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Five Men Agree To Stand Directly Under An Exploding Nuclear Bomb (npr.org)
263 points by iProject on July 18, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 112 comments

Operation Plumbbob, troops in front of an exploding nuclear bomb (@2:50): http://youtu.be/7mV0Lt2PUjI?t=2m50s

Tactical nuclear artillery being fired (@0:50): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46GBjlUOROY&feature=relat...

Holy Hell. That second video really drives home the devastation caused in the blast wave. Paint on vehicles turned instantly to ash and blew away. Wooden structures instantly caught fire. What was unexpected to me (I saw this in the first video which made me aware of it) was the 'backwash' after the initial shock wave.


If you haven't seen a lot of atomic blasts, look up Trinity and Beyond. It's a documentary about nuclear warhead development and testing, with a lot of historical footage of the blasts themselves. In fact, I think the clip you reacted to is from that documentary.

Anyway, the damage you're seeing isn't actually typical for a nuclear blast. It's an effect called the precursor wind, and is in fact one of the distinctive things tested by shot Grable.

    A precursor is a very strong dynamic wind caused by the
    shell’s oblique angle of approach, and its high   
    horizontal speed. The nuclear explosion essentially 
    inherits the shell’s forward momentum, which sweeps 
    across the landscape causing extensive drag damage in 
    addition to the typical destruction. For instance, a jeep 
    which had been left virtually untouched by the much more 
    powerful Encore device was completely torn apart by the 
    artillery blast, and thrown a distance of about 500 feet.


I grew up in the 1960s and we lived within about 30 miles of 10 Titan II silos. They showed us these films constantly in school. With commentary. I can remember taking a map and using a compass to draw out the overlapping blast circles for a class project.

I highly recommend The Making of the Atomic Bomb. It goes into incredible detail about the blasts. One of the later chapters, using the example of hiroshima, discusses the effect of the blasts on the human body -- often to excruciating detail.

Your comment about the paint instantly turning to ash and blowing away made me think of the book. At a certain distance from the bomb, the wave isn't strong enough to instantly kill you, but much like paint on a car, you're skin will instantly blister from the heat, and then be blown off by the shock wave.

Horrifying stuff, but a really, really interesting read.

The prompt X-rays from the physics package heat up a lot of air very quickly. This expands, producing the supersonic shockwave front.

Then the fireball, being very hot and much less dense than the air around it, rises. Air is sucked towards ground zero, producing the backwash, and the characteristic mushroom cloud of any very large explosion.

And the fireball created by the X-rays is, for a moment, hidden behind the shock wave. This makes a "double flash" which can be detected from orbit without even the need for a camera, just point a photodetector at the Earth's surface.

Bhangmeters are one kind of specialised photo detector used to detect nuclear explosions:


I'm pretty sure these were used in bunkers (at least in the UK) as well as satellites.

Actually that second video looked mostly fake. Some of the footage was in "The Day After".

Its real. Many movies have reused stock nuclear footage. I recognize that video. Also, the effects in it are typical of nuclear blasts.

Sorry if I wasn't clear. The video was a clear hack job, interspersing many different pieces of footage from different tests. It was designed to fool a 1950s crowd. Let's be better than that.

In the 2nd vid, there are vertical smoke lines next to the mushroom cloud, are those from the bomb itself or something else?

those are rockets launched to create smoke trails. The smoke trails were used to study the velocity of the shock-wave emanating from the explosion.

A comprehensive explanation can be found here. http://www.atomcentral.com/atomic-smoke-trails.aspx

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

Is there really no doubt? I didn't see any more details in the article pertaining to the deaths, but for the sake of not implying that correlation == causation, I would point out that most cancer patients were never involved in nuclear testing (and, conversely, the cameraman who said the above also shows contradictory results).

As the saying goes (roughly): "correlation doesn't equal causation, but it's a good place to start looking".

Are cancer incidence rates higher among those around nuclear explosions? Yes. http://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/radiation/health-effects/rad-ex...

Is there a plausible mechanism by which radiation exposure leads to cancer? yes. http://hss.energy.gov/healthsafety/ohre/roadmap/achre/intro_...

These two facts greatly increase the probability of linkage.

