History of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Testing Program

There were more than one million U.S. Armed Forces personnel, civilian scientists and engineering technicians involved in the detonation of nuclear & thermonuclear weapon devices, from 16 July 1945 (the “Trinity” test at Alamogordo, NM) to  23 September, 1992 (the last test in the “Julin” series at the Nevada Test Site). The United States has sponsored a total of 1,054 nuclear weapons tests, and detonated two of these weapons over enemy soil during an act of war.

During this period of time there were 1,147 actual nuclear (aka “bomb”) tests.  Some of these nuclear and thermonuclear detonations failed to produce any noticeable explosion, either by design, or due to mechanical or electrical faults.  Several of these tests,  by official definition, were actually multiple detonations, two or more at the same time, designed for gathering specific data & information  or for instrument calibration purposes.

Nuclear Testing and Health

Since nuclear testing began, it has been very difficult to get a useful accounting of the effects of human exposure to the radiation particle fallout from these tests. This was largely motivated partly by military secrecy, partly by a desire to allay public fears, and partly by a fear of possible legal actions by actual (or potential) radiation exposed victims.

Some exposure related incidents have been revealed due to the impossibility of hiding them, namely the high radiation exposures of the Marshallese and Japanese fishermen after the 1954 Castle “Bravo” disaster in the Marshall Islands. But most information on this subject has been largely withheld, either deliberately buried in obscure reports, or never collected at all.

This was commonly known as the principle of being careful not to learn what you don’t want to know.  However this  information has slowly come to light, in bits and pieces, over the last 29  years.

What is probably the most important study of the health effects of testing were announced by the National Cancer Institute in August of 1997, and released in October of that same year.  The basic finding of the report is that internal exposures to radioiodine (I-131) in fallout from continental nuclear weapons testing was the most serious of all health consequences. Radioiodine concentrates in milk, when consumed by grazing cows, then concentrates in human thyroid glands after contaminated milk has been ingested into the body. 

This concentration effect is especially strong in children. The effect of these exposures is to boost the chance of contracting thyroid cancer, sometime in the lifetime, of those effected.  No efforts were made to systematically study the nationwide effects of atmospheric nuclear weapon testing until Congress ordered such a study, which was finally released 15 years after the order.

Currently, there are approximately 550,000 Atomic Veterans across America who either do not know their oath-of-secrecy has been rescinded or who are not aware of the potential monetary benefits due them for service connected radiation-induced illnesses.  The VA is offering them no cost Ionizing Radiation Register examinations, including complete blood and urine testing. Additionally, as an Atomic Veteran, they qualify for VA prescription drugs (for a minor co-pay fee) which in most cases is a meaningful  benefit of  itself.

The Directors, Officers and members of NAAV will always salute the memory of those veterans who suffered and died from the after effects of radiation exposure, in the interest of U.S. National Security, and who’s conditions and suffering were totally ignored by their own Government,  their Congressional leaders and a host of  D.O.D. “Contract Consultants”. We hope you will join us in that salute to honor, duty and dedication to serving their country.

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