through technology or through numbers) may prevent military conflict. This is not a new concept, and would not have been foreign to anyone at the time. It's how European colonization worked. They swept in a proved (or presented) themselves as capable of decimating the countries in question, and subjugated them. Sometimes with relatively little violence, sometimes with a lot.

When in the middle of a war, new technology that might actually end that war, which to that point killed more people than any other recorded war, could be seen as some as a positive. Even if WW3 is assumed, making sure you have the capability to end it quickly and decisively can be seen as ethical, given the alternative they were actively living in.

In the end this discussion is about whether the people involved in the development of atomic weapons could have through they were acting ethically (that's what I was responding to originally). Regardless of what we think of the actual outcome, all these decades later, I think they could have believed they were acting ethically at the time.

That quote might be true, but the only direct reference to it is from a LIFE magazine obituary that does not refer to any source for the quote.

von Neuman also invented "Mutual Assured Destruction" and (correctly) believed the Soviets had more advanced weapons, so it's strange that he honestly advocated attacking Russia.

Well, depending on context, that quote can be taken as advocating for bombing the Russians, or it can be taken as forcing the issue to the point where someone that advocated for leaving the option to do later needed fully justify the reasons for doing so right now or accept that conditions must change before you can consider that action. A sort of "put up or shut up", if you will. I'm sure people existed that wanted to do just that, bomb the Russians preemptively right then, but forcing them to play their hand exposes them, and lets those more conservative see them for what they are.

Also IIRC General Douglas MacArthur wanted to use 30-50 atomic bombs along manchuria during the korean war, he claimed that it would have resulted in a sort border of radiation for 60 years and would prevent any invasion of korea from the north

> I would say that we are very lucky there hasn't been a WW3. It likely would have casualties in the hundreds of millions.

Why so many casualties, if atomic bombs were not invented?

Increased population and increased industrialization of more countries. Another World War, were it to happen, might pull in more countries that could capably contribute than in the prior wars. Additionally, industrialization is often accompanied by urbanization, which puts people at greater risk as those urban centers are attacked. Tokyo has almost 38 million people in it. That's one city. As I showed above, firebombing killed more people than atomic bombs in WW2, so I don't see any reason there wouldn't be enormous casualties in another World War.

It doesn't have to be a complex topic.

People braid ideas and emotions together to arrive at unsolvable hairballs like the one you're describing (which my rational self totally understands) - while the genie (monster) is out of the bottle, in the closet, getting bored..

When outside 'truth' is incomprehensible, the answer lies 'inside'..

And then it becomes much simpler (not necessarily easier) - the problem is not how to fix the outside world, but a binary 'good' or 'bad' on a fundamental, basic level: is it out of love or fear and which side do I stand on ?

Start building from that and then all that 'strategic' narrative presents itself as stories told by generations of people scared shitless of other similarly scared people on the other side of the planet.

I guess I'm just one of those naive enough to think that wars cannot happen without soldiers and weapons...

The main reason for my response was because of my interpretation of "Given those goals that they had, why would anyone expect them to behave 'ethically' or care about the side effects of their activity ?" which I took as implying anyone that developed if must have been ethically bankrupt. I don't think we can know for sure the goals of the individual people involved in most cases, and we may be somewhat off often about the goals of the organization the worked for as well.

I for one fully believe many of the people involved thought they were doing the right thing. They performed some ethical calculus that let them believe that the development of the weapon they worked on would end up being a net positive. If not by nature of its existence, then by assuming that it would exist and they thought they were better stewards for it than others.

People's ethical decisions are not absolute, they are based on the beliefs and information of the people at the time the decisions were made. Portraying them as different than us in that they do not have the same ethical standards is very dangerous in my eyes. It's tempting to say there is no way we would make the same decisions in the same situation with the same information, but I'm not sure sure.

It's the same reason I think it's very dangerous to put the Nazis on a pedestal as absolute evil. That abstracts away the possibility that it could happen again and that we need to be vigilant for it. By making them "other" than us we assume we could not do the same thing. If we assume the past can't happen again just because we are different than they were, we've learned nothing, because we are no different.

Totally agree with you, especially about the Nazis.

I've tried to explain my method for making ethical choices - remove rationality, remove 'what's good for others - country, nation, etc', remove 'circumstance and context' and think of it at the lowest, absolute level. Take that as primary truth. In other words, listen to heart more than to the mind.

I've decided that I would choose my own death (physical, professional, etc) rather than do something which my heart tells is very wrong (eg. kill others, cause suffering or pain, participate in wars, etc).

I hope life will not put me to this test, but if it does, well, at least I have a plan.. Death (physical or not) is always a choice and sometimes it is the only solution to a moral problem, and it is always available.

Apart from the stoics, Leo Tolstoy's philosophical works have strongly influenced me and I wholeheartedly recommend reading his later books. Those ideas are powerful tools to have in your mental arsenal.

> Given those goals that they had, why would anyone expect them to behave 'ethically' or care about the side effects of their activity ?

Because the bomb was meant to be used (in "production") on foreigner civilians. And that was (and still largely is [0]) acceptable to Americans for a variety of reasons: "the Japanese were barbaric war criminals", "they did Pearl Harbor", "mass murder by atom bomb was compassionate given that the only other alternative was mass murder by conventional bombing/invasion", etc.

In contrast, the testing affected the health of law-abiding Americans. That's very un-American.

[0] http://www.gallup.com/poll/17677/majority-supports-use-atomi...

Can't tell that you think it is 'not okay', I'm sure only because this would be tangential to your point.

The "Dirty Harry" test mentioned in the article has been the subject of one or two books. At the time, the AEC did not, unsurprisingly, adequately alert the folks in St. George as to the nature of the unusual grey powder falling like snow on their town. It took decades of lawsuits to get the government to admit what really happened.

Puts on tin foil hat...