On the same tack of radiation, but a different situation, Nick Davies' Flat Earth News describes the Chernobyl aftermath. I can't remember the complete substance of his argument, but it was generally that the effects of these things was vastly overstated in the media.

Not that I'm trying to controvert your point. This is just an allusion to an enterprising journalist's research.

I've heard from anti-vaccine advocates that a number of diseases were on the decline, and that vaccine use was insignifcant in that decline. But the vaccines were introduced anyway so you could say it was the vaccines that did it but other factors were at hand.

Sometimes I think correlation not only doesn't equal causation, but counters causation, like a son doing well not because of his overbearing mother, but in spite of it. (She would claim the credit anyhow.) - I've read about vaccines causing diseases they are proclaimed to guard against - "weaponized vaccines."

See chart 1.


The case for the major vaccines is open and shut. In the past fifteen years the roster has been populated with some stuff that's less clear, but targetting diseases that are much less dangerous. If you are going to make arguments against vaccines like measles, polio, diphtheria, tetanus you _really_ must do more homework. These are very serious diseases and we really don't want casual free-riders avoiding vaccination.

Thanks, I am aware of Measles being useful. How about Hep A/B/C, Meningitis and others? More importantly, illnesses and syndromes correlating with increased vaccine usage? That's 1 illness and 1 paper.

I don't think vaccine usage is an open and shut case at all and there are many sub-issues and I'm not getting into a micro-discussion now on this thread.

If you want to make distinctions among vaccines that's one thing. Questioning "vaccine usage" generally is another. "Vaccines" have saved millions of lives from smallpox, polio, measles, DPT.

One of those three (A or C, I forget) has no vaccine. The other two do, both are serious, common, and life threatening in a global scale, even if not so much in well-off places.... but it's out there en-masse. Hep B is among the most virulent and widespread diseases in the world and LOTS of people out there have it.

Just because on popular pseudo-scientific theory was successfully debunked doesn't imply that all theories can be debunked. Arguing with the vaccination case here boggles my mind, it's so misguided.

OK let your mind boggle. Mine's fine. Some guys stand 10,000 or 18,500 feet away (depending on whether taken from text or video) from a nuke explosion then drive off. How much ionizing radiation were they exposed to? Probably very little. I'm not sure. Over the years in their job.. who knows. From my understanding, it's the fallout and contaminated food that is dangerous. As to vaccinations, I think it's an apt analogy. You get 1 jab and never get an illness. It must have been the jab, right?

Got kids? Travelled or live outside of the well-developed world?

Correlation doesn't imply causation, but causation DOES lead to correlation obviously.... and the reason those vaccines are done, idealistically, is because they've been proven to work. Epidemics of non-vaccinated people wiped out entire cultures.... The only reason we don't hand out smallpox vaccines is because it's considered by health authorities around the world to be eradicated..... the last known naturally-occurring case was in 1978. At that point, vaccination is more dangerous that not vaccinating - but if smallpox were to arise again, you want to vaccinate as many people as possible to protect everyone.

And later, we find that one of them is still alive at age 84, others died at ages 86, 83, 71, 63, and one unknown.

Those ages seem to me like pretty good, even mostly quite long lifespans for someone who was already an adult in 1950s.

I agree with your sentiments, but we shouldn't be looking at death, but incidents of cancer. Either way, the sampling is too small, and I suspect can only lead to misdirection.

i'd also point out that it was the 50's and they were probably all smokers....

> i'd also point out that it was the 50's and they were probably all smokers....

So were millions of other people, none of whom were subjected to that level of ionizing radiation. It's relatively easy to control for factors like that.

but did they? There's no mention of that in the story.

One of the two authors of the post (Robert Krulwich) is also a co-host on a fantastic podcast called Radiolab. Their most recent episode is about this topic and they tell the story of a Japanese man that was in the blast radius at Hiroshima, went home to Nagasaki, injured, and was caught in the second explosion as well!


> Some of you may have noticed the nuclear missile video says the explosion took place 10,000 feet above our group of soldiers. Apparently, the video is wrong. The Natural Resources Defense Council checked the numbers and says the explosion, part of Operation PLUMBBOB, was actually at 18,500 feet.

Well, there's actually some pretty good proof here that the explosion was closer than that: I count the time between light and sound to be slightly less than 13 seconds (and voices sound right so I'm assuming the recording is accurate in that respect). That would mean the explosion is about 14 000 feet away from the camera.

