The Lasting Impact of Nuclear Tests: Is There Still Radiation?

At present, very little radioactivity can still be detected from weapons tests in the 1950s and 1960s in the environment. The United States conducted the first nuclear weapons test on the ground in southeastern New Mexico on July 16, 1945. Between 1945 and 1963, hundreds of aerial explosions occurred around the world. These explosions released a variety of radioactive isotopes into the atmosphere, some of which could affect people through external exposure (exposure to radiation outside the body), while others could affect people through internal exposure (exposure of a specific internal organ to radiation inside the body). Some radioactive materials remain only for a short period of time, while others remain for an extended period of time. Because some of the isotopes in the rain from the weapons tests were of the durable type, a small amount of radioactive fallout remains in the environment today, and people can continue to be exposed.

This is evidenced by a recent study that found radiocesium in 68% of honey samples collected from across the eastern United States. The highest levels of radioactivity occurred in a Florida sample 19.1 becquerels per kilogram. Although these levels are not dangerous, they may have been much higher in the 1970s and 1980s. After World War II, the United States, the former Soviet Union and other countries detonated hundreds of nuclear warheads in aerial tests. The bombs expelled radiocesium, a radioactive form of the element cesium, into the upper atmosphere, and winds scattered it around the world before it fell from the sky in microscopic particles.

For example, many more consequences dusted off the U. S. UU. East Coast, thanks to regional wind and rain patterns. The U.

S. Food and Drug Administration has stated that radiocesium levels reported in this study fall well below 1200 becquerels per kilogram, which is the limit for any food safety problem. Radiocesium decays over time, so honey in the past probably contained more. To find out how much more, researchers thoroughly analyzed records of cesium tests in U. Milk that was monitored for radiation contamination concern and archived plant samples analyzed.

This raises questions about how cesium has impacted bees over the past half century. Understanding how nuclear pollutants move remains vital to assessing the health of our ecosystems and our agriculture. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission sought to improve safety measures prior to 1963 by focusing on a power plant's capacity for maximum credible accident (MCA). The International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) categorizes nuclear events into seven steps ranging from anomalies that need to be recorded to serious accidents that require immediate action. In 1998, Congress asked CDC and NCI to determine if it would be feasible to estimate whether Americans had suffered health effects from nuclear weapons testing in the atmosphere. A 1991 study by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) estimated that radiation and radioactive materials from atmospheric tests conducted by humans up to 2000 would cause 430,000 deaths from cancer. The dangers of nuclear fallout are not limited to an increased risk of cancer and radiation sickness, but also include radionuclides present in human organs from food.

The U. Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency have developed guidance documents based on old Civil Defense frameworks to protect public safety after a nuclear detonation. Even though radioactivity levels are not dangerous today, it is important to understand how nuclear pollutants move through our environment and assess their impact on ecosystems and agriculture.