They probably did this intentionally to see what would happen. I wouldn't be surprised if they secretly monitored doctors reports, in the area, as well.

No tinfoil hat needed if you consider the Tuskegee syphilis experiment which started in the thirties and continued after it was well known in the late 40s that penicillin treated it.

it seems that a general above reproach type attitude existed among certain government based/funded research groups then

The AEC and DoD did a ton of human radiation experiments in the vein of that without any informed consent. For one they straight up irradiated prisoners and gave their children birth defects. One time a guy got in a car accident and went to the hospital and they injected him with plutonium to see what would happen. In another incident they gave mentally disabled children radioactive materials in their breakfast and told them they were vitamins.


Pretty sure most of this was post Nuremburg as well. We talk about how fucked up Mengele was and a lot of this is on the same level. No one was ever brought to justice for this stuff as far as I know

Or, even later than Tuskegee, biowarfare tests involving the general population, starting with the San Francisco test in 1950:


To be honest, if I was in a position to make that decision, I'd be highly tempted to use the bombs just to see what would happen.

I lived in UT for several years. I talked with I don't even know how many people who had family in the southern part of the state back then, more or less all of whom suffered similarly.

>> "At best it was a blatant disregard for human life that prioritized the budget of the AEC over minimizing harm to innocent people and at worst it was an intentional case of unethical human experimentation."

Eugenics was pretty popular globally around then, so the latter is more likely.

Eugenics was popular in the 1920s-1940s This event was AFTER the end of an anti-eugenics World War.


>> The state of California was at the vanguard of the American eugenics movement, performing about 20,000 sterilizations or one third of the 60,000 nationwide from 1909 up until the 1960s

>> While California had the highest number of sterilizations, North Carolina's eugenics program which operated from 1933 to 1977, was the most aggressive of the 32 states that had eugenics programs.[40] An IQ of 70 or lower meant sterilization was appropriate in North Carolina.[41] The North Carolina Eugenics Board almost always approved proposals brought before them by local welfare boards.[41] Of all states, only North Carolina gave social workers the power to designate people for sterilization.[40] "Here, at last, was a method of preventing unwanted pregnancies by an acceptable, practical, and inexpensive method," wrote Wallace Kuralt in the March 1967 journal of the N.C. Board of Public Welfare. "The poor readily adopted the new techniques for birth control."[41]

And you can still see people promoting eugenics to this day right here on HN. It never went out of style, it's just harder to be as explicit about it now.

My wife comments from time to time on how all her uncles in Nebraska died of cancer. I have since found out that fallout from the Nevada tests fell as far away as Nebraska. So, who knows....

Stuff punched into the stratosphere, hit the jet stream, and then came down where storms went high enough. So it wasn't simple downwind dilution.



I vaguely recall reading that health physics experts recommended siting the US nuclear weapon test range in North Carolina.[0] Perhaps on or near Hatteras Island. Because "much of the fallout would come down over the ocean".[0] But on the other hand, "fallout would have contaminated the fishing resources off the coast" and it "would have allowed Russian/Cuban ships to monitor the tests and collect samples".[0] And given what we know now about stratospheric injection, there would likely have been hotspots in Europe.

0) https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/us-east-coast-test-sit...

From what I read about it the Nevada Test Site placement was probably most heavily informed by its proximity to Los Alamos and the logistical advantages that would confer rather than any safety concerns.

My grandfather was a nuclear eng for GE his entire career and was one of the engineers who helped run hanford...

He died of severe esophageal cancer in the late 90's and they were a part of a class action of nukes against GE, which they won through settlement - but GE would not admit that the cancers were caused by them being nukes at places such as Hanford...

GE has a history of all sorts of stuff like that. In addition to dumping PCBs all over, they "donated" contaminated waste oil to counties and towns around their Schenectady and Washington County, NY plants. The counties in turn used the oil to tar rural roads (basically dump oil on the road and cover with gravel).

The result are probable clusters of lung and kidney cancers among residents along the roads.

Are there any books on this (or any other reading you recommend)? I'd love to dive in a bit more, sounds fascinating.

Impressive how our great countries can be so shitty when nation takes precedence over citizen.

My dad witnessed one of the Bikini Atoll nuclear bomb tests and was on the Atoll 24 hours later measuring background radiation. He never got cancer and lived till he was 83 and died of old age with his organs just shutting down. He was almost never sick. Many of the people that were with him died early of cancer. I hope I have some of his gene pool protection.

He also worked on the Manhattan project. He really never wanted to talk about either experience other than the days when he was assigned to the Manhattan project but before then got to Oakridge Tenn. He had some funny stories to tell about being stationed in NYC before transport to Tenn.


In addition to genetics, it can just be luck. Radiation damage is a probability game.

>>it can just be luck

You beat me to it. It is probably just luck. Some people do win the lottery, after all.

Yep, there were many people who were seemingly unaffected but in very close proximity to Chernobyl (employees of the plant), mostly likely due to sheer luck.

luck could be genetic, as posited in Niven's Ringworld.

Heck, I wonder if my dad knew your dad ;-). My dad also witnessed a number of nuclear tests, include at Bikini Atoll, and his ship went in to take measurements shortly after the explosion (he was a meteorologist in the Navy). He's 84 now and he will die before too much longer of old age, not cancer. (he also lived near Hanford, played with mercury as a kid, smoked a pipe his entire life... he's been lucky)

Interesting tangent, as I understand it smoking a pipe isn't particularly dangerous compared to cigarettes, snuff, chewing tobacco, cigars, etc. When smoking a pipe the only contact with carcinogens is the smoke in your mouth. Chances of lung cancer aren't greatly increased as you shouldn't be inhaling and rates of mouth and throat cancers are only marginally increased. The chances of mouth and throat cancers are increased much less than if you were to chew tobacco or smoke cigars as both of those involve direct contact between the tobacco product and your lip. The biggest risk due to pipe smoking is heart disease due to nicotine. If you only smoke occasionally and choose tobaccos with lower nicotine content the risk here is negligible as well.