Keep in mind that speed of sound is not a constant in air, it varies by temperature and pressure (it's actually slower at altitude). Also, the initial fireball (of perhaps a few thousand feet in radius) would have expanded supersonically. that makes the calculation a bit more complicated.

Edit: Also, I watched the relevant portion of the video a couple more times, it seems like there's a possibility the audio is edited. The video cuts back and forth so it's clearly not a continuous shot, we're just trusting that they kept the timing the same and the audio the same, which seems like a bit much to hope for.

It's mentioned some editing was done to make the wait seem shorter.

If the 18,500 figure refers to feet above sea level, then since most of Nevada is at about 4,500 feet above sea level, . . .

Me too!

distance = 1,116.44 feet/second * 12 seconds = 13,397.28 feet

Significant figures, you have too many of them.

13,397 feet

14,000 feet. Sorry to nitpick! You go with the min of the sigfigs in the expression, which here is 2 = sigfigs(12) < sigfigs(13,397.28) = 7

Ha, don't worry about it.

I was thinking it was the significant digits after the decimal. It's always been my weakness calculation-wise.

How about 14E3 feet? :P

much better!

Or 1.4E4 to put it in proper scientific notation.

Compare that to a training exercise the soviets carried out - 40+ thousand troops engaging in combat while a nuke is detonated overhead: http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/nuclear/radevents/1954USSR1....

18,500 feet is 3.5 miles. So is there a different between being 3.5 miles under a bomb vs being 3.5 miles away from a bomb?

Yes. Studies of nuclear explosion impact effects distinguish between "ground burst" and "air burst" detonations. Ground bursts typically have a smaller overall radius of damage, but do more intense damage at or near ground zero. Air bursts spread their effects across a wider radius, but damage is relatively more evenly distributed. Ground bursts also produce more fallout, since they dig up and irradiate earth and scatter it to the winds.

Reply to 'gcb' who's account is hellbanned, so I can't reply to him directly.

No: Ground bursts cause way more fallout. Air pretty much can not become radioactive no matter how powerful the bomb. But soil can, so it becomes radioactive, then is scattered by the wind.

The fallout from the bomb itself is different and is the same for both - but it's a smaller component, since there isn't that much of it.

The initial radiation and heat wave is likely more intense because there's no ground to shield between you and the blast but, as someone else said, most radioactivity is from induced activity in ground material sucked up in the blast, so from that perspective air bursts are much less "dirty" as the fission products rise into the stratosphere and are dispersed in the winds. Definitely it would be better than being 3.5mi downwind of a ground blast, but probably not compared to being upwind.

The shock wave is probably also less damaging because it comes from straight above so it won't pick up objects and throw them at you.

I think the main thing is that at that altitude there are few particles to rain radiation upon you. On the ground there is dust, debris, ash etc. which will carry the radiation and land on everything.

Average air density between you and it would be higher or lower depending on exactly what you mean by 'away'.

3.5 miles is 5.6 km

If you want more details on the "Downwinders", this is a pretty good piece: http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/utah_today/nuclear...

I remember seeing some statistics when I lived in St. George 15 years ago (like high school dropouts) from 18 years after the tests. There was a huge increase in dropouts (and other negative indicators) as the downwinder babies reached adulthood.

I wouldn't trust statistics like that unless they had strong differences betweeen other cities over the same time period. There's been a hell of a lot of social change over the last half century, assuming something like dropout rates should remain constant over a period of decades is a non-starter.

Another excellent reference is the MIT Press book, "American Ground Zero":


It's abundantly clear that the people near the Nevada Test Site suffered hugely from cancer because of these aboveground tests. This national shame is documented in disturbing detail in the book. (It has 11 reviews on Amazon, all 5-star reviews.)

Some shots were particularly dirty, with unexpectedly much fallout. They couldn't/didn't predict this in advance, it was just bad luck if you happened to be nearby when one of these dirty tests went off.

Do these tests release heavy metals in significant enough quantities to cause this?

In my country, the children close to the oil refinery have the same behaviour, from heavy metal poisoning.

The article says that the video is from [the National Security Archive][1]. Does anyone know where exactly the raw video can be downloaded?

[1]: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nukevault/ebb332/index.htm

You could email and ask. I'm guessing they got it through a FOIA request. http://archive.org/ hosts a lot of public domain gov't videos too.

It's amazing how these men have went on to live such long lives.

As someone who has only cursory knowledge of atomic explosions and radiation damage, I was always under the impression that standing under an explosion such as this would almost guarantee a death during or shortly after.

I suppose it's a lot like HIV. Unprotected sex with an HIV positive person doesn't * guarantee* disease contraction, which is the impression I was always get. Not worth the risk, by any means, but still different than I had always been taught.

If you read up on the history of the era and combine that with a study of the real effects of nuclear bombs, it becomes evident that there was an uncoordinated, but nevertheless systematic, effort to grossly overstate the dangers of nuclear war. A game of "Telephone" [1] was played, where at each step the nukes got more dangerous. If nukes were as dangerous to the world as popular culture today imagines, there would be no popular culture; most people grossly underestimate the number of test explosions that were set off at various times. Once again, Wikipedia to the rescue: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_weapons_tests :

"The United States conducted around 1,054 nuclear tests (by official count) between 1945 and 1992.... The Soviet Union conducted 715 nuclear tests (by official count)[3] between 1949 and 1990... France conducted 210 nuclear tests between February 13, 1960 and January 27, 1996..."

Fallout isn't as dangerous as it is commonly portrayed, the bomb's effects are often overstated on every dimension, etc.

But of course, who really wants to go out of their way to correct the record? A number of people reading this will find a strong emotional inclination to leap to the conclusion that this post is pro-nuclear-war advocacy or something. But the truth is that while nukes can't destroy the world or destroy the entire ecosystem (even "nuclear winter" is highly questionable, especially in light of subsequent experiences with high-atmosphere particles, such as in the Kuwait oil fires), they still can kill millions directly and effectively destroy civilization as we know it by wiping out potentially every major city in the world (and get a good bit of damage on the medium-sized ones, too), killing billions more. Perhaps it isn't so bad that the dangers are played up a bit. The real dangers they pose are much harder to understand than the Hollywood B-grade movie version in popular culture, but still quite bad.

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_whispers

As a former nuclear submarine officer, and current complete pacifist, I completely agree that the threat of nukes is WAY overblown. For example, much bigger threats to the modern world exist in the forms of uncontrolled small arms trading.

and so, in fact, you see: this toxic sludge is actually quite good for you.

No. Stop it. There are degrees of badness, and degrees of risk; decapitation is worse than getting a scraped knee, and car accidents are more common than cases of people being devoured by sharks. If we want to do right by everyone, and prevent horrible things from happening, but we have limited resources, then we've got to focus on things that are bad, common, and at least partially preventable.

If you understate some risks and overstate others, then you misallocate resources -- and if those resources are substantial enough to make a difference, this means that people get hurt and die because you were wrong about the severity and probability of risks. This is something where you can and should try to be right.

whatever: nukes /are/ bad, all too common, and entirely preventable. given "they still can kill millions directly and effectively destroy civilization as we know it by wiping out potentially every major city in the world" -- what more do we want before this unacceptable risk gets adequate focus? certainly, so far, there's little risk that any resources have been 'misallocated' I'm pretty sure no-one's gonna get hurt and die because we rid the world of these weapons of mass destruction.

Compared to, let's say illegal small arms, nukes are not that common. And the catastrophic destruction that they can cause is extremely uncommon. There are only a few nuclear incidents of any kind that have caused direct human casualties. From this perspective, dismantling the whole nuclear arsenal of the USA would be a huge allocation of resources to remove a small threat.

risk analysis: low likelihood x unacceptable impact is still an unacceptable risk. anyhoo, I won't be satisfied with "dismantling the whole nuclear arsenal of the USA" : I want total global elimination. perhaps we can begin by agreeing that ending the development of new nuclear weapons should not represent a huge allocation of resources. In fact, that kind of no-cost leadership by example could be the most important step towards convincing other actors to move beyond the nuclear error.

You can't really use unacceptable impact in risk analysis, it is too subjective. In my opinion illegal fire arms have a (high likelihood * unacceptable impact) risk. Would this risk be greater than the (low likelihood * unacceptable impact)?