I always thought there were be a difference in cancer levels just never bothered researching it myself. My grand dad lived to 109, smoked a pipe pretty much all day long- every day since he started working at age 10. He's also known for drinking two bottles of scotch every day for almost as long. Though technically was a drinker because he when he was a child it was safer than the water. The double bottles of scotch didn't start until early 20s.

The thing that killed him was a slip on black ice in the morning that broke his hip leading him down to pneumonia and complications that came with it.

> as I understand it smoking a pipe isn't particularly dangerous compared to cigarettes, snuff, chewing tobacco, cigars, etc

Smoking a cigarette is a very dangerous activity, so very many things are safer than that.

Smoking a pipe does increase your risk of several cancers.


> Most estimates of SAM [smoking attributable mortality] do not include mortality caused by cigar smoking, pipe smoking, or smokeless tobacco use. For example, an estimated 1,000 deaths in the United States were attributable to pipe smoking in 1991 (Nelson et al. 1996).

I'm not sure how many people were smoking pipes in 1991.

> The average annual SAM for the United States for 2010–2014 (Table 12.15) is at least 480,000 premature deaths caused by cigarette smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke; however, this estimate does not include deaths caused by use of cigars, pipes, other forms of combusted tobacco (e.g., roll-your-own cigarettes, hookah pipes, bidis; see Chapter 13 for description of these various products), nor smokeless tobacco products. As discussed in Chapter 13, the use of these products has increased in recent years; while the methodology for estimating the current population burden from the use of these tobacco products remains under discussion, the number of deaths caused by these products is expected to be in the thousands per year (Shapiro et al. 2000)

I absolutely agree. Smoking a pipe does increase your risk for a variety of cancers and several other health problems. Sometimes manyfold. My main point here is that the dangers it presents are more easily mitigated and less significant than most other forms of tobacco use and that overall you're not really exposing yourself to that much more risk than you would be doing many other things.

Here's a study looking at mortality rates and causes for pipe smokers. At the absolute worst, the top end of the confidence interval, the mortality rate goes from ~1.3% per man year to ~1.7% per man year if you are currently smoking a pipe and surprisingly lowers to ~1.2% per man year if you previously smoked a pipe. [1]

Over 20 years that adds up to an increase of about 6% in your chances of death.

Like all good things in life it has risks attached. Know the risks; enjoy it in moderation. It's a risk, but I think people tend to blow it out of proportion. Probably has something to do with people underestimating the base cancer rate.


Puffing a cigar is little different from puffing a pipe. If you're inhaling into your lungs, you are doing it wrong. In either case, you are pulling tobacco smoke into your mouth and throat and related cavities. Risk of cancers of the throat, mouth, tongue, etc. are all greatly increased. It's not as bad as a cigarette habit, but far from harmless.

The fellow in this video lighting a cigar was probably getting more cancer exposure from the cigar than any radiation from the bomb test.

It probably wouldn't be done this way today (though, it wouldn't shock me, with a novel new weapon), but the guys in this video were never in any real risk. Building those planes and bombs took some damn good scientists. They knew a thing or two about radiation exposure. Certainly more than was known at the time about tobacco exposure.


Btw my high school sports teacher, who smoked pipe, died of laryngeal cancer.

I replied to another comment further up the chain with further statistics and sources.

My dad had become a civilian employee at that time. Union Carbide I think. William Gerald Palmer (Jerry). It would be very cool if they knew each other. Dad was on a ship 10 miles from the blast.

I played with Mercury as a kid. I hope I am lucky.

Pure liquid mercury is not especially toxic so you're probably fine. That said it is damn stupid for kids to play around with it.

Lead is probably worse. I did a lot of soldering as a kid (like, from age 7 or so) and my ventilation/hygiene practices around it were far from ideal. I would not allow my kid to have that kind of exposure. If he needs to solder, then he needs to get a bench with proper ventilation and be scrupulous about clean-up and hygiene. Leadless solder is another thing but it has its own problems. Probably better is to do any electronic stuff in a format that doesn't involve soldering at least until more mature. These days it is not so important, though I expect it to be a useful tool indefinitely. All about proper balance.

In terms of the comments below I'm still of the mind that I have the chance for good genes. That gives me hope and maybe the Placebo Effect will kick in.

Could be a bit of selection bias there.

Of the people at Bikini Atoll during the testing, just randomly some were more susceptible to radiation and sickness, others less. Those that were more susceptible died sooner, those that weren't lived long enough to be your father.

Responses to your downvoted post:

"It can't be selection bias because OP only has one father."

Come on, folks. It is selection bias, because we wouldn't hear a "my dad survived" story if his dad didn't survive. Otherwise known as "survivorship bias," which is a form of selection bias.


Only if the deaths (or more correctly: any effects harsh enough to impede mating) happen before the typical age of becoming a parent. If it's just "live healthy to very old age" vs "cancer at fifty", then there is no selection bias since our anecdata here is based on the next generation.

Even if he successfully birthed a child, the child wouldn't come here to tell a survivor story if he died of cancer at 50 (probably)

That's what OP said.

I think the GP means the OP's father survived long enough for OP to be born, so from OP's perspective it looks like his father had good genetics. The selection bias is that none of the children of those who died early would exist, so only the children of those lucky enough to live a long time could say their parents must've had good genes.

Or it's how the photons happened to hit his body. They might have hit in just the right way to not do cancer-causing DNA damage, or if that did happen, then those cells weren't influential or died or were terminated by the immune system by pure luck (he could have had the same level of "immunity" as those who happened to die because their system simply had an unlucky miss).

How many fathers do you think he has?

It's not about him. It's the odds that someone would have children from that original group.