Yes, no-new-nukes would be a major step forward. Unfortunately it seems that the Cold War is still on, with the USA building missile defense systems in the eastern Europe and the Russia responding with more missiles near its western borders.

when comparing unacceptable impacts, we might try: http://mapw.org.au/download/nuclear-famine-findings 'Nuclear Famine: A Billion People at Risk − Global Impacts of Limited Nuclear War on Agriculture, Food Supplies, and Human Nutrition', from the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, describes how A nuclear war using as few as 100 weapons would disrupt the global climate and agricultural production so severely that the lives of more than a billion people would be at risk.

There is also the Defcon game that uses a rather funky Wargames style retro interface:


I suggest submitting that as a front-page link.

Note that a great deal of those tests were underground - the Limited Test Ban Treaty banned all atmospheric tests and was signed in 1963. This was primarily because of the risk posed by fallout.

Needless to say, wartime use of nuclear weapons would not be underground.

Fallout is of course dangerous. It just isn't as dangerous as it is commonly thought. We actually had a recent demonstration of this fact courtesy of Fukushima, and people in California being worried about the fallout. These worries were many, many orders of magnitude away from being well-founded.

The Fukushima accident demonstrates nothing at all about the use of nuclear weapons. High yield thermonuclear weapons detonated above ground turn large quantities of soil and dust radioactive and throw it up into the atmosphere. Nothing in any way comparable to this happened at Fukushima.

It is instructive that the US, UK and USSR were able to agree, at the height of the Cold War (this was less than a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis), to ban atmospheric tests.

You seem to keep thinking I'm talking about the real effects, when I'm talking about perception. The perception is flawed. No amount of pointing out that the dangers are non-zero will change the fact that the dangers are generally badly overstated; you need to show that fallout really is as dangerous as people think, which I gotta tell you, is going to be quite a challenge.

This is sort of what I'm getting at when I said people will have a hard time reading my post as being something other than pro-nuclear advocacy. justinatjustat is also providing a vivid demonstration. People simply can not help but collapse "It's not as dangerous as you think" to a claim that "It's not dangerous", no matter how obviously illogical that is once plainly stated. Even here on HN, talking about it rationally is a challenge. There's something deep, deep inside of us that is just utterly freaked out by radiation. I wonder if it's part of our disgust instinct (which is, evolutionarily, a relatively recent development and nearly isolated to humans, almost nothing else on Earth can be "disgusted" as we can).

I don't think you can quantify how dangerous people think it is. Certainly I don't believe you know how dangerous I think it is.

My points are simply that: you cannot derive a conclusion about the danger of fallout from the large number of nuclear tests that have occured, since the majority of those tests were underground and many of those that weren't were of relatively modest yield; and that the real danger of fallout was significant enough to bring arch foes to the negotiating table during the height of the Cold War. I'm sure their respective nuclear scientists were well aware of the real dangers.

ok, I'll bite (sorry for inexpertly juggling two accounts): Fair enough, and no in fact I didn't read your post as pro-nuclear advocacy. I am just particularly keen to underscore the fact that, any overblown perceptions aside, nuclear weapons are definitely bad enough to be worth a bit more effort to halt their development and then eliminate them from our world. I just came back here after reading: http://mapw.org.au/download/nuclear-famine-findings

No, it's nothing like HIV. HIV is a statistical thing: It's random chance if an infective particle travels.

A nuclear bomb like this is deterministic. Based on the distance, altitude, size (power), and type (fission, fusion, specifics of the design - especially the tamper) of the bomb you can calculate exactly what and how dangerous the effects will be.

The military was trying to show that they are able to make these calculations correctly, and that used appropriately, this type of bomb an be used without undesired damage.

It didn't work for them though, because people have an irrational fear of anything nuclear and are not interesting in hearing about any calculations.

It's one of those paradoxes similar to how people are completely unable to correctly calculate how risky an action will be. For example people are scared of flying but not crossing the street (a common event comes to be seen as less risky) or driving a car (if you are in control it seems less risky).

> It's amazing how these men have went on to live such long lives.

No, actually it was completely expected. If you can manage to internalize this, and actually believe inside your head that these men were quite safe then you will have gone a long way toward conquering an irrational fear.

PS. You may be thinking of Cancer when comparing to HIV which is indeed a random thing.

You can calculate some effects, like intensity of radiation and pressure waves, but others, like lethality, and trickier. Within a certain range of radii, your chances of survival depend strongly on where you are and what you're doing. Are you in a building sturdy enough to not collapse on you? Is there anything heavy that might fall on you? Are you near a window? Will the building catch fire?

A lot of this stuff made its way into building codes, after some nuclear tests to figure out what worked.

Well, it's deterministic, until you get surprised:


and then perhaps you wish you had not shelved your "irrational" fear.

There's a lot less that can go wrong when you're trying to contain an explosion by distance, then when you're trying to contain it with dirt in the way.

Here was another oops moment, from an airborne test:

"Shot Harry was detonated on a 300-foot tower. The 32-kiloton explosion heaved a vast amount of earth into the air, much of it vaporized, most of it as a fine powder, all of it radioactive..."

From http://www.kcsg.com/view/full_story/19217952/article-SOUTHER...

My point is simply that it's hard to stay safe when within a couple miles of an energy release of that size, no matter what your model tells you. Downvote if you like; this seems pretty non-controversial.

From the article: The thing is, in that particular explosion, those guys would have been in a pretty safe position. The bomb itself was a small one (by nuclear standards — 2 kilotons) and it was way, way above their heads. They weren't in a zone to be too affected by the immediate radiation. The bomb was small enough and high enough that it wouldn't have sucked up dust to produce much fallout. The remaining cloud would have been full of (nasty) fission products, but it would have been extremely hot and most of it would have stayed aloft until it cooled down, by which point it probably would have been spread more diffusely.

Exactly. That's the part I learned from.

I'm remembering visiting the Nike Missile site just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.

http://www.nps.gov/goga/nike-missile-site.htm http://nikemissile.org/site_sf88.shtml

It's both wonderful and creepy. They've restored some beautiful old mechanical computers which are works of art in my eyes, but they also point out that the missiles were capable of carrying nuclear warheads, "but they neither confirm nor deny" whether the missiles at this facility ever had them installed. They _do_ however point out that not only were the missiles capable of taking down incoming aircraft heading towards San Francisco, but they were also pre-targetted at Sacramento… "Just in case" (I'm sure the guys who run the tours are pretty good at setting just the right tone with their stories, but they certainly left me with some interesting impressions).

I _highly_ recommend the tour of SF88 to anybody who's got an afternoon spare in San Francisco.

> also pre-targetted at Sacramento… "Just in case"

I'm at bit of a loss. Just in case what? Sacramento declares secession? Berkeley radicals march on the capitol? Taken over by Russians? Austrians?

The distinct impression the tour story gave me was "in case of Russian invasion". There was even some explanation about which versions of the Nike missile had sufficient range to get to Sacramento.

Like I said, there's some distinctly creepy bits about that whole thing.

Why would you pre-target them at Sacramento?

Far safer. You have to remember that they're over three and a half miles from the explosion. They're just in a dramatic direction.

In fact, the entire point of this test was to demonstrate that it was safe to stand under it. While some of the early tests were very unsafe, by the time of this test (1957), the dangers of radiation were well-known, so it wasn't a cowboy-type experiment like the early ones, and the planning would've computed the expected radiation dose and ensured it was safe.

The military did it as a publicity stunt to assuage public fears of nuclear-tipped air-to-air missiles by showing that even if they were used in a dogfight directly over a city, they wouldn't pose any risk to those on the ground. The volunteers were even supposed to not wear a helmet or hat to show that it was fine for normal people. If I recall correctly from having seen this discussed previously, they measured radiation doses received, and found that the highest doses (but still not at dangerous levels) were received by the pilots involved in the test, not the ground volunteers.

This was from the relatively short-lived era when several militaries were hoping to make a distinction between "strategic" nuclear weapons, the kind that blow up cities and would only be used in doomsday scenarios, and "tactical" nuclear weapons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tactical_nuclear_weapon), small-yield varieties that would just be like very big regular weapons and could conceivably be used in a non-apocalyptic war. Due to a mixture of public opposition and fears of international chain reactions that might result from "going nuclear", though, that initiative failed, which is why you saw a transition back into really-gigantic conventional weapons in the 1990s, e.g. the MOAB (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GBU-43/B_Massive_Ordnance_Air_B...).