Consider, it's in no way an unusual event for lotteries to have winners. Further someone can increase their odds of winning by buying a lot of tickets. However, winners are unlikely to buy thousands of tickets for that drawing because the pool of people that buy a few tickets are vastly higher than the pool of people that buy thousands of tickets to each drawing.

So, just because one guy did not get cancer does not mean he has unusual DNA. Granted, the odds of him having some anti cancer mutation is probably higher than the general population.

So you mean he's luckier because he has lots of fathers, therefore more lottery tickets, thus increasing the chance that at least one of his fathers will live a long life without getting cancer?

No, "It's not about him."

Wouldn't the more appropriate question be 'how many people commenting on this thread know someone who was at the bikini tests'?

Doesn't matter from our probabilistic perspective. Odds of seeing someone with a father who survived atomic testing is different from odds that your father survived atomic testing.

Somewhat on topic, but in Colorado we have 6 of the original Titan I nuclear complexes. Abandoned since 1965, each complex has probably a mile of tunnels, huge underground rooms and 3 massive silos. They're absolutely fascinating to explore.

Some random photos from the last time we went in to one.




Happy to answer any questions for the curious.

Super curious! I'm taking a road trip through Colorado later this year, and would love to stop and see one or more of these. I'm a little worried about playing whack-a-mole trying to find an accessible one. Is Jim's listing of them here accurate? http://w3.uwyo.edu/~jimkirk/titan1.html Is there a better source?

Those are always the place I assume that most people assume are totally safe and spelunk and climb and explore only to find out later they have way more radiation or something 'new' bad thing that all those people were now exposed to.

The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment has published their findings on each site's environmental concerns.


Edit: Of course there's still risk. Plenty of obvious asbestos about as well as physically precarious flooring, deep standing water, angry farmers that don't want you on their land, etc. Lots of fun though :)

There are many more Titan I complexes around the US as well, including at Beale, Larson, Ellsworth, and other AFBs in addition to Lowry.

Holy crap, that's awesome. Which site did you go to? I live in Colorado and would love to check it out.

Is this legal? If so, I would love to explore!

Looks like Half-Life

Especially informative was the side comment on what an atomic bomb really sounds like to those on the ground observing from a distance. Forget the media representations (shocker, right?). The all-encompassing, blinding light of the sun part in fictional portrayals is mostly realistic. The sound however, is completely different, and I've never heard a fictional one like it [1], with its higher-toned sharp bang preceding the growling aftermath that is also higher-toned than I expected based upon conditioned memory from entertainment media.

It's like most entertainment media portrayals of drowning: not useful, not actionable, not educational, and not informative; would be more enriching if the entertainment industry reversed that predilection.

[1] https://youtu.be/U_nLNcEbIC8?t=141

We have to consider that the recording equipment probably did not capture the detonation with much fidelity, and not at all the physiological effects of a powerful shockwave.

I was once fairly close to a lightning strike, and my impression was that there had just been a very loud bang - it was as if it had no duration whatsoever.

If a movie were to depict an explosion realistically, most of the audience would think there was something wrong about it.

If a movie were to depict an explosion realistically, most of the audience would think there was something wrong about it.

I think that would be more applicable in the past, but now that there's plenty of real explosions you can see and hear on YouTube, a "movie explosion" probably sounds quite obviously... cinematic. The same goes for car crashes (which are in reality similar to your description of lightning: usually one loud bang, and then silence --- no tinkling of shrapnel or boomy bass echoes.)

yup. bang and then silence, and then maybe after a stunned pause the wails/groans of any surviving wounded.

Indeed this reconstruction sounds a lot more like bombs sound in real life.


Relevant to the part about 'drowning': Drowning doesn't look like drowning (http://mariovittone.com/2010/05/154/)

  In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually 
  watch them do it, having no idea it is happening. Drowning 
  does not look like drowning

I always thought the higher tone preceding the bang was the "YEEEEEEE HAAAAAWWWW!"


I don't get why he had a parachute.

> It was shot by the U.S. Air Force ... to demonstrate the relative safety of a low-grade nuclear exchange in the atmosphere.

> the U.S. government has paid some $813 million to more than 16,000 "downwinders" to compensate them for illnesses presumably connected to the bomb testing program.

I can only hope that the lessons learned from these programs are still remembered today, as the POTUS talks about resuming building nuclear weapons.

In the phrase "relative safety", the word "relative" is significant. An exchange high above ground level is less dangerous than one at or near it, because, as the article we here discuss points out, the former doesn't produce the kind of long-lasting fallout the latter does. But it would be a real stretch, I think a longer one than supported by the facts or any contentions made here, to argue anyone is actually trying to say there's such a thing as a nuclear exchange that is harmless.

As for looking to fund a desperately necessary overhaul of the US nuclear arsenal, our current president is not the first to do so; the program under discussion originates with his immediate predecessor, as the New York Times recently discussed: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/04/us/politics/trump-nuclear...

They're remembered about as well as the lessons of Vietnam regarding trying to prop up a government with little domestic legitimacy in a civil war.

Fortunately: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partial_Nuclear_Test_Ban_Treat... bans all above ground tests . This was largely spurred by https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby_Tooth_Survey which showed that the levels of radioactive Strontium 90 in baby teeth around the US were steadily increasing. Nothing like radioactive baby teeth to get people to take action.

Ah, but that is a treaty and those are not worth the paper they were printed on these days. Just unilaterally withdraw and do whatever you want.

If the Paris accord were in fact a treaty, we would not have been able to withdraw, but treaties require a two-thirds vote in the Senate to be ratified as law. This has been essentially been impossible to achieve in modern times. Even crucial agreements such as the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which effectively ended nuclear weapon testing worldwide are "signed but not ratified." We have not, however, seen a unilateral withdrawal from a ratified treaty, so please choose your words with care.

> If the Paris accord were in fact a treaty, we would not have been able to withdraw

Many treaties (including the Paris Accord) have withdrawal mechanisms. (The Paris Accord is a treaty under international law, whether it was a treaty, requiring ratification, under the more narrow terms of US Constitutional law has been a matter of some debate—still ongoing as those who argued it was a treaty argue against characterizing Trump's action as a withdrawal.)

> We have not, however, seen a unilateral withdrawal from a ratified treaty

We have, just not under this President; e.g., George W. Bush's unilateral (but compliant with the withdrawal mechanism of that treaty) withdrawal of the US from the ABM Treaty.

"The Paris Accord is a treaty under international law, whether it was a treaty, requiring ratification, under the more narrow terms of US Constitutional law has been a matter of some debate"

There is no "debate". The US Constitution requires that treaties be ratified by the Senate before they take effect. The Senate did not ratify the Paris Accord. Therefore the United States is not and was not a party to that treaty.

Anyone who claims otherwise is dissembling, not "debating".

Note that this is a completely separate issue from whether it would have been a good idea to ratify the Paris Accord.

> There is no "debate".

There, in fact, is a still-hunting debate about whether the Paris Accord is a treaty in Constitutional terms (and thus would have required ratification to be in force; note that there is.no serious legal debate about the fa that the term “treaty” has a broader meaning in international law than US Constitutional law) or whether it is the type of agreement that could be implemented as a sole executive agreement. Prior to Trump's recent announcement, the debate was about whether the US was properly a party to the Accord, now it's about whether it is proper to characterize Trump's act as “withdrawal” from the Accord.

The fact that you have a strongly-held opinion (apparently based on a naïve conflation of the international law and Constitutional law meanings of “treaty” which even those who share your conclusion generally avoid) on the debate does not mean that the debate does not exist.

"There, in fact, is a still-hunting debate about whether the Paris Accord is a treaty in Constitutional terms"

No, there isn't. As someone once said, the Constitution is written in language so clear that it requires a lawyer to misunderstand it.

Let us suppose that a school is having a class trip. Going on the trip requires the student to sign up and also to get the consent of his parents.

Arguing that the Paris accord is a "treaty" is like arguing that a student should get to go on the trip simply because he signed the sheet, even though his parents have not granted permission. That would be an idiotic and/or dishonest interpretation, and anyone who makes that argument is not "debating" under any reasonable interpretation of that term.

There are also some points to be made about what this says about the character of the student who signs the sheet when he knows full well that his parents are never going to grant permission, but we'll just leave that off to the side.

Ask yourself "who enforces a treaty" and realize that a country can ALWAYS withdraw from a treaty.

$813 is a trivial speck of the defense budget, and small fraction of the cost suffered by the victims

This was around the time that the US started to put Nuclear warheads on anti-balistic missile systems. Nike Hercules would have used high-altitude low-yield nuclear blasts within 100 miles of US cities to stop incoming ICBMs.

My guess is that this is what the author is referring to when he says "Air Force wanted to reassure people that it was OK to use atomic weapons to counter similar weapons being developed in Russia."

> This was around the time that the US started to put Nuclear warheads on anti-balistic missile systems. Nike Hercules would have used high-altitude low-yield nuclear blasts within 100 miles of US cities to stop incoming ICBMs.

This is earlier than that -- the weapon being tested is the AIR-2 Genie, a nuclear tipped unguided air-to-air rocket meant for shooting down Soviet bombers.

And to the statement from the article:

> The country was just beginning to worry about nuclear fallout, and the Air Force wanted to reassure people that it was OK to use atomic weapons to counter similar weapons being developed in Russia. (They didn't win this argument.)

This is incorrect -- the weapon tested in this particular test was the AIR-2 GENIE, which was deployed in operational service from 1957 to 1985. It was felt to be safe enough that it was acceptable to use for defense.

Why on earth would you need a nuclear weapon to intercept a ballistic missle? Certainly conventional explosives would have more than enough yield to destroy a single missle. Or is the idea that you don't have to hit the target exactly, you just have to be in the ballpark?

> Why on earth would you need a nuclear weapon to intercept a ballistic missle? Certainly conventional explosives would have more than enough yield to destroy a single missle. Or is the idea that you don't have to hit the target exactly, you just have to be in the ballpark?

Yep. Re-entering ballistic missiles come down really fast -- if you mistime the detonation of your warhead by a few microseconds, no conventional warhead can hit the target. Back when missiles just couldn't be accurate enough, they were deployed with nuclear warheads to have large enough area of effect.

And those missiles were insane. For example, look at the Sprint missile: It accelerates at 100g to reach mach 10 in 5 seconds, just in time to get close enough to nuke the target. After accelerating, the head of the missile glows brightly white hot from heating.

Modern ABMs are typically hittiles, that is they do away with the warhead completely and just intend to hit the target directly, using the fact that they don't have to carry a warhead to gain a drastically better kinematics.

The true-speed launch footage is downright freaky:


Most footage shows slow-motion video.

There's no way to get a true-size, true-perspective sense of this kind of speed. We're not built for it. You look at it and it's gone.

That's some good vintage video. There's a mix of slow-motion and full-speed views of the recent MDA ABM test at Vandenberg here:


> hittiles

Oh god please tell me that's not a real word.

Sorry to disappoint, but it's been in wide use for half a century. BAC coined it to market their Rapier missile which was accurate enough to not need a large fragmentation warhead, and it spread out from there.

I wouldn't say "wide use". Google has only 18,000 total hits for the term, and most of those seems to be false positives (e.g. "hit tile").

Certainly not in the DoJ's R&D engineering teams, AFAIK. See my post above. That's not to say it's a more common colloquialism in commonwealth countries.

The OP is being humorous, I suspect. Nothing wrong with a good joke now and again.