What I'd like to know is why the recording equipment kept functioning -- isn't an EMP supposed to wipe out sensitive electronics?

At least that's what the movies tell me...

A few things.

ICs are a lot more sensitive to EMP than vacuum-tube devices.

The amount of EMP experienced is a function both of the size of the size of the nuke, and of the receiving antenna. One reason the Starfish and Hardtack bursts affected street lighting systems is that these were attached directly to the electrical grid: power lines == large antennas.

Blast yields were also in the megaton range, 1000x greater than the one here.


There were no "sensitive electronics" in 1957. There were pretty much no electronics at all, particularly not in cameras. The transistor was just invented.

Vacuum tubes hold up better than today's little transistors, and there are ways of EMP-protecting things, like putting them in Faraday cages.

Fairy nuff, I thought transistors might have been used in 1957 but I guess not.

The nuke was pretty low energy and it didn't go off in the ionosphere, so no.

Wouldn't they have used a mechanical film camera? I don't believe that would be susceptible.

They all sound kind of high. Although such a power is terrible, it must be pretty exhilarating.

This video is so Dr. Strangelove

Think about how all our nuclear tests actually raised carbon 14 levels to such a high point it can actually be used as a marker to determine the age of an object anywhere in the world.

Then think about our crazy high cancer rates.

And then think about our historically crazy high life expectancies.

Then think about the fact that cancer rates are strongly correlated with long lifespans. (It should be obvious why.)

C14 exists naturally as well. The reason you can date C14 containing objects has NOTHING to do with nuclear bombs.

Nuclear testing did change the levels of C14 significantly [1]. Carbon dating is impossible for dates after the '50s, when large amounts of nuclear testing started.

[1] http://www.sciencecourseware.org/VirtualDating/files/RC_3.ht...

OK, but in my understanding, C14 dating was not really used to date anything recent in the first place. Usually it's used to date old items, monuments, bones, etc...

So, what's your point exactly ?

I think the suggestion is C14 dating would be useful to date recent events (perhaps in accidents or crime scenes) were nuclear tests not so common in the 50s. Humanity lost a useful tool (dating recent events) so that we could develop more devastating nuclear weapons a bit quicker than we otherwise would have.

Phrased like that it sounds a shame, but I have no idea if this is true or not. My understanding of C14 dating is that it relys on the half-life of C14 being predictable. But my understanding of radioactive decay is that it is not perfectly deterministic. This suggests to me that you might need a bit of time for the radioactive decay to trend to its expected average rate.

Yes but the point is nuclear tests doubled the amount of atmospheric carbon 14.

So [all of history: rising C14 level] ... [-nuclear tests-] = now double of all of history rate to that date.

Sorry but it does not make any sense. When there's C14 inside an old artifact or a skeleton, the fact that the atmospheric C14 has doubled over the past 50 years does not change the result of your C14 extracted, for old items.

Care to explain?

This is amazing, but it's not exactly "Hacker News", is it.

Submission guidelines: Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups. If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity.

I found it interesting and the discussion was even better, I've regularly had a low-grade curiosity about nuclear testing, the effects on people, etc, and a lot of that was brought up (with references true HN style) in the comments. So it is exactly hacker news.

Much like in real life as a programmer - it's not always editors, programming languages etc, sometimes it's just fun. Not too long ago, the whole dev team ended up roped into a heavy discussion one afternoon, we were debating and calculating the observed effects of some hypothetical phenomenon, full whiteboard and math style. The boss comes in and tells us problems with our math and helps us whip up a quick simulation to figure it out. (this is at a university, the bosses are pretty smart cookies, professors and the like) After a couple hours for us (an hour for him), he says, "ok, I guess I should probably suggest you get back to work, but this was fun!". Amusingly 2 of the devs got modules back on schedule the next day, apparently we all just needed some hard but fun and unrelated problem. HN can have that too :)

Now we know why no one is afraid of the North Korean nuclear program.

It is worth pointing out that designing deliberately low-yield nuclear weapons, like the one used in this test, requires significantly more technical know-how than a higher-yielding basic design.

This image needs to become one of the standard meme images.

That looks like an episode of "McHale's Navy" with all the dimwits standing around.

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