In my experience (my father worked on several weapon systems programs and numerous other things, including somewhat more recently SM-3), I don't recall them being officially referred to as anything other than "kill vehicle" or "kinetic kill vehicle." Usually it was just "warhead" or "missile."

Besides, once you hit about Mach 6, your need for a warhead greatly diminishes.

Sadly, it seems it is. And yes, it's intended as an awful pun.

That's right. It's very hard to hit an incoming object of radius 2m at hypersonic speeds even now. Back then getting within a few hundred meters and going kaboom was a good plan, given the cost of failure.

(edit: diameter 2m, not radius!)

There are two factors -- first, as you guessed, it's much easier to get a missile "close enough for a nuke" than it is to hit an ICBM.

Second, nukes produce electromagnetic pulses, which could disable ICBMs which are too far away to be destroyed completely.

An ICBM RV is going really fast (up to 7 km/s!) and isn't really that big and not something you want to let get too close to a valuable target.

At the time the Nike/Spartan systems were being developed, remember that interception was a lot harder and precision and accuracy was a lot lower.

And even today, isn't the latest system under development only running about 50/50 on successful intercepts? It's a hard problem to solve.

That's really unsettling. Could you launch like 10 of them at a single ICBM and reduce the odds of failure to 1/1024?

The goal of the current US missile defense system is to be able to counter 10s of incoming warheads by firing 200+ interceptors. The last I heard, only about 25 interceptors had been deployed. Bear in mind, however, that everyone with modern ICBMs uses MIRVs, so a single missile will release 5-10 warheads.

Honestly, the system is mostly meant to counter the growing threat from North Korea. Trying to defend against a real attack by Russia/China/almost any other opponent simply isn't realistic with current technology.

Yup. And there is technology to spot naive decoys (e.g. IR signature), and technology to make decoys more sophisticated. The ABMs have to hit the MIRV before the warheads deploy or knock out every potentially damaging warhead.

Russia and USA as the nuclear triad are in leagues of their own, with China/UK/France lagging far behind. China deliberately does not have a MAD capability or strategy. With an attack from an adversary like NK/Pakistan, we would hope we could throw a flock of ABMs at their missiles as fast as they could launch them and immediately blast the shit out of them in retaliation.

China might well be able to get stuff through, but we could limit the damage.

Russia is another ballgame. In an all-out nuclear assault, we could hope to knock out a few warheads here and there, but the numbers are grim. We would be facing a large proportion of our population centers looking like Hiroshima circa September 1945.

So yeah, North Korea is a leading threat, since they are led by a madman who could start a new bloody war in the Korean Peninsula that would devastate our closest allies in the region and pull in China and Russia, and may someday soon if unimpeded be able to actually develop a damaging missile or two that could reach our western shores, but Russia is an adversary led by a murderous autocrat who gives few fucks and could potentially push buttons that would make us a smoldering wasteland in a matter of hours.

All a matter of perspective.

Which would be fine if anyone launched a single ICBM attack.

Probably explains why Moscow, which had a large ABM system installed to protect it, was targetted by ~400 weapons from various countries.

e.g. The UK Chevaline system was pretty much designed to allow the UK to be confident of destroying Moscow.

Cost / accuracy tradeoffs.

Keep in mind that decoy RVs (inflatable mylar targets) are cheap. Overwhelming your adversary's sensing and response systems is a classic tactic, and not just in military combat.

Ah, I forgot we're talking about systems designed in the late 50's and 60's!

" Nike Hercules would have used high-altitude low-yield nuclear blasts within 100 miles of US cities to stop incoming ICBMs."

They were intended to stop incoming bombers, not ICBMs.

> "Quite a few have died from cancer," he told reporter Bill Broad. "No doubt it was related to the testing."

Here in Australia, veterans of nuclear testing only just received access to the 'Gold Card' which covers all healthcare costs. Of course, many of those exposed have now died.


The people in the photo might have known what they were signing up for, and an idea of the risk, but many service people had no idea at all.

Do we actually know that anyone involved in this story had cancer that was likely caused by testing? The size of effects of very low dosages (which are only seen at the population-level) is not well understood, but the risks of dosages with large effect is very well quantified. Certainly, it does not appear that the radiation dose from this single test was large enough to give someone cancer with large (e.g., >5%) probability, which is less than the baseline population rate.

We don't know how much radiation the cameramen were exposed to. If they were close to enough nuclear tests they might very well have gathered a lifetime dose in the 100s of mS range without ever getting radiation poisoning. Which is certainly enough to up your cancer rates quite a bit.

Some online calculators tell me that the 5 guys in the photo got about 50 mS which is barely enough to detectably raise cancer rates.

With small nukes like that 2kt one the main danger tends to be from radiation rather than heat and blast. With big 2Mt nukes it's the opposite. Well, 2Mt nukes are basically all fission-fusion-fission devices and that last U-238 fission stage creates an immense amount of fallout.

If it was testing it wasn't just this test. The exposure appears to be minimal.

Notably, the cameraman did not volunteer for the job.

This article from 2010 was linked in the OP: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14atom.html?pagewa...

Also, from the wikipedia entry on the AIR-2 Genie [0]:

Gamma and neutron doses received by observers on the ground were negligible. Doses received by aircrew were highest for the fliers assigned to penetrate the airburst cloud ten minutes after explosion.

Imagine for a moment being assigned to take a risk of developing a mortal condition.

[0] - https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/AIR-2_Genie

> Imagine for a moment being assigned to take a risk of developing a mortal condition.

Every action involves some risk of developing a mortal condition, and being in the military, particularly, involves notable risk of being assigned to tasks that have elevated risks of developing a mortal condition.

Of course, but remember that you're not being asked simply to fly a plane in a common way or to test some conventional device.

You're being asked to fly into a radioactive mushroom cloud to test if you get harmed or not.

And you're probably not even being asked but ordered, you don't have too much choice.

Oh, he died? Well, let's test again but 20 minutes later instead of 10

This was not the purpose of flying into the cloud.

I may be wrong on that, do you know what was then?

I don't know anything about this specific test, but the military goes to extraordinary lengths to train realistically for unusual and new war scenarios. (E.g., most US soldiers have been preparing for fighting in the presence of chemical weapons with gas masks, etc., for decades even though, to my knowledge, there's never been a large-scale usage since WW2.) But in this case, I'd wager they're taking scientific data for understanding the performance of the bomb; terrestrial bomb tests were huge exercises in data taking, and I don't know why airbursts would be different.

The link between radiation and cancer was established in the '20s, and certainly well-known (if poorly understood) by the time atomic weapons were developed. For instance, Muller got the Nobel prize for this work in 1947.


Certainly, safety rules weren't as conservative and stringent as they are today, but it's silly to think US soldiers were routinely and openly used as guinea pigs.

Thanks for the information.

They were taking samples of the air to obtain fission products and other clues to the performance of the weapon.

This is pretty important since you can both evaluate your weapon, and also to calibrate your instruments to use when collecting downwind of Soviet tests. Thus you can evaluate their weapons too.

Probably gamma ray spectroscopy which measures the energy of gamma rays in the cloud. When radioactive particles decay, they emit gamma rays at very specific energies so it would give us an understanding of the yield of the bomb and other important things for designing better weapons.

> Imagine for a moment being assigned to take a risk of developing a mortal condition.

What else would you call warfare?

Ground Zero, population six.

More on the cameraman, civillian photographer Akira "George" Yoshitake. On the test footage shown: "he was not aware of what his assignment would entail, until arriving at the test center that day."

An interview:


His obituary, 2013.


George died in Santa Barbara. From his name, it's evident that he's of Japanese ancestry. As the obit states, his family were interned along with other West Coast American citizens of Japanese descent, during World War II.

FYI: The article mentions that this weapon had a 2 kiloton yield. This is to be compared to the 15-20 kiloton yields of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and modern thermonuclear warheads which typically have maximum yields in the 300-500 kiloton range.

There were not guided missiles yet, and the US was anxious due to the development of the atomic bomb and bombers by Soviet Russia.

So it was devised as a missile that could compensate the lack of accuracy with the higher yield than conventional ammunition, even though it was not as potent as a bomb.

Correct - the guidance on these missiles were more of the "point and fire" variety. So to ensure that you shot down the Soviet bomber (which also had nuclear weapons on it), you compensated by increasing the size of the explosion. Even a miss might have been good enough, as the shockwave could potentially tear a wing or tail off.

As the article points out, much of the fallout from the nuclear tests headed south and east over Utah and St. George Utah in particular. There has been a number of research studies on the population there. What is less well known is that these studies, and some longitudinal studies of Japanese survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs are nearly all of the data sets available for understanding the effects of environmental nuclear exposure on humans.

There's a fascinating book called "How to Photograph an Atomic Bomb" [1] that delves into exactly how they made all of those photos, and movies. It's really not as simple as one might think.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Photograph-Atomic-Bomb-Peter-Kuran/dp...

I'd volunteered. People make larger risks with paragliding or mountain climbing, but there at least was a chance to make history.

You mean you are one of those 5?

More likely a grammar error: OP probably meant "I'd volunteer" but conjugated as if "I'd" was "I had" (using the past participle) rather than "I would" (using the bare infinitive). Easy mistake for a non native speaker.

That's my interpretation. The OP likely meant 'I'd have voluneered'.

Radiolab had a great episode about nuclear weapons in the US.

At the ~51:26 mark of the episode http://www.wnyc.org/radio/#/747788 there's a great description of what the explosion of a hydrogen bomb was like.

I was just reading about the Genie a few days ago, funny to see it on HN.

Unguided air-to-air missile with a nuclear warhead. A great icon for era it came from.


I realized only recently the degree and specificity to which this scenario forms the backstory to the classic arcade game Missile Command.


Same kind of people playing around with weaponized AI today, what could possibly go wrong.

On a related note, here is a time lapse of all the nuclear detonations since 1945.


Guy in middle with sunglasses had the right idea.

I'd really like to know how dark they were though, he didn't even flinch at that flash.

It was a starkly different time back then.

The blast was far safer than you believe.

This is fantastic. I can only imagine the kind of courage it would have taken to volunteer for this 60 years ago.

I'm not sure "courage" is the word. They'd been assured by trusted authority figures that it was completely harmless. Maybe "naive trust".

2 colonels, 2 majors, and another officer. I think they were the authority figures.

Maybe "stupid", then.

Would an actual detonation happen at that height? If so, how does it actually kill other than radiation?

> Would an actual detonation happen at that height?

Yes, quite likely.

> If so, how does it actually kill other than radiation?

Remember that the purpose of this was to assure the public about safety of using nuclear weapons to intercept enemy nuclear attacks (specifically, I believe, incoming bomber groups.)

The first 5 inductees into the Darwin Awards?

Here's a little mystery for HN. Have you seen the fictional BBC segment someone produced about an escalating conflict between Russia and NATO?


It made the rounds on HN a couple months ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14101405

It's the only piece of fiction that has made me feel deathly ill in quite the same way Threads did.

The video is incredible. It's one of the best pieces of realistic fiction I've ever seen.

But how was it made? Who made it? And why? I counted at least 10 professional-quality actors with convincing, in-character costumes. See this timestamp: https://youtu.be/2VZ3LGfSMhA?t=1053

The uploader of the video is "Ben Marking", only 8k subscribers, and no online presence. They left a comment: http://i.imgur.com/MJVh31d.png Other than that, no one's taking credit.

So why make it? It's wonderful art, but is there anything more to it?

Whoever's behind this has also uploaded nine revisions since last year: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCA9r2NNlWMitk1hhR7yj8SA/vid... including a Canadian and Australian version.

I'm not sure I get what you mean from the timestamped section. It looks like either simple to make footage or real footage where they've dubbed over.

I think there are possibly only two actors, and only one for the vast majority of it. I think all the footage is just real clips, which is why it looks realistic.

edit - I jumped to a random section and it has Fallon talking about Russia making a situation more dangerous, but it's a real clip as there's coverage back in 2015 of him saying these things: http://www.itv.com/news/update/2015-10-08/fallon-russia-is-m...

I assumed it was stock footage. That sort of thing is pretty common even in major Hollywood films.

Ah, thanks for pointing that out.

Some things I consider quite glaringly fake / unrealistic.

The maps that show the progress of the invasion in the Eastern Europe: the area taken by the advancing Russian army is shown with just a bit too much precision. This is supposed to be real time broadcast, and everything is happening under just an hour. I doubt the BBC graphics staff would have enough information to produce such maps (certain areas neatly colored in red); the military command might supply such information, but later in the day, not immediately, and in any case, they would probably be too busy and there is such a thing as a fog of war. At best, you'd have a list of towns where there have been reports of fighting by the local media and confirmation by the authorities that invasion is happening.

Also, live video feed of fighter jets and bombers leaving RAF bases? I find it unlikely that BBC could obtain such a thing, and then decide to broadcast it.

Likewise, the NATO stock footage (especially the press conference) is out of place at places. Nobody is going to talk with mild words such as "sabre-rattling" if there's major fighting going on.

Actually, the whole thing going down in just one hour. While I can believe that things can escalate very quickly if tactical nuclear weapons are used (maybe even in a matter of minutes), I can't help but think that it's too short timeframe for the conventional fighting to even begin. (My guess is that the people who created this didn't have resources to create similarly realistic 48 hour long broadcast).

I agree with the creepiness of the video, but I don't really see anything odd or mysterious about the fact that someone made the videos. They update them regularly to change the names of world leaders, but each new revision shares the vast majority of footage.

The channel creator also leaves other comments. Four weeks ago:

> We can only begin planning when the new South Korean President is elected, and we're now also going to wait to see what the British general election will reveal. It's hard to commit to a specific time when world events (which need to be reflected accurately and currently in the video), change so quickly.


The use of "we" suggests an organization, supported by the fact that there are at least four actors: The news anchor, the female reporter, the male call-in actor, and Putin's translator.

These actors are all very good. The video has dozens of tiny details, like the constant scrolling text at the bottom.

I was wondering what kind of organization would make a video like this and not claim credit for it.

If the creator were an individual, this video would serve as an excellent portfolio piece. If they were a company, it could serve as a recruitment tool or as an example of why clients should do business with you. Either way, remaining anonymous is odd.

To make nine revisions in less than a year requires a fair amount of dedication, and setting up a fake pen name (Ben Marking) just to publish the videos is at least interesting.

Maybe Ben is a real person and it's just four friends doing this as art. But it'd be quite unusual: no LinkedIn, no social media presence, no blog, nothing whatsoever except the YouTube channel. This suggests that if it's an organization, the Ben Marking pseudonym is an experimental playground for them. If it's an individual, it suggests they are remarkably privacy-oriented.

The way the comments are phrased indicates that they've done this type of thing before or have industry experience. "Please use this video with due consideration. While you are welcome to copy and use this video, in doing so you accept full and absolute responsibility for any and all consequences as a result thereof."

So an online Ben Marking persona popped into existence, uploaded nine variations of a brilliant video with four actors, and for no apparent reason. Why?

I don't really know why I'm so curious about this, but I find all of it fascinating. I wish we knew more.

EDIT: There are actually five actors. The fifth shows up at https://youtu.be/2VZ3LGfSMhA?t=2031

Possibly six, depending whether this is stock footage or Putin's translator: https://youtu.be/2VZ3LGfSMhA?t=2401

Perhaps I'm just less intensely impressed with the quality of the pieces. I think they're great and very effective, but it doesn't strike me as something beyond the reach of a skilled amateur videographer. I agree that the lack of a social media presence is odd, and more importantly is a major missed opportunity.

>If they were a company, it could serve as a recruitment tool or as an example of why clients should do business with you.

Call me picky, but the tone of the news anchor reporting nuclear explosions is so perky as to be cringe-inducing. They also use sun-lit storm clouds as stand-ins for nuclear explosions.

> If they were a company, it could serve as a recruitment tool or as an example of why clients should do business with you. Either way, remaining anonymous is odd.

You're assuming that someone, or some group, with the ability to pull this off needs this as a portfolio piece.

I don't imagine this is their first rodeo, and I would assume whomever it is already has a solid resume. Why blacken it with something so dark?

Sure it could be a state sponsor, or, much more likely, its just someone having some fun.

Thank you for posting this. Would not have found it otherwise.

Reminds us we still live in the age of thermonuclear weapons. As long as that's true, our choices as citizens of nuclear-armed nations are more serious than anyone can imagine. Easy to forget.

Somebody read Gibson's Pattern Recognition and got a little carried away...

Huh, my first thought also. "The footage" was a fascinating idea, but I didn't much think anyone would try to make a work that powerful and not claim it.

Blue Ant lives.

Out top of my head: It could be used as the payload for some serious cyber attacks. Imagining the mass panic it would cause, if it was to be played on every TV across the country for real.

This kind of attacks are hard to pull off and one'll have to nail it on the first try. It would be sad for the hackers, if they failed because of a poorly made fake news video.

Practice makes perfect.

Just watched it. Indeed, is enough to hack the TV systems in an very busy airport like Frankfurt or Paris.

Yeah that video gives me the chills. I am hoping we never have to see something like that in the future, but a cynical part of me feels like it is inevitable.

Probably the same type of people who want to be the first to live on mars. Some people are thrill seekers, consequences be damned.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact